Truckin’ What Ford Does Best
Ford made headlines in April when it announced that it would mothball some of its long-running sedan models and instead focus (ouch) on its line of more-profitable trucks, sport-utes and crossover vehicles. Three family four-doors — the Fiesta, Fusion and one-time flagship Taurus — are headed to that great garage in the sky, with the Focus forging on as a small crossover and the Fusion’s monicker reportedly destined for a performance-minded sport wagon. An automotive sea change like this happens rarely (imagine Volkswagen ditching the Passat and Jetta), but speaks to the financial reality Ford faces. The family-car segment is a tough nut to crack, especially when the competition — think Honda Accord here — is so accomplished, and the profit margins aren’t quite so generous as those for pickups and crossovers. Will this decision stick? Will we see the Taurus badge once again cruising the McDade Expressway a decade from now, when and if gas hits $5 a gallon? Only time and Ford’s balance sheet will tell. For the present, let’s consider Ford’s bread-and-butter offering, the F-150 full-size pickup. The Blue Oval company revises and refreshes the model for the 2018 year, offering a range of powerful and fuel-efficient engines, a new 10-speed automatic gearbox and some exterior-design tweaks. Available in a bewildering combination of cabin sizes (Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew) and corresponding bed lengths, and offered in no fewer than seven trim levels (XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited and high-performance Raptor), there’s an F-150 to suit nearly every taste and budget. There are four engine choices: A 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V-6 (290 horsepower, 265 foot-pounds of torque) is a new offering and replaces last year’s 3.5-liter unit. Other engine options include a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8 (395 hp and 400 foot-pounds of torque), and a pair of twin-turbo V-6s: a 2.7-liter engine making 325 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque, and a 3.5-liter unit tuned to produce either 375 hp and 470 foot-pounds of torque, or a far stouter 450 hp and 510 foot-pounds of torque. RWD and 4X4 systems are available, and dependent on engine choice and trim level Obviously, the number of configurations precludes a complete listing in this space. As always, see your dealer for details. Prices start at $27,705 for a rear-wheel-drive version of the Regular Cab XL and spiral heavenward as trim levels rise and options lists lengthen. Ford provided a fairly loaded Lariat 4X4 SuperCrew for consideration, the $46,970 base price of which rose to a sobering $58,885 with options. Standard equipment includes the 2.7-liter twin-turbo-six, power-locking and gas-dampened rear gate, keyless entry and ignition, full exterior LED illumination, leather upholstery and lots more. The $7,335 Preferred Equipment Group added a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system, Lariat trim bling, reverse sensing system, heated steering wheel and second-row seats, and more. Add in another few grand for 20-inch alloy wheels, a technology package, a sports appearance package, spray-in bedliner and delivery, and they’ll be happy to handle any questions in the finance department. Like most modern pickups, our F-150 tester performed with a level of refinement that made the noisy and rough-riding trucks of not so long ago a distant memory. The ride quality is quite comfortable, although uneven road surfaces can cause a bumpy ride when the cargo bed is empty. While not as amusingly brawny as the bigger 3.5-liter turbo six we tested in the hairy-chested Raptor last year, the 2.7-liter under the Lariat’s hood still gives the big truck a lively sense of acceleration, all accompanied by a pleasant exhaust snarl. Our observed fuel economy fell just a couple of mpg short of the EPA’s combined estimate of 22 mpg in combined driving; as usual, I blame my heavy right foot and fondness for acceleration. The SuperCrew cabin provides adult-sized accommodations both up front and in the second row, the seat bottoms of which can be folded in the name of cargo flexibility. Factor in an abundance of cup holders, storage cubbies, USB ports and other features, and the F-150 is positively family-friendly. Our SuperCrew’s truck bed was the shortest of the three Ford offers, measuring 5 feet 6 inches long. That said, it’s likely big enough for most families’ needs. The gas-dampening rear gate is easy to use, and an abundance of tie-downs will keep your payloads secure. Ride quality is very comfortable. There’s a measure of tire and engine roar (this is still a truck, after all), but overall the big F-150 feels at home in a suburban environment. Tight parking spots require a bit of planning and an extra point in maneuvering, but if a big rig like this is worth it to you, it’s all good. 2018 Ford F-150 4X4 Supercrew Lariat Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger, full-size pickup truck. Base/as-tested prices: $46,970/$58,885. Engine and transmission: 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (325 horsepower, 400 foot-pounds torque), 10-speed automatic. Fuel-efficiency estimates: 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined. The good: Refreshed exterior makes a handsome beast handsomer still; serious accelerative power and decent fuel efficiency from smallish 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6; quick-shifting 10-speed automatic; heavy-duty hauling capabilities; refined and quiet ride that was unimaginable in trucks of a decade ago; huge, well-appointed cabin; surprisingly easy to maneuver in tight spaces; handles well for a big rig; bewildering array of cab, bed and engine choices. The bad: Nosebleed-inducing prices in well-optioned upper trim levels; bouncy ride over rough pavement with empty cargo bed; aluminum body panels make for expensive repair bills; how many of us really NEED the thing? Bottom line: Ford’s decision to move away from cars and focus on trucks plays to its strengths, with the F-150 being Exhibit A.