The Ford F-150 has been Canada's best-selling new vehicle for just-about-ever. So, not surprisingly, it's also the country's most popular used vehicle. That popularity is well earned for the F-150 boasts a distinguished lineage.
Henry Ford’s earliest ambition was to mechanize the American farm; specifically, his father’s acreage outside of Detroit. His distaste of farm-related drudgery compelled Ford to devise a durable, inexpensive tractor and, later, a handy pickup truck.
Ford’s first purpose-built pickup debuted in 1925, featuring a cargo box, adjustable tailgate, stake pockets and heavy-duty rear springs. It cost $281.
The F-Series nameplate wouldn’t appear until after World War II, when it quickly became the standard-bearer for pickup nomenclature, first as the F-1 (1948), then as the F-100 (1953), and subsequently as the ever-popular F-150 in 1975.
Thanks to Henry’s mechanical curiosity (and aversion to manual labour), his pickup would become a rural fixture and, increasingly, an urban one. It’s been Canada’s bestselling light-duty truck for an astounding 47 years.
Fashion and features
The 12th generation F-150 arrived for 2009 and continued through 2014. Visually, it wasn’t a huge departure from the crease-and-fold truck styling that had debuted five years earlier, save for its more prominent grille, inspired by the F-250 Super-Duty, and crisp new headlamps and taillights.
The big news was under the skin: with more high-strength steel, the fully boxed frame had been re-engineered to be both stronger and lighter for improved payload and towing (11,300 lb) capacities, and better fuel economy.
Regular-cab models dropped their trivial mini rear-hinged doors, while the extended SuperCab continued to offer rear-hinged back doors that could not open independently of the fronts. The four-door SuperCrew’s cabin was stretched 15 cm for limousine-like rear seating that folded up to reveal a flat floor for additional cargo-toting flexibility.
The interior gained better materials and finishes, tighter assembly and high-tech options worthy of a Lincoln. The F-150 had grown defiantly immense in a world of shrinking portions and space-challenged condos. A rear-view camera on a pickup truck smacked of overkill, but buyers quickly recognized its benefits.
Three powertrains were available initially: the base engine was a 248-hp 4.6-litre V-8 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission; a three-valves-per-cylinder 292-hp version of the 4.6-litre was packaged with a six-speed automatic, as was the 310-hp SOHC 5.4-litre V-8. The optional four-wheel-drive system could not be left engaged on dry pavement, but did incorporate low-range gearing.
For 2010 Ford unveiled its SVT Raptor, powered by an available 6.2-litre V-8 that churned out 411 horsepower. Influenced by Baja off-road racers, it came equipped with fender flares, long-travel suspension, Fox Racing Shox and 35-inch tires.
All F-150s received some muscle augmentation for 2011. The base engine was a 302-hp 3.7-litre V-6. There were also two V-8s: a 360-hp 5.0-litre and the Raptor’s 6.2-litre, which became available across the range.
The 2011 model year also marked the introduction of the EcoBoost 3.5-litre twin-turbo V-6, the first turbocharged engine in a full-size pickup. Pinched from the Taurus SHO, the engine was reworked for truck duty with new turbos and intercoolers, revised intake and exhaust manifolds, and new electronic controls for the dual variable valve timing. It churned out an ambitious 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
The other significant change was the adoption of electrically-assisted power steering with all but the 6.2-litre V-8. Every F-150 engine came tied solely to an updated six-speed automatic transmission.
Upper trim levels on many 2012 F-150s received a new two-speed automatic transfer case and an electronic locking rear axle (replacing the limited-slip option). The 4x4 models got a larger fuel tank, too.
Driving the F-150
The F-150 distinguished itself as a remarkably smooth rider with superior steering feel and a tomb-quiet demeanor at highway speeds. One owner ranked the truck quieter than his Lincoln MKS.
For all its refinement and cocoon-like isolation, the 2009 F-150 suffered from a shameful paucity of power: It wasn’t nearly as quick as its Dodge and GM competitors. Zero to 96 km/h took 7.9 seconds and that was with the top-drawer 5.4-L V-8.
The 2011 engine transplants addressed the power deficit. The Mustang’s 5.0 V-8 could thrust the big lug to highway velocity in 6.7 seconds, while the big kahuna 6.2 could do it in 6.3 seconds.
Despite ads touting impressive government-tested fuel efficiency, the F-150 typically makes about 16 L/100 km (16-17 mpg IMP) in the city and 13.5 L/100 km (21 mpg IMP) on the highway. Some drivers reported scarcely better real-world results with the EcoBoost V-6. Keep in mind that, like many turbo engines, the EcoBoost is highly sensitive to driver inputs and a heavy boot can be penalized just as a light foot can be rewarded.
Ford F-150 owners praise their truck’s vast cabin space, sumptuous seating, luxury-car ride and refinement, and Superman-like load and tow ratings. For some suburban families, the SuperCrew has replaced an unlamented minivan.
Reliability has been better than the segment average. The biggest concern involves the six-speed automatic transmission, which can exhibit rough or delayed shifting under certain conditions. A computer reflash can help, though a few of the slushboxes have been replaced outright by dealers.
Another documented concern online is engine clatter when cold; some owners reported dealers replaced the cam phasers on older 5.4-litre V-8s to address it. Beyond those reports, gripes tend to be minor: water leaks around the cargo light or antenna, drivetrain vibration and ongoing usability issues with Ford’s SYNC interface.
A U.S. NHTSA investigation examined 2011-13 EcoBoost V-6 engines that were reportedly misfiring and stalling due to moisture accumulating in the intake process. A technical service bulletin specifies several intake and intercooler modifications. Failed coil packs have also caused drivability issues.
F-150 owners have also reported occurrences involving rear windows that spontaneously shatter, often after the electric defroster is engaged. Some unhappy owners have paid out of pocket for repairs.
No pickup truck is mechanically perfect, of course – especially given its workhorse mission. Still, the fact that Ford keeps customers coming back says volumes about its staying power. Ol’ Henry would be proud.
> Comfy cabin furnishings
> Train-trestle chassis
> Proven reliability
> Turbos fond of gasoline
> SYNC interface hiccups
> Hard to park around town
Watch out for:
> Rough-shifting transmission
> Engine clatter at startup
> Frozen intercoolers