2019 Ford F-150- Let Freedom Ring

Ladies and gentlemen, the truck before you is the most popular vehicle in all of America. This is the Big Kahuna. The automotive heavyweight. The Big Cheese. The Big Enchilada. The Top Dog. It’s what every new car strives to be; popular and a huge moneymaker. And this is not just a fluke. Year and year, two things are certain; we’ve completed another circle around the Sun and the Ford F-150 was, yet again, number one in U.S. sales. The F-Series has been the best selling truck since 1977, and best selling vehicle, of any kind, since 1986. Last year alone, over 909,000 F-150’s found their way from the bustling Dearborn and Kansas City factories into driveways. Those numbers are more than double of the best selling passenger car, the Toyota Camry, and more than the entire Hyundai brand. Yeap, the F-150 couldn’t be more American if it played the Star Spangled Banner and had bold eagles released from its rugged bed. It was time to get acquainted with this American all-star to learn how it gets its mojo.

As with any full-size American truck and like a Chipotle burrito, there’s an infinite amount of combinations in which the F-150 can be served. The six different engines, unique door options, bed lengths, packages, and trims almost guarantee that no two trucks are alike. This particular tester, that we found slumbering in a backlot in Cleveland, is the “Super Crew” cab with four regular doors, four-wheel drive, a short bed, the 5.0 litre V8, and in XLT trim. There’s several extreme F-150 models, including the rough-and-ready Raptor and luxurious Limited. We figured the middle-of-the-road XLT best represents the average F-150.

This 2019 model is an example of the [lucky] 13th generation F-150 that was released for 2015 on an all-new platform, codenamed “P552”. The task to redesign such a popular product is a daunting one. Be too conservative, and buyers will go elsewhere in the ultra-competitive full-size truck arena. Go overboard with changes, and traditional truck buyers will be left in shock. Either way risks losing the top spot. Ford did a commendable job with sticking to the middle ground. The overall style is reminiscent of prior generations. There’s enough visual cues from the Ford Atlas concept to keep things interesting, but the overall shape is familiar. However, the biggest news with this generation was the innovative all-aluminum body.

The F-150 became the first mass-produced American car with an all-aluminum shell. A pretty gutsy move for Ford, as many manufacturers will experiment with new engineering techniques on low volume models, and not their biggest seller. All of the exterior panels are aluminum, although the frame and firewall remain high-strength steel. The weight reduction was dramatic, with a comparable new F-150 weighing in 700lbs. lighter than its predecessor. This results in gains for fuel economy and performance, and aluminum doesn’t rust like steel. There have been some naysayers who state a real truck should have real steel for the job, but videos online (albeit Chevrolet’s infamous commercial) show the bed taking abuse like a champ. On the downside, the aluminum’s bodywork is typically more expensive to repair. On a side note, our tester did have one nasty ding on the driver side back door, proving that the new metal isn’t immune to the ravages of parking lots.

Going back to the aluminum-cloaked styling. There’s some familiar Ford styling cues to make prior F-150 buyers feel at home. The “daylight door” side window sills that dip toward the mirrors pay homage to the 11th gen F-150 from 2004. The slab-sided, upright greenhouse, for the first time in decades, is shared with the Ford Super Duty Trucks. Newer touches include an imposing grille with twin horizontal chrome bars (that resemble Gillette razor blades) framing a massive Ford emblem that came straight off a Texas belt buckle. Flared nostrils, mimicking an angry bull, culminate the cross bars. A criss-cross pattern of chrome makes up the rest of grille that is enclosed by immense C-shaped headlights. The rear is also chunky, housing attractive squared-off, LED-ringed taillights and a beefy tailgate with purposeful creases and “F-150” stamped into the metal, from an industrial-grade steel….uh….aluminum press. The overall look is brickish, and from some perspectives, especially around the headlights, reminds me of a Lego car. It’s a rugged design befitting for a full-size truck that won’t scare the neighbourhood children, being the case with the latest Chevrolet Silverado, and fits into the country landscape like a pair of blue jeans.

But enough about styling and cutesy LED lights. Let’s focus on the heart of any truck; the engine. Ours is the tried-and-true 5.0 litre “Coyote” V8 that provides a healthy 395 horsepower and 400 lb. feet of torque. This is the same engine that was developed with the Mustang GT in mind, and has even found its way into the performance oriented Australian Ford Falcon XR8. In the F-150, this DOHC powerplant has been revised with lower compression and revised cylinder heads to improve the low-end torque needed for towing. It also gained direct injection last year, boosting prior output and making it a sophisticated unit.

The end result? Robust acceleration from a standstill and no issues with power on tap at any speed. We timed our F-150 doing 0-60mph in about 7.0 seconds, which is not bad for a vehicle weighing a healthy 4,867 lbs.. Freeway onramps weren’t an issue and the engine never came close to feeling strained on hills or inclines. Getting up to speed was, simply put, effortless. There’s a thrill in hearing the roar of the engine under hard acceleration, but under normal circumstances, it’s a tame beast. Around town, throttle control was easy to master and the truck never felt overpowered. The F-150 also has an auto-stop start system that can be overridden. But there was no need, as it was one of the most non-intrusive and astute systems yet. It made its presence known during our full acceleration tests, but was so inconspicuous during normal driving that passengers didn’t notice until it was pointed out. The 5.0 litre isn’t even the most powerful F-150 engine. That honour goes to the 3.5 litre V6 Ecoboost found in the Raptor, which claims an additional 55 horsepower.

Matched to all 5.0 litre engines (and the 3.5) is the new 10-speed automatic transmission that was, in a bizarre twist, developed jointly with archrival GM. This advanced unit took some packaging creativity, requiring an unusual triple-clutch assembly on a dedicated intermediate shaft, to be packaged in the space required for a smaller, simpler transmission. It’s the perfect companion to the mighty V8, and offers smooth, well-timed shifts no matter the conditions. With that many gears on hand, there was always the right ratio to find and downshifts were quick and well-sorted. Once in a while, most notably in hilly terrain, there was some indecisive gear hunting but not enough to be a nuisance. Gear selections can also be manually overridden by a selector on the shift column. At first, it seemed gimmicky on a pickup but would undoubtedly come in handy for towing. However, the position proved troublesome for me personally as I typically rest my right hand on the column while driving and would unintentionally downshift. Moral of the story; don’t be strange like me. Rest your arm on the centre armrest, as God intended, and this won’t be an issue.

On that note, the 5.0 litre/10 speed combination is rated to tow an impressive 11,300 pounds. Ours did not have the tow package, so we couldn’t test that theory. Given the potency of the engine, we have no reason to question those numbers.

Also not doing the F-150 justice in this test was the lack of off-road trails in Northwest Ohio. The jagged rocks of Moab, Utah would’ve been a more appropriate backdrop to test out this 4X4 truck’s true capabilities. With a ground clearance of 9.4 inches, nearly matching the legendary Jeep Wrangler, and decent departure and approach angles, there’s some decent off-road potential. However, the F-150’s sheer size, 8 ft of width from mirror-to-mirror and a 145” wheelbase that stretches the length of an entire Chevy Spark would be a downfall on tight paths. I took the opportunity to utilize the four-wheel drive system on several occasions without breaking too many laws; several times to crawl through roadside ditches and once over a rocky outcrop in the forest. The 4X4 system, even in high mode, is cautious and the transmission holds the truck back from gaining too much momentum. The tyres are grippy and there was plenty of clearance over obstacles. The low hanging front plastic air dam, designed with fuel economy in mind, is just begging to be ripped off over the first challenging trail. Skid-plates are optional for serious off-roading.

It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t push this truck anywhere close to its limits. But then again, it’s befitting that most owners probably won’t either. Sadly, many of these trucks end up being grocery getters and errand runners instead of farm haulers or wilderness seekers. Around town, the F-150 felt a little intimidating initially but it’s easy to acclimatize. The electric steering is nicely weighted and gives good communication to the road. Steering effort changes with speed, and felt featherly light within parking lots while tightening up on the highway. In crowded areas, the F-150’s immense 47.8 ft. turning circle did require some strategy when negotiating parking spots but after a few days, it becomes second nature.

Handling, though, belies the F-150’s girth. Drive it hastily on a cloverleaf onramp and the F-150 remains stable with no body lean. This is a far cry of the wallowy, clumsy trucks of yore. The upright seating position does eradicate some confidence around the curves, but the F-150 remains consistent in its dynamics on the road and is more flingable than perceived. But there’s no escaping that this a pickup and with no load in the empty bed, bumps in mid-corner have a tendency to kick the light rear end off-course. That leads to the F-150’s one glaring performance downfall: the ride.

It’s in a word; rough “But Roo”, you may say. “It’s a truck and it’s supposed to ride like an Oregon Trail wagon!” That used to be true, but the Ram 1500, with its revolutionary independent rear suspension, proves that a hard-working truck can have a refined ride as well. By comparison, the F-150 comes from another era. The old-school leaf spring rear suspension, a design dating back to the Ford Model T, proves itself with impressive payload numbers (2,140 lbs, or the weight of that aforementioned Chevy Spark). But the typical trade-off, like most trucks, is a jittery ride when unladen. Every surface imperfection is felt and ricochets throughout the body into the cabin.

The cabin itself echoes the exterior’s blocky, bigger-is-better approach. It’s all business inside with a squared-off, industrial theme throughout. The assembly seems solid, but the surface finishes are hard to the touch. Few soft touchpoints exist and the overall presentation feels down-market compared to some of Ford’s cheapest cars that sell for a fraction of the price. Compared to the Ram 1500’s opulent detailing, the F-150’s interior comes across as cheap. The trade-off is that the rough materials will likely stand the test of time and abuse.

Primary controls also feel downmarket. Despite this being an all-new truck in 2015, there’s a lot of parts sharing from Fords dating back to the mid-2000’s. The ventilation controls are low and have too many buttons in a grid pattern, much like the original Fusion or 2008 Focus. Adjusting the vent airflow, especially, is difficult to decipher at a glance with an overkill of buttons clustered together. Fan speed and temperature are controlled by knobs.

The gauges are very generic in appearance, a surprise given the F-150’s pedigree and price. There’s a host of instrumentation including oil and transmission temperature, befitting for the truck’s intended purpose. John Davis would be proud. Whether it’s the typeface, layout, or the centre information display stolen from a 10 year old Focus, the entire presentation is dull. Readability, the most important function, is even weak as the gauges are so deeply recessed in the binnacle and are such a small font that they’re impossible to see with sunglasses on; an issue that I’ve never encountered on any car. That issue resolves itself at night…..obviously.

On a bright note, the touchscreen infotainment system that hosts Sync 3 is intuitive and a pleasure. The displays are clear, crisp, and attractive. Navigating through menus is simple and there’s plenty of personalisation options. The screen itself is quick and responsive to the touch. Pairing up the Bluetooth was straightforward and took less than 30 seconds. It’s fair to say that Ford may have finally worked out the bugs and Sync 3 was worth the wait. Large, physical volume and tune knobs are logical, but Ford couldn’t resist placing a host of preset buttons on yet another crowded grid.

More maddening is the electronic parking brake. In all fairness, I’ve never been a fan of them. They take too long to set or release, and maybe, it’s just me, it’s easy to forget setting them. The location of the F-150’s parking brake, in the lower left dash, is an awkward reach. With the F-150’s power, there was a lurch every time while the brake deactivated upon take-off. Give me a mechanical, foot-operated parking brake pedal any day.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is reminiscent of the view from Kilimanjaro. The commanding post offers an excellent view across the broad hood over other cars and far ahead on the road. Thanks to relatively thin roof pillars, expansive glass including those “daylight door” side windows, and generous side mirrors that are larger than my head, seeing around the F-150 is worry-free and took away some of the guesswork when parking. A rearview camera, integrated into the tailgate release, helps even more with its adjusting guide lines.

It is quite a climb to the summit and getting in and out of the F-150 can be a challenge for older passengers. This particular truck did not have the optional side rails. They are worth the investment. Even for able bodied folks, it’s a big step up. Thoughtfully placed grab handles in the A-pillars for front occupants and B-pillars in the rear help with hoisting up there. Getting out proved to be easier with what we coined the “F-150 Crawl”. All four doors swing wide and reveal immense openings into the Super Crew.

Once perched in the cabin, there is generous space for six passengers. The F-150 could easily double as a family hauler and the cab’s interior volume easily trumps most full-size cars. Legroom and headroom are expansive all around, and even with my 6’4” frame, I had to pull the driver’s seat forward to reach the pedals.

The rear bench seat is almost limo-like in size and unlike some trucks, reclines enough against the rear window to still be comfortable. Rear passengers were also delighted to have windows that lowered completely, two USB ports, and two cupholders. Although they did complain that the cupholders were too low and out of reach on the floor. Kudos also go to Ford for eliminating the transmission hump in the centre and creating a completely flat floor in the back. The seat bottoms also flip up 30/70 revealing a voluminous cargo area on the floor that doubles as a trunk. With the seats up, we were able to stuff several suitcases and carry-on bags into the safety of the F-150’s cab, plus three passengers.

Almost all of the seats proved to comfortable for everyone and are nicely padded and contoured. I emphasize “almost all of the seats.” The centre console, once raised, doubles as the seatback for the 6th passenger. It doesn’t recline whilst having the contouring of a concrete cinder block, forcing the middle passenger to awkwardly lean forward. An inkling of the transmission hump on the floor under the dash also forces them to sit in the classic “knees-to-chin” position. But few will likely have the need for this seat and the Super Crew does a commendable job of chauffeuring four passengers, thank you very much.

Interior noise levels were hushed and there was barely a hint of any road, engine, or wind roar. Only when the engine was pressed would a pleasing growl make it’s way to occupant’s ears. The F-150 is stellar at keeping the outside world…well…..out.

Lastly, our truck had the 67.5 inch short bed. For most tasks in the urban jungle, this tray would be sufficient enough to carry furniture or some yard sale finds. The square shape is usable and the wheelwells intrude minimally, offering 50.6 inches of width between them. If more length is needed, Ford does offer a 1 ft. longer bed on the Super Crew. The tailgate is also wide, but the hinges aren’t damped like the Ram’s; opening with a classic “thud”. Our tester also didn’t come equipped with the $375 optional tailgate step, complete with man handle, to help with access to the bed. It’s a convenient innovation that Ford debuted over a decade ago and it’s a surprise that it’s not standard after all these years. There’s no side steps integrated into the bumper, like on the Silverado. Considering that the lowered tailgate is 35.7 inches off the ground, climbing into the F-150’s bed can be treacherous without the step. Four tie-downs are integrated into the bed’s sidewalls, but we found them too low to be useful They also had sharp edges that could potentially slice into ropes.

The EPA rates the 5.0 litre 4X4 at 16mpg highway and 22mpg city. In a rare occasion, I fell short of those estimates during the test. On average, I scored 18mpg in a mix of city, freeway, and backroad driving. The best I could eek out was a gallon for every 20 miles on the freeway. The F-150 does also come equipped with Ford’s slick capless filler. Both the base 3.3 litre V6 and the V8 take either regular unleaded or E85 ethanol.

Our tester had 16k miles on the clock, and true to the promise of its marketing, proved to be “Ford Tough”. There were no known mechanical or electronic issues. The only trim piece that had worn were the rear cupholders, which no longer flipped up into their housing. Otherwise, the truck was holding up well to rental duty.

Prices for the F-150 start at $28,155 for the base XL trim, which is aimed toward commercial fleets needing a basic work truck. The base XL comes with the 3.3 litre V6, a six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights with automatic high beams, trailer sway control, pre-wired trailer connections, manual mirrors and windows, vinyl flooring, a cloth-upholstered 40/20/40-split front bench, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a driver information display, air conditioning, a 4.2-inch central display screen, a four-speaker radio, a rearview camera, and forward collision warning with automatic braking. The XLT is the next level up and for $34,160 in regular cab form adds power windows and locks (including the tailgate), power mirrors, remote locking and unlocking, cruise control, a larger driver information screen, Sync voice controls, Bluetooth, smartphone app integration, two USB ports, a CD player, alloy wheels, chrome bumpers and exterior trim, foglights, a keypad entry system, rear privacy glass, carpeting, driver and passenger seat lumbar adjustments, additional interior storage bins and pockets, an 8-inch touchscreen (with Sync 3, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and Wi-Fi connectivity. Our XLT was the SuperCrew, which immediately inflated the base price to $39,420. Add the $1,995 V8 (which comes packaged with the 10-speed automatic), the 4X4 option for $3,495, and destination, and our “blue jeans” F-150 totaled $45,650. Our comparable Ram 1500, back in 2016, was just a smidge over $40k. The F-150 isn’t unreasonable, but the Ram 1500 offers so much more sophistication within the same price range. If you feel like splurging, the F-150 Limited starts at over $67,000. Keep in mind that Ford often has massive rebates on all these trucks.

It was a fun experience with the F-150 and I see the appeal. The truck is a true workhorse and would be the right tool for the job on farms across the country. It can tow, haul, and conquer rough terrain with ease. It comes highly recommend for those reasons. But most of today’s trucks are just commuter vehicles. It’s a silly car to have for putting around town, but if you must have a full-size truck, the F-150 is simply outclassed and dated compared to the Ram. The Ford is good on its own merits. But the Ram is an easier vehicle to live with due to its smoother ride, better fuel economy, upscale interior, yet is not a sissy’s truck. It can still handle the rough stuff. The F-150 is the right choice for the appropriate buyer and will remain a top seller for years to come. Ford, however, should keep an eye on the rearview mirror. When you’re the top dog, you are the target. A solid 3.5/5.0 boomerangs

The F-150 looks tough in any environment
The F-150 fits into the country landscape like a pair of blue jeans
The American woods is home to plenty of full-size trucks
The bold grille makes a larger-than-life first time impression
The rear styling is all about heavy creases and industrial stamping
The side profile may look familiar but conceals aluminum bodywork

One Response

  1. A good all-round description with a decent dose of humor included and great photos. You have left it up to the consumer to decide where they stand on acceptance while giving good solid highs and lows for them to weigh up in their judgment. Personally we have loved the fun side of this very popular vehicle and add our strong plus after using this truck for moving house load after load. All round acceptance for whatever the job entails.

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