Driving Impressions – May 2011

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: 2011 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew EcoBoost

by Greg Cavanaugh

I’m not going to lie and say that this is the vehicle to drive if you want to save the planet. But if you’ve got to drive a ginormous truck, this is the engine that needs to be in it.   Having already test-driven a Ford F-150 SuperCrew for the February 2009 issue, I asked for this test drive because I was particularly psyched about Ford’s new EcoBoost engine and wanted to see if it could live up to the hype. With that being said, this article is going to mostly focus on the powertrain.  You can go to gallupjourney.com to read my previous review if you want more information regarding interior, exterior etc.

Driving Impressions F150 Eco BoostCar manufacturers are getting hip to fuel economy.  And with increased EPA standards forcing them to meet ever more stringent fuel economy numbers, cars companies are pulling out all the stops to hit these targets.  Sometimes they’re potential game changers – think Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt – other times they are relatively simple tweaks that make small, but incremental fuel economy gains.  Ford’s new EcoBoost engines, in my opinion, fall closer to the game-changer side of the spectrum. By combining turbo charging and direct injection technology, Ford, along with a few other companies, is able to use smaller displacement engines in lieu of its larger, naturally aspirated counterparts.

Ford’s EcoBoost engine is a 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged and intercooled, direct-injected V6 that produces 365 HP and 420 ft-lb. of torque. Using the cooling properties of direct injection in combination with turbo charging, Ford is able to run a higher boost pressure with less chance of detonation and therefore able to make more power, more reliably.   Making more torque than horsepower gives the EcoBoost engine almost more of a diesel character than a typical gas engine.  Ford has already dropped the EcoBoost into the Taurus SHO sedan and the top-of-the-line Flex crossover.  While these were somewhat “safe” bets for Ford (if you could call 365 HP in a family sedan “safe”), placing a twin-turbo charged V6 in America’s best selling pickup truck was practically going all in.

The good news is the EcoBoost in the F-150 was a strong-arm bet worth taking.  What I found most impressive about this powertrain was not its fuel economy, but its power!  The EcoBoost is the second most powerful engine available, surpassed only slightly by the monster 6.2-liter V8.  It’s also the second most efficient, falling short to the base model’s 3.7-liter V6.  Who would have thought that economy and power could come simultaneously? The EcoBoost just pulls like a much larger engine.  Its torque curve is as broad as our mesas and moves the F-150 like a toy!  All that power had me needlessly putting my foot into the throttle at every on-ramp just to giggle at how silly it was that a massive beast of a truck could be moving that quickly. At about 4,000 rpm the EcoBoost really hits you and pulls even more strongly.   On one occasion I literally laughed and said out loud, “It’s just silly!”

This is not to say the “Eco” in EcoBoost is just a gimmick.  While I was unable to get the EPA estimated average of 18 mpg combined, the EcoBoost did return almost 17 mpg combined in my hands.  Not bad considering how often I was putting my foot into the throttle.  On my way home from work I jumped onto I-40 and gave the EcoBoost a freeway challenge.  After accelerating to 70 mph, I set the cruise and then reset the trip computer.  On that brief freeway stretch of about five miles I averaged 23 mpg according to the truck’s computer, just a tick over its EPA estimated 22 mpg highway.  The strong tailwind out of the west, no doubt, helped, but still quite good for a vehicle capable of towing 11,000 lbs.  Living in the Southwest it’s always a gamble whether to purchase a 4×2 or a 4×4 truck; most of the year you can get away without the need for a 4×4.   When it matters most, however, that four-wheel drive is crucial but will drop your mileage down, bringing the four-wheel drive EcoBoost F-150 to an EPA 15/21 mpg.

Now the best for last.  If optioned correctly, Gurley Motors tells me the EcoBoost motor is only a $750 upgrade.  With fuel prices continuing to rise, the payback on the EcoBoost only comes quicker!  I’m giving a lot of credit here to Ford for being innovative, not just for trying something new, but for trying something new that works on more than one level and in more than one way.   Ford did an excellent online set of promo videos that I highly recommend searching for.  If you have any interest in the EcoBoost motor, just search “Ford F-150 EcoBoost Torture Test.”

Special thanks to Mike, Steve, Anna and Sal at Gurley for tracking down an EcoBoost and arranging this test drive for me so quickly.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear- or 4-wheel-drive, 2–6-passenger, 2- or 4-door truck
BASE PRICE: $31,810
AS TESTED: $35,510
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 213 cu in, 3490 cc
Power (SAE net): 365 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 420 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting
Wheelbase: 144.5  Length: 243.9 in
Width: 79.2 in Height: 74.8 in
FUEL ECONOMY: EPA city/highway driving: 16/22 mpg

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