Accepting 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 10 Best 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.
In the Money
First, the dollars and sense. We typically review pickups bedecked with leather, cowboy-Cadillac trim, and giant wheels. That’s what automakers send us, looking to show off their latest toys. The crew-cab (SuperCrew in Ford-speak) truck tested here, by contrast, is sparsely optioned, wearing humble XLT spec and cloth bucket seats. If it had a front bench seat and four- or all-wheel drive, it would be closer to a pure work truck.
SuperCrew F-150 XLTs with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost start at $40,950. To that was added the $295 center console and front bucket seats, the $945 Chrome Appearance package (chrome 18-inch wheels, side steps, grille, and other exterior bits), and the $1150 301A package (an eight-way power driver’s seat, a color driver-information display in the gauge cluster, a seven-speaker audio system, a rear-window defroster, heated side mirrors, power-adjustable pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a Class IV trailer hitch and wiring). Keeping the 5.5-foot pickup box (a longer 6.5-foot box is available on the SuperCrew), the total came to $43,340. In a world where fully optioned full-size pickup pricing easily crests $60,000, this counts as Yankee-doodle-dandy basic.
The price creates a pleasant juxtaposition between the XLT’s functional look—the diplomatic description for the interior’s hard plastics, cloth upholstery, and lack of even a touchscreen—and its aluminum wrapper and the new-age technology beneath.
It Goes Up to 10
The thoroughly modern 2.7-liter EcoBoost now bolts to the same 10-speed automatic transmission introduced in 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.
Other Weighty Matters
Where the lack of four-wheel drive made the biggest difference was at the scales. This F-150 weighed a svelte 4721 pounds, or 153 less than the similarly optioned, 2.7-liter-equipped F-150 SuperCab 4×4 we tested in 2015. This pays dynamic dividends: Our test truck stopped from 70 mph in a mere 167 feet, besting a number of mid-size and compact sedans in that measure. The brake pedal seems to respond more to travel than pressure, but it is sprung nicely and offers firm resistance underfoot.
The 0.79 g of grip we measured on our skidpad is not similarly car like, but the way the F-150 changes direction and comports itself through turns is. Body motions are well controlled, and on its relatively small-diameter 18-inch wheels and tires, our test truck rode quietly and nicely over pothole-cratered roads. The biggest surprise is the electrically assisted power steering, which has perfect weighting on the firm side of light, is laser accurate (for a truck), and even offers some feedback when the front tires begin to lose grip.