2018 Ford F-150 First Drive: The Same, But Even Better
– Dexter, Michigan
There already wasn’t much wrong with this generation of Ford F-150, which was introduced in 2014 as a 2015 model. Yes, switching to aluminum bodywork might have been controversial at first, but the fact that 820,799 people bought an F-Series truck last year – and year-to-date in 2017, sales are up 8.3 percent – suggests there’s a lot to like about the pickup. The changes in store for the 2018 F-150, then, are predictably subtle: A bit more horsepower, a bit more fuel economy, a bit more technology, and a bit different to look at.
That visual enhancement begins with a new grille design (or more accurately, seven discrete grille designs) with a horizontal layout that’s meant to bring the F-150’s face more in line with what you see on the Super Duty trucks. “The whole idea here is that it draws your eyes outboard and gives it a wide stance,” says Ford Truck Design Manager Sean Tant. The “C-clamp” headlight design is more pronounced this year, accentuated by LED running lights.
Ultimately, the visual changes are subtle – it’s a bit smarter and more modern, but still clearly an F-150.
The C-clamp graphic continues to the taillights, which bookend a restyled tailgate that has new appliques depending on trim level. Those taillights, interestingly, now house the blind-spot-monitoring sensors, helping enable the system to now provide trailer-blind-spot coverage up to 33 feet behind the truck’s rear bumper. Ultimately, the visual changes are subtle, rounded out by new wheel designs in sizes from 17 to 22 inches. It’s a bit smarter and more modern, but still clearly an F-150.
Not much has changed inside visually, though there are extra trim choices, including faux carbon fiber on the XLT and Lariat Sport models, as well as various fancy seat upholstery choices for the King Ranch, Limited, and Platinum. The F-150 remains a pleasant and functional place to do business, with bold gauges (full-color LCD on upper trims, classic analog dials on lower models) directly ahead of the large, button-intensive steering wheel. There’s plenty of storage space around the driver and passenger, lots of headroom, easy-to-use switchgear, plenty of USB ports and cupholders, and an unrestricted view forward over the long hood. On the King Ranch tester pictured here, lovely “Java” trim and Kingsville leathers deliver a truly stylish truck cabin, while a giant panoramic sunroof admits lots of sunlight.
The truck’s 5.0-liter V8 engine has been revised and now has both port- and direct fuel injection, plus plasma-sprayed cylinder bores – a technology introduced on the high-revving Shelby GT350 – to reduce friction and free up a bit of power. The V8 gains 10 horsepower and 13 pound-feet of torque (for totals of 395 hp and 400 lb-ft). It’s mated to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission for the first time, and as a result fuel economy creeps up a little bit, too, to as much as 23 miles per gallon highway.
The V8 gains 10 horsepower and 13 pound-feet of torque (for totals of 395 hp and 400 lb-ft).
The engine really hauls out on the road, with a lovely snarl as you open the taps. Although it’s got as many speeds as I have fingers, the automatic rarely picks the wrong gear; upshifts are impeccably smooth and downshifts don’t make much in the way of noise or vibration. My only criticism is that in steady-state cruising, the engine can lug as the automatic rushes to ninth or tenth gear and revs drop below 1,500 rpm. Fortunately, prompt block downshifts – I saw one direct hop from eighth to fifth – aid responsiveness.
As with past model years, the 2018 Ford F-150 behaves very well on all road surfaces. There’s a little suspension jittering over cracked pavement, particularly when equipped with large wheels, but for the most part the truck delivers a relaxed, compliant ride. The electric power steering is near-as-possible to ideally tuned for easy pickup-truck driving, with a modest amount of feedback paired with light, deliberate action. There’s even optional lane-keep assist in case you struggle to keep between the lines on your own.
Ford makes driving its trucks easier than ever this year with a couple of new tech add-ons. The adaptive cruise control now has stop-and-go functionality for coming to a complete halt in traffic. The forward collision system gains pedestrian detection, and will warn the driver with beeping, a flashing light, and steering-wheel vibrations before braking autonomously. A 360-degree camera system is still offered, as is self-park, and the clever Pro Trailer Backup Assist that lets you maneuver a trailer by simply twisting a dial on the dashboard.
The electric power steering is near-as-possible to ideally tuned for easy pickup-truck driving, with a modest amount of feedback paired with light, deliberate action.
An available on-board 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot can support up to 10 connected devices, and there’s a new surround-sound system available from Bang & Olufsen. Called B&O Play (a version of which will also be offered in the EcoSport crossover), it delivers a bright, airy soundstage.
At the other end of the powertrain and pricing spectrum, Ford has replaced the base 3.7-liter V6 with a 3.3-liter unit. Despite the loss in displacement, it makes more power than its predecessor, an extra 8 hp and 12 lb-ft, for totals of 290 hp and 265 lb-ft. It does, however, come only with the old six-speed automatic transmission where every other engine has the 10-speeder.
Still, an XLT 4x4 truck equipped with the engine is perfectly adequate for unladen road driving. There’s plenty of low-end torque and a plentiful surge of power as the revs rise (peak horsepower arrives at a lofty 6,500 rpm but the torque peak is just 4,000 rpm). Though the transmission takes a beat or two to downshift, no reasonable driver will complain about the engine’s performance.
The three revised engines all see fuel economy improvements of 1-2 mpg in city and highway driving; the 2.7-liter is the mileage champ at 20/26 mpg with two-wheel drive.
The XLT truck is also a good time to reflect on the less-glitzy, more-workaday versions of the 2018 F-150. It’s still spacious and supremely functional inside, but the teensy monochrome trip computer seems pretty 2005 compared to the full-color display in other F-150s. Cloth seats look and feel just fine, but as with the leather ones, something doesn’t feel quite comfortable: the lower lumbar support is too aggressive and the seat cushions aren’t long enough. But at $44,265 after a handful of options, the truck is perhaps a quite realistic vision of the amenities many F-150 owners will have on hand.
There are two other engine choices on offer. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost biturbo V6 gets a handful of technical tweaks to bump torque by 25 lb-ft, to 400, while horsepower stays pat at a healthy 325. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is unchanged at 375 hp and 470 lb-ft. Both are matched with the 10-speed automatic transmission.
The three revised engines all see fuel economy improvements of 1-2 mpg in city and highway driving; the 2.7-liter is the mileage champ at 20/26 mpg with two-wheel drive. Engine stop-start is standard on every engine now; it operates smoothly but can easily be disabled via a button atop the dashboard. Ford also will introduce a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine for the F-150, but we’ll have to wait until later this year for any details on power or fuel efficiency.
The 2018 F-150 provides plenty of reminders as to why it’s been the nation’s best-selling pickup truck for 35 years.
Speaking of specs, peak towing capability – achieved with the 3.5-liter engine – climbs 1,000 pounds to 13,200. Maximum payload capacity (on the 5.0-liter truck) stands at 3,270 pounds.
Pricing isn’t too far removed from last year’s trucks (or from those of rivals), with the cheapest XL trim level starting at just $27,380. Of course, those numbers quickly escalate as you add toys, doors, and features; the SuperCrew Platinum and Limited, the top-tier F-150 models, start from $54,155 and $60,520, respectively. And the SuperCrew 4x4 King Ranch pictured here has an as-tested sticker price of $65,675. Yeah, trucks are expensive and crazy luxurious these days.
The 2015-2017 Ford F-150 was already a really good pickup truck, with pleasant on-road driving dynamics, a range of strong engines, and lots of technology on board. The 2018 model only improves upon that package, with even more features to make everything from daily-driving to towing easier, safer, and more efficient. Whichever trim level you pick, with whichever engine you prefer, the F-150 provides plenty of reminders as to why it’s been the nation’s best-selling pickup truck for 35 years.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com