Over 32 million Americans have jumped on the bandwagon. Here’s a good reason for you to be next.
The color red, more than any other color, represents love, lust, power, anger, and complete and utter domination. It’s most commonly found in shades of libido-intensifying lipstick, cute heart emojis texted between lovers, and the blood-red capes worn by Roman soldiers decimating yet another Mediterranean culture to rob it of fertile soil. Aptly, it also happened to be the color of the 2018 F-150 Ford sent to us from Dearborn so we could drive it for a week and see if it’s any good. Spoiler alert: it's not good, it’s fantastic, and just like the knees of peoples living outside the borders of Roman territory shook when they saw red-caped legions approaching, the Ruby Red Metallic paint clinging to the aluminum body of our SuperCrew-cabbed test truck signaled to Silverados and Rams unlucky enough to be on the same road that the king was here. Even though Ford makes mastery of America’s most profitable and vibrant auto segment look easy, the truth is that, just like being a good person, remaining at the top for over 40 years in a segment offering incumbents more profits than a Foxconn iPhone assembly line is an effort that takes constant and thorough revision.
The F-150’s never-ending self-improvement venture is part of the reason why the F-Series is currently on track to end 2018 with a new sales record under its belt, and Ford’s latest draft of the truck contains a big change: the option to place an inconspicuous-looking 3.0-liter diesel EcoBoost V6 under that red hood. It looks less than mighty in the engine bay snuggled up like a canine in a kennel, but rest assured, those gleaming chrome “Power Stroke” badges are anything but false advertising. Adjustable pedals enable the driver to comfortably preside over 250 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Mash the throttle when the light goes green and you’d swear those figures are just the lowball estimate, but our experience with the F-150 began as it does with any car: with the push of the Start button. We almost had to open the door, be greeted once again by power running boards, and step down from the cabin to check the badges and make sure Ford put them on the right F-150 because from the interior, there’s not a single hint of diesel soundtrack. The real surprise, however, comes when you get back in and place the standard 10-speed automatic in Drive.
Turn down the volume on the B&O sound system and the satisfying whoosh of a spooling turbo answers a depressed throttle. Accelerating around town or up hills on the highway, gobs of diesel torque and imperceptible shifts convey the sense that this engine never runs out of steam—at least after overcoming the initial 1.5 seconds it takes the turbo to find its breath. With family members comfortably held against the leather seats by air-bag equipped seatbelts, we used that diesel zest to conquer paved and unpaved portions of the Arizona desert and climbed to the 9,157-foot peak of Southern Arizona’s Mount Lemmon for a night of stargazing. Though it became painfully obvious that Ford’s optional panoramic glass moonroof would have enhanced the experience, the diesel engine’s strength never relented on the way up, thrusting the F-150 past considerably lighter sedans with similar horsepower figures even though only a few hundred feet separated us from five-figure elevations (thank the turbo for mountain-conquering lungs). All the diesel benefits are built into this power plant, a confidence-inspiring pull and class-leading fuel economy (up to 30 mpg on the highway with 4X2 configuration and a still-impressive 25 mpg highway on the 4x4 Ford sent us), while the disadvantages seem nowhere to be found.
Thanks in part to the quick thinking ten-speed, the F-150 fires off gear after gear, always keeping the engine in optimal operating range. At times it takes additional throttle input to get the transmission to downshift if the F-150 is playing too nice with the environment on a hill climb, but toggling through drive modes, leaving Normal and passing Tow/Haul, Snow/Wet, and Eco before settling into Sport, solves that problem. Brake pad preservation on descent is made easy by the glut of gear ratios to choose from when engine braking, but it’s not like the F-150 needs much help—its brakes bite so hard and vaporize speed so effectively that they almost encourage overzealous corner entry speeds. Addicts of the smooth ride and isolation from the road delivered by a body-on-frame chassis will not be disappointed here, but neither will poor souls cursed with lead feet. During one nighttime glide through a cool moonlit desert road that was flanked by cactus and javelina and littered with corners and short hills that invoke a roller coaster sensation when taken at speed, the gaudy F-150 bounded over uneven surfaces and danced around corners with agility that belies its proportions.
It doesn’t feel as agile as a sedan in the corners like the new Ram 1500 does, but to buy a truck based on that is to be added to the category of people who probably don’t need a truck in the first place. The F-150, however, does lend quite a few reasons to consider it over an SUV if a capable high-riding vehicle is all you’re looking for. First is its looks, because as much as we like to pretend they’re only skin deep, they play a larger role in a purchase than most of us would like to admit. If the Chevy’s new design language, seen on the upcoming Blazer and new Silverado, is too polarizing and Ram’s new softened aesthetic don’t quite do it for you, the F-150’s handsome face is probably perfect. All it takes are C-shaped headlights that take a bite out of a metal belt buckle running over the large mesh grille to round out a stout and timeless face that takes no radical new steps because number one players don’t have to. Proportions are another thing that Ford got right (take note during the Titan refresh, Nissan), which are enhanced here by pretty 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and a cavernous cabin that could double as a concert hall.
The next reason, of course, is the sheer amount of ways you can have your F-150. Looking for that 22 mpg combined (4WD) to 25 mpg combined (RWD) EPA rating and a tow/payload capacity rating of 11,400 pounds and 2,020 pounds, respectively? Opt for the F-150 Lariat and Ford lets you keep the PowerStroke Diesel for $45,015 not including destination. Those on tighter budgets will have to forgo the 3.0-liter PowerStroke but can have a base F-150 XL for as little as $30,000 and an XLT for $33,000. Of course, Ford couldn’t pair our F-150’s shade of red with a base trim, so it sent us a heavily loaded Platinum Edition with a SuperCrew cab and four-wheel drive, which starts at $60,910 not including destination. Included on our capable luxury workhorse were all the spoils of the Platinum package including massaging seats, SYNC 3 (one of the better infotainment systems in the business), a bevy of electrical connections including USB ports, 12-volt outlets, and 110-volt sockets, and a B&O sound system to liven up the spacious cabin which, at times, can feel too quiet.
Our F-150 also nabbed the $2,540 tech package on the way out of the factory, adding adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, and a rear retractable step and grab handle to help the less athletic join the tailgate party. Many of the driver aid functions upped the F-150’s sense of modernity, but nothing pitched the truck into the 22nd century quite like the active park assist function that could sneak the F-150 into tight parallel spots with no hands on the wheel or even eyes on the road (the latter is not recommended). A handful of extra goodies including a trailer tow package and 3.55 electronic locking axle pushed our tester to $66,305 including destination. Yes, that’s luxury car money, but rest assured this truck and its bountiful goody bag of luxury features will spoil its occupants silly and look great while doing it. Now, there are many kinds of people in this world, but among us are those who try to parse the data and find meaningful indicators that tell the story of our time.
While the data shows that SUVs are dominating the market and replacing sedans, even causing Ford to claim it’ll soon stop selling cars and focus only on trucks and SUVs (barring the Mustang), one figure has remained at the constant for over 40 years: the F-150 as America’s most popular vehicle. The F-150 is simply the thesis of America. Before that it may have lived inside of a red Corvette Stingray or hidden in the Joad’s depression-era Hudson crawling over California hills in search of a new beginning in The Grapes of Wrath. But in the here and now, the theory of America lies behind that aluminum sheetmetal. Wrapped underneath is the pioneer spirit, the go anywhere do anything attitude that has endured partitioned societies, world wars, and an almost gross expansion of living standards. The F-150 will traverse the Rockies or your local strip mall, tackle the job site, and dispense comfort like a La-Z-Boy with a side of buttered popcorn and too many channels. Tucked under that red hood and in the transmission tunnel also lies manifestation of Henry Ford’s dream of standardized and repeatable excellence. Add a sickening work ethic and a lust for luxury without the snobbery of social class and you’ll pretty much arrive at the American Dream. Or so the recipe goes.