Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque / Transmission: ten-speed automatic / Fuel economy: 17 mpg EPA city, 23 mpg highway (4WD) /Transfer case: rear-wheel-drive, part-time four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive / Max payload: 3,230 pounds / Max tow rating: 13,200 pounds / Base price: $32,645
The Ford F-150, the perennial best-selling vehicle in the U.S., attempts to offer something for everyone.
There are stripped-down work trucks, duded-up luxury models, and the desert-racer Raptor. Longbed, shortbed, all kinds of cabs, two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive: the F-150's decision tree is an aspen. (Specifically, Pando, the 106-acre aspen grove in Fishlake National Forest in Utah, which shares a root system and is considered to be a single living organism that weighs more than 13 million pounds.)
But perhaps any new owner will have to choose among the F-150's six available engines, which include a 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V6, various turbo V6s (gas and diesel) and a 5.0-liter V8.
On the mid-range Lariat models, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost is standard. And that one's fine, if you don't take much interest in what's under the hood. It makes 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. of torque. Upgrading to the 5.0-liter V8 ($1,000) is a questionable move, since you get no additional torque and lose a couple miles per gallon (though you do gain an extra 75 horsepower). The 3.0-liter Powerstroke diesel is an intriguing choice, but it costs an extra $4,000 and loses 75 horsepower to the 2.7, in exchange for only 40 more lb-ft. of torque.
The 3.5-liter EcoBoost, then, is the sweet spot: a lot more powerful than the base engine, but only $1,600 more expensive. Note that we're talking about the basic 3.5-liter EcoBoost, not the tire-melting high-output Raptor version that's in the Limited models. That one's a blast—450 horsepower, 510 lb-ft—but you've got to spend a lot of money to get it.
You can spec a standard-issue 3.5 EcoBoost, with 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft. of torque, in an XL-trim F-150 for not much more than $30,000. Mated to a 10-speed transmission, that's a whole lot of thrust for the buck. If you want an F-150 with the max tow rating (13,200 pounds), it's going to have the 3.5 EcoBoost.
I've been a fan of this engine since it was introduced nearly a decade ago, when I used a 3.5 EcoBoost F-150 to tow a 30-foot Keystone Raptor trailer to a NASCAR race. In the RV neighborhood where I parked, other campers couldn't believe that a V6 could tow something that size. It seemed like F-250 territory, at least.
Since then, the 3.5 EcoBoost has gotten stronger, but it's always been a punchy torque monster. I have one in my 2010 Lincoln MKT, and it's still running great as it nears 100,000 miles. If anything, I'm afraid for what's downstream of the flywheel—courtesy of the EcoBoost's prodigious twist, the MKT is on its second rear diff.
The F-150 is stout enough for the 3.5 and its turbos, but I'd recommend getting a truck with full-time four-wheel-drive (aka, all-wheel-drive), because 470 lb-ft. of torque can and will fry the rear tires. Unladen, the F-150 is now a terror at drag strips. Seriously. It's not quite as quick as a Mustang GT, but it's not terribly far behind, either.
My only real beef with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost is the sound. No, not the sound of the engine itself, but the faux sound that's piped through the speakers under throttle. Ford saw fit to remix the six, making it sound like a V8 in the cabin. Lame.
I recently drove a Ford GT—the pinnacle of 3.5 EcoBoost evolution—and can confirm that it needed no synthesized soundtrack. Granted, the 3.5 EcoBoost in my car sounds like a sick mule tap dancing—all wheezes, groans, and clicks—but at least it's honest.
The solution to that, I found, is rolling down the windows. Then you hear the whistle of the turbos under throttle. That's the sound you want to hear, the reminder that you sprung for the best gas engine in a half-ton truck.
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