Ford gives its innovative F-150 an icy reception in Quebec
By Jim Bray
What do you do for an encore when your F-150 pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in Canada for nearly 50 years, especially when it faces absolutely furious competition?
It appears you up the ante by lowering the weight, then sweeten the deal by cramming the truck full of modern amenities, from LED lighting to handy steps to the box – and a lot more. (click here or on the picture for a slideshow)
Ford of Canada invited me to join a gaggle of auto journalists as it put on a wintery demonstration of the new model that started in Quebec City and ended in a rock quarry in the Charlevoix area a couple of hours away. It was very cold and humid, and snowy as heck – a real shock to a guy whose home town of Calgary experienced record-breaking high temperatures about a week before.
We kicked off the event at Quebec's famous Ice Hotel, where an F-150 parked outside reminded us why we were there shivering our timbers. The hotel is a neat place if you don't want to stay warm (fortunately, we dined in a heated temporary setup on the grounds) and it is different each year it's built, apparently. It's very cool, no pun intended, with lovely ice sculptures and other frozen artworks – and even a reasonably sized chapel for those who decide to get married there, or maybe to celebrate the lives of those who froze to death there…
The main adventure started with some basic freeway driving coupled with some nice hilly and twisty bits I'd forgotten existed outside of the west. Some of the roads were bare and dry, which gave us a chance to check out the F-150s' creature comforts as well as judge the road noisiness of the new BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires that had been retrofitted onto the trucks for just such an emergency. More about the tires later.
Ford thinks the innovations it's designed into the 2015 F-150 will keep it on top of the sales heap for the foreseeable future and I wouldn't be surprised if they're right. I'm not a truck guy, so perhaps am not the best one to be commenting on their work-worthiness, but you can tell that Ford has pulled out all the stops even for those who just want it to drive the F-150 around town. Well, they still have brakes so I guess they didn't quite pull out all the stops…
The biggest news was the use of aluminium alloy to trim the vehicle's weight by some 700 pounds. Weight, of course, is the enemy of efficiency in a vehicle and aluminium is a good way to get around that It's actually not a new phenomenon, but in this age of ever more stringent fuel consumption regulations it's now becoming mainstream – it just hasn't shown up in pickup trucks very much so far. But Ford figured that using the alloy would give its customers a way to get more out of their truck purchase - after all, if the vehicle's own heft is reduced, you can haul more stuff without changing its overall GVW. And that's over and above any fuel savings you may get.
We sampled several different iterations of the F-150, from fairly basic to fairly loaded (guess which ones I enjoyed the most!) and they all performed without breaking a sweat, not that one should expect anything less at a company-sponsored event. But Ford let the trucks speak for themselves as we put them through their paces doing the kind of chores they were designed to handle every day, such as hauling and towing. Not only that, we were unleashed to do doughnuts on a snowy skid pad, and there was a handling course on icy and very snowy airport runways that let us sample all the electronic nannies vehicles can't seem to live without these days (traction control, ABS, the usual suspects – plus, of course, the latest anti-collision stuff, adaptive cruise control and the like).
Then we were off to a rock quarry to check out the F-150s' performance in an off road torture test that would have made the old Timex watch commercials jealous (if commercials can experience such emotions). More on that later, too.
Before we headed out on our roadway adventure, experts from Ford of Canada and the U.S. head office took us around the truck, outlining all that's new, improved and/or innovative (even supposedly simple but thoughtful stuff such as a flat floor inside the cab, for better stowing and access), and there isn't space enough here to talk about it all. But a few things jumped out at me.
Besides adding oodles of aluminium, Ford also created a new high strength steel frame for the truck. The Ford folk were quick to note, too, that the aluminium alloy that makes up the body and the box is military grade, though I have a feeling they didn't mean it's bulletproof in a literal way. The weight watchers program led to a claimed best in class towing and payload, with a maximum tow rating of 12,200 pounds and up to 3,300 pounds payload.
Testing this version of the truck included more than 10 million miles of use, in temperatures ranging from minus 20 to plus 120 (both in degrees Fahrenheit), and the Ford guys said they even handed some early prototypes over to some customers to put through their real world paces. They also did anti-corrosion tests, engine load tests and structural fatigue tests.
F-150's are available with four engine choices, two of which are turbocharged "EcoBoost" power plants. The smallest is a 2.7 liter engine that puts out 325/375 horses/torque and features auto start/stop (in two wheel drive, non-towing mode). I drove that version on the two hour trip back to the airport and, other than being a tad reluctant on some of the many steep hills, it hauled butt well, with more get up and go than I expected. That, however, was unloaded except for two writer folks (who weren't loaded, either!). Ford claims a 2,250 pound maximum payload and 8,500 pound maximum tow rating for this version of the F-150.
The other EcoBoost engine is a 3.5 liter unit that cranks out 365/420 hp/"tow-rque) that Ford said delivers that abovementioned best in class towing figure. This is the one I took onto the off road torture track and it worked fine. You can add to the mix a 3.5 liter V6 (283/255 hp/torque) and a five liter V8 (385/387 hp/torque), the latter of which doesn't really exhibit the great V8 growl we expected, but which certainly moves the F-150 along with abandon.
Inside is a more spacious interior that's about as civilized as any other modern vehicle, with (depending on the configuration, of course) comfortable power-operated and heated seats and all the technology we've come to expect these days (including the MyFord Touch system that's great in concept but difficult to use – and which is apparently being supplanted soon by a new Sync version before long). There's also plenty of storage, lots of auxiliary power and connectivity inputs and even Ford's active park assist, which I didn't try this time but which worked well on other Fords I've driven. There's even a remote tail gate release and steps on the tailgate and both sides of the box to make getting in and out a lot easier.
We tried the trucks' hauling and towing abilities on some narrow, hilly and twisty roads around Charlevoix, roads made worse by the ice and snow. I hauled some big construction thingy in the box during one session, then dragged – er, towed – some John Deere thingy along the same route in another session. Neither experience seemed to tax the trucks – nor should they have since this would be every day stuff for many F-150 owners.
Ford created a nifty off road course at a nearby quarry and it was there that we got to try the F-150s' hill descent control and 360 degree camera. Going up a couple of the steeper hills, which were more like big piles of rocks than hills, the ground would slope away steeply at the top, leaving us blind to what was ahead. The 360 degree camera gave us a leg - well, an eye – up here, much to the relief of the photographer on hand a couple of feet away.
The hill descent aid is kind of like cruise control, in that you set it at a particular speed (a slow speed) and take your feet off the pedals, at which time the truck continues at that speed until you get bored and go back into manual mode. That was my experience, anyway, but I'm an off-roading neophyte. I could see it being a pretty handy feature under some circumstances, however.
The quarry featured not only intimidating rocks but very sharp ones as well, some of which David could have used when he offed the big guy and created the "getting stoned" phenomenon that's still in vogue in some quarters. I wouldn't have wanted to walk over the rocks in work boots, but BFGoodrich's new All-Terrain T/A KO tires really performed well. I can't speak for other attendees' experiences, but I was impressed by how the tires not only handled those rocks – and the ice and the snow – but also with how surprisingly quiet they are on the highway.
Utility tires such as these can be as loud on asphalt as a CVT (well, nearly…) and their droning and/or thrumming can be quite wearing on a long trip. I'm no expert, but I wouldn't have connected the tires I drove over those rocks with the ones that took us back to Quebec so smoothly and quietly. Yet they were the same.
BFGoodrich says the KO2 brings 20 percent tougher sidewalls to the gig, with race-proven CoreGard technology, and they promise double the tread life on gravel and 15 percent longer tread life on asphalt. They also claim it gives you 10 percent better traction in mud and 19 percent improved snow performance. Must have been interesting measuring all that stuff.
The company plans to offer 56 sizes of the tire in Canada. It launched with 12 sizes last fall, and the rest are supposed to be available sometime this year. Their target market is owners of light trucks and SUVs who "not only use these vehicles as their daily driver but also as their vehicle of choice for off-road adventures."
Which sounds a lot like F-150 buyers.
Ford's F-150 is available in a dizzying number of versions, starting with the lowest end XL regular cab 4x2 ($21,399) to the top line Platinum Super Crew 4x4 ($66,999). Fuel ratings, according to the company, range from 12.2/9.2 (city/highway) for the 2.7 liter V6 to 16/11.3 (city/highway) for the five liter V8.
Copyright 2015 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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