It’s hard to discredit a truck that’s been the number one selling fullsize pickup for 37 years and the number one selling vehicle overall for almost as long. However, 40 percent of truck buyers base their purchase on brand loyalty. That’s the kind of momentum you only find in a mile-long freight train loaded full of lead bricks, and it’s difficult to slow it down, regardless of what economical or functional new features GM, Nissan, Ram, or Toyota offer—or Ford fails to offer—in the ½-ton truck segment. In a quickly advancing and competitive truck market that includes GMs powerful economical direct-injected engines and a solid, vault-like chassis along with Ram’s soft-riding coil-link rear end, self-leveling air suspension, eight-speed transmission, and a clean diesel pushing near 30-mpg, is the ’15 Ford F-150’s facelift a significant enough redesign? To be honest, I was kinda hoping for more from Ford in the form of a light-duty diesel, a 10-speed transmission, and a linked rear suspension.
Of course, there are plenty of new safety and convenience features to talk about, but the real news with the ’15 F-150 is the all-aluminum body, lightweight high-strength steel frame, and available 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 engine with auto start-stop technology for improved fuel economy and the 3.5L Ecoboost. Many competitive-brand fanboys will be quick to make the comparison of the new aluminum-bodied F-150 to a crushed beer can. When you get past the heated brand-loyalty arguments, aluminum has been used successfully and extensively in planes, battle tanks, as armor plating and even in 4x4 vehicles, including our ’14 Four Wheeler of the Year, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, where, thanks in part to the lightweight and rigidity characteristics of an aluminum unitbody and suspension, Land Rover engineers were able to dump nearly 800 pounds from the Range Rover Sport’s chassis.
“Many competitive-brand fanboys will be quick to make the comparison of the new aluminum-bodied F-150 to a crushed beer can.”
More good news is that the new F-150 aluminum bed and body are said to be more dent-resistant than the steel components on the outgoing truck. Contractors will rejoice at the idea of fewer unsightly dings until they realize that easily removable magnetic company banners and logos will no longer stick to the doors.
The company may tell you otherwise, but Ford’s bet on aluminum is mostly a fuel economy play. It’s said that for every 100 pounds of mass taken out of a vehicle, the fuel economy increases by about 1-2 percent. Through the use of the non-ferrous metal, Ford will be able to decrease the weight of its F-150 by up to 700 pounds on some models. Bad news for Ford is that its trucks are generally a few hundred pounds heavier than the competitors’ equivalent trucks, so the overall weight savings is less than is seems. No ’15 F-150 mpg numbers have been posted as of yet, but considering the new engine, the 2.7L and 3.5L EcoBoost, the lighter weight and Ford’s current competition, it’s my guess that Ford should be able to get a strippy, two-wheel-drive standard-cab shortbed version of the F-150 to hit near 30 mpg.
My biggest concern is what all of this means for the future of the SVT Raptor, one of my favorite 4x4s of all-time. All I could get from the Ford PR people was that more news is coming later this year. Considering the recent increased Ford involvement in desert racing, I suspect that the Raptor will eventually get a version of the new aluminum body and lightweight frame. Or maybe not. Some rumors noted that the Raptor would keep the ’14 body and frame through 2015, as a ’14 model. Unfortunately, the death of the 6.2L in the F-150 is imminent. So, what engine will go into the ’16 SVT Raptor? Great question—I’m hoping for a version of the 5.8L V-8 found in the Shelby GT500 Mustang punching out 662hp and 631 lb-ft of torque. If Ford tries to replace the 411hp, 434 lb-ft 6.2L V-8 with the 360hp, 380 lb-ft 5.0L V-8, or worse, the 365hp, 420 lb-ft 3.5L EcoBoost, I will personally lead the charge to the Ford gates with torch and pitchfork in hand.
If the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 taught us anything, it’s that an unloaded 3.5L EcoBoost powered truck does get great fuel economy. However, hitch up a trailer or toss a heavy cargo in the bed and you can see mpg pulled down into the single digits. The new 2.7L EcoBoost-equipped F-150 will likely have significantly reduced cargo and towing capacities (I’m guessing around 5,000 pounds max tow), and like 3.5L EcoBoost trucks, I suspect they will deliver significantly reduced fuel economy when fully loaded. The 2.7L EcoBoost F-150 will probably be a good option for those that rarely tow or haul heavy loads, yet enjoy the convenience of owning a pickup, which interestingly enough is the majority of the ½-ton truck market.
There are a lot of unknowns, considering that this is the first aluminum pickup truck. Only time will tell if this was the right move for Ford to maintain its market superiority. I think it’s going to be difficult for the typical light-duty truck consumer to wrap their mind around lighter (aluminum body), potentially less capable (reduced cargo and towing capacity), and smaller (2.7L V-6) as being better.