2018 Ford F-150: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Is the refreshed F-150 still the best pickup around? We take it for a spin.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect pickup truck,” I proclaimed to Ford’s marketing manager for the F-150 during a round of recent test drives for Ford Truck Enthusiast. There isn’t, but I was struggling to find a single thing I didn’t like about the trucks I had been driving all morning. “I disagree,” came the response from Ford’s rep. Then, the F-150 truck began to back up that reply at Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in Dexter, Michigan, where I was test-driving the entire range of revised 2018 F-150 pickup trucks.
To be clear, no truck is perfect. But before we get into the nitty-gritty about the F-150’s mid-cycle refresh, know that the truck is the best it has ever been. It’s easily the best half-ton truck on sale and is a solid performer across the range, including at the entry level.
At first glance the changes to the F-150 are cosmetic. There’s a new front fascia with several different grille offerings. There are new headlights and wheels. The tailgate and taillights are different. Some of the new tailgates even carry an embossed F-150 logo on them.
It’s all quite lovely to my eyes, really. It brings the truck’s design in parity with the new-generation Super Duty. Although I’m not convinced I like every grille option, the fact that Ford offers so many of them means that if there’s one you don’t like, odds are you can specify the truck without it. It’s all about giving people options.
At around $40,000, this XLT is a truck I could live with happily every day. It’s great for people who need a truck but don’t want to go overboard with options.
There are several great new interior treatments. On the Limited, there’s a blue Navy Pier interior. With the XLT Sport, there’s a newly designed trim-specific interior. The range-topping Platinum sports a classy Dark Marsala treatment. Finally, on King Ranch, the Kingsville interior immediately transports you to Texas. All the materials feel top notch, and on the upgraded trims, soft-touch materials abound.
The big changes, though, lie underneath the hood. For 2018 most of the engines are either new or refined. Replacing the 3.5L naturally-aspirated V6 is a new 3.3L unit that makes 290 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. The 2.7L EcoBoost sees a boost of torque by 25 lb-ft to a solid 400 lb-ft. The 5.0L V8 is upped to 395 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. The 3.5L EcoBoost remains unchanged because it was improved last year to 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. Raptor is also unchanged.
The Surprise of the Day
I popped into a base 3.3L V6 with a pretty blue exterior and tan interior. It was a SuperCrew with tons of space and a bench seat up front. Options were limited to four-wheel drive and the SYNC 3 screen. No navigation was on hand, or any other premium technology or feature offering.
I quickly plugged in my phone to bring up Android Auto (or Apple Car Play for iPhones), and I instantly had Waze and my entire music library on the eight-inch touchscreen. There’s no need to have a fancy infotainment system when you can just use your phone.
The B&O Play stereo sounds better than the Sony it replaces. A lot better. If you like to listen to music while driving, you’ll appreciate the new premium offering.
On the road, the 3.3L is surprisingly quiet. In the business, we call that Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) and it’s kept in check. While some of the materials that you don’t usually touch are hard plastic, at no point does the truck feel cheap. There are niceties such as USB charging ports in the back for passengers.
Acceleration is brisk with or without cargo in the bed. We were offered 1,000 lbs of mulch to help test the truck’s capability. The six-speed transmission is revised for the new engine and shifts are smooth and predictable. Heck, pulling out of the farm I gave the truck a bit more throttle than I thought I did and got the back-end to break loose a bit.
At around $40,000, this XLT with some thoughtful options is a truck I could live with happily every day. Work truck fleets customers are going to be thrilled with the new engine, as are people who need a truck but don’t want to go overboard with options.
If you need more towing oomph with a slightly-better EPA fuel economy estimate, order the 2.7L EcoBoost V6. The best part? It’s only $995 bucks.
The 2.7L EcoBoost is still the best engine in the lineup. It’s the Goldilocks of performance, price, and fuel economy. Of course, everyone loves a good V8, and the Coyote that’s available is great. But for most people, the 2.7 is precisely what they need.
It is difficult to notice any difference of the extra 25 lb-ft over the previous-generation engine, but the improved towing and hauling numbers tell a different story. Some of that also comes down to the standard 10-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are imperceptible most of the time, and Ford has performed further programming so it’s not hunting for gears.
Yes, you can trip up the transmission and force it to hunt or perform a not-so-smooth shift, but you have to try to do it. Leave it to its own devices and don’t drive like a buffoon and the transmission will be as smooth as a CVT but without the drawbacks.
Also, the 2.7L makes the same amount of torque as the 5.0L V8.
Why the 5.0L Is a Great Machine
Towing. If you tow once in a while, the 2.7L is fantastic. But we all know that the fuel-economy department pays a price when the turbo spools up. The 5.0L V8 won’t pay such a large penalty for frequent towers. Yes, there’s a drop — not too severe — but you do lose some everyday economy.
Also, if you need to run on compressed natural gas (CNG), you have to have one of the naturally-aspirated Ford engines.
In the technology department, all of the systems are updated or refined to be better. Radar cruise control now stops and goes. It’ll bring the truck to a complete stop in traffic and automatically resume in less than three seconds if traffic moves again (or just hit a button on the steering wheel if longer than three seconds). The system has also been designed to work better when hauling a trailer.
Autonomous emergency braking now has pedestrian detection and improved night visibility. But it’s only human-detecting at this point, so deer and moose won’t be noticed. Also, it’s not an infrared night vision system, but it is more advanced than it was before.
The blind spot monitoring system also works when towing a trailer. (The truck will help you see in the trailer’s blind spot and not just the truck’s.)
Pro Trailer Backup Assist is still there, and it’s still awesome. As a reminder, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.
Finally, the B&O Play stereo sounds better than the Sony it replaces. A lot better. If you like to listen to music while driving, you’ll appreciate the new premium offering.
Other little tweaks are also nice to see. For example, the truck remembers if you had your seat heated or cooled, and reactivates it when you restart the truck. Whether you’re in Texas or Alaska, you can certainly appreciate that.
It’ll tow more than ever. It’ll haul more than ever. It also gives the buyer more choices than ever with all the engine options and available features.
Unfortunately, the diesel isn’t scheduled to hit dealerships until next spring.
There are few. It would be great to see the 110v, 400-watt normal plug available as standard. Work truck trims could benefit from them for recharging tools.
Another welcome aspect would be some sort of bed storage system, similar to Ram’s RamBox or Titan Box from Nissan. Ford said it looked into RamBox, but that customers didn’t express interest. Personally, I think there are takers out there.
Some folks may cringe at the cost ($27,380 before destination, and it works its way up from there), but the new truck’s pricing is right in line with where the competition is. Unlike the competition, however, the Ford F-150 offers loads more options for customers to get the exact truck they want.
The new F-150 should be rolling into dealerships right about now.
First impressions are quite positive for the new truck. The subtle refinements they made for 2018 combined with the new looks make the F-150 even more compelling than it was before. It genuinely is hard to find fault with the truck, other than that one isn’t currently in my driveway. It really is a truck that can be configured to be all things to all buyers. Oh, and the diesel will make it even better.
No, there’s no such thing as a perfect truck, but it’s hard to see where Ford will go from here. It’s the best half-ton pickup on sale today.
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