ANN ARBOR, Michigan—Looking at the latest Ford F-Series truck here on a farm in Michigan, it’s easy to imagine another truck, born not far from Dearborn, the one that started this bloodline back in 1948.
Actually, we didn’t even have to imagine it, because Ford brought one there, a companion and sharp contrast to the newest 2018 offering from Ford.
Styling for the 2018 is a tame update of the current model, with cues like the lighting and embossed logos being the key changes. But past these cosmetic upgrades Ford’s also added three new interior décor packages; six new rims for wheels 18 to 22 inches tall; and brought back the mesh grille texture last found on the ’08 Ford.
The other effort has been to blend the half-ton and HD Super Duty styles, a process started last year that’s now done. They now both share the same cabs and the same look. Past this, technology in the form of driver-assist features continues to be added, something Ford works at constantly.
It’s this program of “constant innovation” (a Ford catchphrase) that adds meaningful content to its F-Series trucks almost annually. It doesn’t wait for generational changes to release updates; instead, year-in and year-out it changes mechanicals and adds tech as it’s needed, responding to its customers wants.
For example, in a major 2015 update, the body was switched to aluminum; you’d expect them to ride that wave and just coast for several years. However in 2016 it made powertrain changes and added features like Pro-Trailer backup assist.
Then in 2017 the Super Duty F-Series was not only updated, but adopted the same body as the F-150, along with all its new electronics. This year the truck has added a dozen driver-assist technologies that make this F-Series that much easier and safer to drive.
One of those is adaptive cruise control with stop/start—yes, this system will bring the truck to a halt and then start it up again as traffic begins to move, all without disengaging. There’s also BLISS, a blind spot warning system, that can now also be programmed to include the length of a towed trailer: pass a vehicle and the blind-spot indicator will stay on until the trailer has safely cleared the passed vehicle.
Auto-stop/start, while not new, is now a standard feature on all 2018s. (And frankly, these systems work so well now, I doubt anyone wouldn’t want it.) The upside of stop/start, with no input from the driver? A fuel savings of up to five percent annually.
As for engines, over the 2017 and 2018 model years, the F-150’s engine lineup has been completely overhauled, with all four available powerplants getting more power and a new 10-speed transmission.
For 2018, the base engine in all F-150s will be the 3.3-litre V6 PFDI (Port Fuel Direct-Injection) with a six-speed transmission. It makes 290 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 10.7 L/100 km combined (EPA-approved numbers). The other PFDI engine in the lineup is the 5.0-litre V8. It makes a respectable 395 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 12.4 L/100 km combined.
Then we get into the EcoBoost engines. The 2.7-litre V6 is surprisingly powerful, with 325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque on tap, coming on at a very low rpm of just 2,750. It also gets 10.7 L/100 km combined. The 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 that first debuted in 2011 is now in its second generation, and is rated at 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, with a fuel number of 11.2 L/100 km combined.
The fifth powertrain is exclusive to the F-150 Raptor (for now anyway) and is a 3.5-litre EcoBoost HO version that bumps up the V6’s output to 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy dives to 14.7 L/100 km combined.
An innovation introduced late in 2017 was the all-new 10-speed transmission. With the exception of the 3.3-litre V6 base engine, all F-150 engines are coupled to this 10-speed. This tranny is non-sequential, so it jumps from gear to gear – whichever is called for – without bumping up or down through every other gear. It’s quite something to see the indicator go from tenth to fifth as you punch the throttle.
This transmission features a high-speed one-way clutch, improved kinematics, a tow/haul mode, Gen II high-efficiency filtration, and an internal start/stop oil pump that works with that standard auto start-stop feature found on all 2018 F-Series trucks.
(Just as an aside, no one at the farm talked about the diesel engine Ford announced last winter. It was supposed to be here by now—but it’s late. When I asked, I was told it will now be offered spring 2018. Though we know little about it, rumor has it it’s basically the same diesel currently in the Range Rover. The stats on that engine are 254 hp and 440-lb-ft of torque from a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6.)
No truck introduction would be complete without some bragging about the “new” weight capabilities. Ford has never been shy about this, and for 2018 it’s once again pushing the limits and claiming new best-in-class numbers.
These are 13,200 lbs for towing; and for payload it’s posted a 3,270-lb figure. Thanks to its larger axles, the 2018 F-Series apparently now has a max GVWR of 18,500 lbs. All this on what we still refer to has a “half-ton.” Perhaps we should rethink that label, as we left half-ton territory many, many years ago.
While this philosophy of “constant innovation” makes perfect sense, the other Ford trait that’s won over, and kept, so many truck buyers for decades is choice—choice as it applies to trims, wheelbases, cabs, box lengths, and powertrains. This last one in particular is key. No other manufacturer offers as many powertrain and build choices as Ford, and it doesn’t intend to lose that distinction.
Pricing for the base 2018 F-150 will start at $30,499, rising up through nine trim levels to a price of $71,399 for the SuperCrew Raptor. Trucks should start arriving at dealers this October.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.