The switch to aluminum sheet metal is most apparent in how the redesigned 2015 Ford F-150 rides and drives like a much smaller, more agile truck than its competitors.
The 2015 Ford F-150 is a dramatic departure from typical pickup truck construction, relying on the heavy use of lightweight aluminum in the cab and body to decrease weight up to 700 pounds compared with the 2014 F-150. Why do this? Shedding weight is one way to kill two, three or four of those birds with one stone because payload and towing capacities, and acceleration and braking performance all improve by purging pounds. That’s a big rock. The whole truck also includes new features previously unheard of in the pickup segment, from top to bottom.
This review covers a mix of engines and body configurations augmented by exhaustive testing from Cars.com’s sibling site, PickupTrucks.com, in our 2015 Light-Duty V-8 Challenge featuring the 2015 F-150 with the 5.0-liter V-8, as well as V-6 engine testing in the 2015 Annual Physical. In the Physical, we tested the new and intriguing turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 plus the lineup’s rock-star engine, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine. Compare the various engines here.
The Ford F-150 has previously dominated PickupTrucks.com’s light-duty multitruck comparisons, taking the cake in 2013 and 2008, but the segment has changed considerably since then with new engines, transmissions and suspensions from the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500. Compare the F-150 with those trucks, here.
Exterior & Styling
The F-150 hides its significant structural reworking with many design similarities to the outgoing F-150. It’s impossible to mistake the F-150 for anything else but a Ford, but the new pickup is fit, trim and more toned than before. The biggest clue that you’re looking at a 2015 are the new headlight and taillight housings with optional LED lighting.
All of that steel replaced with aluminum equates to a base model Ford F-150 (regular cab, 3.5-liter V-6, rear-wheel drive and 6.5-foot box) weighing a lick more than 4,000 pounds (4,050 pounds), or roughly the same weight as a midsize Ford Edge SUV. The F-150 is also lighter than the competition. Entry-level Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500s are both 4,521 pounds, a base Ram 1500 is 4,705 pounds, a Toyota Tundra is 5,095 pounds and the Nissan Titan weighs in at 5,049 pounds.
The F-150 SuperCrew XLT we weighed during PickupTrucks.com’s Light-Duty V-8 Challenge tipped the scales at 5,120 pounds, undercutting the Chevrolet Silverado’s 5,620 pounds, the 2015 GMC Sierra’s 5,640 pounds, the Ram 1500’s 5,780 pounds and the Toyota Tundra’s 5,840 pounds. (While the interior features varied, the tested trucks were comparable in terms of cab and bed styles and four-wheel drive.)
How It Drives
The new F-150 is a massive departure not just from how the old truck drove, but also how a pickup truck should ride in general. Even those who choose one as a good old-fashioned workhorse will be surprised by the F-150’s high-quality ride, increased agility and quiet cabin that’s well-isolated from wind and road noise. All of the body and frame stiffening as well as suspension reworking have done wonders for the Ford F-150’s ride, which is spirited and lively without being overly stiff, striking a harmonious balance between road feel and comfort.
The ride quality is that much more impressive for having stuck with a rear leaf-spring suspension. It can’t beat the Ram’s plush ride quality from the optional air suspension, but the F-150 doesn’t ride like a truck at all. The steering is dialed in, and even the slightest movement translates to a change of direction.
Under the hood are two new engine options: the standard naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 making 282 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque and the optional 325-hp, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 making 375 pounds-feet of torque. The 2.7-liter is the most efficient engine and a deal at $795 on XL and XLT trims; it’s standard on the Ford F-150 Lariat. The mini-EcoBoost engine is quick both when the truck is unloaded and while carrying a load. Auto stop-start technology to save fuel at stoplights contributes to an EPA-estimated 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 18/23/20 mpg with four-wheel drive.
The 2.7-liter’s fuel economy and quick-responding performance make it an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a jack-of-all-trades engine. While it’s the most-efficient F-150, the 2.7-liter is still short on mileage numbers compared with the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel’s 20/28/23 mpg rating with rear-wheel drive. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost is a heck of a lot quicker than Ram’s baby diesel, however, and posted quicker times in all measured acceleration testing in PickupTrucks.com’s 2015 Annual Physical.
Carried over is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost with the highest towing capabilities in the F-150 lineup, as well as the half-ton segment as a whole, making 365 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque. The 5.0-liter V-8 with 385 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque is also carried over and features the highest payload capacity (more details below). All engines pair with a six-speed automatic transmission and offer two selectable driving modes apart from the default: Tow/Haul and Sport. Sport mode is actually entertaining in the EcoBoost F-150s; the transmission holds gears longer to keep engine speeds up, plus quickens shifts and tightens up throttle response.
Fuel economy is up across the board, though not by any groundbreaking numbers. A two-wheel-drive 3.5-liter small-displacement EcoBoost goes from 16/22/18 mpg to 17/24/20 mpg, while a 5.0-liter rear-wheel-drive F-150 sees a 1 mpg improvement, going from 15/21/17 mpg to 15/22/18 mpg. The base 3.5-liter is 1 mpg more efficient than the 2014 3.7-liter with 18/25/20 mpg ratings up from 17/23/19 mpg. We hoped to see a little better fuel economy with a claimed 700-pound weight reduction plus the improved aerodynamics.
In our testing, the 2.7-liter did zero to 60 mph in nearly the same time as the V-8, 6.79 seconds versus 6.78 seconds for the 5.0-liter, and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost walked away from the others in a blisteringly quick 6.22 seconds. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost’s spritely acceleration couldn’t match the 6.2-liter V-8 in the GMC Sierra V-8 with its 5.91 seconds — the Chevrolet and GMC were so fast that I initially thought the equipment was incorrectly calibrated. The 6.2-liter is the larger of two V-8 engines available in the Chevy and GMC.
I can’t wait to see what Ford’s proven engines will do in performance and fuel economy when mated to the upcoming 10-speed automatic transmission. Especially in the V-8 where with the current six-speed automatic’s gearing doesn’t spin it very quickly. The eight-speed in the 6.2-liter-powered Chevrolet and GMC 1500 trucks rockets the heavy rigs from a standstill. Those trucks bested the 5.0-liter, 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter EcoBoost engines during our measured acceleration testing, both loaded and unloaded.
The higher-end F-150 trim levels are where the interior steps away from traditional pickup truck fare and truly impresses in a way that’s slightly more understated than, say, the borderline ridiculous Ram Laramie Longhorn. The difference between a loaded Platinum trim and the modestly equipped XLT, for example, is huge.
The high-end Platinum trim with genuine wood accents, leather, big 8-inch digital gauge cluster display, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel plus an array of tech features might as well be a completely different truck from the workhorse XLT, the quality of which doesn’t come across as very different from the outgoing Ford F-150. Some of the F-150’s features wouldn’t be unheard of in a luxury car, including the optional multicontour massaging seats.
In an XLT SuperCab, seating comfort up front is great for the long haul with comfy fabric seats. The SuperCab’s backseat is a little tight for a 6-foot-tall adult. The seating position is upright and the cushioning not very comfortable. The SuperCab’s doors open surprisingly wide to 170 degrees and provide great access to the inside. Underneath the backseat is a nice partition for cargo that keeps loose items from rolling around in the back.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The instrument panel is all new and features an available 8-inch screen for customizing information displays for fuel economy, towing and off-roading. Tire pressure and trailer information are available through the screen, which offers almost an overload of information.
The top-tier Platinum trim level includes navigation with an improved version of MyFord Touch featuring numerous surrounding dials and buttons to make the system easier to use. While the current MyFord Touch is not as intuitive as the GM and Ram systems, a significantly updated version of MyFord Touch called Sync 3 is coming for 2016 with a promise of easier usability.
Cargo & Towing
A pickup is meant to do work, and our testing revealed that either EcoBoost engine is the way to go for the tow-and-haul crowd. The 5.0-liter V-8 is the meanest sounding of the bunch, but it’s mostly bark and little bite, while the 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter EcoBoost engines provide the low-end grunt the V-8 lacks. The turbocharged V-6s pounce off the line while the V-8 takes a while to spin up and get going — the opposite of what many think would happen when comparing a V-8 and turbocharged V-6.
The Ford F-150 isn’t any less capable of a truck after switching to aluminum construction. The opposite is true, as the increased strength of the steel frame and lighter body have increased the 2015’s maximum towing to as high as 12,200 pounds with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost regular cab, 141.1-inch wheelbase and rear-wheel drive with 3.55 axle ratio. That represents a 900-pound increase in towing compared with the previous best trailer rating of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine. Payload capacity ratings are, at best, 3,300 pounds with a 5.0-liter V-8 in the regular-cab, 141.1-inch wheelbase configuration with rear-wheel drive. The 5.0-liter can tow a maximum of 11,100 pounds with the optional Heavy Duty Payload Package, while the 2.7-liter can tow 8,500 pounds with the EcoBoost V-6 Payload Package; both packages include 3.73 axle ratios.
Loaded with payload, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost lost the least amount of time between loaded and unloaded zero-to-60 times in our testing versus the 5.0-liter. Carrying 1,240 pounds, the 2.7-liter did zero to 60 mph in 7.42 seconds, and the 5.0 did it in 8.08 seconds.
The F-150’s 5.0-liter and 3.5-liter EcoBoost engines have higher maximum capacities, however, in towing and payload. The 5.0-liter wasn’t the best performer in our Light-Duty V-8 Challenge, coming in fourth behind the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 when towing 6,700 pounds up the Davis Dam grade in Arizona.
The 3.5-liter EcoBoost is a much better match to GM’s 6.2-liter and ran up Davis Dam to 60 mph closer, yet still slightly behind, the Chevrolet and GMC: 20.76 seconds in the 3.5-liter EcoBoost versus 19.92 seconds for the Chevrolet and 20.05 seconds for the GMC. With differences this small, no one would blame you for calling it even.
A couple things we observed while towing is that the F-150’s trailer brake controller is not easily accessible. We’ve towed with a number of EcoBoost engines and while they get respectable fuel economy unloaded, hook up a trailer or load up the cargo box and the 3.5- and-2.7-liter lose a lot of their V-6-like fuel economy. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost with the 3.55 axle ratio pulled off 11.1 mpg towing 6,800 pounds while the V-8 with 3.55 axle ratio was 11.0 mpg on the same loop towing 6,700 pounds.
Hooking up a trailer is easy with the 360-degree camera in the Platinum, and the available Trailer Tow Package makes hitching up easier with Dynamic Hitch Assist providing onscreen guidelines for the trailer.
The optional retractable step on the side of the Ford F-150’s cargo box remains a winner, as does the optional retractable tailgate step that’s easier to use for 2015. Cargo box sizes on the XL, XLT and Lariat include a 5.5-, 6.5- or 8-foot bed, while the King Ranch and Platinum are available only with the 5.5- or 6.5-foot boxes. The box can be illuminated with LEDs as an option.
The F-150 SuperCrew body style received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick rating by testing good (on a scale of poor, marginal, acceptable and good) in moderate-overlap front, side, roof-strength and head restraint/seat tests, and most notably in the difficult-to-ace small-overlap front crash test. Not all of the F-150’s cab styles are as crash-resistant in IIHS testing with the extended-cab SuperCab scoring an only marginal rating in the small-overlap front crash test. That excludes it from being called a Top Safety Pick, which requires good or acceptable ratings in small-overlap results. Structural elements of the SuperCrew differ from the SuperCab, according to IIHS, though the institute says Ford is evaluating possible changes for small-offset performance. No other full-size pickups have gone through the small-overlap front test, and IIHS plans to evaluate more pickups this year.
The F-150 passed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s crash-test ratings with flying colors. The 2015 F-150 earned NHTSA’s highest overall rating of five stars in all cab configurations, with five out of five in front and side collisions, and four out of five in the rollover rating. This mirrors the Chevrolet and GMC trucks and is slightly better than the Ram’s overall four-star rating.
Notable safety features include the optional forward collision warning that triggers audio and visual alerts as well as pre-charges the brakes when an emergency stop is needed. It does not automatically apply the brakes as some vehicles do. Blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and a lane keeping system are also available. A new 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera is optional and gives a top-down view of the truck through the use of cameras placed around the exterior.
A backup camera is optional on XL, XLT and Lariat trim levels. The optional camera without upgrading to MyFord Touch shows its image on a smaller screen and is hard to view, though a view-change feature shows a closer view of the trailer hitch for easy connecting. See all of the F-150’s safety features listed here.
Value in Its Class
While the 2015 Ford F-150’s weight savings are impressive, it didn’t rocket the 5.0-liter-powered F-150 to a win in PickupTrucks.com’s Light-Duty V-8 Challenge. It placed third, in fact, behind the first-place Chevrolet and second-place GMC. The Chevrolet with its powerful 6.2-liter bested the F-150 in measured acceleration, braking and fuel economy scoring that, combined with subjective scoring, created an overall winner. The F-150 earned the highest scores in the subjective evaluations, however, including performance, interior comfort, technology, ride quality, outward visibility and value.
The 3.5-liter EcoBoost Platinum we tested at the same time for the 2015 Annual Physical would have gotten the F-150 a lot closer to the performance numbers of the GMC, though that truck’s $60,880 price tag (all prices include destination charges) was above the $55,000 price cap for the V-8 Challenge. You read correctly: $60,000 for a light-duty truck. Incentives will help knock out a good chunk of the cost and were up to $7,050 in total savings on certain models at the time this review was written.
2015 F-150 pricing has increased since its debut and an entry-level XL now costs $1,005 more than the outgoing 2014; when it launched the difference was only $395. Pricing increases throughout a model year are not uncommon and in addition to the mechanical redesign the XL has a newly standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel and additional speakers. The XLT, which is $985 more than the 2014 also gets a power tailgate lock and bed organization system.
While the expensive Platinum trim can send you into price tag shock, a midtrim-level XLT we tested with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost and four-wheel drive came to $43,085 with remote start, an LED-illuminated cargo box, a tailgate step, a trailer brake and a spray-in bedliner. Not too shabby for some of the F-150’s most notable features.
Upper trim levels see higher price increases. Lariat models are $1,670 more expensive, the King Ranch is $4,240 more expensive and Platinum trucks are $3,680 pricier than 2014. The increase is somewhat justifiable given all the new feature content for 2015 like the LED headlights, remote power locking tailgate, blind spot warning and so on. Read more about what new features come on each trim level here.
It’s in these upper trim levels where the Ford F-150 brings the wow factor. An F-150 Platinum with 3.5-liter EcoBoost is one of the nicest riding, most well-appointed and capable half-ton trucks out there, but be prepared to shell out serious dollars to get the Ford F-150 that does it all.