Ford uses Badlands to showcase its 'baddest' trucks
By Jim Bray
Drumheller, Alberta – When your bread and butter truck, the F-150, has led the market in sales for years and years, what's left to do to stay ahead?
Well, if you're Ford, you stay on top of the issues, of what consumers want, of what technology allows that it wouldn't before. So it is that Ford, in its 2013 F-150 line, is tweaking its already winning inventory in hopes that its existing customer base will like it, and that maybe some people who prefered other brands may be convinced to switch.
Ford chose the Alberta Badlands – home of the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum and enough dinosaur remains to create the biggest prehistoric epic movie you could imagine – to introduce the 2013 models to a bunch of fossils they invited for their show. Fossils, as in writers (though there were quite a few youngsters there as well, damn their eyes), who were invited to drive a plethora of different F-150's around the starkly beautiful Drumheller area.
Getting the runs…
There was a "fuel economy" run, in which the assembled multitude of car zipped (well, sipped) around the hoodoos to see how little gas we can use (an F-150 with the V6 Ecoboost engine achieved about 13.7 liters/100 km. during the hilly route, which seemed pretty reasonable considering the terrain).
There was a "Tow" route where F-150's dragged a trailer/"Bobcat-compatible" combination weighing something like 10,000 pounds up and down the hills and through the valley (which it did without breaking a sweat). A "payload" event, where the load was in the bed instead of being towed (and, obviously, didn't weigh as much!), showed that aspect of the trucks, while an "off road" segment showcased stuff such as Ford's hill descent control, which keeps the truck at a preset speed when the law of gravity would otherwise have it careening madly toward the bottom of the short but very steep and dirty knoll.
The demonstrations showcased Ford's upcoming "We Own Work" theme very well, but it wasn't all about work. Play was also on display, thanks to the new "Limited" model Ford has added to the 2013 line. This high end pickup featured sporty 22 inch wheels and low profile tires, a classy crimson coat of paint and a luxurious, comfortable and high tech cabin – all of which combined to create an F-150 you could take to the opera and not feel out of place.
Well, not much, anyway.
Though the 2013 line isn't all new (that, we were promised, is coming soon, however) the F-150 includes new front-end styling with a new grille and the type of high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights you'd find on many cars these days. There are also new 18 and 20 inch wheels in various trim packages – and there are enough trim packages and options to not only choke a horse, but to haul it, too, including such stuff as power-telescoping-and-folding trailer-tow sideview mirrors, a step you can fold out of the tailgate to make loading and unloading less of a chore, fold out steps for the front of the bed (mounted on the truck's side) and retracting running boards ideal for helping the diminutive (or those lacking grace) to get aboard.
Ford has also made the SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment system standard equipment for the XLT series and up this year. It's a good system by which you can access your mobile devices hands-free, by voice. Add that to the conventional buttons and controls on the center stack (which Ford says are work glove-friendly) and the usual ones on the steering wheel, and you have a "suspenders and belt" set of interfaces that should offer the best of all worlds to as many users as possible.
If that isn't enough, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and Limited series models also get the MyFord Touch system, which controls more of the trucks' systems and adds a media hub with two USB ports, SD card reader and audio/video input jacks. A Sony premium audio system is also available. MyFord Touch has been a tad annoying in the past, but the new generation is supposed to be much more user friendly.
The instrument cluster has a digital readout in the middle, which can display stuff such as trip computer, fuel economy, towing/off-road applications and more.
Inside, there are new environment colors and the FX Appearance Package comes with Alcantara seat inserts, while the higher end Platinum series now offers black or pecan leather seats.
No dinosaurs, here…
Some folk bleat that we should be weaning ourselves off oil (while usually offering no practical alternatives to replace it) but, despite their Utopian dreams, petroleum is here for a long time yet. As noted above, however, Ford has obviously taken fuel economy to heart, especially via the terrific 3.5 liter, twin turbo EcoBoost engine that feels like - and pretty well acts like – a V8. But if you need more and are willing to buy more gas, there's also a 6.2 liter V8 Ford says is "the most powerful eight-cylinder engine in the segment."
You can also get a 3.7 liter V6 (302 horses and 278 lb.-ft. of torque), and a five liter V8 (360 ponies and what Ford says is best in class 10,000 pound maximum trailer tow capacity).
Each engine comes with an electronic, six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode. The transmissions shift smoothly and smartly.
Making a truck-like ride extinct…
The Limited model mentioned above was particularly interesting because it not only gives you most of the stuff you need from a truck (it only comes with the short bed, "long cab" configuration, however), adding a lot of comfort and class to the package. Some of it is cosmetic, such as the box-side "Limited" letters and other badging, but some of it is quite functional, such as the 22 inch polished aluminum wheels, lower profile tires and sport suspension, all of which combine to give the truck a much more car-like ride – though it's a really BIG car!
Engine choices for the Limited include the EcoBoost twin turbo V6 and the 6.2 liter V8. The sample, which was really nice to drive, had the EcoBoost.
Exterior colors offered are a very handsome Ruby Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat, as well as Tuxedo Black Metallic and White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat. Inside, you get black full-grain leather and genuine aluminum and piano black finishes, classy and comfortable seats, and about all the technology (including MyFord Touch) you could ask for in a vehicle – short of a laser gun you can use to get idiot drivers off the road. Maybe they'll add that next year…
The front seats offer cooling and heating – and memory settings for two. The rear seats are also heated, and they fold up easily to reveal a flat floor (except for where the subwoofer sits) that adds decent carrying space for stuff you might not want to leave in the bed.
The center stack and console feature handsome aluminum trim, a reasonably-sized moonroof is standard, as is a rear view camera that came in really handy when backing out of the parking area.
The Rapture of the Raptor…
What better place for Ford to introduce a new Raptor than dinosaur alley? So they brought a U.S. model Raptor across the border to amaze and delight the off-road truck fans among the journalists. It did a fine job on the off road course, too, handling it as if it were a parking lot (well, a very bumpy parking lot!). That shouldn't surprise anyone, though, because off roading is really this truck's element.
For 2013, Ford's Raptor now offers what the company says is "industry-exclusive beadlock-capable wheels to help increase grip in low-traction conditions," as well as stuff like HID headlights, internal triple-bypass FOX Racing Shox dampers, Torsen front differential and front-mounted camera technologies. It also gets fitted with SYNC with MyFord Touch and is offered in an "all-new earth-toned colour called Terrain."
Ford also gave the writers a tantalizing glimpse at what might be coming, thanks to a short presentation about its Atlas concept (alas, Atlas was off elsewhere, undoubtedly holding the world on its shoulders or, perhaps, going Galt).
The company said the Atlas was inspired by "decades of listening to customers at the places they work and play," and the result is "a purpose-driven design with prominent wheel arches, a wide stance and chiseled grille – all to reinforce its functional Built Ford Tough image."
It is, or will be, an interesting truck, with a bunch of nifty new features such as tie-down points integrated right into the cargo box's walls and the floor, and a really cool roof "dual purpose tailgate step and cargo cradle" that extends upward from the tail gate – looking kind of like a spoiler, but designed to hold the rear end of your kayak (or whatever) when you perch the front on the cab's roof – thereby freeing up the bed. It also has handy hidden ramps that extend from the rear, creating an easier way to load stuff with wheels.
The Atlas features a next-generation of Ford's EcoBoost powertrain, this time with the kind of auto start-stop function that's now finding its way onto many cars. It shuts the engine off when you're stopped in traffic – a fuel saving measure. Other fuel saving measures include "active grille shutters," which close automatically at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics, "active wheel shutters," which pretty well do the same thing to the wheels (using self-charging batteries to power the shutters), and a front air dam that lowers at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics.
When asked if Ford is going to build the Atlas, they "shrugged," so only time will tell what – if anything – from the concept will make its way onto future Ford truck family members. In the meantime, the F-150 soldiers on as it has for decades, with continual improvement to make it more attractive and relevant for customers. And judging from the Drumheller experience, there's a lot to like if you're a truck fan.
Okay, it isn't all new for 2013, but between all its configurations and trim levels, the F-150 does seem to be about as all-encompassing a truck line as one could want in this class. And since it was confident enough in the product to bring in a bunch of media types to show it off to, it appears that Ford doesn't think it has left many, er, bones to pick when it comes to choosing a "light duty" truck.
There are a few other companies who might argue with that proposition, but for now (at least as far as sales go) Ford seems to be in the catbird seat. Or is it the sabretooth tiger pterodactyl seat?
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
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