Last fall at the SEMA Show, the Chevrolet display included the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Toughnology Concept. Yes, you read correctly — Toughnology.
The signboard next to the truck proclaimed, “Advanced high-strength steel makes Silverado strong, light, capable and efficient, enhancing its inherent toughness, dependability and capability.”
The point, obviously, was to cast doubt on the viability of Ford’s new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup. Aluminum is strong but light and therefore could do the same work as traditional steel-bodied pickups, but with smaller and more fuel-efficient engines, Ford proclaimed.
But it wasn’t enough for Chevy to tout its Toughnology. The steel sheet-metal sides of the truck turned into something of a chemistry display showing the elements — Ti, Cr, Si, Mo, Mn, C, Ni, V and, of course, Fe — that go into producing high-strength steel.
Fast forward a few months and one of those aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 trucks showed up in my driveway for a week-long test drive. In doing some research on the truck, I stumbled across Ford’s answer to the Chevy’s Toughnology truck: The F-150 Periodic Table that notes its new truck “is more capable and more efficient” because it is as much as 700 pounds lighter, “thanks to a smart application of materials and elements.”
The table includes not just the elements used in the aluminum body — Al, Si, Cu, Fe, Mg and Mn — but also those for the EcoBoost six-cylinder engine, the truck’s frame (which Ford notes includes more than three times as much high-strength steel as the 2014 F-150) wheels and even its glass.
While I haven’t had the occasion to tow a trailer or haul a half-ton of gravel in the new F-150’s bed, I have driven it several hundred miles and its lightness is evident in its startling acceleration and easy and comfortable cruising. Like a horse given its reins, it wants to gallop full speed and would prefer not to be hobbled by the posted speed limits on Interstate highways.
Now, like me, your experience with V6s probably has been with normally aspirated versions displacing somewhere between 2.6 and 3.5 liters, give or take. Those engines tend to produce 260 to maybe just more than 300 horsepower.
But turbocharging boosts the Ford V6 to 325 horsepower and, more significantly when it comes to doing pickup truck work, to 375 pound-feet of torque, and that torque peaks at a mere 3,000 rpm, which means a quick takeoff from a standing start and the pulling power needed to get a trailer moving down the road.
If for some reason that’s not enough, Ford plans to bring back the Raptor in 2017 by outfitting the flagship truck with a 450+ horsepower, twin-turbo V6 engine. In anticipation of Ford Performance’s most capable F150, aftermarket companies like AmericanMuscle are giving one away.
As a pickup truck owner for the past 15 years, it seems to me that what matters is the strength of the vehicle’s frame and the grunt of its powertrain. Aluminum bodywork was good enough for lots of top sports-car racing teams through motorsports history and is used successfully by the likes of Audi, Jaguar and others, and if it makes the new F-150 more fuel efficient without losing capability, so be it.
And as far as safety goes with aluminum, I was driving an aluminum-bodied Jaguar sedan when it was hit broadside by a car going around 45 miles per hour. The airbags worked and not only was I not injured but I was able to drive the car several miles from the scene of the accident back to my home.
Now, it may be that the repair of aluminum bodywork after such a crash is more difficult and expensive than steel metal, but the feel from behind the steering wheel is that the Ford doesn’t feel like it weighs nearly 4,800 pounds.
Speaking of that weight, the lightest of the 2014 F-150 145-inch wheelbase SuperCab 4x4s was 5,333 pounds, with a normally aspirated 3.7-liter V6, and 5,476 pounds, with a 3.5-liter EcoBoosted V6. The EcoBoost 2.7 was not available in the 2014 model year.
The 2015 Ford F-150 I’ve been driving is a 4×4 SuperCab with power locking tailgate, one-touch up/down windows, tilt and telescoping steering column, four-wheel disc brakes, hill start assist, trailer sway control, and lots of other standard equipment.
The base price is $37,005.
The standard engine is a 282-hp 3.5-liter V6. The 2.7 EcoBoost is the next step up. Also available are a 385-hp 5.0-liter V8 (though with only 387 pound-feet of torque) and an EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 with 420 pound-feet of twisting power.
Options on this vehicle include the EcoBoost engine, XLT trim with rear-view camera, satellite radio and 17-inch wheels, trailer hitch receiver and integrated trailer brake, remote starting, a ladder-style step integrated into the tailgate for easier access to the bed, spray-in bed liner, and a couple of other goodies which bring the as-tested price to $42,635.
Now, having written all that, I do have some nits to pick, though not all of them are directed directly at the F-150. However, these are:
- The shift lever is mounted on the steering column, not on the center console. Yes, that frees room on the console for more storage nooks and crannies, but a couple of times I found myself reaching down with my right hand instead of up when I wanted to shift from park or employ the Sport mode.
- The truck does not come with navigation technology, which is fine because I can use my iPad or iPhone, but that also means a tiny radio display screen and back-up camera viewer. The camera gives a good view, but I wish it were larger.
- I wish there was a way to set up the variables on the display directly in front of the driver to show a digital speedometer.
- The step ladder integrated into the tail gate is terrific, but it doesn’t help the driver or passengers get into this vehicle, which has a 23½ -inch step-in height. With the 4×4 setup, the truck really needs side steps.
And this one is aimed at everyone who still makes an extended cab with rear-hinged rear doors:
- I cannot tell you how irritating it is to have to open the front doors when what you need is sitting on the back seat but to open the rear door you first must open the corresponding front door. Plus, in tight quarters, there may not be room to open both doors widely enough to fetch something off the rear seat or floor. Having owned two true four-door (crew cab) pickups, I really like having a back seat, but I find the extended-cab door system architecture particularly frustrating.
The F-150 is available with a regular (two-door) cab with 6.5- or 8-foot bed, as a SuperCab with 6.5- or 8-foot bed, and as a SuperCrew (four real doors) with 5.5- or 6.5-foot bed; all available in 4×2 or 4×4 powertrains.
On the other hand, I liked having old-fashioned, manually operated HVAC controls, appreciated all those center console storage spots, and I found nothing irritating about the EcoBoost engine and its start/stop system. Why waste fuel when you’re simply sitting there waiting for the stop light to turn green?
Speaking of which, I averaged better than 23 miles per gallon during my week in the big 4×4 pickup.
2015 Ford F-150 4X4 SuperCab
Vehicle type: 5-passenger full-size pickup truck, 4-wheel drive
Base price: $37,005 Price as tested: $42,635
Engine: 2.7-liter turbocharged V6, 325-horsepower @ 5,750 rpm, 375 pound-feet of torque @ 3,000 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 145 inches Overall length/width: 231.9 inches / 79.9 inches (excluding mirrors)
Curb weight: 4,783 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 18 city / 23 highway / 20 combined
Assembled in: Dearborn, Michigan