Updating the best-selling vehicle in America is no easy task. How do you improve on a product that moved 820,799 units in 2016 alone without risking what made it popular to begin with? By not changing a whole hell of a lot.
In 2015, Ford took a risk by moving the F-150 to an aluminum intensive platform. Despite disparaging ads from the competition, the current F-150 has been wildly successful. For 2018, Ford spiced up its bread and butter with a fresh new face, new safety equipment and updated powertrains.
This is not an all-new truck. Most of what you see and touch carries over from the 2017 model. The updated styling pulls it more inline with the rolling belt buckle that is the Ford Super Duty. Most variants wear a wide two-bar grille that’s straight from the F-150’s big brother. It’s a bit garish, but the same can be said of General Motors and Ram trucks. Give the customers what they want, we say. The sport package on XL, XLT and Lariat trims does add a bit of flavor. Ford replaced the wide bars with a rectangular mesh grille. It’s highly reminiscent of the old Ford Excursion, with only the C-clamp headlights giving it a modern flair.
The rear of the F-150 also gets the Super Duty treatment. On XL, XLT and Lariat models, the tailgate is stamped with the F-150 logo. On King Ranch, Platinum and Limited models, the tailgate gets a satin chrome trim piece embossed with the trim logo.
Inside it’s the same F-150 you know so well. It’s mostly carryover from 2017, though there are a few new colors on offer. Each trim level improves on the one below it, ranging from rubber floor mats and vinyl seats to thick carpet and premium leather. The King Ranch topped the F-150 lineup just a few years ago. Now, it feels just middling compared to the usurper that is the F-150 Limited. One particular Limited in this test had a fine shade of blue leather Ford calls Navy Pier. Simply put, we dig it.
The 2018 F-150 gets a number of new active safety features, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection. The most notable new feature is the adaptive cruise control specifically designed and tuned with trailer towing in mind. This is the first application of this in a light-duty truck. Like other systems, Ford’s adaptive cruise uses a combination of radar and cameras. It can bring the truck and trailer down to a complete stop. Other new features include an optional B&O premium sound system and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot that can connect up to 10 devices at once.
The 2018 updates continue behind that bold new grille. The base 3.5-liter V6 has been replaced by an all-new 3.3-liter V6 that’s both more powerful and less thirsty than the 3.5. An all-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 replaces the old 2.7-liter EcoBoost. Torque and fuel efficiency are both up. The venerable 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 moves from port to direct injection, again aiding in fuel economy. Only the two 3.5-liter EcoBoost engines remain unchanged. A new diesel engine is coming early next year, but it wasn’t on hand to test.
Every engine but the base 3.3-liter V6 is now mated to a 10-speed automatic. That engine soldiers on with a six-speed automatic. This 10-speed is the same transmission that was co-developed with GMand rests underneath both the F-150 Raptor and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. In practice, it’s fine and forgettable in the best way. A good automatic should work in secret, sending slippery gnomes to move cogs without a peep, with nothing more than the sound of an engine telling you that you’ve changed gears. It seems Ford smoothed out some of the hesitation that we noticed in the Raptor.
Previously, real-world fuel economy numbers for the EcoBoost engines haven’t always stacked up well against the stated numbers. Ford promises this new generation of EcoBoost engines will fare better. Taken on their own, the turbo V6 models pack all the power and performance a truck owner will need. Ford has worked hard to sell the 3.5-liter EcoBoost as the premium engine. It has the power and performance to back up that sales pitch. Even the smaller 2.7-liter EcoBoost has plenty of oomph. Yes, we may love the sound and instant response of the V8, but its days appear to be numbered.
The ride and handling haven’t changed from the current model. It still rides like a truck, and no amount of leather or cushioning will change that. Don’t step into a $65,000 F-150 Limited expecting it to ride like a luxury SUV. That said, it’s not terrible and it’s lightyears better than the segment standard from just a decade ago. The stiff suspension does help the truck’s payload capacity. Maximum payload is a class-leading 3,270 lbs, though that varies based on configurations.
Backing up a trailer, especially for the inexperienced, can be a harrowing task. The general rule to never put yourself in a situation where you need to backup doesn’t work in all instances. For example: a boat ramp. Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup assist makes it a cinch. Simply tap a button to trigger the mode then use a small dial on the dash to aim the trailer in the intended direction. You control the speed, but the truck automatically handles the steering. This will be great for those owners that may only tower a trailer three or four times a year.