Henry Ford was hardly a betting man
– in fact, Ford’s Sociological Department started counselling employees against gambling and other vices in 1914 – but the corporation he left behind has been known to wager from time to time.
To say the automaker bet the farm in 2015 when it adopted lighter aluminum body panels in place of steel in its bestselling F-150 pickup truck is an understatement. F-Series trucks account for 90 per cent of Ford’s global profit, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.
Ford’s gamble could have gone either way. Its aluminum-bodied truck might have set a new industry standard, or tip the automaker towards bankruptcy if buyers rejected the idea of having “soft” aluminum in their tough truck.
Four years on, the bet has paid out handsomely. Truck buyers value fuel efficiency, especially in a work truck whose operating costs can bite into revenue. More than one million F-Series pickups were built in 2018 alone, making the F-150 the undisputed king of the segment.
Does that make it the best used-truck buy? Read on.
[caption id="attachment_136756" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Ford calls its aluminum alloy “military grade,” incorporating magnesium and silicon, among other ingredients, and heat-treated to further strengthen the mix. The boxed frame underneath retained its steel construction, with high-strength steel content upped from 23 per cent to 77 per cent, which further aided “lightweighting.” All told, the 2015 F-150 shed as much as 700 pounds (317 kg) compared to the previous F-150.
Being a full-size pickup, it’s offered in regular, extended (SuperCab) and four-door SuperCrew body styles, along with three bed lengths: 5.5 feet, 6.5 feet and 8 feet. As radical a departure as the aluminum F-150 is, Ford kept the styling changes in line with truck buyers’ conservative tastes. The restyled grille and C-shaped headlights were the most obvious visible changes.
The interior furnishings run the gamut from bare-bones fleet truck with vinyl floor coverings and crank-your-own windows, to sumptuous cabin materials and features that would look at home in any full-zoot luxury car. There’s lots of storage available with both the standard 40/20/40-split front bench with cubbies built into the fold-down armrest, or front bucket seats separated by a massive centre console.
One premium feature made available for the first time is air-conditioned seats up front. However, a few owners noted that while the seat bottoms cooled nicely, the seat backs inexplicably warmed up, presenting an untenable contrast.
“After having the seat A/C on for about an hour, the seat back will begin to get uncomfortably hot. The electrical for the seat has been replaced once before,” noted one driver online. The issue appears to be limited to 2015 models only.
The available 8-inch display screen can be customized to show an array of user-selected information options. Ford added redundant volume and tuning knobs and radio station pre-set buttons to be helpful. The automaker’s clunky MyFord Touch interface was replaced by a new Sync 3 system in 2016 models that’s quicker and easier to use.
There’s a host of optional safety features, including lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, as well as a trailer-hitch assist camera to make lining up the hitch ball and coupling a convenient one-person job.
MOTIVATING THE F-150
V8-powered pickups may be an American birthright, but Ford had a better idea. In addition to offering the previous EcoBoost 3.5-L V6 twin-turbo making 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, it added a new turbocharged 2.7-L V6 that produces a healthy 325 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque to the options list. The base engine was a normally aspirated 3.5-L V6 that generates 283 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Traditionalists could still opt for Ford’s 5.0-L V8 that’s rated at 385 hp and 387 lb-ft of grunt.
A redesigned 375-hp 3.5-L V6 twin-turbo and its accompanying 10-speed automatic transmission became a popular choice when it was introduced for 2017. With rival trucks from General Motors and Fiat Chrysler upping their game, the F-150 got a thorough refresh for 2018, starting with a new front fascia and enhanced engine choices.
A new base 3.3-L V6 makes 290 hp and 265 pound-feet of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The twin-turbo 2.7-L V6 returned, along with the 5.0-L V8 now making 395 hp and 400 lb-ft. The twin-turbo 3.5-L V6 is available in two power grades: 375 hp and 470 lb-ft, or 450 hp and 510 lb-ft. These three engines came packaged with the 10-speed automatic.
ON THE ROAD
Nobody can accuse Ford of trading V8 power for weenie green motors. Its EcoBoost engines work as advertised: 0-97 km/h comes up in just 5.8 seconds with the 3.5-L engine propelling a Limited SuperCrew 4X4 model. The boosted 2.7-L V6 can do the deed in 6.1 seconds in the slightly less porky Lariat SuperCab 4X4.
“The low-end power on this 3.5-L V6 is insane. A friend has a brand-new Ram 2500
with the 6.4-L motor and it has less torque than this ‘little’ V6. Torque and horsepower are better than Ram or GM trucks,” boasted one F-150 owner.
The 10-speed transmission – co-developed with GM – shifts smoothly and seemingly knows to select the right gear in every instance. Ample engine torque helps in that regard, too. The 3.5-L EcoBoost can pull trailers weighing up to 12,200 pounds (5533 kg) when properly equipped.
Braking performance is better than the class average. The ride quality is relatively firm, which may be attributed to the F-150’s lightweight body and the higher payload it enables. An unladen F-150 can bounce around a fair bit, owners report.
While the popular EcoBoost engines bring the power, they don’t necessarily deliver the other promise: economy. According to the Automobile Protection Association, real-world fuel consumption by the 3.5-L V6 turbo is comparable to the V8. Ford had to settle class-action lawsuits over its false fuel economy claims.
Most F-150 owners have been very happy with their purchase, citing their trucks’ best-in-class towing and payload ratings, responsive engines, impressive high-tech safety gear and refined driving characteristics. The F-150 performed admirably in crash tests, but on the downside, crumpled aluminum panels cost significantly more to repair.
Additionally, there’s a number of quality lapses that have been divulged by owners online. Firstly, EcoBoost engines have been cursed with the same faulty electronic throttle body problems that have sidelined Ford Explorers and some other models. Beware the wrench icon.
“Driving on highway at 60-75 mph, went to ‘limp mode’ losing all acceleration with warnings along with the wrench service light. This has happened six times. Ford dealer has diagnosed this as a throttle body issue and will be replaced at my cost,” reads a not uncommon lament.
According to a service bulletin, the throttle body’s internal contacts may develop contamination resulting in increased electrical resistance, tripping the “limp home” mode. Customer satisfaction campaign 16B32 saw the electronic throttle body replaced on numerous 2015 and 2016 models, including the F-150 truck, at Ford’s expense.
Another unsettling issue is sudden brake failure: “Brake pedal went to floor while exiting highway. Seconds before applying brakes, Low Brake Fluid warning came on. Thankfully it was a long exit ramp and was able to stop vehicle with down shifting and emergency brake. Very dangerous!”
There’s a proposed U.S. class-action lawsuit that alleges brake master cylinders on the F-150 have piston cup seals that allow brake fluid to leak. All 2013-2018 F-150s use master cylinders supplied by Hitachi, with pistons fitted with just a single cup seal to contain pressurized brake fluid. The fluid seeps into the brake booster rather than dripping onto the ground, so it’s undetected. Repairs are expensive.
Here’s yet another hazardous fault that’s showing up in Ford trucks, as well as some cars: the doors may not latch properly in freezing weather. Owners have observed doors flying open while driving, sending personal belongings tumbling onto the street. Dealers have a TSB for the problem requiring them to install shields inside the doors to keep water out of the latches.
A recall involving a fire hazard in 2015-19 F-150 models and 2017-19 Super Duty trucks affects 463,793 vehicles in Canada. The problem focuses on the engine-block heater, which allows water to intrude into the splice connector. If it corrodes, it may trip a circuit when plugged into an electrical outlet. It may also spark, melt or catch fire. Another reported hazard has seen the rear window defogger overheat and shatter the rear glass.
If a Ford F-150 strikes your fancy – and it certainly appeals to a lot of buyers – consider a 2017 or newer used model, which appears to exhibit fewer problems to date. It’s a safer bet.
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