Forget me not: Aging Ford F-150 can still hang with the new guys
The light-duty pickup truck segment has gone through a renaissance as of late. Ram kicked off the changes last year when it introduced the latest iteration of its light-duty pickup, followed by Chevrolet and Toyota earlier this year. Now, all eyes are on Ford and what it has in store for its full-size offering.
The stunning Ford Atlas Concept, which first bowed at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, gave us a peek at what to expect from the next-generation F-150. If the production version is able to utilize even 30 percent of what was seen on the concept, the gauntlet will have been thrown down all over again. But the 2015 Ford F-150 isn't expected to start rolling onto construction sites until the second half of 2014, so how do the Blue Oval Boys plan on staying relevant in the meantime? Simple, really: Gather up all the latest and greatest trucks the competition has to offer and have them square off against a 2013 Ford F-150.
Ford brought in a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Crew, a 2014 Toyota Tundra SR5 Crewmax and a 2014 Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab to face off against a 2013 F-150 XLT SuperCrew. These four automakers represent the bulk of U.S. light-duty truck sales, and each of its offerings would be evaluated on a towing and durability course as well as a skid pad. A 2014 Ram 1500 Express Crew Cab and a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado LT would be substituted during the skid pad portion of the evaluation, while a 2013 Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew handled the durability demonstration in place of the XLT trim. However, it didn't matter how each truck came dressed to play as every competitor used the same engine throughout the evaluation process.
At a glance, the Ram produces the most horsepower followed by the Tundra, F-150, and Silverado. As for torque figures, the F-150 sits atop the heap while the Ram, Tundra, and Silverado follow closely behind. Every truck in attendance employed a V8 engine except for the F-150, which relied on motivation from its 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine. Power numbers were all in the same ball park and even though the F-150 was short two cylinders compared to the rest of the field, it produced the third most horsepower (365) and the most torque (420 lb-ft). As for the V8 engines in attendance, Chevy's 5.3-liter EcoTec churned out 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque while the latest Tundra came equipped with a 5.7-liter DOHC V8 , rated at 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. As for the 2014 Ram 1500, it showed up with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 rated at 395 horsepower and a stout 407 lb-ft of torque.
Travel trailers, mulch, cars - you can pull a lot of things with a light duty truck. To drive this point home, Ford had all four competitors hitched up to a 9,000-pound landscaping trailer and sent us up and around its towing course. We started out with a 2013 F-150 XLT SuperCrew which was outfitted with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and a 3.55 axle ratio. After a slight running start, the EcoBoost pulled the trailer uphill without an issue, as expected, while continuously offering more power. Once we crested the hill, the tow/haul setting engaged keeping the F-150 and trailer in check.
Next up, we hopped into a 2014 Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax with a 4.30 rear axle ratio and did the same loop with the same trailer and came away impressed. While some people consider the Tundra's 5.7-liter DOHC V8 dated, we felt it got the job done just fine. After that, we climbed into a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Crew with a 3.42 rear axle ratio and, like the first two trucks, it handled the trailer without breaking a sweat. Finally, we took a 2014 Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab with a 3.21 rear axle ratio around Ford's towing course and, to no one's surprise, the Ram hauled the trailer around with the same ease.
Rolling with the Punches
After we had a chance to tow, we moved over to Ford's multi-faceted durability course. One section was aptly named Silver Creek after the creek bed that runs from Oatman to Bullhead City in Arizona. Another stretch of the course emulates an old off-road shortcut from Route 66 to the casinos of Laughlin, Nevada. There are two other stretches of fractured and chuck-holed pavement that make up the rest of Ford's durability course, and all four equally showcase where and when a truck will shudder. As expected, since it had the home field advantage, the F-150 Lariat SuperCrew fared the best out of the four trucks we piloted around the durability course. That's not to say the F-150 wouldn't rattle or roll like the Tundra, Silverado or Ram, but it definitely felt more composed than all the others.
As for the rest of the field, the Silverado LTZ Crew's fully boxed steel frame and weight-saving materials made Chevy's full-size offering shake like a leaf when traversing the course. It did, however, handle the pothole portion of the durability course with aplomb. The Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab was up next and like the Silverado that went before it, there was a lot of vibration coming from every which way. The Ram's coil spring suspension, while normally very comfortable and composed on flat surfaces, had trouble keeping the truck straight on rougher sections of the course. The Tundra SR5 Crewmax shuddered over every abnormality found on the road surface below, and the amber traction control light on the Tundra's dashboard blinked with the frequency of a turn indicator.
Our third and final stop on Ford's durability program took us over to the vehicle dynamics area, also known as the skid pad. The plan was to come around a long, sweeping corner doing about 30 mph and enter a straightaway, while keeping speed, and then abruptly swerve from right to left around a set of cones. If done correctly, this deliberate motion would engage the traction control system in each of the four trucks. For this test, Ford matched the F-150 XLT SuperCrew with a Tundra SR5 Double Cab, Ram 1500 Express Crew Cab and a Silverado LT Crew. As mentioned above, the trim levels may have changed from test to test but the drivetrain in each truck remained the same. As for the actual sliding portion of the test, all the trucks tended to plow to the right when directed and then recover just in time to make it to the left gate.
Out of the four trucks, the F-150 was nearly unflappable during our run through the skid pad as the traction control system worked as planned. The Silverado and Ram 1500 also performed similarly to the F-150 but included a little more body roll than that of the Blue Oval's offering. The Tundra was less composed and the clear fourth-place finisher in the test. The traction control system failed to act as designed and instead had us sliding across the course. If the goal of this test had instead been to collect the most orange cones then the Tundra would have passed with flying colors.
If it's Not Broken, Don't Fix it
We already knew the 2013 Ford F-150 doesn't have the absolute latest and greatest technology riding onboard - those things will show up next year in the 2015 F-150. It does, however, employ a 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine rated at 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, figures ranking third and first in a group of V8-powered competitors.
Yes, the testing was done on Ford's home turf at its own sprawling proving grounds, but the F-150 still proved it can hang with the best of them. We won't go as far as to declare a clear winner here, but it's clear that the Big Three still have a stranglehold on the full-size light-duty pickup truck segment, and that the F-150 continues to keep engineers from Chrysler Group, Toyota, and General Motors up at night.
So maybe it's something of a win for Ford after all.
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