Full-size pickup trucks are arguably the last bastion of American dominance in the auto industry. And amid growing competition, Ford’s best-selling F-series pickups have ruled for decades. Now, the workhorse may arouse some suspicions with the 2011 model’s smaller, turbocharged engine. For many pickup owners it’s go V-8 or go home. To them, a six-cylinder in a full-size pickup may be just about as appealing as a tofu burger with bean sprouts. Yet Ford hopes its powerful new twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine will change that perception.
It’s an example of the latest trend in engine downsizing. In the quest for fuel economy, many carmakers are reducing size but adding turbocharging to maintain power. Ford’s twin-turbo engine is also available in a number of other Ford and Lincoln vehicles, but the pickup version has been strengthened and retuned to produce 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. V-8 faithful may also be shocked to learn that Ford’s own 5.0-liter V-8 can’t match either of those numbers and that the 6.2-liter version barely puts out more torque.
From behind the wheel, only the whistle of the turbos lets you know that the otherwise hushed V-6 is working hard under the hood. A tidal wave of thrust takes over as soon as you hit the gas and pins you into the seat. At more than 6,000 pounds and over 20 feet in length, the top-of-the-line EcoBoost model, the King Ranch F-150 SuperCrew 4×4, is enormous and ballsy, which makes its forceful acceleration off the line akin to a Boeing 747-400 at takeoff.
Ford claims the new EcoBoost engine achieves the same fuel economy as a smaller engine while producing the power of a larger engine—that’s where “Eco” comes in. The potential for improved fuel economy—and big savings over the lifetime of the vehicle—
definitely exists, but dip into the power too much and efficiency will plummet into V-8 territory in a hurry.
The F-150 is loaded with options (like the well-appointed King Ranch package, touch-screen navigation, and four-wheel drive) and tops out at an estimated $52,000. That may seem like a lot for a pickup, but with its quiet, refined, and leather-lined feel, it’s easy to think of it as a luxury car. And we know of exactly zero high-end cars that can tow an 11,300-pound trailer or haul a 3,060-pound payload. Now that’s luxury.