September 16, 2011

F150 Ecoboost

At least the truck looks good...

Everyone loves cars that don’t belong to them.  I just spent two weeks with an F-150 XLT Supercrew that arrived at my house with a “manufacturer” tag.  The truck was also wrapped in some impressive signage advertising the Ford Ecoboost Challenge.  This challenge was eight drivers in eight cities trying to maximize the mpgs of the 3.5L twin turbo V6 Ecoboost engine.  This challenge was intriguing, so I had to participate, plus it put me in an F-150 for two weeks, instead of the hour long test drive that is the usual.
                Having a truck “dropped off” at your house does add to the mystique of the test drive.  Especially when it comes on a fully-enclosed auto transport, which means that it comes off the truck like a NASCAR or F1 car arriving at the track.  It was awesome.

                When you first step in the F-150 Supercrew, you will immediately notice the space.  I drove a ’97 GMC Sierra for a couple of years, plus a Yukon XL now.  Space is almost always at a premium in truck cabs; lots of storage, but not a lot of comfort.  There is a trend to a more comfortable style of truck.  Dodge even sells a Ram with a heated steering wheel.  The other manufacturers have mocked this in TV ads, but there are days every winter, when I wish I had one.  Instead I use the seat-heater and rotate my hands to keep them warm.

The legroom is impressive. Andre the Giant would be comfortable in here.

                The floor of the rear seat is flat.  There is no hump in the middle caused by the driveshaft heading to the back wheels.  The rear seats also fold up creating a large storage that can rival the cargo volume of some SUV’s.  The rear legroom was noticeable when I installed both the car seats for the boys.  The 3 year old could no longer rest his legs on the back of the driver’s seat and spent the first ten minutes in the car asking to be “scooted up.”  The space in the back also allowed me, at 6’4”, to move through the seat hunched over, but able to move freely.  The rear legroom is listed at 43.5 inches and the front legroom is also over 41 inches.  In the driver position, normally the floorboard comes up to limit legroom for the left leg.  In the Supercrew, this was not an issue.  I spent time trying to find all the different driving positions and was amazed at some of the position the roomy interior allowed (think Hot Yoga in a truck, I was driving with no A/C).  The roomy interior even allowed for changing clothes with little to no fuss.  I would normally have hit an elbow, shin, or forehead on a piece of hard plastic, but that wasn’t the case here. 

That is my neighbor's brand new F-150 in the background!

                The information center on the instrument panel was easy on the eyes.  Every time you start the F-150, the “Built Ford Tough” logo crashes down onto some virtual concrete and dust abounds.  It looks like it’s HD quality.  For this trim level there were a couple of trip counters, mpg gauge, temperature sensors, an overall checklist, and an off-road menu.  I liked the off-road menu, but it felt unnecessary on a two wheel drive pickup.  The off-road menu gave the degrees that the front wheels were turned and the degrees the truck was angle up/down & side to side.
                I did plug in my iPod to the Sync system.  I used the voice activated controls to play different artists from my catalogue.  Once you pick an artist you can use a button to skip through that artist’s songs.  I’m a fan of turning on “shuffle” and just skipping through songs till I find one that fits the mood (Hippie… Or hippy…  Depends on where you’re from.).  This was hard to figure out in the Sync system and in fact, I never figured it out.  I just unplug, put the headphones back in, and skipped to my heart’s content.  The nice thing about the USB port was that I could use it to charge my cell phone which I’m too cheap to buy a car charger for…  I never Sync’ed my phone.  Just didn’t have time and I’m more worried about driving than fiddling with buttons and technology.
                This truck also came equipped with the rearview camera.  The monitor was in the rearview mirror and was very helpful.  It amazing how fast you can become reliant on technology.  There were also parking assist sensors that beep louder as you get closer to whatever you’re about to hit.  Between the sensors and the camera, reversing the F-150 was quick and simple.
                The driver’s side mirror has a blind spot mirror in the upper left corner.  I quickly came to utilize it for lane changes and clearing the blind spot.  It was helpful and didn’t ruin the picture for the rest of the mirror, plus all the mirrors auto-dimmed for night driving.  No more reaching up to tilt the rearview mirror or tilting the side mirrors down to keep the lights out of your eyes.  Again, small features that were noticed quickly.

All the competing models’ lower range engines are around 300 horsepower.  The 3.5L Ecoboost V6 is turning out 365 horsepower and doesn’t have a redline on the tachometer.  The horsepower feels ready to go all the time.  Since I’ve given back the F-150, I’ve come to miss the power.  Even the 3.7L V6, which is just the regular V6, turns out 302 horsepower.  Dodge is using a 4.7L V8 that turns 310 horsepower, Chevy is using a 4.8L V8 that turns 302hp, Toyota Tundra is 4.6L V8 with 310hp, and the Nissan Titan is 5.6L V8 with 317hp.  You can easily see Ford’s sales pitch here, right?  More power, better fuel efficiency, more fun = more sales.  Sometimes I think advertising would be a really easy job.  “Buy a Ford, it’s better, don’t be an idiot…”  Can you get a job in marketing without a college degree?  I don’t know, but this engine is a really easy sale.  Ford recently announced that the Ecoboost engine is going to be available for almost all model lines.
The twin turbo V6 is supposed to average 16mpg in the city and 22 on the highway.  Those are the numbers that Ford and the EPA have decided on.  I achieved some very non-typical results that don’t seem all that unreal.  While driving extremely carefully to really make the mpg’s soar, I was able to keep the mpgs up over 26 miles per gallon.  Then again driving in the city and really driving it, the numbers were closer to 16 mpg.  When I say, “really driving it”, I’m basically flooring the accelerator until I get to the generally accepted 5 mph over the speed limit every time I needed to accelerate.  Either way, I was pleasantly surprised.  The ’03 company Denali averages between 13 and 16 depending on the conditions.
The amount of torque that is available is impressive.  The Ecoboost has the F-150 ready to roll as soon as you take your foot off the brake.  This actually caused some concern at first because I almost rear-ended a minivan at a stoplight because the Denali would have just stayed in place (It’s so heavy), but the Ford’s idle acts as a launching gear.  In the 0 to 60 tests that we ran it through, which aren’t the most scientific, the Ecoboost was getting 6.5 seconds.  That’s as fast as small hatchbacks that don’t weigh nearly as much.  Intriguing, yes?  Now imagine this engine in a Mustang.  That would be the same amount of power in a car that is 1500lbs lighter.
The acceleration and power were very nice, but weren’t jaw dropping.  My favorite part of an airline flight is the feeling of being crammed back into my seat as the plane takes off.  If I’m buying a car with over the top power, I’m trying to replicate that crammed into seat feeling.  This F-150 was shocking at times, but it never caused “pucker time.”  If you need that last statement explained, it does involve sphincter muscles (If you’re embarrassed, don’t worry, I am too…).
The traction control was easily turned off by a button on the dash.  I did turn it off and perform a couple of burn-outs (not my tires…).  There was one episode in rush hour traffic, when I attempted to pull out into traffic in a hole that the AWD Denali would have made; no problem.  I punched the F-150 pretty hard and immediately found myself turning into a fishtail…  The traction control was on, but the right rear tire was still spinning.  Pick-ups are known for being a little light in the back and this was apparent here.  The power made it incredibly easy to power-brake and smoke the tires.  After the mini-spin, I took more care to accelerate hard only in a straight line. 
One thing I enjoyed, since I wasn’t buying the next set of tires for this truck, was chirping the tires at speed.  While rolling along at 25 to 35 mph, I would just drop the accelerator to the floor and listen to the tires.  Every time it was a short single note that let me know they had got the message about going faster, until the engine would drown them out.  The engine noise wasn’t bad, but flooring it in a tunnel makes it sounds great.  It doesn’t have the grumble that the Denali has at idle, but this F-150 would get it in a 0 to 60 race.

It was sad to see it go...

Overall, this was a really fun and functional truck.  The amount of space in the back seat is jaw dropping.  The power was readily available and curtailed just enough to not feel out-of-control scary.  When changing lanes on the highway and applying power to accelerate away from frustrating slow cars, the F-150 excelled.  It was a fun two weeks.  My main complaint is that it didn’t fit in my garage. 
I placed 4th in the Ecoboost Challenge.  Short of towing the truck there wasn’t much more I could have done to amplify the miles per gallon.  The Community Service side of the competition went well and overall my team and I collected 150 disaster kits (50 provided by Ford).  I felt like we represented KC in an appropriate fashion.  If you heard about my site through the Ecoboost Challenge and are just now checking us out, “Welcome.”  Our team needs all the followers we can get.  Thank you for your support!

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