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Road Tested – 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost: The Shattering of V6 Stereotypes

Cole Shooter

Until 2008, I had been a dedicated truck guy, and a Ford fanboy at that. I had a 1993 Ford F-150 XLT with the 5.0 liter engine which I traded off at 305,000 miles for a big, red 1997 4×4 Ford F-150 Lariat. I had assumed that since my old pickup had done so well, that a newer one would be even better.

I was wrong.

The sizable pickup’s 4.6 liter engine was puny for both speed and towing, the mileage was awful without the power to justify it, and if I wanted to pass someone on the highway at around 70 miles per hour, it was simpler to just pull off and have a snack rather than wait for the truck to struggle up the speed to get by.

Around 131,000 miles, it was already time for an engine rebuild, and I only kept it then another year afterward before abandoning pickups entirely. I still see my original Ford now and then around Lubbock, effectively rubbing antifreeze into the still-raw wound.

Even considering my bad luck with that particular V8 engine, I still never thought too much of full-size pickups with 6-cylinder engines. While many of them may be perfectly adequate engines with good longevity, it’s difficult to shake the machismo mindset that more cylinders are better in every way. Difficult at least, until one drives a pickup with the new Ford EcoBoost engine.

Cole Shooter

I have read numerous articles, seen plenty of commercials, and heard the accolades from Jerry Reynolds, host of the Car Pro Show, which airs on KFYO from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturdays, all praising the virtue of the EcoBoost. The idea of a more fuel-efficient engine inside of a full-size pickup without sacrificing the necessity of power and utility, or even the sheer enjoyability of driving intrigued me greatly, but many car companies make big claims about their products only to fall short.

Smith South Plains and Annette Sykora, my trusted source for all things Ford (and many other brands as well) have been a wonderful help to me regarding my automotive reporting, and Annette graciously offered to let me test one of their newest F-150 EcoBoost pickups, just to see what I thought of it. Last Thursday, I headed out Highway 114 to Levelland to try out the new pickup which I’d heard so much about.

Cole Shooter

Upon arrival, I was met by sales specialist Dean Knight, their resident F-150 expert, who explained some of the most outstanding features of the truck. The 4×4 pickup I reviewed is a fairly large and handsome thing, with bold, angular features. The license plate is set off to the driver’s side to leave room for the intercooler, which helps to cool the truck’s twin turbochargers. The pickup also includes an oil cooler, and this particular model with the upgraded towing package includes a transmission cooler.

The truck’s direct-injected 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 puts out a hefty 365 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, which, if I had not been informed prior to the test of this engine’s identity, I would have sworn it was a hefty V8 shoved under the hood. The considerable power is immediately noticeable upon pressing the pedal with a bit of vigor, and the Ford charges to highway speeds rapidly, with a 0 to 60 time hovering around 7 seconds. The engine is accompanied by two Borg-Warner turbochargers, delivering massive torque at impressively low revs.

Cole Shooter

Another one of the very first impressions gained from driving this pickup is the ease with which it can be maneuvered. Rather than fitting an average belt-driven hydraulic power steering pump, all 2011 F-150s are equipped with electric power-assisted steering. Handling is more nimble than I originally expected to feel with a full-size SuperCrew, and the steering is sharp and effective at all speeds.

I’ve long believed that Ford trucks also have the best ride quality in the full-size truck field, and this F-150 is no different, especially when compared with rivals Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. The suspension allows for a comfortable ride over bad terrain, without being a bit sloppy like the Chevrolet Silverado or bone-crushingly hard as found in the 4×4 Titan.

Under heavy throttle, there is a small amount of turbo lag off the line, but the power kicks in very early, and is relentless until reaching whatever speed the driver chooses to remain at. During normal city driving, the lag is barely noticeable and I stopped being aware of it after around 20 miles of city driving.

Cole Shooter

The 6-speed transmission, equipped with Ford’s SelectShift, is quite clever and allows the driver a great amount of control for an automatic. Gear changes are able to be done manually using a rocker switch on the gearshift, and the pickup features Progressive Range Select, which allows the motorist to reduce the range of available gears. Shifts are consistently smooth regardless of how hard one might be stomping on the pedal.

The instrument cluster is quite visually appealing, with the gauges swaddled in chrome rings. On the test vehicle, an LCD productivity screen nestled between the speedometer and tachometer informs the driver of a number of things, chief among which are fuel economy and towing information. You may want to avoid the fuel consumption screen with engine options other than the EcoBoost.

At highway speeds, road noise inside the cabin is minimal, and the truck feels as composed and responsive at higher speeds as it does at 30 mph. The factory Goodyear Wranglers fitted to this 4×4 did not have a particularly aggressive tread, which made for very little tire noise. The test vehicle had a good stereo, auxiliary port, and it was equipped with Ford’s SYNC system and a USB port to plug in other electronic devices.

Gail Hall

One of the most impressive factors with this model of truck is the available towing capacity. Properly equipped, An F-150 equipped with the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 can tow a maximum of 11,300 pounds, exceeding the competition’s best efforts. Also, thanks to the turbochargers, the truck’s torque kicks in at low revs allowing for a strong start when towing from a dead stop at a steeper grade. This is a huge advantage over most trucks, especially when dealing with the formidably steep and wet grade of the boat ramp at nearby Lake Alan Henry.

It’s very common to hear even the beefiest of 4×4 trucks spin out on the soggy ramp while trying to pluck a heavy ski boat out of the water. While I didn’t show up at Smith South Plains with a boat to go try this out, I’m confident that the torque kicks in early enough to allow for a very smooth exit from the water with few histrionics.

Gail Hall

At the end of the day, I’d put about sixty fairly spirited miles on the test truck, and went from slightly over a quarter of a tank of fuel to slightly under a quarter in that time. That’s quite light on fuel, especially considering that the engine had fewer than 90 miles and was nowhere near being broken in. The EPA estimates that this truck and engine combination should achieve 15 miles per gallon in the city, and 21 mpg on the highway. Smith South Plains and Dean Knight have received numerous reports from owners of trucks with the EcoBoost engine purchased at their dealership showing figures of 20 mpg and well-above. The F-150 I tested has an MSRP of just over $40,200.

As for longevity, Ford conducted a torture test of this 3.5L EcoBoost engine, where they ran an equivalent of 150,000 miles of extreme temperatures, load conditions, and speeds on a dynamometer, then shoved the engine into a 4×4 pickup and hauled 55 tons of timber up a mountain. Following that test, the truck was run flat-out for 24 hours pulling the maximum weight the truck is rated for, stopping only for fuel and tires. The truck competed in towing tests against the competitors, after which the engine was pulled out and put into an offroad truck, which was then put through the Baja 1000 Tortura. After this abuse, Ford tore down the engine completely at the North American Auto Show in front of an audience, and all the components were within new build specs after a simulated 165,000 miles. All in all, the tests were a very impressive show of strength from Ford, who are banking heavily on the success of this engine. The first part of the torture test is included below.

Best of all for them, it seems to be working out well. According to Ford, 58 percent of new F-150 sales are V6 engines, and 40 percent overall are EcoBoost in the Dallas Region, which includes Lubbock. This is the first time since 1985 that V6 engines are outselling the big V8s in Texas.

Philip Podgorny, Ford Motor Company’s Sales and Marketing Manager for the Central Market discussed  the benefits of the EcoBoost engine, and winning the consumer over to a V6 engine, as opposed to the larger V8s that so many have been partial to.

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Gail Hall

This is a fantastic truck, and the EcoBoost engine has made me a believer in the capabilities of a V6 in a full-sized truck. Not only is the engine smooth and quick, but has plenty of power to do anything that the average pickup owner would ever ask of it, all while saving money at the gas pump. Not only is the engine an excellent piece of engineering, but the rest of the truck is a joy to drive on rough roads, up a steep hill or ramp, or gliding through the city.

If you’re in the market for a new pickup, but feel a bit squeamish about owning one with a V6, call Smith South Plains in Levelland at 806-894-3191, and they may well be able to help you recognize the best new option available from Ford.

My final consideration at the end of a test drive is whether or not I would purchase the vehicle for myself and be willing to live with it day to day, and the answer is a resounding yes. Personally, I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

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