At the latest North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford announced some impressive technical modifications to its range of 2018 Ford F-150 trucks, leading many to conclude that we would be seeing some major revisions of the 2017 models. In the end this didn’t happen. But absent any major aesthetic changes to the exterior, buyers will benefit this year from some interesting mechanical options, namely a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost that has been revised enough to be able to provide both more power and better fuel economy. This is due in large part to the all-new 10-speed automatic transmission, which Ford plans to share with long-time rival Chevrolet.
Even as it continues to be the top-selling vehicle in America (and Canada’s best seller for more than 50 years!), the Ford F-150 also continues to be the beneficiary of new technological innovations developed by the manufacturer. And while it’s getting upgraded year after year, the competition struggles to keep pace with Ford and its rapid-fire advances! There was the introduction of the turbo-charged V6 engine (with no response in sight from other manufacturers), then the migration from steel to an aluminum chassis, and now the 10-speed automatic transmission no less! Add to that the introduction of Stop-Start mode for urban driving. Next year, Ford is promising a slight retool of the front end and, more significantly, the introduction of a turbo-diesel V6!
An F-150 unlike any other trucks
At the beginning of March, Ford of Canada introduced us to its 2017 F-150 at a special presentation to the automotive press in the Montreal region. On hand were a number of 2017 Ford F-150 models, all of them equipped with the new 10-speed automatic transmission. The one we tested out for this article was an F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4-door - whose price comes in at roughly $75,000! This is frankly worlds removed from the old worksite pickups with their minimalist interior finishes, like the rustic rubber floor mats or the cardboard panels on the doors and the ceiling!
Our F-150 featured an interior worthy of those found in the same manufacturer’s Lincoln cars. The elaborate dashboard harbors the same festival of instruments and electronic accessories you’d expect to see in the most luxurious sedans. Gone are the old vinyl-covered bench seats, replaced by comfortable sofas that are well-cushioned and have finely-detailed finishes. Even the rear seats were conceived to welcome occupants in full comfort during hours-long journeys. The driver, meanwhile, benefits from cameras and other available accessories that serve to facilitate manoeuvering and navigation, as well as a towing capacity of up to 12,000 lbs!
The difference with the 2017’s 3.5L V6 EcoBoost is that this second-generation engine has been significantly revised, notably via the adoption of intake dual injection at the air inlet openings before moving to direct injection. Built in Cleveland, Ohio, it also provides a bit more power (375 hp instead of 365), and the torque is increased from 420 to 470 lb-ft at 3,500 RPM, thanks in part to a higher volumetric ratio. Incidentally, the dual-function injection allows the new engine to meet Tier III emissions standards for 2018.
For all that, however, what buyers will notice most is the new 10-speed automatic transmission that accompanies the 3.5L EcoBoost. Its development is the product of a mutual agreement with General Motors (which will first include a version of it in the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1). Ford developed the new 10-speed automatic for rear-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles, while GM is tasked with creating a 9-speed automatic for front-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles. Curiously, even with the large number of gears, the gearbox housing is barely longer than that of a 6-speed automatic; the box is also lighter thanks to the presence of internal parts made of steel instead of cast iron.
The American automakers believe that having 10 speeds means the engine will turn at a clip that more closely approaches maximum energy efficiency at any speed, whatever the weight being pulled. By the way, the four additional speeds the new transmission has over the older 6-speed boxes will be in overdrive (the same box will soon be adapted to the Mustang and to the Super Duty trucks).
On the road
Our road test of the 2017 Ford F-150 started out on the road taking us from Dorval to the L’Estérel resort in the Laurentians north of Montreal, then to the Mecaglisse track in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, where we would also be trying out the new F-150 Raptor and Focus RS models. Despite it being a rainy winter’s day, the 2017 F-150 Lariat proved an excellent travel companion. The new V6 engine is as quiet as ever, if not more so, and it allows for acceleration from 0-100 km/h in under seven seconds.
When pushed hard, the engine actually produces a sound similar to the V8 (with amplification via the audio system). And it’s then that we also notice the new transmission almost imperceptibly working its gear-shifting magic. It’s interesting that it downshifts straight from 10th to 5th gear, without going through the other gears. On the other hand, when using the manual function (with a command on the gear-shift knob), downshifting requires going through every gear one after the other, thereby reducing the braking action of the engine.
Alas, Ford did not include a towing or heavy cargo test in its schedule for the event; this would have provided us with some useful insight into the capabilities of the new powertrain in this regard. That said, the distance we covered was sufficient to give us an idea of fuel consumption in wintertime – it was around 12.4L/100 km according to the indicator on the dashboard.
A quick spin in the Raptor
Ford of Canada combined the road test of the truck with an initial session behind the wheel of its new 2017 F-150 Raptor on the Mecaglisse track and on the roads surrounding the town of Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci. The Raptor is a unique version of the F-150 which, upon its launch in 2010, seemed destined solely for the southwestern United States market. Fans of modified trucks quickly took an interest, however, and no matter that the Raptor had been conceived with offbeat excursions in desert-like environments in mind, many Ford admirers acquired it for use on the road. The automaker had the envious problem of revising upwards its production targets.
The new Raptor no longer comes with the V8 engine included in previous generations; it now features a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost with a power output of up to 450 hp. This engine is wedded to the new 10-speed automatic transmission, and the truck is now available as a SuperCab long-cab or a 4-door SuperCrew with a short bed. The entire suspension of the truck has been modified to make it long-travel (and feature a track that’s wider by six inches), thus allowing us to test the truck at otherwise inconceivable speeds on the Mecaglisse track.
Most Raptor owners will likely never get the opportunity (or the courage) to try out their $80,000-to-$90,000 truck in such circumstances, but they will cover a lot of road, especially secondary ones, and they’ll surely appreciate this special suspension which makes the F-150 Raptor a smoother rider even than its regular-version sibling! As for the breathtaking performance capabilities of the 450-hp V6, acceleration and gear-shifts are unmatched by any of the F-150 Raptor’s competitors. In fact, there aren’t even that many competitors for the Raptor at all, other than maybe the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. Or perhaps the Ram Power Wagon, or the Toyota TRD Pro? We think not.
Editor’s note: Don’t forget to check out our full review of the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor penned by Dan Heyman.