There may be no keener competition among the domestic automakers than for pickup dominance. Trucks are what Ford, General Motors and Ram do best -- and better than the import competition.
Each of the Detroit-sourced pickups on sale today is a paragon of power with efficiency and a work ethic. So when Ford re-created its best-selling vehicle -- the F-150 -- it measured the competition and aimed outside the 8-foot box.
Every evolution of the pickup is a Superman formula: faster than a speeding commuter train, stronger than a locomotive and able to pull more and carry more than the other supertrucks.
The re-engineered 2015 F-150 surpasses the old truck in each of these categories and meets or betters the competition. But it is the details that have earned it Truck of the Year honors by several media groups. And some of those details include passenger-car features, such as an electric parking brake, optional inflatable rear seat belts and a power tailgate.
Smart truck features include a boxed steel frame, fail-safe cooling system and a rearview camera with hitch assist. Hardware assets include heavy-duty front shocks, four-wheel disc brakes (two-piston 13.8-inch front discs front, single-piston 13.2-inch rear) and a locking tailgate with remote lock/unlock.
The big news was moving to the military-grade aluminum body. Ford says it saved 700 pounds in some of the body configurations, which means a better power-to-weight ratio with smaller engines; however, it will be a nonissue to the owner, providing benefits under the skin -- at least until the first fender bender.
There are the familiar trim levels -- XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum -- and body styles of regular cab, crew cab and "SuperCrew," with 6.5- or 8-foot-long beds on regular and crew cab bodies and 5.5 or 6.5 feet on the SuperCrew.
Starting prices (including the $1,195 freight charge from Dearborn, Michigan) range from about $26,000 for a basic, regular-cab work truck to $52,000 for the SuperCrew Platinum V-8 four-wheel drive.
My test truck, an XLT 4x4 SuperCrew with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged) V-6, will be the popular model for the mainstream user. It had a base price of $41,415, and with $5,085 in options, the sticker was $46,500. That's a lot, but it bought a lot.
The 2.7-liter V-6 may seem small in displacement, but it is big in power: a 325-horsepower engine and 375 foot-pounds of torque at a usable 3,000 rpm. EPA ratings for the two-wheel drive 2.7-liter regular cab are 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined on regular fuel. In my week with the four-wheel drive test truck, I observed 20 to 22 mpg combined.
There are three other engine choices, all of which run on 87 octane:
--Base 282-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6; 18/25/20 mpg for two-wheel drive.
--356-horsepower, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6; 17/24/20 mpg.
--385-horsepower, 5-liter V-8; 15/22/18 mpg.
Tow ratings range from 7,600 to 12,200 pounds. Payloads span 1,690 to 3,300 pounds. For comparison, a 2008 F-150 4x2 with a 4.6-liter V-8 had a tow rating of 7,200 pounds and a payload of 1,970 pounds. A towing module displayed in the touchscreen shows hookup status, including notification if a taillight is burned out.
Ride quality is still like a pickup, which when empty will be jiggly on concrete highway, but on softer surfaces the ride is quite compliant. The cabin is well-soundproofed and without transfer-of-road or suspension harshness. At high speeds, there will be some wind noise rushing over the blunt nose and around the substantial side mirrors.
There is definite carlike engineering in how smoothly the steering, braking and acceleration all function with refinement and no vagueness to inputs. That's uncommon for a truck.
Another shocker was offering only a six-speed automatic transmission -- no manual. On the upper trim levels, the auto box has a sport mode with the tow mode. And it is a true sport mode, which jumps engine revs by 500 per minute when activated.
The exterior styling is beefy, but the interior has an enlightened attitude. The test truck's gun-metal gray metallic paint was paired with attractive camel-colored cloth seats with a durable center fabric. The treatment is manly enough but appealing to women. And the upholstery has color-coordinated carpet and floor mats.
There are quality plastics, contrasting colors, soft-touch materials and comfortably padded armrests. The power driver seat includes lumbar, and the tester had adjustable pedals, which, with the tilt-telescopic steering wheel, will help all sizes settle in comfortably.
There's plenty of real estate up front to allow room for all sorts of storage, and there are easily viewed gauges, with controls in clear view and reach. Large visors have covered but non-lighted mirrors.
The back seat has almost as much headroom as the front -- 40.4 inches -- and there's country limousine legroom at 43.6 inches, with a flat floor. The doors open wide, and there is a sturdy grab handle to climb in, but the optional running boards will be a necessity for most. The seats fold up (with a storage bin beneath) to allow wide parcels you don't want exposed in the bed. There also are a 110-volt household plug, a 12-volt plug, coat hooks and reading lights.
The side box steps ($325), with pneumatic-strut release, are a great idea but take some grunt to push back into place. And the tailgate step ($375) is another helpful extra, though it adds weight to raise and lower the gate by hand.
For the F-150 owner shopping for the best deal and the most features no matter the brand, this new Ford is a convincing argument to stay with the brand.
2015 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 SuperCrew
--Body style: full-size five-passenger, four-door pickup with 5.5-foot box.
--Engine: 325-horsepower, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6; 375 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm.
--Transmission: six-speed automatic with sport and tow modes; shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive with high/low range.
--Fuel economy: 18/23 mpg city/highway; 87 octane.
--Fuel tank: 23 gallons.
--Cargo capacity: 2,250 pounds.
--Tow rating: 8,500 pounds.
--Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.8/43.9/66.7 inches.
--Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 40.4/43.6/65.9 inches.
--Length/wheelbase: 231.9/145 inches.
--Height/width: 75.6/83.5* inches *mirrors folded.
--Turning circle: 47.8 feet.
--Standard equipment includes electric parking brake, 110-volt/400-watt inverter outlet, rearview camera with hitch assist, fog lights, wiper-activated headlights, locking (removable) tailgate with remote lock/unlock, cruise control, floor mats, tilt-telescopic steering column, tow hooks, locking spare tire-wheel.
--Safety features include six air bags, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, pre-tensioning front seat belts, stability-roll and traction controls, trailer sway control, hill-start assist.
--Base price: $41,415, including $1,195 freight charge; price as tested $46,500.
--Options on test vehicle: tailgate step $375; box side steps $325; electronic locking rear axle $470.
--Where assembled: Dearborn, Michigan.
--Warranty: three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper; five years/60,000 mile powertrain with roadside assistance.
Mark Maynard's weekly column, "Maynard's Garage," can be found at creators.com.