The Best Gets Better

When you offer the best-selling truck in America, it could be tempting to rest on your laurels and enjoy the success. But when the top three vehicles sold in the U.S.--namely, the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups--are trucks, with the potential to sell more than two million units this year, there's no time to relax. This is why the F-Series, specifically the F-150, continues to evolve and improve.

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It has been three model years since Ford gave the F-150 a military-grade aluminum body, incorporating new engines, new towing technologies and a new 10-speed automatic transmission since then. The updates continue for the 2018 Ford F-150, where two new engines will be available, styling has been updated and the 10-speed automatic now backs everything except the base engine. We had the chance to drive four of the six engines offered in the F-150. The higher-horsepower version of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine found in the Raptor and the upcoming diesel were both absent. The 3.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel engine is scheduled to go on sale in the F-150 in spring 2018 and will use the 10-speed automatic.

XL and XLT 3.3-liter V6

The new base engine is a normally aspirated 3.3-liter V6 engine, which replaces the outgoing 3.5-liter. The new one is lighter, has more horsepower (up from 282 to 290) and torque (increases from 253 to 265) over the previous engine and better fuel economy, too, as good as 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. In addition to being smaller, this engine uses direct injection and, as is the case with the rest of the gas-powered siblings, has stop/start technology. This is a good base engine with enough get-up-and-go for the daily drive and carrying payload. It's the only one of the quartet we tested that's backed by a 6-speed automatic, which is a perfectly capable transmission.  Base engine F-150s aren’t blazing fast, but it's easy to get to and stay at freeway speeds. With the right configuration, you can tow up to 7,700 pounds or carry as much as 1,990 pounds of payload. If you're towing a small trailer, want a lower-priced truck and better fuel economy, or are looking at buying trucks for a fleet, this is the engine for you.

XL, XLT, Lariat 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6

A 2.7-liter V6 was available last year, but for 2018, Ford refers to this as an all-new second-generation engine. It benefits from the use of direct injection, plus internal friction was reduced. The horsepower remains the same as last year at 325, but torque increases by 25 pound-feet to 400. This increase in output enables the Ford F-150 to be even quicker off the line and feel light on its feet. The 10-speed automatic transmission provides excellent response, and is much more precise when it comes to making the best use of the engine's power at all times. Unloaded, it's a blast to drive, and it is capable and confident when towing, too. For us, this is the sweet spot in the F-150 lineup. You can tow up to 8,500 pounds, which is ideal for many RVs and boats, and payload capacity has increased to 2,470 pounds for 2018. Yes, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost costs more than the base engine, but for a $995 investment (XL), you get a truck that's more fun to drive, has more capability and gets better fuel economy: up to 20 mpg city and 25 mpg on the highway. It's no coincidence that for 2017, the XLT SuperCrew with the 2.7-liter is currently the most popular configuration.

XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum 5.0-liter V8

The next two engines in the line are the ones you should consider if you are going to be doing any towing or heavier hauling on a regular basis. The 5.0-liter has the low, throaty growl of a traditional V8--the only V8 you can get in an F-150--and both horsepower and torque are higher for 2018 (395 and 400, respectively). Acceleration is natural and linear, and Ford's 10-speed automatic backs the V8 for the first time. As expected, fuel economy isn't as good as any of the other engines we tested; however, if you tow a heavy trailer on a regular basis you may prefer the feel of a naturally aspirated V8. You can tow up to 11,600 pounds behind a 5.0-liter-equipped F-150, up from last year, and payload capacity is 3,270 pounds, which is the best of these four engines. But for all intents and purposes, the two EcoBoost engines in the lineup offer better acceleration and fuel economy.

XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6

Horsepower and torque remain unchanged for 2018, but considering those numbers are 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet, that's nothing to complain about. This EcoBoost unit represents the top-of-the-line (non-Raptor) engine. With this engine under the hood, the F-150 is downright fast when unloaded and a capable, stout hard worker. Towing is effortless with the 3.5 and, as was the case last year, the 10-speed automatic transmission's shifts are quick but not jumpy. This engine will give you the ultimate in power and capability, with one minor exception: payload capacity is about 40 pounds higher when the F-150 is equipped with the 5.0-liter V8.

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Towing

One of the biggest differences with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine for 2018 is the max trailer towing package. For 2018, Ford's half-ton has the highest maximum towing capacity in its class, now at 13,200 pounds, up 1,000 pounds from last year. To get that, you need a SuperCab (extended cab), on a 141.1-inch wheelbase, with two-wheel drive, and the max trailer towing package. The package comes with a 3.55:1 electronic locking rear axle, 36-gallon fuel tank, auxiliary transmission oil cooler, Class IV hitch receiver, 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness, and upgraded front stabilizer bar and rear bumper. Also included are the Pro Trailer Backup Assist, integrated trailer brake controller and a smart trailer tow connector.

Most people that buy trucks buy 4-door Crew Cabs. But this max towing package is only available on the extended cab variant. Add the SuperCrew’s back doors and the capacity drops to 12,700 pounds. While lower, it's still more than last year's Crew Cab champ, the Chevrolet Silverado. However, whether you are looking at a Ford or any other half-ton pickup, if you know that you will be towing over 13,000 pounds on a regular basis, you may want to step up to a heavier duty 3/4-ton pickup.

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Easy to use

Another aspect to the F-150's prowess is its ease of use. From the available tailgate step to trailer back-up assist and available ramps for the truck bed, it's easier to get gear into and out of the bed, and it's easier to connect a trailer. The blind-spot warning feature also accounts for vehicles that may be in the blind spots caused by the trailer. Other new features include adaptive cruise control with stop and go, plus pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection.  While there is an optional 360-degree camera that offers helpful reference when parking, there are other cameras on the market that offer a clearer view.

Styling has been updated across the line, with a new front end that emulates that of big brother Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks (F-250/350/450). There are more grille designs to differentiate the trim levels, and there are six new wheel designs. The interiors can be as practical or as plush as you like. Take the topline Limited as an example: features include heated front and rear seats (10-way power, cooled and massaging front seats), Sync 3, Bang & Olufsen Play or Sony audio systems, leather seats, and much more. In the trucks we drove--all SuperCrews--the cabins were roomy, offering excellent legroom in even the dreaded middle rear seat, and the ride was comfortable, but a bit firmer in the Sport configuration. Suspension and brakes were designed so that whether the truck was loaded or unloaded, the ride didn't suffer and brakes felt confident and strong.

Pricing

For 2018, F-150 pricing starts at $29,970 for a regular cab XL (all prices include $1,295 destination), up from $28,405 for 2017. XLT pricing begins at $34,265. The Lariat starts at $41,980, which sounds like a bigger price jump than it actually is, because everything above the XLT comes as a SuperCab or larger. (XL and XLT prices reflect regular cabs.) The Raptor begins at $51, 080, the King Ranch starts at $52,895 and the Platinum is $55,450. The top-of-the-line Limited starts at $61,815 and if you check every options box (there aren't many at this level) an F-150 costs around $67,000. The 2018 models go on sale this fall.

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