The wraps came off the new 2018 Ford F-150 pickup truck a few months ago, when we got our first look at the lightly revised cosmetics of the front and rear ends of America's best-selling vehicle. There have been a few more changes for 2018, but not many — and that's OK, as the F-150's last redesign was a dramatic change from prior models with its new aluminum construction and additional turbocharged V-6, and we liked it just fine.
But now there's more spice to the mix. The new front end is available in a ton of different combinations, with grilles differing depending on the trim you choose. And even within a trim level, there are options such as sport packages, monochromatic paint packages and other modifications to keep you guessing as to what model you might be looking at. Between the five different powertrains, different wheelbases, bed lengths, cab configurations, trim levels, interior options and more, it's amazing Ford can keep track of all the possible build combinations it offers.
New Base Engine
But that's OK; choice is good. And you get plenty of choice with the new F-150, starting with powertrains. There's a new base engine, a 3.3-liter V-6, and I got to drive it both unloaded and weighed down with 1,000 pounds of payload. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the only engine to get that transmission, as the other four engine options all come with the 10-speed automatic. There's no diesel yet; that's slated for later in 2018.
The base 3.3-liter makes 290 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque, a little bit better numbers than the 2017's 3.5-liter V-6. I drove the 3.3-liter in a crew-cab 4×4 XLT model and found it to be perfectly adequate for the task at hand. Once the V-6 builds up some steam, its performance is stout — you won't be winning any drag races, but this motor isn't meant to race; it's there to work. And the best thing about it is that loading the bed with 1,000 pounds of bagged ballast made the haunches squat, but it didn't appreciably affect acceleration or braking performance. The basic F-150 XLT works quite well when called upon to perform truck duties, as one would expect it to. That it does so with such an excellent ride from the 18-inch wheels and standard suspension is just marvelous, and the quietness of the cabin is also decidedly noticeable and appreciated.
The interiors don't vary much across trim levels, except in style. The King Ranch's deep browns and burgundies are gorgeous, while the Limited's cool blues look high tech. Even the basic XLT's two-tone brown-and-black interior looks high rent, and almost makes you not mind paying $44,000 for a basic pickup with a monochromatic LCD screen, no navigation and cloth seats. What also doesn't change much across trims is the shape of the seats — of which the F-150's remain the worst in a modern pickup. The head restraints are too far forward, the lumbar support never seems to fully deflate and the bottom cushion is too short, so you always feel like you're sitting on the edge of it. Doesn't matter which trim variation you choose, cloth or leather, the seats are still the worst part of the F-150 experience.
Under the Hood
At the top end of the trims is a 5.0-liter V-8 for truck purists who absolutely can't be without one. I'm here to tell you that you don't need it. You really don't. Aside from the noise it makes, which is nice and throaty, it doesn't feel as fast as the remaining two powertrain options. The 5.0-liter V-8 does make 395 hp and 400 pounds-feet of torque, so it's still a robust engine that can deliver some highly motivating thrust when called upon. But the two turbo motors are where it's at when it comes to acceleration.
And of the two, you probably don't need more than the 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost. It makes 325 hp and 400 pounds-feet of torque, with a delivery that makes it feel astonishingly quick. You can even switch the drive mode selector into Sport mode to change throttle response and transmission shift patterns for more rapid performance. The 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost makes 375 hp and 470 pound-feet of torque, but unless you find yourself towing often, the 2.7-liter makes the most sense for 90 percent of daily use.
The new 10-speed automatic was optional on the 2017 F-150 with the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost only, but this year it's standard across the board, with the exception of the base 3.3-liter V-6, which is well-matched to the old six-speed automatic. The 10-speed does hunt a lot with the V-8 and tends to keep it running at low rpm when cruising. This causes a bit of lugging on light throttle application, which causes some driveline judder at speeds below 40 mph. Such behavior was not present in the turbocharged V-6 models I sampled. The 10-speed automatic is smooth and unobtrusive the rest of the time. Kudos to Ford for putting a little display in the gauge cluster that always tells you what gear you're in. It's thanks to this display that you can see just how much the 10-speed shifts around, and how quickly it tends to do so. I can't fault it for shifting a lot, however — it has 10 speeds, and it's going to use them. That's the idea of a 10-speed transmission.
Other New Features
There are a few new features for 2018 as well, such as an excellent B&O Play premium audio system by Bang & Olufsen, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go that works even when you're trailering a load, a precollision system with pedestrian detection and autonomous emergency braking, and a new Wi-Fi system with Sync 3 that finally lets you connect up to 10 wireless devices to the truck's hot spot. There are new capabilities as well, such as a higher, 13,200-pound maximum towing capacity and an 18,500-pound maximum gross combined weight rating as well. Fuel economy is up on most powertrains thanks to improved engines and the proliferation of the 10-speed automatic.
We're eager to get a new '18 F-150 in for a full test, so stay tuned to see what it's like to live with one daily. Which one should we request? Which powertrain would you like to see PickupTrucks.com review first? Leave your answer in the comments below.
Editor's note: This post was updated Aug. 14, 2017, to correct information about which model-year 2017 engine the 10-speed transmission was available with.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman; manufacturer images