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FIRST DRIVE

Redesigned 2015 Ford F-150 proves leaner and more refined

Innovative full-sized pickup truck comes out swinging for the fences

Published: September 29, 2014 12:00 PM

Imagine being the player who will take over for Derek Jeter as the shortstop for the New York Yankees, and you begin to appreciate what it must have been like designing and selling the next Ford F-150. It’s daunting, to say the least, to replace a legend that has become a household name and enormous money-making franchise with legions of loyal fans.

As Ford constantly highlights, the F-150 has been the country’s best-selling truck for 37 years and best-selling vehicle of any type for 32 years. So there's a lot riding on this redesign of this pickup.

One could argue that Ford is taking on this task, um, lightly. The new F-150 is built with an increased use of high-strength steel and aluminum, which contributes to excising an impressive 700 lbs. compared to the last model. That’s a weight-loss feat worthy of a reality-TV show.

The borrowed F-150 (four-wheel drive, crew cab with the 2.7-liter V6) we drove weighed 5,060 lbs. Our last tested F-150s clocked in at 5,725 and 5,705 lbs. for the V8 and V6 versions, respectively. The new truck also compares quite favorably to the Chevrolet Silverado (5,415 lbs.) and the V8-powered Ram 1500 (5,495 lbs.).

Photo: Steve Petrovich

Powertrain choices include a new 325-hp, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (with fuel-saving start/stop technology); 283-hp, 3.5-liter V6; 365-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and 385-hp 5.0-liter V8. All engines get a six-speed automatic. Fuel-economy estimates have not been released.

The new F-150 will offer several features somewhat unique to pickup trucks, including a 360-degree-view camera, LED headlights, and remote tailgate release. Another first includes integrated loading ramps, making it easier to load ATVs, dirt bikes, and the like. One other super-handy feature is a retractable rubberized side step in front of each rear wheel to enable access to the bed from the side.

Anyone familiar with past F-150s will feel right at home in the new truck’s cabin, as the controls and switchgear are all standard—but modern—Ford issue. But that’s not a bad thing, as the new F-150 comes with traditional rotary knobs for the radio and climate system, making adjustments a snap. And unlike the “dial-a-gear” knob in the Ram 1500, the F-150 carries on with the traditional column-mounted shifter.

There’s also tons of room inside; front- and rear-seat passengers have lots of space to stretch out.

Available safety features include lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot detection.

Driving impressions

With so many available engines, Ford is betting that the F-150 will have something for everyone. The 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 in the truck we borrowed pulled stronglymany of us didn’t notice that it wasn’t a V8.

On local roads around our test facility, we found the handling commendably responsive with a direct steering response that made the truck feel secure.

The ride was unobjectionable despite frequent small pitchesnot quite matching the Ram 1500 but seemingly more comfortable than the Silverado. The most striking thing about the new truck is how quiet it is. The cab is so hushed, it feels almost like a luxury car.

Towing performance was also decent, as detailed by my colleague Tom Mutchler’s experience pulling his Airstream trailer.

Overall, the lightweight materials in the new F-150 show Ford’s efforts to make one of the country’s most popular vehicles more responsive and fuel efficient. The F-150 has always been competitive in Consumer Reports' tests, but the bar has been raised high by the latest versions of the Ram (which is the class leader for ride comfort and low interior noise) and the Silverado (with its impressive towing and payload capacities).

That isn’t to suggest that the F-150 is a lightweight contender—far from it. We’ll find out more when we buy ours and put it through the usual grueling battery of tests.

—Mike Quincy

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