For about the last year or so, the biggest headlines about the 2015 Ford F-150 have focused on the material that the truck's body is made of. However, on our recent road trip from San Antonio, Texas, to Southern California, we saw that there is a lot more to Ford's new pickup. While the switch from a steel body to aluminum is a big deal, in many ways it's no big deal--this is still a truck that does everything you want a truck to do, it does it very well and in a lot of ways, the new F-150 is best in its class.

What's New?

As every new truck comes out, staying at the top of the heap gets tougher. In the case of the 2015 F-150, Ford had several challenges. Ford had to ensure its truck would stay just as capable as it was in the past, if not more so, that it would do this with impressive fuel economy and that the truck would also have the modern luxury and connectivity features that truck buyers have come to expect. Everything is new from the ground up, starting with a tough frame that uses more high-strength steel than in the past while saving weight. Of the four engines, two are new and the two returning engines have been improved. The body is made of aluminum, including the hood, doors and bed. The end result is best-in-class towing capacity (12,200 pounds), best-in-class payload capacity (up to 3,300 pounds) and when the EPA's numbers are announced, fuel economy that should be at or near the top of its class. Some of the fuel economy improvement is due to the weight savings in the body, an improvement of as much as 700 pounds, a difference that helps on its own, but secondly makes it possible to use a smaller engine to power a relatively big truck.

The F-150 has new styling that aligns it more closely to the heavy-duty Super Duty trucks, and the interior has been dramatically improved to add more features and make the cabin more comfortable. New items include a 360-degree camera, two different 110-volt/400-watt outlets and heated front and rear seats. There is new lighting for the truck bed, a power release tailgate, the next generation of a tailgate step that is stored in the top of the tailgate and LED spotlights that make it easier to see on either side of the truck when unloading gear at night. 

Also: The Class of 2015 -- New Vehicles Ready to Roll

Our Adventure Begins

We flew into San Antonio to sample the new F-150 at an event put on by Ford. Here, we briefly drove 2015 F-150s powered by all four engines: the 283-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, 385-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8, and two twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost engines--the 365-horsepower, 3.5-liter and the new 325-horsepower 2.7-liter. All four are backed by a 6-speed automatic.

During the rest of the Ford event, we drove through the winding roads in Texas Hill Country, getting settled into the attractive cabin of the all-new F-150. Our ride for this part of the excursion was an XLT SuperCrew (crew cab) with four-wheel drive. The F-150 is available as an XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum, with the XLT being a well-equipped trim level that is also one of the volume sellers in the F-150 lineup. While the F-150's pricing will start at a little over $26,000 and will top out at over $62,000 when it goes on sale later this year, our XLT had a few extras and the price was $46,600.

The winding roads took us to the off-road course, where the F-150 proved highly capable in dirt and trudging through mud, with plenty of ground clearance to get over the rough stuff and the right equipment to get the job done. Having splattered liberal amounts of mud on all sides of the truck, it was time to switch to the towing event. Ford had several F-150s with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost under the hood, an engine that proved smooth and capable when pulling near maximum towing capacity. But it was time to get behind the wheel of our ride for the next two days and 1,300 miles and get on the road back to our offices in Southern California.

Surprising fuel economy

Because we had plans with this F-150, we were working on a deadline.  The goal for the first day was to get to El Paso, Texas, which was over 500 miles from San Antonio. Fortunately, the tank was somewhat full, so we would only have to stop once for fuel. I put up the split rear seat bottom, slid our luggage into the cab on the completely flat load floor and was ready to hit the road.

Our truck, the same XLT model we drove earlier that same day, has an attractive camel and black cloth interior, and from the first moment, the seats were nicely sculpted and comfortable. Connecting the cell phone was a snap. Accelerating onto the secondary road that led to the major Interstate that would be the route home, the 2.7-liter continued to impress. It isn't just fast for a small V6; it's fast. That opinion was reinforced on the I-10, the highway that goes all the way to Los Angeles, and it only took a quick squeeze of the throttle to get near the 80 mph speed limit that exists in much of Texas. I used the steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons to stay at a safe speed along the way. If there was anything to get used to, it was the brakes which were a hair touchy.

As I drove along, the hype surrounding the aluminum body of the new F-150 faded away. The F-150 quickly established itself as a really nice truck that felt light and agile. The interior was very quiet too, making it easy to hear texts through Sync, interrupted only by the dulled thwack of bugs hitting the windshield as we spent the day driving through Texas. After a lunch stop and a stop for gas, I reached El Paso before the dinner hour and had plenty of time to rest for the next day's journey.

Also: 2014 Pickup Truck Buyer's Guide

Day Two

No pressure. The goal was driving more than 700 miles on the second day, which would wend through a tiny bit of Texas, then New Mexico, Arizona and California. Well-rested and back on the road, I found our F-150 was just as impressive after a cold start as it was leaving the Ford event the day before. 

If there was one truly odd thing about the F-150, it's that it didn't attract much attention. Some of this may be that the new F-150's look resembles the Super Duty, and those trucks are all over the place in the Southwest. In fact, for most of the drive back, I shared the road with big-rigs and pickups. Sedans and minivans weren't prevalent except in large cities. The only time someone asked about the F-150 was at a border inspection station outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the border patrol agent liked the truck's new look. He asked enough questions about the F-150 that the line started to grow.

The second day was surprisingly easy. I settled into a comfortable rhythm, recognizing familiar vehicles that were also on the long haul heading west. With a fuel range around 500 miles or more, the only stops were for gas, food and refreshments. While in convenience stores, I kept the music player secured under a small door in the center storage area at the bottom of the dash so it wouldn't have to be reconnected every time I got back in the cab.

State after state breezed by, and just as I was starting to get fidgety and had my fill of beef jerky, I crossed the California state line. One last stop for gas-fuel economy was well in the 20s for the entire trip-and I made it home on schedule, 13 hours after the day's drive started. One of the biggest shocks on this trip was the total lack of fatigue: no back pain, no leg cramps, no feeling of being the least bit uncomfortable. Impressive all around, the 2015 F-150 proved to be an excellent vehicle for a long road trip, towing and off-roading.

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