By Jim Bray
There are many reasons why Ford's F-150 truck is the biggest selling vehicle in North America, and has been for decades. It's rugged, hauls a lot of stuff, and with every generation it gets more advanced and sophisticated.
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The current generation, for those who've missed the many, many commercials for the F-150, even switched from a steel-intensive body structure to one made of "military grade" (whatever that means) aluminum. That decreases the vehicle's weight, which can increase its payload capacity and/or reduce fuel consumption, both of which can be handy features in a large utility vehicle such as this.
It's near the end of the model year, but Ford of Canada sent me a 2016 Limited trim level of the F-150 to drive anyway and, truck person that I am not, I wasn't really looking forward to it. But - alert the media - I really liked driving it, its size and utility notwithstanding.
The Limited version isn't cheap, but other than the truck-like facts of life inherent in the segment (it's big, it bounces over bumps like a sports car doesn't, etc.), it drives far better than it really has any right to. Heck, I found myself apexing corners in the thing in a manner I reserve generally for cars and SUV's that at least claim sporty pretensions.
Sure, you never forget it's a truck, but I came away from my week amazed at just how driveable this vehicle is!
It'll cost you up to 80 grand to get that great ride - not chicken feed by any means - but that doesn't really price it out of the market compared to top line trucks from other makers. I reviewed a Nissan Titan diesel a couple of months back that tipped the fiscal scales at about $75,000 CAD and it wasn't as luxurious as this F-150 Limited, whose price sans options is within about a grand of the Titan.
Not being a truck guy I can't say how well the Limited would compete in a work situation, though the F-150's sales success should speak volumes. But how bad can it be? It's a 4x4 with a good box, two full rows of seats for up to five people and about every option you can imagine short of an onboard biffy.
It even has massaging seats! I tried them on the low setting and, while it feels decidedly weird, I can see how it could be a nice feature for those who've spent a long time in the cab. I haven't been caressed like that in a vehicle since my college days, back when holding hands wasn't considered sexual assault! Besides the magic butt-kneading feature, the front seats are heated and cooled and the rear ones have bun warmers.
One of the things that undoubtedly made the F-150 Limited so comparably great to drive was its more highway-oriented tires; the 22 inch, P275/45 all season rubber doesn't look like it'll be as happy in extremely rural areas as well as others that are available, but perhaps Ford knows its customers won't care about that. And I had less difficulty parking this F-150 than I've had before with large trucks, too, and managed it numerous times without embarrassing myself.
I saved the embarrassment for when I got out of the truck and people could see how I was dressed…
A highlight of the Ford is its 3.5 litre EcoBoost V6 engine. While a robust V8 may be the stereotypical engine choice for a pickup truck, this EcoBoost is a peach. Its twin turbos help the engine crank out a heady 365 horses @ 5,000 rpm with a torque rating of 420 lb.-ft. @ 2,500 rpm. I didn't notice turbo lag, just a wonderful rush of torque that fired the truck forward in such a manner that the "F" in F-150 really could stand for "Fast."
I couldn't believe the speed I reached once on a back road when I wasn't paying attention enough. This is no 911, but my goodness what a truck! Good thing it was a back road with no traffic!
The engine gets the engine's enthusiastic output to the four corners via a six speed automatic transmission that shifts just fine. There's apparently a new one coming for the 2017 model year, but this one works as it should and at this point in the 2016 model year you may be able to get a better deal on it. The steering feel is light and accurate - not sports car pure but very unexpected in something larger than some houses I've owned.
The Limited is more of a gigantic luxury car than a truck inside (truck functionality notwithstanding), with lovely seats and other accoutrements I could drive in all day if I had to. The audio system is a Sony, and it sounds okay, but it - and the new Sync 3 system with voice activation - works well, though I'd like Sync to be a tad quicker to react. The satellite radio subscription had expired, which was a SIRIUS oversight, but other than that the system performed fine. I'd be curious to try Ford's new B&O system in one of these when/if it becomes available; that could be a whole new ballgame for Ford audio systems.
Another thing I loved about the Limited was the powered running boards that hide up out of the way under the truck when you don't need them, but which lower automatically - and quickly - when you open a door. As someone whose legs barely reach the ground at the best of times, I was delighted at the way they zipped out to the perfect height for me to climb into the cab a little more gracefully than a hippopotamus.
I wonder how they're going to work with ice and snow, but the Ford folk are pretty smart so I wouldn't be surprised if they've figured that out.
There's also Ford's nifty extending step built into the tailgate - which can also help minimize the abovementioned hippopotamus effect - and the truck had little retractable steps on the outside of the box right behind the big cab. I had trouble getting one back in again, though I was wearing sandals at the time and that was pretty stupid, but my wife's friend took one look at it and had it stowed quicker'n I could say "misogynist." Manly, yes, but she liked it too.
Then we went into a rousing rendition of "Anything you can do, I can do better," from "Annie get your gun"
Visibility out of the cab, at least forward from the B Pillar, is really good. The side windows are kind of "cascading", opening down to a lower level toward the A pillar. This not only leaves you a nice armrest on the rear portion, it opens up more glass toward the front and allows for the outside mirrors to be low enough that they don't block your view much. This means you'll have no excuse for bashing into pedestrians.
I wished there'd been a convex portion to the outside mirrors but, all things considered, the existing ones are large enough and give you a very good view. I had no problems driving through downtown traffic and keeping other traffic (and lane indicators) in view.
The Limited also features Ford's new, knob-controlled trailer backing system the company demonstrated here in Calgary last winter. I didn't have a chance to try it this time, since I have no trailer, but I was impressed with it when I tried it at the demo: it really can - and did - help a complete oaf back up with a trailer.
You also get parking assist, and a 360 degree camera system that's especially handy in a large vehicle like this, whose corners each seem about a kilometre away.
It's a truck I could live with if I simply had to have a truck. Now, that may seem like damning with faint praise, and I guess it may be - but a pickup truck would be right near the bottom of my list of lust-worthy vehicles (just above a used hybrid school bus), so if this F-150 Limited made me like it as much as I did, and it did, that's something.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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