It’s confession time: few things scare me more than having to back up a trailer – like the one carrying the big boat I was to drive down the ramp and load into Portage Lake last Friday.
It takes confidence, patience and skill to avoid doing some serious damage, or at least embarrassingly yourself in front of the folks watching as you slip into reverse. Alternatively, it helps to have a Ford F-150 pickup equipped with the maker’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist system, something that makes the process about as simple as playing a videogame.
Pro Trailer Assist was one of a handful of features I got to try this past week while checking out the newly updated 2018 Ford F-150. My mule for the day: a fully loaded 4×4 version of the 3.5-liter Limited Crew Cab edition, at $64,440 – plus $1,295 in destination fees – one of the most lavishly equipped and expensive half-ton pickups on the market.
As you’ll discover in a sidebar story on TheDetroitBureau.com, the F-Series is defying gravity, sales up 8.3% this year despite the overall slowdown of the U.S. new vehicle market. One reason is the vast array of pickup variants – cabs, beds, powertrains and features – available for both the mainstream F-150 and the bigger Super Duty models.
(How to keep the F-Series America’s best-selling vehicle? Click Here for that story.)
Ford isn’t content to bet on the current versions of the F-150 to keep that momentum growing. So, for 2015, it is adding features, boosting power and increasing fuel economy. It also has made some modest tweaks to the truck’s design, starting with the new “C-Clamp” headlamps meant to “give the F-150 more of a continuity of shapes and forms,” according to truck design chief Sean Tant, especially when paired with the new, horizontal grille. Make that grilles, as there’s a unique version for each model, such as the FX-4, Raptor and Limited.
The 2018 truck also gets a new front fascia and bumper, new taillights, a slightly updated tailgate and improvements in aerodynamics.
“We have something for everybody, and that’s our goal,” explained Tant, during a media briefing before we were given keys and set loose for a drive.
Along with the updated exterior, Ford has boosted power for its two base powertrains. The old 3.7-liter V-6 was downsized to 3.3-liters, yet it now makes 290 hp and 265 lb-ft, up 8 and 12, respectively. And the The 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine gets an extra 25 pound-feet of torque for 2018.
As for fuel economy, no matter what engine, body style, cargo bed or other options, you will get “at least 1 mpg better mileage,” revealed Peter Dowding, director of Ford Powertrain.
(Ford Motor Co. celebrates 100 years of pickup trucks. For the story, Click Here.)
Now add a variety of updated features, including a 4G WiFi system capable of pairing with up to 10 devices, the Sync3 infotainment system, an audiophile B&O sound system and an advanced Active Cruise Control System capable for detecting pedestrians as well as other vehicles. It also can come to a complete stop in traffic and then automatically restart within 3 seconds.
Such technologies have become increasingly important, both making it easier for truckers to work in the field, and for owners to have a truck that’s as luxurious as it is rugged and capable. Consider that it’s not the $27,000 base F-150 that is yielding the big increases in sales. It’s models like the Limited that are posting as well as well-equipped middle-range models like the XLT Super Crew 4×4, the latter running in the mid-$40,000 range.
What’s intriguing is that Ford is selling more F-150s in what is technically the luxury segment, based on price, more than any Lincoln nameplate.
And that lavish list of equipment, along with the clearly luxury-class finish hitting all the upscale buttons, is immediately obvious the moment you step into a 2018 F-150 Limited. Okay, step up into. It’s a big truck and rolling down the highway, only other serious truckers aren’t going to immediately pull out of your way.
Equipped with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, our truck had plenty of pulling power, up to 3,270 pounds of cargo and a maximum 13,200 pound trailer.
Flat out, with an unloaded truck, you’ll nudge into performance car territory. The 3.7-liter engine punches out 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, which helps explain why Ford now sells far more V-6s than V-8s in the F-150 line-up. One downside is that the 3.7 engine only delivers 15 mpg City, 18 Highway and 16 Combined – even with the standard equipped Auto Stop/Start.
(Ford powers up the police with pursuit-ready F-150 pickup. Click Here to check it out.)
Handling a trailer is surprisingly easy. We switched out of our Limited a couple times to make things easier, Ford already having another F-150 ready with boat hitched up at the Portage Lake Boat Club a half-hour north of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Slipping behind the wheel I adjust mirrors and tapped the button activating Pro Trailer Backup Assist and then, almost counterintuitively, I took my hands off the steering wheel. Instead, I used my right hand to gently turn the 2-inch knob on the instrument panel to the right of the wheel. Basically, you use your mirrors to figure out where you want to point your trailer and turn the knob in that direction. If you were using your steering wheel you’d actually have to turn the other way, something I admit confuses me.
In reverse, the wheel automatically turns, almost as if it were autonomous. It is amazingly simple, as I discovered – and then saw as several colleagues quickly and neatly put the boat in the water and pulled it out again.
The other technology onboard the F-150 is equally adept, whether you are maneuvering an off-road course – as we did – or traveling down the freeway. The latest version of Active Cruise Control uses radar to spot obstacles that now include pedestrians, as well as other vehicles. Drive down the freeway and it will automatically slow, even stop the vehicle in heavy traffic. If the car ahead starts moving again in less than 3 seconds, so will your F-150. Otherwise, simply tap the gas or the ACC “Resume” button.
Off-road, the big truck is surprisingly nimble, yet robust. There are two levels of off-road packages. We’d recommend adding them both – and they’re both standard on the F-150 FX4 trim – to get Hill Descent Control. You’ll get gauges that help show you where the wheels are pointed, how much of an angle you’re climbing, where power is going. There’s also a forward-looking camera that shows what you’re approaching – a real help with a big front end like the F-150’s. The downside is that the camera shuts off when you hit 5 mph, so we constantly had to switch it back on.
One of the nicest features of the new F-150 is Ford’s new 10-speed automatic. It started rolling out last year and is now on all powertrains but for the base 3.3-liter V-6 which comes with a six-speed. This gearbox is smooth and intuitive. You’ll be hard pressed to even notice most shifts.
Overall, the 2018 Ford F-150 Limited is a surprisingly blend of serious work truck and luxury vehicle. For those who have the money and are looking for that combination, it’s a package hard to beat.