March 16, 2018

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Excepting its wider-set facial features, its smattering of new active-safety technologies, and three new or updated engines, Ford’s 2018 F-150 lineup is the same excellent collection of pickup trucks as before. We bestowed a 10Best Trucks award on it for 2017, and the updated lineup won the honor again this year.

Tested here is the F-150 that provides the best value among its four available engines, the smaller of the two EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V-6s that Ford offers in non-Raptor F-150s. Displacing 2.7 liters and smoothly making 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque (the latter up 25 lb-ft from 2017), the baby EcoBoost is smaller in displacement than the 375-hp 3.5-liter version and the F-150’s available naturally aspirated 395-hp 5.0-liter V-8. Yet it feels plenty strong, and it’s only a $995 upcharge on the XL and XLT—the lowest two trims, where it replaces the base engine, a naturally aspirated 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6—and it is standard on the Lariat.

the 2017 3.5-liter EcoBoost-equipped F-150 and F-150 Raptor. (Only the entry-level 3.3-liter V-6 still uses a six-speed automatic.) While a console shifter is available, arming the 10-speed with a good old-fashioned column shifter is weirdly satisfying. Also rewarding is the transmission’s Sport mode, which keeps the tightly wound twin-turbo V-6 revving right where it makes meaty power and good boost.

On this stage, the 2.7-liter steals the show. For 2018, Ford implemented changes it deems comprehensive enough to call this engine the “second generation.” A new exhaust-gas-recirculation system, the addition of a port and direct fuel-injection system, and reduced internal friction headline the changes. As before, the little EcoBoost pulls forcefully from idle, its thrust feeling diesel-like—except that it revs toward its low 5750-rpm redline with gas-engine zeal. Power is found seemingly at any rpm, although the smooth-shifting transmission wisely keeps revs low and takes advantage of the prodigious torque on tap.

Wind out the engine, and it emits a quiet thrum with a pleasant mechanical precision to its melody. Read nothing into the advantage measured for the last 2.7-liter F-150 we tested, a four-wheel-drive, extended-cab 2015 model without the 2018’s extra 25 lb-ft of torque. That 2015 truck reached 60 mph 0.2 second quicker than this two-wheel-drive crew cab’s 5.9-second rip. But four-wheel drive offers a tangible advantage in launch traction over a strictly two-wheel-drive rig and did so for that 2015 truck. To wit: When launched in its rear-wheel-drive mode—the configuration owners would actually use when driving on dry pavement—the older truck was a full second slower to 60 mph, needing 6.7 seconds. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost was quick before and is even quicker now, smoking the last Chevrolet Silverado we tested with its 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 (7.2 seconds to 60) and even running an almost dead heat with the burlier, 420-hp 6.2-liter Chevy (5.7 seconds).

During our test, Michigan furnished plenty of fresh snow to challenge this rear-drive pickup. Keeping a light foot on the accelerator helped maintain purchase in the white stuff without throwing the traction-control system into a tizzy, although when the skies really opened up, we tossed a couple of sandbags into the bed to weigh down the rear. Bonus: If you do get stuck, you’ve got some sand to toss beneath the drive wheels.

We must also throw a shout-out to the F-150’s seating position, which centers the steering wheel to the driver’s chest (something Chevrolet, until its 2019 Silverado, had not done) and places the pedals, even without their optional power adjustment, low to the floor, allowing the driver’s heel to comfortably rest on the floorboard (unlike in Ram’s 1500). The seats in our F-150 were supportive, and the rear seats in any SuperCrew F-150 offer palatial, limousine-like legroom. As in other full-size pickups at this price, the dashboard is largely made up of hard plastics, although their graining looks nice and most critical touch points inside the F-150 are made from softer materials.

You Can’t Touch This Screen

Without Ford’s now ubiquitous Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system, this F-150 presented the driver with a plethora of hard buttons and a relatively tiny color display in the dashboard. We debated whether this non-touchscreen setup was charming or too button heavy, but there’s no question that the larger Sync 3 touchscreen is easier to read and manipulate at a glance. (It’s available on the XLT as part of the pricier 302A option package.) Fiddling with Ford’s online F-150 configurator reveals that an everyday pickup buyer not planning to use the truck for work could probably find a better buy in the Lariat, the next-level-up trim. It has the 2.7-liter EcoBoost standard and bundles a lot of features (Class IV trailer hitch, leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, proximity-key entry, Sync 3) for only $1430 more than the as-tested price of this modestly optioned XLT.

Whichever avenue you follow, no 2018 F-150 presents as a poor choice. You can’t go wrong with any of the powertrains, since even the base 3.3-liter has its positives. We’re partial to the 2.7-liter, but you might enjoy the 3.5-liter EcoBoost’s greater power or the 5.0-liter V-8’s, well, sonorous power delivery. Low spec or fully loaded, the F-150 is as we’ve deemed it: a 10Best-winning pickup that sits atop the full-size-pickup class.

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