Road Test

2011 Ford F-150 with EcoBoost is a game changer

EcoBoost V-6 engine achieves vastly better fuel economy without sacrificing power.

2011 Ford Ecovan F150

Canadians love their pickup trucks, especially the Ford F-150. Ford sells about 10,000 of them every month.

To put that number in perspective, the most popular car in the country is the Honda Civic, which sells at the rate of about 5,000/month. Stated another way, Ford sells more F-150 pickups in the average month than all the vehicles sold by Acura, Audi, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Saab, Suzuki and Volvo – COMBINED!

There is nothing new here. The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle of any type in this country for 45 years. That is good news for Ford’s bottom line but bad news in terms of a regulation governing Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE as it is known in the industry. (See sidebar.)

Engineers have used electronics, direct injection, hybrids and weight reduction to get to current fuel-consumption levels. Where they will find an additional 30% reduction, required by 2016, is a huge issue, let alone the proposed 60% reduction for 2025.

Politicians are reluctant to increase fuel taxes to force consumers into more fuel efficient vehicles. But forcing manufacturers to produce more efficient vehicles isn’t working either.

Big pickups and SUVS continue to be the hottest sellers. Despite moderately-rising fuel prices, small-car sales have plummeted over the past couple of years and hybrid sales account for less than one per cent of total sales.

More expensive and restrictive plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are coming but their sales numbers are so small they have little impact on CAFÉ.

The CAFE standards are sales-weighted making the popularity of pickups an immense problem. Ford offers the Fusion and Escape Hybrids, a thrifty new Focus and the new sub-compact Fiesta. As popular as they are, they don’t come near offsetting the effect of all those F150s.

So Ford engineers have found a way to make a big pickup MUCH more economical – EcoBoost! It combines a host of modern technologies to create an engine that achieves vastly better fuel economy without sacrificing power.

Ford has applied this EcoBoost technology across its entire line of vehicles, giving various engines the ability to perform like much bigger ones. This aluminum newcomer to the F-150vhas the same displacement and overall design as one used in the Ford Flex and Taurus SHO, but not a single part is common.

In addition to power and economy the engineers worked extensively on reliability and longevity, knowing what was at srake in the truck world should this engine have problems.

In the case of the F-150 the numbers tell it all. The normal 5.0-litre V-8, paired with an automatic transmission in a two-wheel-drive F-150, averages 13.9 litres/100 km in the city and 9.7 on the highway, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Based on the national average distance travelled by Canadians, that truck would consume 2,400 litres of regular fuel in a year. At the time of this writing gas was $1.249/litre so you would spend $2997 a year on gas for that truck.

Now switch to the F-150 EcoBoost and the ratings drop to 12.9 and 9.0 You’d use 2,220 litres of fuel for a savings of $225 a year.

It’s a $1,000 option over the V-8 engine so you’d save enough money on fuel to pay back the cost in less than five years.

More importantly, to Ford, the drop in consumption will make a major contribution to its CAFE rating.

So is this twin-turbo engine any good? Is it a decent substitute for the regular old V-8 so dearly loved by pickup buyers? In a word – yes. In two words – game changer.

Once again let’s look at numbers. That 5.0-litre V-8 produces 360 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. The 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 belts out 365 horsepower @5,000 rpm and, most importantly, 420 lb-ft of torque at only 2,500 rpm. More power, and torque, lower in the rev range, right down where the engine spends the majority of its time.

The only discernible difference between the V-8 and Ecoboost V-6 is sound. The six has a different exhaust note.

I picked the vehicle up and drove in the city for a half hour and then on the highway for 20 minutes. Only when I pulled into the driveway did I think to check the specs.

Because of its terrific punch off the line and at low engine speeds, I expected to find it had the optional 6.2-litre V-8 instead of the standard 5.0 litre engine. Obviously it was a total surprise to find it had the V-6 with the performance it had.

Later in the week I had two occasions to put a 450-650 kg (approximately 1,000- 1,500 lb) in the bed. In neither case was there any sign the engine even knew it was there.

The EcoBoost V-6 has the same payload and load ratings as the biggest available 6.2-litre V-8, 1390 and 5136 kg (3,060 and 11,300 lb), respectively.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a big, heavy truck and I came nowhere near the government-rated fuel economy numbers. But experience has proven those numbers are good for comparison purposes so the consumption would have been higher with the V-8.

Big and heavy? How about 2700 kg (6,000 lb) with one person aboard and almost 11 metres (more than than 23 feet) between the bumpers.

As you can imagine, with that number of units being sold there is an almost infinite variety of configurations available, including five trim levels and seven additional "premium" packages.

The F-150 comes in two- or four-wheel-drive; regular, super and crew-cab configurations; and three different box lengths.

The engine lineup has been thoroughly reworked for 2011. The old 4.6 and 5.4-litre V-8s are gone, replaced by more fuel efficient 5.0 and 6.2-litre eights. The 3..5-litre Ecoboost V-6 is joined by a 3.7-litre normally-aspirated V-6, which serves as the base engine in most models.

The only transmission available is a six-speed automatic with Tow/Haul mode.

Beyond that, you get into a huge variety of choices from trim to axle ratios and springs. There is literally an F-150 for everyone, whether it be a plain, base working truck, one equipped for towing large trailers or a luxury vehicle.

My tester was the latter, a loaded top-line Lariat trim level with $2,500 in options.

The two big front buckets were world-class but with the SuperCrew you get two regulation-size rear doors and what might be the biggest rear seat in the industry. Leg and headroom are massive! And in this trim level there is nothing second-class about that seating area.

The second seat is also split 60/40 so you can fold one side up for additional weather-proof storage.

The test vehicle also had the slick flip-down step and pop up handle to make getting into the bed possible without a 48-inch inseam.

At some point everyone needs a pickup – whether once a year or once a day. They have become a part of life on this continent and in more cases than not the single source of transportation for many, doing double duty as both truck and passenger vehicle.

With gas prices continuing to escalate more people are likely to consider fuel economy – even in a pickup. Ford hopes so.

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