The Ford F-150 Leads the Pack in Detroit
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The Ford F-150 Leads the Pack in Detroit

This week, during the press preview of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford unveiled the latest production version of the F-150 pickup. Though it's not as sexy – or fast – as the bevy of sporty coupes, sedans, and hatchbacks revealed by other key domestic and foreign manufacturers, the F-150 is probably more important for Detroit and the American car industry than all of those vehicles put together.

Why? Well, last year, as for the past three-plus decades, the Ford F-150 pickup was the bestselling vehicle in America. In 2013, nearly one of every 20 new vehicles sold in the United States was an F-150, with total units surpassing the 750,000 mark. That's more than one truck for every resident of Motor City – nearly as many vehicles as all the units sold by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes combined. Pair that with the fact that full-size trucks account for nearly two-thirds of Ford's domestic profits, and you'll see why a new pickup is a real Motown pick-me-up.

Due to rising mandatory fuel economy standards and consumer demand for greater size and greater efficiency, these paragons of American schlepping had no choice but to go on a diet. In the outgoing F-150, Ford made a tremendous investment in smaller turbocharged V6 engines, which now routinely outsell their traditional honking V8s, and they're going even smaller with this generation. A downsized twin-turbocharged V6 motor provides similar power with less gas.

But even more important than that is Ford's investment in aluminum. Using the material wherever it can, Ford claims that it has gotten this truck down to 700 pounds less than the previous model. That means EPA ratings will be the highest ever for a full-size Ford pickup, and they may even approach 30 miles per gallon in some configurations – numbers that until recently only economy cars hit. Consider us impressed.

Here are the other cars from the show that impressed us. Though they don't represent the wholesale change the F-150 does, they're standouts in their own right.

Launch Gallery »

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