There may be no keener competition among the domestic automakers than for pickup dominance. Trucks are what Ford, GM and Ram do best — and better than the import competition.
Each of the Detroit-sourced pickups on sale today is a paragon of power with efficiency and a work ethic. So when Ford re-created its best-selling vehicle — the F-150 — it measured the competition and aimed outside the 8-foot box.
Every evolution of the pickup is a Superman formula: faster than a speeding commuter train, stronger than a locomotive and able to pull more and carry more than the other supertrucks.
The re-engineered 2015 F-150 surpasses the old truck in each of these categories and meets or betters the competition. But it is the details that have earned it Truck of the Year honors by several media groups. And some of those details include passenger-car features, such as an electric parking brake, optional inflatable rear seat belts and a power tailgate.
Smart truck features include a boxed steel frame, fail-safe cooling system and a rearview camera with hitch assist. Hardware assets include heavy-duty front shocks, four-wheel disc brakes (two-piston 13.8-inch front discs front, single piston 13.2-inch rear) and a locking tailgate with remote lock/unlock.
The big news was moving to the military-grade aluminum body. Ford says it saved 700 pounds in some of the body configurations, which means a better power-to-weight ratio with smaller engines. It will be a non-issue to the owner, providing benefits under the skin, at least until the first fender bender.
There are the familiar trim levels — XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum — and body styles of regular cab, CrewCab and SuperCrew with 6.5- or 8-foot-long beds on regular and CrewCab bodies and 5.5- or 6.5-feet on the SuperCrew.
Starting prices (including the $1,195 freight charge from Dearborn, Michigan) range from about $26,000 for a basic, regular-cab work truck to $52,000 for the SuperCrew Platinum V-8 4WD.
This week’s test truck, an XLT 4X4 SuperCrew with 2.7-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged) V-6, will be the popular model for the mainstream user. It had a base price of $41,415 and with $5,085 in options the sticker was $46,500. That’s a lot, but it bought a lot.
The 2.7-liter V-6 may seem small in displacement, but it is big in power: 325-horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque at a usable 3,000 rpm. EPA ratings for the 2WD 2.7-liter regular cab are 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined, on regular fuel. In my week with the 4WD test truck I observed 20 to 22 mpg combined.
There are three other engine choices, all of which run on 87 octane:
•Base 282-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6; 18/25/20 mpg for 2WD.
•356-horsepower, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6; 17/24/20 mpg
•385-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8; 15/22/18 mpg.
Tow ratings range from 7,600 to 12,200 pounds. Payloads span 1,690 to 3,300 pounds. For comparison, a 2008 F-150 4X2 with 4.6-liter V-8 had a tow rating of 7,200 pounds and payload of 1,970 pounds. A towing module displayed in the touchscreen shows hookup status, including if a taillight is burned out.
Ride quality is still like a pickup, which when empty will be jiggly on concrete highway, but on softer surfaces the ride is quite compliant. The cabin is well soundproofed and without transfer of road or suspension harshness. At speed there will be some wind noise rushing over the blunt nose and around the substantial side mirrors.
There is definite carlike engineering in how smoothly the steering, braking and acceleration all function with refinement and no vagueness to inputs. That’s uncommon for a truck.
Another shocker was offering only a six-speed automatic transmission — no manual. On the upper trim levels, the auto box has a Sport mode with the tow mode. And it is a true Sport mode, which jumps engine revs by 500 rpm when activated.
The exterior styling is beefy, but the interior has an enlightened attitude. The test truck’s gun-metal gray metallic paint was paired with attractive camel-color cloth seats with a durable center fabric. The treatment is manly enough but appealing to women. And the upholstery has color-coordinated carpet and floor mats.
There are quality plastics, contrasting colors, soft-touch materials and comfortably padded armrests. The power driver seat includes lumbar and the tester had adjustable pedals, which, with the tilt-telescopic steering wheel will help all sizes settle in comfortably.
There’s plenty of real estate up front to allow room for all sorts of storage and easily viewed gauges with controls in clear view and reach. Large visors have covered and non-lighted mirrors.
The back seat has almost as much headroom as the front — 40.4 inches — and there’s country limousine legroom at 43.6 inches, with a flat floor. The doors open wide and there is a sturdy grab handle to climb in, but the optional runningboards will be a necessity for most. The seats fold up (with a storage bin beneath) to allow wide parcels you don’t want exposed in the bed. There also is a 110-volt household plug, a 12-volt plug, coat hooks and reading lights.
The side box steps ($325), with pneumatic-strut release, are a great idea, but take some grunt to push back into place. And the tailgate step ($375) is another helpful extra, though it adds weight to raise and lower the gate by hand.
For the F-150 owner shopping for the best deal and most features, no matter the brand, this new Ford is a convincing argument to stay with the brand.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage