Just in: 2011 Ford F-150 XLT EcoBoost

Consumer Reports News: March 30, 2011 02:38 PM

Ford is trying something different by offering a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 as an engine upgrade in their full-sized F-150 pickup truck. On the surface, it would appear that Ford has got a tough sell. After all, a V8 has familiar appeal to traditional pickup truck buyers. But Ford is putting its marketing muscle behind the turbo engine's promise of power and fuel economy, while asserting its durability through extreme testing. To see how the EcoBoost works in the hot-selling truck, we just bought one for our test fleet.

Opting for two fewer cylinders and two turbos adds $750 to the price tag, positioning this as a step up from the volume-selling 5.0-liter V8. (There's also a 6.2-liter V8 available as a more traditional top-dog engine option.)

We've been impressed with the EcoBoost V6's performance in two previous test vehicles —the Ford Flex Limited and Lincoln MKT. Curious to see how this new tech works out in a larger and heavier truck, we bought a boosted F-150 with the optional engine and an integrated trailer brake controller. Our $40,410 F-150 XLT EcoBoost is similarly equipped to our earlier-purchased 5.0-liter V8 version. Like that truck, there were hefty incentives and plenty of bargaining room.

Spending the extra $750 does get you some more power. Compared to the 5.0-liter V8 (360 hp, 380 lb.-ft. of torque), the EcoBoost has five more horsepower and 40 more lb.-ft. of torque. Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to flog the smaller engine to get to that maximum torque: max EcoBoost torque is at 2500 rpm compared to 4250 rpm for the 5.0L. While towing capacities vary widely by axle ratio and cab/bed configuration, most EcoBoost iterations are rated to tow more than an equivalent 5.0-liter truck. One downside is that the EcoBoost engine isn't available with the useful 36-gallon fuel tank in our 5.0-liter F-150 SuperCrew. The turbo's tank is 10 gallons smaller.

So does the EcoBoost improve fuel economy? EPA estimates for our F-150 4x4 SuperCrew are 15 city mpg, 21 mpg highway. Our 5.0-liter V8-equipped truck is rated at 14 city mpg, 19 mpg highway. We'll see if that advantage remains as we rack up more break-in miles on our trucks.

First impressions? Motivating the F-150 EcoBoost doesn't tax the engine at all. The truck just loafs along, even at highway speeds. You do notice the unique diesel-like direct-injection clatter on start-up and can hear some turbo whirl under load, but otherwise it's very quiet.

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