DEXTER, MICH. – Ford isn’t sitting on its laurels as the dominant truck builder in North America. The company, which started building trucks in 1917 with its Model T-based TT truck, is stepping up its game in the pickup market, offering more-powerful, more-efficient powertrains, greater capabilities and additional new technologies in its 2018 F-150 lineup.
In fact, the improvements in the 2018 F-150 powertrains have resulted in best-in-class ratings, when suitably equipped, for towing (13,200 lb (5,987 kg), an increase of 1,000 lb (454 kg) over 2017), payload (now 3,270 lb (1,483 kg)) and fuel efficiency. The addition of larger rear wheel axles has boosted the F-150’s maximum GCWR (gross combined weight rating) to 18,500 lb(8,391 kg).
The new, advanced powertrain lineup offers a choice of five gasoline engines and all but the base V-6 are couples to Ford’s new 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. (The base 3.3-litre engine is paired with a six-speed automatic tranny.)
This transmission delivers improved acceleration and performance, compared to the six-speed, due to optimized wide-span gear spacing and drag-reduction actions. It includes three overdrive ratios and a wider ratio span to improve fuel efficiency at highway speeds.
3.3L Ti-VCT V-6
Engine upgrades even include the standard 3.3L Ti-VCT V-6, which now features dual-port and direct injection technology, plus an increase in the compression ratio to 12.1:1, resulting in an additional eight horsepower (now 290 horsepower)and 12 more lb-ft of torque (265 lb-ft total.)
To cope with added horsepower and torque, the lower end of the all-aluminum block has been beefed up with upgraded bearings and crankshaft plus a new two-piece oil pan. Despite the gains in output, the engine’s fuel efficiency has improved – it’s now rated at 12.3 L/100 km city, 9.4 highway and 10.7 combined.
2.7L EcoBoost V-6
The optional EcoBoost lineup starts with a new second-generation 2.7L turbocharged V-6. Dual-port and direct-injection technology plus an increased compression ratio (now 10.3:1) have boosted this engine’s torque output by 25 lb-ft to 400 total at just 2,750 rpm.
A new lightweight cam and dual-chain cam drive system have helped reduce weight and friction loss, plus a new electric-actuated wastegate provides more accurate control of the turbo’s boost. Fuel efficiency has also improved slightly with this engine as well (11.7 city, 9.0 highway, 10.7 combined.)
This small-displacement engine definitely impressed, both in basic cruising as well as hauling a 7,000-lb (3175-kg) trailer. It had plenty of grunt while driving unloaded, but still managed to tow the trailer without a fuss.
Much of the credit for its response, as well as its fuel efficiency, should be given to the 10-speed transmission. Truly impressive was its ability to always pick the right gear to meet the demand at the time, never searching through its inventory to find the appropriate ratio.
Like the other applications of this transmission, it made the driving experience so smooth, regardless of the loads and demands – but with the 2.7L, it seemed even more so.
5.0L Ti-VCT V-8
The naturally aspirated workhorse in the F-150 engine lineup, the 5.0L Ti-VCT V-8, hasn’t been overlooked in the upgrade movement. The addition of dual-port and direct-injection technology has raised the horsepower output to 395 (an increase of 10 horsepower) and total torque to 400 lb-ft at 4,500 revs (13 additional lb-ft). Internal weight-saving and friction-reducing changes to the aluminum block include the replacement of cylinder sleeves with the spray-on bore liner introduced on the Shelby GT350 Mustang.
I was able to try out this engine, with its new 10-speed transmission as well, both in normal driving and also with an 8,000-lb (3,629-kg) trailer hitched to its tail. It’s obvious why owners who intend to do serious towing would opt for this powertrain. It cruised so quietly on the highway – and never changed its mood when that car hauler was hooked on.
As with the 2.7L powertrain, the 10-speed transmission was flawless in this application, too. It simply picked the right gear every time and got down to business. Truly a pleasure to drive.
Fuel efficiency has been improved slightly for the 2018 5.0L V-8 as well, with ratings now of 13.8 city, 10.2 highway and 12.3 combined.
3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6s
Two second-generation 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6s round out the gas engine lineup for 2018. Both are basically unchanged from the previous model year. The standard-output, twin-turbo version produces 375 horsepower and a very stout 470 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm – ideal for hauling heavy payloads and towing heavy trailers. Its fuel consumption ratings are 13.0 city, 9.4 highway, 11.2 combined.
The high output version of the 3.5L EcoBoost, the heart of the Raptor performance truck, cranks out 450 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 revs. Its fuel consumption ratings are 15.7 city, 13.1 highway and 14.7 combined. In mostly highway driving from Toronto to the event site in Dexter, Mich., the Raptor averaged about 14L/100 km in “normal” (ie., non-thrashing) use.
Diesel to come
In addition to these gas-fuelled offerings, Ford says a new 3.0L V-6 Power Stroke diesel will be added to the 2018 powertrain lineup in the spring. It, too, will be paired with the 10-speed automatic transmission.
The fuel-saving automatic stop-start technology is standard across the 2018 F-150 powertrain lineup.
The changes for 2018 don’t end with powertrain upgrades. The exterior has been restyled, bringing the F-150 in line with the design cues introduced on its big brother, the Super Duty F-Series. Two new C-shaped headlamp assemblies with LED lighting wrap around the edges of the redesigned grille.
Depending on the trim level, six different grille designs are offered for 2018, including the return of a mesh style. The upper front fascia has been redesigned and the hood and fenders have been chamfered, creating a totally new look.
At the rear, new taillights with LED illumination are available and the tailgate has a new look. Like the Super Duty the F-150 logo is stamped into the tailgate on XL, XLT and Lariat trimmed models, while the premium King Ranch, Platinum and Limited models have a satin chrome appliqué.
Six new wheel designs are available, ranging in size from 18 to 22 inches.
Customers now have even more choices as to the exterior finish they prefer, with a total of 14 paint colours available.
New interior environments, too
New interior environments, too, have been added to the upscale models, including Kingsville for the King Ranch, Dark Marsala for the Platinum model and Navy Pier for the top-of-the-line Limited. New appearance appliqués are available for the XLT Sport and Lariat Sport models.
A suite of new segment-first and class-exclusive technologies have been added for 2018, including available enhanced adaptive cruise control with stop-go functionality, that will bring the truck to a stop when traffic stalls, then automatically resume speed if the delay doesn’t exceed three seconds. (if the stoppage is longer than three seconds, the driver simply hits the resume button once traffic starts moving again.) Also available is a pre-collision assist system with pedestrian detection that will first warn the driver of a potential collision, then stop the truck if the driver fails to react.
Mobile WiFi hotspots are becoming a hot item in the auto business, and F-150 engineers aren’t ignoring the trend. A 4G LTE modem with WiFi hotspot capable of connecting up to 10 mobile devices at one time is now offered on the F-150.
Audiophiles will be able to enjoy their tunes without compromise, as Ford is offering a new B&O PLAY premium audio system, complete with high-end speakers, sound and tuning designed for the F-150 cabin.
These new technologies join available segment-exclusive features introduced on previous models, including trailer backup assist, blind-spot monitoring that covers not only the length of the truck but also up to a 33-foot trailer, radar-based BLIS to monitor areas that may not be visible around the rear of the truck and trailer, 360-degree camera technology and lane-keeping assist.
The 2018 F-150 lineup, which is assembled at Ford’s Dearborn and Kansas City truck plants, offers a trio of cab configurations – regular, Super Cab and four-door Super Crew – as well as three pickup bed sizes: a 5.5-foot box, a 6.5-foot box and an eight-foot box.
Pricing starts at $30,499 for the base XL 4x2 truck with a regular cab on 122-inch (3099-mm) wheelbase. The 4x4 version of that truck starts at $34,999. The lineup tops out at $77,779 for the premium Limited edition, only offered in the Super Crew configuration with four-wheel drive and the long (145-inch(3,683-mm)) wheelbase.
Of course, there’s a multitude of trim levels, including XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum, between the base and the line topper, plus the powertrain choices outlined earlier. The performance champ in the lineup – the 450-horsepower Raptor – starts at $68,899 for the Super Cab 4x4 on a 133-inch (3,378-mm) wheelbase, while the longer (145-inch(3,683-mm)) wheelbase 4x4 Super Crew version starts at $71,399.
All models also have an additional $1,800 tagged to the bottom line for destination and delivery fees.