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Upheaval: Can Less Weight, Smaller Engines, Higher Prices, And Cabs And Beds That Aren’t Made Of Steel Satisfy American Pickup Buyers?

What changes will make it different?

Revolutionary ones. Fully redesigned for the first time since model-year 2009, it adopts a weight-saving aluminum body and offers two turbocharged V-6 engines – and ignites a debate about durability and repair costs. The all-new edition of America’s best-selling vehicle weighs up to 700 pounds less than comparable versions of the outgoing truck. It has new styling and it introduces innovations like LED headlamps and a power tailgate.

Why should I wait for the 2016 model?

To see if this gamble on materials and design does indeed advance the pickup game without jeopardizing reliability or affordability. No other full-size pickup has an aluminum body and cargo bed an none will rely so heavily on six-cylinder engines. By the ’16 model year, you’ll have better answers to a host of questions, including whether the 2.7-liter turbo V-6 with its V-8-like 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque is a bona fide substitute for an eight-cylinder engine in a vehicle this size.

Should I buy the current 2015 instead?

If you’re an early adopter and trust the automaker’s promise of best-in-class performance, fuel economy, and features. You’ll be first on your block to own a ground-breaking vehicle. They don’t come along often.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but it’s an evolution of the 2009-2014-generation’s squared-off look. The cabs have more angular character lines and include a deeper dip in the front side windows. The grille is taller and more vertical; it’s as bold as before but more integrated with the nose. The headlamp clusters adopt a bracket shape. Wheel arches are more prominent, the taillamps less rounded. But styling is not the headline.

Returning is a roster of regular-, extended-, and crew-cab bodies, each available with short- and long-bed cargo boxes. After that, it’s uncharted territory. For the first time in any pickup, high-strength military-grade aluminum is employed throughout the body. Ford says it’s of the type found in aerospace and commercial transportation. It’s used here to improve dent and corrosion resistance and to save weight for better fuel economy and performance, towing and hauling ability.

The automaker also says it made this half-ton pickup’s full-boxed ladder frame stronger and lighter by increasing the presence of high-strength steel to 77 percent from 23 percent. It says the steel is stronger that that found in the frames of some competitors’ three-quarter-ton pickups.

With every carmaker facing increasingly stringent federal fuel-economy standards, aluminum’s appeal is obvious. It weighs less than steel, but it is more expensive and repairs can be costlier and require specialized techniques.

Seeking to address doubts about the wide use of aluminum alloy in a vehicle that must survive the extremes of work and play, the automaker touts this as the strongest and most durable F-150 ever. It sites grueling testing in labs and in the field that included heavy towing, even off-road racing. It says it placed trucks secretly fitted with the new aluminum cargo bed with customers who proved its endurance in the construction, mining, and utilities trades.

Full specifications were not available in time for this review, but the returning two-door regular-cab again offers bed lengths of 6.5 and 8 feet. So does the four-door, six-passenger extended cab, called the SuperCab. The four-door crew-cab (here the SuperCrew) returns with a choice of 5.5- and 6.5-foot beds.

The regular-cab short-bed – the least popular configuration — is the only 2015 model with cab or chassis dimensions that change more than fractions of an inch. Its wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles, is shorter by 3.5 inches and overall body length decreases about four inches. Otherwise, the 2015 remains on par with its key half-ton rivals, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, and Toyota Tundra.

Inside, the redesigned cabin follows some of the exterior’s angular themes. Dominating the new dashboard are huge beveled air vents and a wide central section containing an 8-inch display screen and audio and climate controls resized for use wearing work gloves. LEDs sharpen interior lighting. The new speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, and amp meter are computer-generated. The driver can configure the color and location of the instruments, even dial up specific screens for off-roading or towing. The SuperCab’s rear-seat now has a flat floor for easier loading and unloading and its rear doors open nearly 180 degrees.

The 2015 lineup will again start with a tool-of-the-trade XL model and feature the popularly equipped XLT and upscale Lariat trim levels. Also returning are the luxury-car-grade Platinum edition and the opulent western-themed King Ranch model. Not included in the initial launch of this new-generation is the off-road-performance SVT Raptor model. The XL and XLT are expected to account for about 70 percent of sales.

Every version except the Platinum is available with chrome appearance packages, while the XL, XLT, and Lariat can be ordered with monochromatic sport appearance packages. Again available for most four-wheel-drive editions is the FX4 off-road package with skid plates, specific shock absorbers, and an electronic locking rear differential.

What are the mechanical changes?

Complete power and torque specifications were unavailable in time for this review, but Ford confirms there will again be four engine choices. In a departure from modern full-size-pickup tradition, however, only one is a V-8.

Two engines are new to the lineup. A V-6 is again the standard engine in a variety of trim grades, but the 2015s get an all-new 3.5-liter of a more modern design than the 3.7-liter it replaces. It’s rated at 283 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, down slightly from the 3.7’s 302 and 278.

Also joining the underhood roster is a turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 from the automaker’s EcoBoost engine family. It includes a fuel-saving automatic stop-start function. Tuned for truck use, the system shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped — except when towing or in four-wheel drive. It restarts the engine when the brake is released. This turbo 2.7 is a $495 option over the base 3.5-liter and, as noted above, is rated at 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque. It’s expected to be the single most popular engine choice and will be marketed as delivering the performance of some competing V-8 engines, but with greater fuel economy.

Ford touts the popularity of its twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 as proof full-size pickup owners will accept engines other than V-8s. About 45 percent of buyers order it in the current truck. It should again generate around 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.

Also returning is a 5.0-liter V-8, but it’s treated to internal modifications designed to improve fuel economy. Look for ratings to remain around 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Not included in the initial launch is the outgoing pickup’s 6.2-liter V-8, which was rated at 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque.

The only transmission remains a six-speed automatic. Models with the EcoBoost V-6s acquire active grille shutters that automatically close to reduce aerodynamic drag at cruising speed. They remain open when extra engine cooling is required, such as in hot weather, towing, or stop-and-go driving.

All models will also be available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The outgoing truck offered a basic “part-time” 4wd system not for use on dry pavement augmented by a more convenient full-time system that can remain engaged on all surfaces without risk of drivetrain wear.

New to the redesigned pickup is the automaker’s Curve Control system. It’s designed to compensate for too-high cornering speeds by automatically applying aggressive four-wheel braking to keep the truck on the road.

The outgoing truck’s towing capacities were roughly 6,100 pounds with the V-6, 9,800 with the 5.0-liter V-8, and 11,300 with both the EcoBoost V-6 and the 6.2-liter V-8. Improved tow ratings are being touted as an asset and the manufacturer says versions with the 2.7-liter turbo six can tow up to 8,500 pounds. Other numbers were not released in time for this report. Towing assists again include a factory-integrated trailer-brake controller, plus trailer-sway control that selectively applies the brakes and modulates engine power if a trailer becomes wayward.

Will fuel economy improve?

EPA mileage estimates were not released in time for this review but the goal is substantial gains. Some reports say the most fuel-efficient version could rate 30 mpg on the highway, up from 23 mpg for the thriftiest 2014 F-150. And ahead of the 28-mpg highway rating of the Ram 1500 equipped with a diesel V-6.

Overall, expect notable gains over the outgoing truck’s ratings, which range from 16 mpg city/highway combined to 18 mpg combined for models with engines comparable to those of its redesigned successor.

What features are new?

Among notable newcomers is 360-degree exterior camera coverage. It displays on the dashboard screen a bird’s-eye view of the truck for help in maneuvering in tight spots and on narrow trails. The keyfob now controls tailgate locking and unlocking and, in a first for pickups, can automatically release the gate to open itself on damped hinges. LED lighting in the walls of the cargo box illuminates the bed. LED spotlights on the side mirrors light the area around the truck.

In another factory first, ramps that mount on the tailgate are available to help load motorcycles, ATVs, mowers, and the like. A new tailgate step is integrated with the tailgate and is nearly invisible when not in use. Newly available inside SuperCabs and SuperCrews is a pair of 110-volt, 400-watt outlets for recharging power tools or running electrical equipment.

Features available for the first time on this truck include adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead. New camera and radar systems warn of unintentional drifting from traffic lanes and of vehicles in over-the-shoulder blind spots or approaching from the sides when backing from a parking space.

New safety systems automatically steer the truck back into its intended lane and pre-engage the brakes to help slow it if the driver fails to respond to radar warnings of an impending frontal collision. Rear inflatable safety belts that distribute the force of an impact across a wider area of the passenger’s chest also are new.

Standard or optional depending on model, upscale features again include such amenities as heated and cooled front seats and leather upholstery (some with contrast-color stitching).

The automaker’s Sync multimedia control system returns for voice command of audio and phone and incorporates Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone and music connectivity and a USB iPod interface. Voice and touchscreen control of additional infotainment and climate functions is available through the MyFord Touch system. Also onboard is the brand’s MyKey system. This allows parents or guardians to limit top speed and audio volume until occupants buckle up.

How will 2015 prices be different?

They increase, between $360 and at least $3,615, depending on the model. They start at $26,615 for an XL with the base V-6 and reach $52,155 for the least expensive iteration of the top-line Platinum. By comparison, the 2014 base-price range was $26,220-$52,825 (the top figure is for the most expensive version of the Platinum).

These base prices do not include options but do include the manufacturer’s destination fee. It’s $1,195, up from $995 for the ’14 models. The initial release of official prices did not break down by body style or drivetrain but did highlight the entry point for various trim levels. They also included the aforementioned charge for the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine and confirmed that the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 option will cost $1,995, down from the 2014 price of $2,095.

Base price for the least expensive 2015 XLT is $31,890, an increase of $360 over the comparable 2014 XLT. The entry point is $39,880 for the ’15 Lariat, a $1,045 increase, and $49,690 for the King Ranch, a $3,615 jump.

When will it come out?

Autumn 2014. All these pickups are built at Ford plants in Michigan and Missouri

Best competitors:

Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra

What’s a cool feature?

Hooking up a trailer and towing it safely should be easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive set of assist systems. They include a rearview camera that adds a real-time moving guideline graphic to the dashboard screen display. Based on steering-wheel angle, the line helps you line up to the trailer without help from a spotter or the need to get out of the truck. A new “smart” wiring harness can send driver alerts if it senses faults in your trailer’s marker lamps or brake lights. And updated apps accessible on the dashboard’s 8-inch LCD “productivity” screen include tips on towing efficiently.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]