Ford F-150's blend comfort with utility and size - and even some fun!
By Jim Bray
Ford's F-150 truck line has been at or near the top of the vehicular sales heap for decades, and that's a laudable achievement in an ever-more-competitive automotive marketplace. Especially for a truck!
And even though the joy of a full sized pickup truck is nearly entirely lost on me, I just got to spend two weeks behind the wheel of two Ford F-150 samples, a fairly conventional (but quite loaded) F-150 Lariat edition and (drum roll…) the Mighty Raptor.
My issue with trucks is that they're huge and they handle like trucks - so perhaps this is more of a "Jim" thing than a "truck" thing per se. And not surprisingly, both of these big Fords definitely handle like trucks, thanks in part to their footprint on the road and rear ends that slide around when you press the gas pedal - something I enjoy a lot in a little sporty car but which is decidedly disconcerting when you're just peeling away from a red light in an F-150. I know, I shouldn't peel away, but it's hard not to when you were born with a lead foot.
Trucks being not only big in size but in business as well, it's nice to slide the Bray buttocks into a representative sample periodically if only to see how the "other half" lives. So with that in mind, I tackled the Lariat and the Raptor with gusto - the former of which is likely to rope in many sales thanks to its all-around capabilities and goodness and the latter of which could very well cause rapture among those for whom its capabilities and goodness are aimed because it's not only a very capable truck, it's also a comparative blast to drive. It's also a "truck guy magnet," as evidenced by the number of people who wanted to talk about the Raptor during my week with it. And not just guys!
As has happened with the rest of the automotive market, pickup trucks have evolved over the decades from being simple, utilitarian vehicles to complex utilitarian vehicles that positively bristle with comforts and technology. This, as with cars, has not only made such vehicles more pleasant, capable and safe, but it has also caused the price to rise to alarming levels. Ford Canada's sample 2017 F-150 4x4 Supercrew (the Lariat) starts at $56,199 (to be fair, a basic "garden variety" F-150 can be had for about $25,654), and that ain't chicken feed. I can't imagine being happy with such a low end ride, though; I've been spoiled by all the stuff makers are managing to mount in their menageries these days.
And that 56 grand is only the beginning for the sample. Add the $4,900 Lariat package (blind spot monitoring, side mirror spot lights, voice activated navigation, second row seat heating and heated steering wheel, etc.) and the optional (and really nice) 3.5 litre V6 EcoBoost with the new 10 speed automatic transmission ($1,650), a twin-panel panoramic sunroof ($1,750), adaptive cruise control ($1,500), trailer tow package ($950) with extendable outside mirrors ($570), the FX4 Off road package ($750), Lariat Special Edition Package ($2,400 - and adding 275/55R 20 inch all terrain tires), and you're starting to add up the ante.
Yet that isn't the end of the stuff on this F-150. It also came with handy box side steps (a mere $300) and a cool integrated tailgate step ($400), active park assist ($550), the Technology Package ($1250, and includes a 360 degree camera with split view), wheel well liner ($180) and a sprayed-in bed liner ($550) and you have total of $74,169 before taxes, other charges, etc. Yikes!
Still, you'll be getting a heckuva truck for that amount - and you can still spend more if you want. Not only is the Raptor that's the other half of this review even more expensive ($87,939 as tested) but about a year ago I drove an F-150 Limited that was about $80 grand.
Which shows just how handy a large and capable pickup truck can be.
One of this year's innovations is the 10 speed automatic transmission (last year's Limited I drove had a six speed). This new tranny is undoubtedly an attempt to increase fuel economy and performance, and it works very well. There's a manual mode on the Lariat you can access via a rocker switch on the shift lever - the Raptor gives you real paddles - but in my time in the vehicles the manual modes are pretty much useless because you have so many darn gears to downshift through that, if you're trying to use engine braking, for example, you might as well just ride the brake pedal instead.
The transmission shifts well, though I noticed some jerkiness on start-off that made me think it might have been a dual clutch unit, but I was assured it isn't.
I loved the power and torque from the second generation EcoBoost V6. There's negligible turbo lag and the 375 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque (10 hp and 50 lb.-ft. more than the first generation) comes on quickly and is very satisfying. I have no idea how it will haul actual stuff, but I hauled some stuff with the first generation EcoBoost a couple of years back and it was just fine (remembering, of course, that this is coming from a non-truck guy).
Driving the F-150 in the city can be a challenge, though obviously many folks manage it daily, but the sample had great convex mirrors mounted below the main side ones and they're a real help. Also a wonderful boon is the 360 view camera, a wonderful parking and backing aid, and the Trailer Back up Assist can help save you from embarrassment when trying to launch your boat, or park your camper. I didn't try the trailer thing this time (no trailer!), but I did try it when it was first introduced and it's pretty cool.
The truck is also very comfortable. Once you get inside - which was facilitated for short dudes like me by running boards and "oh expletive handles" mounted inside - you're faced with a very comfortable cabin that's also luxurious and efficient. It could be considered carlike if it weren't so large. The seats are very good, everything you need is within reach of your hand (kudos, considering the interior size) and everything works as it should - including the new Sync version that's intuitive and efficient.
The rapture of the Raptor…
Take all this truck goodness and up the off road ante (not that the Lariat is an off-road stiff!), adding a hefty dose of sportiness at the same time, and you have the Raptor, an outrageously fun truck even for the truck-challenged. Boy, does this thing cut a swath through traffic!
According to Ford, "the all-new 2017 F-150 Raptor is the toughest, smartest, most capable Raptor ever, and re-defines what it means to be the only purpose-built, high-performance off-road truck." I don't know about that, obviously, but I know the Raptor is a blast even if you're just tooling around urban environs like I did, and it emits the most lovely sounds when you press it!
One of the first things I noticed upon being block and tackled into the high cab was the lack of the convex mirrors I had appreciated so much with the F-150 Lariat. This filled me with a bit of angst, since I had relied on them so much, but as it turned out the smaller, lower mirrors on the Raptor (which, unlike the Lariat's, don't extend via power for towing) were nearly as good as the others, while offering a smaller footprint that let you see ahead better (to more easily avoid running down pedestrians or slapping them with the mirrors inadvertently).
Raptor gets its stimulus from the second generation of Ford's 3.5 litre twin turbo EcoBoost engine as well, and in this installation it's rated at 510 lb.-ft. of torque and 450 horsepower, both of which are available across a wide power band.
Believe me, it's quite stimulating! If Ford would put this configuration into a nice sports coupe they might make me a real believer. What's that you said about a GT?
Adding to the increased power and torque is a reduction of "up to 500 pounds" over the previous Raptor thanks to Ford's use of high strength, military grade, aluminum alloy. This hardly makes the Raptor a gazelle, of course, but it certainly adds to the fun and driveability.
Ford also says the 2017 Raptor has the most advanced powertrain, transfer case and suspension ever to be fitted into an F-150. The truck's average height has increased by two inches and the custom-engineered shock absorbers have been upsized to three inches in diameter. There's also a unique set of BFGoodrich tires Ford says were designed specifically to enable Raptor to conquer any terrain. I was quite surprised at how driveable these big knobbies were on the asphalt, too. I once had knobbies on a motorcycle I never took off road and they scared the bejeebers out of me! Not so the Raptor (four wheels probably didn't hurt!).
Other upgrades for the current Raptor include a Terrain Management System that switches between two, four and AWD modes with terrain-specific powertrain calibrations based on the terrain mode selected to optimize performance in any driving condition.
As with the Lariat, the Raptor can be had with SYNC 3 and a 360-degree camera system with Split-view Display to help manoeuvre the beast in tight environs.
The Raptor is a very wide truck - Ford says its track is six inches wider than its predecessor - and its external sensors positively freaked out when I drove it into a touchless car wash. All was well, though; wide or not, the truck still fits where trucks should. Or at least it fit wherever I tried it.
Ford's new 10 speed automatic transmission also finds its way into the Raptor. Ford says the "decaspeed" maximizes shift points and gear ratios "to optimize engine power, torque and efficiency, and can non-sequentially select the right gear ratio based on need for best-in-class performance." And to facilitate manual shifting the Raptor comes with real paddle shifters. Alas, as with the Lariat, in real world use the paddles didn't really help in engine braking. They're pretty cool when you're accelerating, though!
Which brings me to my only real complaint about the Raptor: the brake pedal felt spongy compared to the one in the Lariat, though its stopping power was just fine. Okay, I had one other complaint: an as-tested sticker price of $89,639 Canadian dollars. That's a pile of pennies! Heck, for less than that you could get a base F-150 and a Mustang (starting at $24,532 CAD), giving you solutions for every driving mood or need. But this is coming from a guy who wouldn't buy a pickup truck unless his life depended on it - and it assumes one would be happy with the lower end trim levels and power trains.
Neither of these Ford F-150's is going to make me a truck guy, but that isn't their fault. It's plain to see why these vehicles are so popular with so many people, however: they're big and tall and roomy, very utilitarian, and yet they offer all the comforts, conveniences and technologies one could expect from any mainstream vehicle these days.
And in the case of the Raptor, they're even quite fun to drive.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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