Towing and Hauling (Ass) in the 2015 Ford F-150

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The email invitation said, “You will drive [the 2015 Ford F-150] on highways, county roads, small town streets and dirt trails with an opportunity to also tow trailers.”

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I knew those activities would take place on the second day of a recent event that was designed to showcase the new truck’s on- and off-road dynamics, but I had no idea what would occur during the first evening.

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Once the Blue Oval transported other writers and me to the parking lot of Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, I got a crystal-clear idea of what to expect: drag racing and autocrossing.

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Despite the amount of time, thought, and effort Ford has put into the upcoming F-150, the automaker had no intentions of taking it easy on its new light-duty pickup that night – or the day after it.

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I was only able to get a 3.5-liter EcoBoost model into the low 50s on the abbreviated strip before I had to slow down to enter a maze of orange cones.

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My clumsy handiwork led to me  knocking down quite a few of them, but that didn’t distract me from noticing how the aluminum-bodied truck seemed willing and able change directions quickly. It didn’t feel as leaden as a competitor from another American manufacturer.

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As the soft blues and pinks of the sunset dimmed to black, my fellow journalists and I were taken to various displays at which Ford engineers explained how they made this new F-150 tougher, smarter, and more capable than the outgoing model.

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For instance, 78 percent of its frame is made out of high-strength steel, as opposed to the current truck’s backbone, for which Ford can only claim a 23 percent figure. The new piece is up to 60 pounds lighter than the one it replaces.

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Five of the frame’s eight crossmembers go through its rails and are welded on both sides for increased strength. Innovations such as Dynamic Hitch Assist, a dotted line reaching from the hitch outward that is displayed in the backup camera, should prove invaluable to boat owners.

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A board-straight rear floor keeps cargo level. SuperCab F-150s now have back doors that open a whopping 170 degrees to ease loading and unloading. Ford’s tech team even revised the tailgate step so that its grab handle is also stored on the inside of the back panel. That leaves its inner side flat for use as a makeshift work surface.

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If you need to drive a lawn tractor into the bed, you can install a special plate on the tailgate’s inner face that accepts a pair of ramps and keeps them from slipping off.

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Those ramps can then be stored on the sides of the bed using the E-Track-compatible Boxlink system. Fuel economy ratings from the EPA won’t be released until November, but Matt O’Leary, chief engineer of the 2009 F-150, said those numbers should climb by at least five percent and as much as 20 percent compared to those for the 2014 truck.

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The next morning, I climbed into the shotgun seat of a pre-production Lariat CrewCab 4X4 powered by a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (without its body-side badges) for the ride out to the Sisterdale Dance Hall.

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As a colleague of mine from the Texas Auto Writers Association drove, I took in my surroundings. I noticed the interior belt line trim was the perfect height on which to comfortably rest my elbow for the next 50 or so miles.

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From my leather bucket, I could only hear a soothing, dull roar from the tires while we wound through the canyons of Texas under a dim, gray sky. As big as our tester was, it was only a drop in the river of shiny new F-150s that flowed between centuries-old trees topped with dull and vibrant greens.

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After I got behind the wheel, I headed toward the BR Lightning Ranch. Although my right foot was connected to 365 horsepower, I found the engine and transmission a little sluggish. Granted, the added weight of my pickup’s four-wheel-drive hardware contributed to that feeling.

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I soon put the F-150 into Sport mode to liven things up. Doing so made the gearbox hold on to its cogs longer to stay in the sweet spot of the power band and the throttle’s responses snappier. In curves that were bordered by valleys carpeted with oak trees, I experienced the nimbleness of the F-150.

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My knuckles never once grew white. My co-pilot’s “Oh sh*t!” handle went unused. The front suspension, which seemed a little too jiggly over bumpy pavement, was more nervous than I was. Ford’s Lane Keeping System’s Alert+Aid mode was effective yet subtle in providing corrective steering inputs when I drifted over painted road lines.

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Once I arrived, I used an EcoBoosted King Ranch to tow a 9,000-pound trailer. Of course, I could tell there was something on the hitch behind me, but it didn’t seem to take the wind out of the turbocharged V6’s snails…er…sails. The load mostly made its presence known in the form of the mild vibrations it sent through the truck.

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That particular rig was able to keep its work clothes clean. One of it FX4 brothers stood no chance of doing the same. Ford created what amounted to an off-highway vehicle park that featured deep potholes, steep and rocky inclines, shallow ponds, and a stretch of mud just begging to be sped through.

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The front camera setup on my trail-tackler came in handy when approaching declines obscured by the F-150’s hood. Despite the roughness of the terrain, my colleague and I were able to get through it without shifting into low gear.

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I then saddled up a two-wheel-drive XLT CrewCab with the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost six. True, its 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque meant it was down 40 hp and 45 lb-ft. compared to the 3.5-liter unit.

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However, its output felt more quickly accessible than that of its big brother. My TAWA pal repeatedly grabbed as much of its power as he could after he and I exchanged seats at Knibbe Ranch.

I’ll just say the two of us reached our last destination of the day, Gruene Hall, in impressive time. Ford did invite us there. It would’ve been rude – and a lot less fun – to show up late.

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Derek Shiekhi contributes to a variety of Internet Brands’ Auto sites, including J-K Forum , Jaguar Forums, and 5 Series. He's also a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association.

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