By Derek Price
The Ford F-150 has been the most popular vehicle in America for decades, and here’s why.
It offers something for everyone.
From affordable work trucks designed for abuse on job sites to fancy luxury trucks that near six-figure prices — with the features and performance to justify it — the breadth of Ford’s half-ton truck lineup is breathtaking.
It’s not just the range of prices that makes the F-150 stand out, though. It’s how each strata can be sliced, diced and customized into a one-of-a-kind pickup.
Take the example I’m driving this week, a Platinum Series pickup with a sticker price close to $70,000. Until recently,a pickup like this would only have the biggest, most powerful engines to pick from.
If you want a luxury-oriented truck with all the towing, technology and comfort features, but you still want to get good fuel economy, you can opt for a small diesel V6 in it.
With three liters of displacement, a six-cylinder engine seems on paper like an odd choice for a luxury truck, especially if you look at its horsepower rating: 250. That doesn’t sound like a lot for such a big, heavy, SuperCrew pickup.
Its torque production, though — 440 pound-feet — makes it accelerate effortlessly when you floor it. A perfectly tuned 10-speed automatic transmission gives it a nearly luxury-car level of smoothness, and it’s quiet enough that you can barely hear the tell-tale clatter of a diesel engine.
It also offers surprisingly good fuel economy, at least according to the federal government’s ratings. My 4×4 tester is labeled for 25 mpg on the highway. For those of us who remember a time when small economy cars were lucky to hit 30 mpg in the 1980s and ‘90s, the mileage from this huge Ford truck is almost miraculous.
The diesel V6 offers another advantage to justify its $3,000 upgrade price. Diesels typically have better resale value and a reputation for dependability with high mileage.
The diesel is but one of many options on the F-150. On many of today’s cars and crossover vehicles, buyers only get one drivetrain. They’re lucky if they can pick a more powerful engine or, heaven forbid, a manual transmission.
The F-150, though, has a whopping six engine choices on the menu. In addition to the 3.0-liter diesel on my tester, you can get it with a 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V6, a 2.7-liter or 3.5-liter turbocharged V6, a 5.0-liter V8, and a special high-output version of the 3.5-liter turbo engine on the Raptor off-road truck.
Two automatic transmissions are available, with either 10 or six speeds. Ford’s 10-speed feels better than anything I’ve driven from Ram or Chevrolet, with a quick response that feels confident, never jolting or “hunting” for gears.
It does have its downsides in head-to-head comparisons, though.
The Ram 1500 is far and away more refined on the road. It’s the pickup to beat this year in terms of sophistication, comfort, ride quality and cabin materials.
The Chevy Silverado offers slightly higher maximum tow ratings than the Ford.
Where Ford shines, as always, is the sheer breadth of its lineup. For people who need more serious towing, the Super Duty line offers spectacular performance. The stunning Raptor remains the world’s most exciting factory-built truck, even years after its introduction.
And the opportunities to customize it are almost endless. I already mentioned the six engine choices in the half-ton truck alone, but what if you want to make it a snow plow? Check box 68P on the order form.
Want to get it ready for a natural gas or propane engine? That’s package 98G. How about a Sport Appearance Package on your XLT truck, a 110-volt outlet in the console or green seats in your fleet truck? Those are codes 862, 68X and GR.
The order guide for this truck runs to 41 pages, and it’s packed with options, styles and configurations that are almost limitless.
If you’re wondering, Equipment Group 701A on my test truck includes 360-degree cameras, Dynamic Hitch Assist, Active Park Assist, Ford Co-Pilot Assist with adaptive cruise control, a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system, and a tailgate step.
Pricing for the F-150 starts at $28,745, but it quickly climbs depending on configuration and equipment. A SuperCrew cab starts at $35,285, while the Limited grade tops the lineup at $67,735 before options.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew ($58,345). Options: Equipment Group 701A ($2,340), premium paint ($395), turbo diesel engine ($3,000), twin panel moonroof ($1,495), trailer tow package ($995), power folding mirrors ($250), FX4 off-road package ($905), spray-in bed liner ($595). Price as tested (including $1,595 destination charge): $69,915
Wheelbase: 145 in.
Length: 231.9 in.
Width: 96.8 in.
Height: 75.6 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 (250 hp, 440 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 25 highway
Why buy it?
Ford offers a truck for every buyer. Its light-duty diesel offers outstanding fuel economy and smooth sophistication at the same time.