Setting the Pace

2018, Ford, F-150 Pickup

It seems like Ford is redesigning the F-150 every other year to stay ahead of the truck market. As most of America knows, the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America for decades. Every 42 seconds, on average, a Ford F-150 is sold - 24/7- which is roughly double the rate of the closest competitor! Ford pulled off another winner with the Ford F-150 in any of the following 2018 models: XL, XLT, LARIAT, KING RANCH, PLATINUM, LIMITED, and the radical RAPTOR.

Personally, I am drawn to the more basic trucks which do not have entertainment systems, heads-up displays, or auto-cruise controls. Having owned a 2005 F-350 XLT Power Stroke diesel since new, have bulletproofed the 6.0 liter V-8 using my truck for towing, camping, moving, delivery, and just cruising down the highway. If only there were still a drive-in movie theater around so my wife and I could back into a space and watch the show from the beach chairs in the bed!

So having the choice, I jumped into a black 2018 Ford F-150 XLT 4x2 Super Cab the first chance I had at a track day in November. The F-150 XLT seems pretty basic compared to the rest of the line-up and still provides all the capabilities to do what pickup trucks were intended to do. My test SuperCab XLT came with the 145-inch wheelbase and 6.5-foot bed. Ford has updated most of the exterior with new grilles, new bumpers, new lighting, and a better-looking tailgate without the previous convex shaped panel. The wheels and tires are larger right from the factory, but thankfully, standard tires on the XL and XLT are optional in 17-inch rubber. Those tires provide more curb-scrubbing sidewalls and a more affordable replacement tire down the road.

My first test drive was powered by the all-new 3.3-liter V6 engine, which uses an advanced direct-injection and a dual-port intake. The revised 6-speed transmission is standard, but there is a new 10-speed automatic transmission available through the rest of the model line. This new 3.3L Ti-VCT V6 engine pumps out is 290 horsepower at 6,500 rpm.

The full torque rating of 265 foot-pounds peaks after 4,000 rpm. There is enough power for daily street driving. However, for this truck to pull a load with authority, I had to get the rpm’s up and hold the transmission in manual mode. The steering is precise and well weighted for a light-duty truck. The maximum cargo capacity for the XLT 3.3-liter begins at 3,270 lbs. “Light-duty truck” is just a category these days. The maximum tow rating is 13,200 lbs. With this much capacity, our XLT truck can do more than most will ask of it.

The electronic six-speed automatic transmission comes with three drive modes – normal, tow/haul and sport. For towing situations over 3,500 pounds, buyers should consider the 3.5-liter Ecoboost, 5.0-liter V8 engines or the new 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel.

I did not drive enough miles to get an average miles-per-gallon, but with the capacity of 23.0-gallons (36-gallon tank is optional) of fuel, longer trips should not be a problem. Expect mid-twenties on the highway. The new 3.3-liter flex-fuel engine can also handle E85 gasoline- which is cheaper per gallon- but will reduce mileage due to a lower BTU from the 85% ethanol fuel.

My second drive in the 2018 Ford F-150 came in December in the Colorado Rocky Mountains at 10,500-foot elevation. This F-150 Limited SuperCrew, 6.5’ bed, FX4 came with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 with 375 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft. of torque @ 2,500 rpm. This engine is matched up to the new 10-speed automatic and shifted almost seamlessly while driving up and down the mountain passes. Manual shifting happens through an awkward toggle switch on the shift lever. The most impressive aspect of this new transmission is the normal, tow/haul, snow/wet, eco-select, and sport computer-controlled drive modes. On snow and ice, I was able to run in 2WD in the “snow/wet” mode without the rear tires slipping, and this with only three adults and an empty truck. The engine and transmission worked in terrific sequential harmony.

One of the ways that Ford is moving their F-150 ahead of the competition with small displacement engines is with lighter weight bodies and frames. Even at high altitudes, the proven 3.5-liter V6 powerplant had more than enough juice to carry five adults and a full load of supplies to our basecamp. Ford also offers a 3.5-liter “high output” EcoBoost which pumps out 450 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 510 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,500 rpm.

Ford has been using aluminum panels and truck beds for several years now with success. However, this truck does cost more to buy and more to repair after even the smallest fender bender. That notwithstanding, these are very sturdy trucks and will rarely be used near their capacity.

My XLT test truck came with the new fabric front seats which are comfortable and supportive of the back. My F-150 Limited model came with leather seats. The thigh support is better in both materials due to an increased seat-width for the wide-load backsides of larger people. Narrower seats are common in Ford products, but the newest truck seats are more comfortable and durable now. Maybe Ford is starting to hear the journalist and consumer feedback. For those who want it all, Ford offers adaptive cruise control that will bring the truck to a complete stop in traffic, and start up again when traffic moves. Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection is optional. Other standard safety features include Ford’s AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control- which I experienced first hand on snowy roads.

Another safety concern is having the truck protect passengers from harm before they drive. Ford has equipped almost all the 2018 trucks with a driver and right-front passenger remote keyless entry system to get people into the truck and out of scary dark parking lots more quickly.

The new SYNC Connect infotainment system is much simpler this time around and is optional on XLT and Lariat. This is the same unit that is standard on King Ranch, Platinum and Limited. Another plus to the newest SYNC system is the integration of a Wi-Fi hotspot which can handle up to 10 devices.

Ford has given attention to most of the details that matter in a pickup truck. The door handles are large, as are the dials and switches on the controls so workers can keep their gloves on when jumping into the truck. The suicide doors to access the rear seat is easy to use, and these seats are big enough for short trips. The rest of the interior design is simple, clean, and very functional. Our XLT SuperCab came with seating for 6, with a flip-up middle front seat. With the seat bolster down, there is storage for cups, and a cell phone holder in reach of the driver but not in the direct line-of-sight. Smart!

Even with these increased capacities, my test drives were smooth on the highway with an empty load. Ford continues to use a traditional suspension with coil springs up front and leaf springs in the rear, yet the ride quality is just a little softer than a work truck and just firmer than the equally equipped Dodge Ram 1500 with rear coil springs. Although firmer than the XLT 4x2, my second truck with the FX4 off-road package was not harsh on the open road. The new 2018 F-150 starts at $27,380 with a standard cab and the smallest engine. To configure a truck with any options, engines, or higher amenity models, the price starts to climb quickly. My 2018 F-150 XLT SuperCab, Short-bed with two-wheel drive and the new 3.3-liter V6 with the standard 6-speed transmission, came with manual climate controls but included the new Sync infotainment system. Available packages and drivetrains are too many to list here. Ford will sell very few trucks in the basic XL or XLT configurations outside of fleet orders because most truck buyers will want all the bells and whistles. This steep increase in MSRP’s is true for all pickup trucks these days.

Ford has not let the faithful Ford F-150 owners down. The new 2018 F-150 is smoother and quieter than 2017 equivalent models overall. There are many safety features, including pedestrian detection and automatic braking. This revised truck is impressive enough to win the Motor Trend 2018 Truck of the Year award, again. It impressed me enough to reconsider whether I should be looking at the 2018 Ford F-350 SuperDuty!

By Jim Powell

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Images of the 2018, Ford F-150 Pickup

2018 Ford F150 in its natural habitat
2018 Ford F150 in its natural habitat
2018 Ford F150 pickup wide open
2018 Ford F150 pickup wide open
2018 Ford F150 cluster
2018 Ford F150 cluster
2018 Ford F150 pickup
2018 Ford F150 pickup