It is rare that a journalist with a specialty in vehicle review gets multiple stints in the same vehicle. That is, of course, said journalist specializes in a particular brand and/or model. Otherwise, we generalists try to bring in different models to evaluate and write about in our specific outlets.
However, I wound up with two 2015 Ford F-150 pickups to review in a span of three weeks. This is not a matter of luck, but of circumstance. It also gave me license to work harder to cover one of the most newsworthy vehicles of the past 15 months. It also fits with a strategy to review vehicles that are relevant to my main regional audience of the Upper Midwest. Pickup trucks are common vehicles in this home market, and the one that gets the most talk is the Ford F-150.
In my reviews, I point out that its 37 years of sales leadership is due to brand and product loyalty, reputation and innovation. Ford pulled out all of the stops in the new F-150 by introducing aluminum as the basis for cab and box construction, while maintaining a strong rolled steel frame and adding a new EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 to the engine lineup. These were done in the name of weight loss and higher fuel efficiency, while maintaining class-normal payload and towing capacity targets.
Driving two different Ford F-150s certainly added to the context of the basic story. There were of different specifications – trim levels, engines, equipment and so forth. They also provided additional questions not addressed in either forthcoming review.
Perhaps to understand the importance of the new F-150 is to put the two versions I drove for my upcoming reviews in a comparison. It would help answer the question of which one would be a better choice for the consumer. It would help me choose which one I want around to drive if given a longer term.
The two models being compared might be similar on some level, but they are indeed different. One is a Lariat model in the SuperCrew cab riding on the 145-inch wheelbase with a five-and-a-half-foot box. The Lariat is equipped with the new 2.7liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6, a six-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed four-wheel drive system. The King Ranch is a 157-inch wheelbase model with a SuperCrew cab and a six-and-a-half-foot box. Powering the King Ranch is the 3.5liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6, a six-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed four-wheel drive system.
How am I to compare these two F-150s? I always see the practical side of vehicles from both a consumer and an enthusiast standpoint. Maybe this will be the approach to take. But, where to start the comparison…under the hood!
A TALE OF TWO ECOBOOSTS: As I mentioned before, each F-150 presented an EcoBoost engine to try on. The Lariat had the new smaller 2.7liter version, while the King Ranch had the larger 3.5liter one. The numbers tell the story – the 2.7liter has 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, while the 3.5liter offers 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The transmission and four-wheel drive system are pretty much the same, which yielded these fuel economy figures: The 2.7liter averaged 18.4 MPG, while the 3.5liter turned in 15.4 MPG for overall fuel consumption. Though the larger EcoBoost was mightier for truck use, the 2.7 surprised me a lot. It truly felt like a small V8 in any pickup – enough punch when you need with more reserve power than you expected. In all, I liked the 2.7 for its feel at the pedal over the 3.5.
MORE NUMBERS TO CONSIDER: Both F-150s had different wheelbase and bed configurations. This would help guide the question of which configuration would be beneficial. The Lariat offers a 2,160-pound payload capacity and an 8,200-pound maximum towing limit. The longer, more powerful King Ranch had a payload rating of 2,010 pounds with a towing capacity of 10,700 pounds. Payload and towing capacities are the two numbers a truck buyer needs to make a decision on which configuration to get. Instead of considering the larger number, think about what you will use the truck for and what you will need to tow in the next few years. Adding up the numbers will help in getting the right specification of truck for the customer. Plus, not everyone hauls and tows at the maximum levels…or do they? Here is something to think about: If what you need to haul and tow reaches 75-percent of the specification – stop there! That way, you get the full benefit of the new F-150's advances and capabilities. It also prolongs the vehicle's life and reduces wear and tear in the long run. However, the new F-150 feels like a great machine to work with when it comes to bringing home the summer home project or taking the boat to the lake.
HOW MUCH LUXURY DO YOU NEED? Though the Lariat represents a basic level of leather-bound luxury – above the popular and durable XLT trim – the King Ranch serves as a tailored "cowboy luxury" upgrade that attracts buyers. The emphasis on luxury cabins and trims runs counter to what pickup trucks used to be until 1990. There is a market for leather-lined pickups, but a smaller pool for the "cowboy" and "cut-and-sew" luxury trim levels. However, one cannot ignore luxury pickup trucks that are costing the same as a BMW 5-Series or a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The King Ranch came with plenty of active safety features that did not come on the Lariat, but one can equip a Lariat to the same level of features. There is always the Platinum trim available for those who want the King Ranch's level of equipment, but with a more refined style.
DYNAMIC MATTERS: There are two areas I want to explore – wheelbase and tire size. There are a couple of things I learned about trucks. One, the longer the wheelbase means you get a smoother ride and better cargo management than a smaller one. Both vehicles offer very long wheelbases and smooth rides overall. The F-150 simply amazed me with a high level of ride quality and refinement with either wheelbase. Still, I found the King Ranch's 157-inch wheelbase even smoother than the Lariat's 145-inch version. The drawback would be on turning. The longer the wheelbase, more effort is made to do any maneuver competently. Also, smaller wheel sizes and taller sidewalls make for better ride quality in trucks. Though the 20-inch chromed rims on the King Ranch look nice, it would be the 18-inch alloys on the Lariat that provided a better ride than expected. You do feel the difference between the two wheel sizes – even at different wheelbases.
THE TALE OF THE MARONEY: The average price of a pickup truck has gone through the roof in recent years. It used to be that you got a well-equipped truck for a reasonable price – and you used them for work. Not when retail customers demand more from their trucks – including more creature comforts and active safety. When reviewing the stickers for each F-150, I had to sigh. The Lariat came to a sticker price of $51,765, while the King Ranch totaled out to a whopping $63,175.
Because the price of luxury trucks have scaled into premium car territory, the average consumer actually wants a more durable truck with enough features to get the job done. In all, the average F-150 consumer would buy the XLT trim with a SuperCrew cab. What I found was a bit interesting to swallow. If I chose the XLT and equip it as close to the Lariat tester, my sticker price was be $48,710. While it is under $50,000, the price alone still makes me question whether it is a good value in comparison to the leather-lined Lariat model. To build an XLT to the specification of the King Ranch, there will be plenty of features that are not available on the lesser trim. However, equipping an XLT as close to the King Ranch's specification showed a significant savings over the more luxurious model with a sticker price of $50,945.
This is a tough comparison to do, even though a lot of the data was crystal clear. However, there is a reason behind the Ford F-150's success is that you can look at various configurations towards choosing the right one that meets your needs. Whether you are a commercial customer needing to turn over a fleet, or an individual that uses it for work and play, the F-150 offers a lot of options to choose from ensuring the right specification for what you use it for. This is true for a lot of its competitors – mainly the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra and the Ram 1500.
However, dealers will offer units in stock that they deemed to be specified for their market. The best advice I give to any pickup buyer is to come with a list of needs, your projected maximum payload and towing requirements and to explain exactly what you will use it for year-round. If you find a good truck salesperson that understands your needs, they can help locate the right unit for you.
In all – and consider this a spoiler alert, if you read any of my other outlets – the new Ford F-150 is a good truck. It really showed Ford's commitment to execute new construction materials and methods with extensive use of aluminum and its integration with the rolled steel frame and expanded use of EcoBoost engine technology.
But, if I had to choose between the Lariat and King Ranch testers I had in for review – it would be a toss-up. The King Ranch is a lovely cabin and wears its badge proudly, but I found the Lariat's shorter wheelbase more manageable to work with and the 2.7liter EcoBoost a more flexible and really fun engine to drive. I did briefly drive a 2015 XLT model months earlier and found the interior suitable for heavier duty and everyday use.
The truck market is very important these days. The profit center per unit is something manufacturers love to see – especially when they selling them in the tens of thousands. None more important is the new 2015 Ford F-150's presence and advances over its rivals. Sales were slow at launch, but they appear to be moving once again towards levels Ford would be satisfied with.
When making the right choice of truck, be ready to do your homework and present what you need – and want – before you buy anything on the lot. That includes buying a 2015 Ford F-150.