First Drive Review: 2011 Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost V-6 and 5.0 V-8, Part 2


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3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 ($1,750 more than 3.7-liter V-6)

The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 F-150 was the only truck we drove both empty and pulling a trailer. Ford says it can tow up to 11,300 pounds, which is today’s maximum towing rating for the F-150. That’s amazing when you imagine its displacement is smaller than a pair of 2-liter bottles of Coke.

They hype around the 365 hp (@ 5,000 rpm), 420 pounds-feet (@ 2,500 rpm) twin turbo direct-injection six-cylinder has been building for years, when it was officially announced at the . Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to test the turbocharged powertrain several times during its development. We were very interested to try out EcoBoost with close-to-final engine and transmission calibrations.

In a wide-open-throttle drag, we measured a blistering fast zero to 60 mph time of just 6.82 seconds behind the wheel of a two-wheel-drive FX2 SuperCrew with a 3.73 rear axle. That was the fastest time of any of the 2011 F-150s we drove and faster than any of the 4WD trucks we measured during our . Unloaded, there was so much power that we experienced some rear axle hop and traction control intervention about 100 feet into the run.

Ford also provided 6,700-pound, 24-foot-long enclosed trailers to pull behind a 4WD Platinum SuperCrew and a 2WD XLT on a route that combined highway and stop-and-go driving. Both trucks had 3.73 rear axles.

The EcoBoost V-6 lived up to its expectations of V-8 like pulling performance towing trailers, but in our opinion it felt more like a small-displacement V-8 instead of large-displacement engine.

Fuel economy was also V-8-like. We observed a range of 8.9 mpg to 9.7 mpg, though it seemed like Ford is prioritizing fuel economy over stoplight sprint performance when the truck is pulling a trailer. It made us wonder how the truck would do with a full 11,300 pounds behind it.

Still, we’re firm believers in the engine’s broad, diesel-like torque curve, 90 percent of which is available from 1,700 rpm to 5,000 rpm. Deep accelerator requests while towing were consistently met with refined single-step transmission downshifts and smooth power, which never felt jumpy or spiky.

Photo by: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co.

At 65 mph on the highway, the EcoBoost powertrain preferred to hang in fifth gear (first overdrive) instead of sixth gear (second overdrive). It loped along at about 2,100 rpm over small, widely-spaced rolling hills. This was with the transmission in tow/haul mode, which holds gears longer and has higher rpm to keep the truck in the engine’s optimal powerband.

Using the 6R80 six-speed transmission’s new manual shift mode — which makes the gearbox perform like a manual transmission as long as you don’t redline — we could have forced a shift into sixth gear to lug the engine around 1,800 rpm, but we kept the transmission in full auto.

Of note, Ford has cleverly placed the manual shift mode button on the console shifter in F-150 models equipped with this option (its standard position is on the gear shift stalk), which helped reinforce its substitution as a virtual handshaker.

The 6R140 also features Progressive Range Select for every engine, which allows a driver to reduce the number of available gears so it’s easier to tow up a grade and hold a specific top gear, like fifth, without worrying about the truck upshifting and getting bogged down.

In addition, we drove about 60 miles in an unloaded EcoBoost F-150 with a 3.15 rear axle. A Ford-instigated fuel economy challenge between journalists yielded at least five trucks with fuel economy north of 30 mpg from the miserly hyper-milers behind their wheels. If that's any indication, most drivers are likely to hit about 21 mpg to 23 mpg on the highway. We hear that Ford officially hopes to score a 24 mpg rating from the EPA.

We didn’t participate in the mpg challenge. Instead, we chose to get a better feel for the 3.5-liter V-6 driving over longer distances. We’d swear the 3.15 rear axle was geared 25% shorter because when empty, it was just waiting to soak up the revs.

The 3.5 V-6 has a tougher exhaust note than the 3.7. It’s a unique sound that we’d consider a third type of powertrain signature to add to naturally aspirated gas V-8’s rumble or a diesel’s clatter.

The 3.5’s twin-turbo setup should also prove ideal for towing at altitude, where a naturally aspirated engine can have difficulty feeding air to its cylinders.

As hard as Ford is pushing EcoBoost, the only chance you'll have to drive an F-150 with the 3.5 TT GDI V-6 is at Ford's until it hits dealers late in the first quarter of 2011.

Zero to 30 MPH (SuperCrew): 2.74 seconds
Zero to 60 MPH (SuperCrew): 6.82 seconds

What We Like

  • Every bit the power equal of a V-8
  • Virtually no turbo lag
  • Can’t tell it’s a V-6 when the truck is unloaded
  • Excellent highway fuel economy

What We Don’t

  • Needs a boost gauge, like the F-Series Super Duty offers for its 6.7-liter turbodiesel
  • V-8-like fuel economy when towing
  • Wouldn’t hold sixth gear when towing on gentle rolling hills

5.0-liter V-8 ($1,000 more than 3.7-liter V-6)

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

The 5.0-liter V-8 is rated at 360 hp (at 5,500 rpm) and 380 pounds-feet of torque (at 4,250 rpm). It’s positioned as the midrange engine choice for the F-150, below the 3.5-liter V-6 and conventional large-displacement 6.2-liter V-8 and above the 3.7-liter V-6.

Although the 5.0 produces more power than the outgoing 5.4-liter V-8, it won’t tow as much. Its maximum is 10,000 pounds trailering — up 200 pounds from Ford's original 9,800 pounds rating in August — instead of 11,300 pounds. Peak torque has also moved up the rpm band, from a low 3,500 rpm in the 5.4-liter V-8. Our experience driving the 5.0-liter V-8 was brief. The 4-valve 5.0-liter certainly feels more capable than the old 3-valve 5.4-liter V-8 it replaces. And like the screaming 3.7-liter V-6 we drove, the 5.0 will also rev as high as 7,000 rpm when pushed hard.

At highway speeds, with a stout 3.31 rear axle, the 5.0 powertrain effortlessly knocked out 6-4-6 downshifts and upshifts while passing slower traffic. Its unloaded zero to 60 mph time wasn’t far off from the significantly larger 6.2-liter V-8.

We didn’t get the opportunity to tow with the 5.0. We suspect the EcoBoost’s low-end torque will give the 3.5 a pronounced performance advantage over the 5.0 when both trucks run empty. We also wonder which gear the 5.0 will hold onto when towing moderate loads, since the EcoBoost towed in fifth gear. If the 5.0 holds one gear lower, we’d be concerned about gas mileage.

Still, we’re confident the 5.0 V-8 will meet the needs of most F-150 buyers.

Zero to 30 MPH (SuperCrew): 2.72 seconds
Zero to 60 MPH (SuperCrew): 7.38 seconds

What We Like

  • Refined yet powerful exhaust note
  • Excellent power feel
  • Great choice if you don’t quite trust or want to pay for an EcoBoost V-6
  • 375 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque burning E85 flex-fuel

What We Don’t

  • Too soon to say. We like this engine but haven’t towed with it
  • Is Ford sandbagging the 5.0’s power figures?

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