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Will a 10-speed automatic and a reprised Raptor keep the ’17 F-150 on top?

2017 Ford F-150

2016 Ford F-150 Limited

What changes will make 2017 Ford F-150 different?

Fuel-saving automatic engine stop-start on most models and an upgrade from a 6-speed automatic transmission to a 10-speed automatic for improved response and gas mileage. Oh, yes, returning from a one-year hiatus is the wild Raptor off-road model, now available as a crew-cab as well as an extended-cab. These changes continue a stream of updates for America’s best selling vehicle following its radical model-year 2015 transformation. That controversial redesign introduced a body of high-strength aluminum alloys in place of the steel employed for decades — and still used by every rival.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

If you’re sold on the benefits of engine stop-start and you’ve confidence in the driveability and reliability of that new transmission. Stop-start will be standard on F-150s equipped with a V-6 from Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine family (see below). That’s roughly 60 percent of all F-150s, so most buyers won’t have a choice. The transmission is result of a team-up with General Motors to jointly develop 9- and 10-speed automatics for a range of front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The Raptor is a specialty model with prices likely to begin around $50,000, though a cult following means it’s also fairly depreciation-resistant. Otherwise, the ’17 F-150 will reprise the full array of half-ton-pickup body styles: a two-door regular-cab; an extended “SuperCab” with narrow, rear-hinged back doors; and the crew-cab “SuperCrew” with conventional rear doors. Regular-cabs seat up to three, SuperCabs and SuperCrews up to six. Regular-cabs and SuperCabs will again offer cargo beds of 6-feet-5-inches or 8-feet, and SuperCrews will feature beds of 5-feet-5-inches or 6-feet-5-inches.

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Yes, if you’re suspicious of the potential benefits and behavior of stop-start, and you can live with the laudable comportment of the proven 6-speed automatic. There may be some new color choices or appearance options, but no real styling changes. So a ’16 F-150 will look like a ’17. Raptor excepted, the 2016 model lineup will carry over, too. It’ll again begin with base XL and better-equipped XLT trims. They come in every cab, bed, and powertrain configuration and combine to account for 70 percent of F-150 sales. From there, the roster will again ascend through ever more-luxurious Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and top-line Limited trims. Configuration possibilities condense as you climb the model ladder. For example, you can’t get a regular-cab Lariat, and King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited come only as SuperCrews. That isn’t expected to change, though in fairness, the crew cab is the choice of some 70 percent of buyers. Finally, given the inevitable model-year price inflation, you’ll almost certainly pay more for a ’17 F-150 than for a’16.

Will the styling be different?

Not in any way worth waiting for, although the Raptor celebrates its bad-boy bona fides with a modified chassis and bodywork 6-inches wider than other F-150s, plus special wheels; unique grille, marker lights, and graphics; and exclusive seats and cabin trim. Like all F-150s, it’ll sport a front side-window dip, a signature element in the otherwise blocky, upright design Ford maintained in the move to aluminum construction. The truck’s frame is steel, and the automaker touts the transition to “military-grade alloy” body panels as key to cutting up to 700 pounds compared to the previous-generation F-150. Skeptics remain legion, but evidence so far suggests little difference in the cost of aluminum repairs by Ford-approved shops or that collision-insurance premiums are higher versus the steel-body predecessor. Don’t anticipate any styling alterations of note until a model-year 2019 midcycle facelift — prelude to a full redesign expected around model-year 2022.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes. Increasingly common across the industry, stop-start automatically shuts off the engine when a vehicle is stationary, such as idling at a traffic light, and restarts it when the driver releases the brake pedal. Accessories such as air conditioning, continue operating. Beyond reducing emissions, research shows it improves fuel economy in city driving by about 7 percent, though the savings don’t count in EPA mileage ratings. The system already was standard for 2016 with the F-150’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 and for ’17 it’ll be included with all 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6s, including the Raptor’s. It’ll be disabled when towing or in 4-wheel-drive mode. We haven’t tested Ford’s system, but experience with stop-start in a variety of other vehicles reveals some in which the off-on cycle is virtually transparent and others in which the restart can be frustratingly tardy and accompanied by an annoying drivetrain shudder.

The new transmission is the world’s first with 10 forward speeds; it has six underdrive ratios, a direct-drive gear, and three overdrive gears. Ford and GM will build and calibrate their own versions. They previously collaborated on a successful 6-speed automatic for use in front-drive applications. We have not yet tested the 10-speed. At the time of this report it was confirmed for the Raptor only; Ford hadn’t said whether it’ll be used on all 2017 F-150 models or be phased in. As for the ’17 Raptor, it dumps a V-8 for a hot-rodded version of the automaker’s twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6. Specs hadn’t been released, but look for more than the 411 horsepower and 435 pound-feet of torque of the outgoing 6.2-liter V-8.

Other engine choices will continue. Lower trims will start with a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 (282 horsepower, 253 pound-feet of torque). Standard or optional, depending on body configuration and model, will again be a 2.7-liter turbocharged V-6 (325 horsepower, 375 pound-feet); a 5.0-liter V-8 (385 horses, 387 pound-feet); and a 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 (365 horses, 420 pound-feet). A specially tuned 4-wheel-drive (4wd) system is standard on the Raptor. All other F-150s will be available with rear-drive (2wd) or 4wd.

Will fuel economy improve?

It should, given the aim of stop-start and the new transmission. The 2017 EPA data hadn’t been released in time for this review, but Ford will be trying to beat the ’16 ratings. They were 20 mpg city-highway combined with 2wd and 19 with 4wd for the base V-6, and 18 mpg combined with 2wd and 17 with 4wd for the V-8.

The 2.7-liter rated 22 mpg city-highway combined with 2wd and 20 mpg with 4wd. The mainstream turbo 3.5 rated, 20 and 18 mpg, respectively. The V-6 Raptor is a sure bet to exceed its predecessor’s rating of 13 mpg city-highway combined. A 7 percent increase in city driving from stop-start would be noteworthy. It would boost the city rating of the EcoBoost engines about 2 mpg, to 26 mpg with 2wd and 25 with 4wd for the 2.7-liter and to 26 and 24, respectively, for the 3.5.

Will it have new features?

Little of note is expected beyond possible special-appearance options or re-bundling of already-available features. Ford followed the 2015 redesign with a couple of notable additions for ’16 that will carry over. One is Pro Trailer Backup Assist, designed to simplify reversing with a trailer attached. The driver turns a dashboard knob in the direction they wish the trailer to head and the truck controls the steering and vehicle speed accordingly. It’s included in the $895 Trailer Tow Package. Also of note was introduction of the Sync 3 infotainment interface in place of the troublesome MyFord Touch system. Sync 3 is more user-friendly, with logical and lucid screen graphics and faster response.

True to its multiple roles as work truck, recreational pickup, and luxury passenger conveyance, there’s a trim level and equipment set to meet most every need and want. You can pull a 12,200-pound trailer, rock crawl or run the Baja, swing by the opera in style. With optional Active Park Assist, the truck will identify a suitable parallel parking space and automatically back into it. Premium leather upholstery, power-deployable running boards, a twin-panel moonroof, navigation system, LED cargo-bed lighting, and tailgate step with grab bar are available. So is Eucalyptus wood cabin trim, heated and cooled front buckets, heated steering wheel and rear seats, power tilt/telescope steering column, LED headlamps, and 20-inch alloy wheels. Safety features include inflatable rear safety belts, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, adaptive cruise control, and frontal-collision-mitigating automatic braking.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They’ll increase, but not markedly. Estimated base prices will range from around $27,850 for a 2wd regular-cab short-bed XL with the entry-level V-6, to about $63,700 for a 4wd SuperCrew short-bed Limited with the EcoBoost 3.5-liter. Look for the Raptor to start around $50,000. (All estimated base prices include Ford’s destination fee, which was $1,195 for the 2016 F-150.) Of course, most buyers add options, often lots of them. Indeed, loading up on extras is stimulated by frequent factory incentives and dealers’ willingness to negotiate on price.

For example, base price for the high-volume 4wd XLT SuperCrew short-bed was $41,715 for model-year 2016. A popular suite of options would encompass the 2.7-liter engine ($795); a package that includes such handy items as a rear defroster, power driver’s seat, heated mirrors, and a rearview camera ($2,150); the basic trailer-tow package and a 110-volt outlet ($1,145); and perhaps the XLT Sport Appearance Package, with body color trim and dressier 18-inch alloys ($1995). That’s $47,800. But with factory discounts on various packages, it drops to $46,050 – and likely falls to an actual price of around $38,900, based on transaction data from the vehicle-pricing site TrueCar.com. But even with discounts of that magnitude, no vehicle outsells the F-150 in the over-$50,000 range. Plenty of shoppers are encouraged by low gas prices and the factors mentioned above to treat themselves to a King Ranch, Platinum, or Limited model, all of which will have base prices over $52,000 for 2017.

When will it come out?

Expect a fall 2016 release.

Best competitors

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

What change would make it better?

A suspension as advanced as the aluminum body, powertrains, and tech features. By sticking with old-school rear leaf springs, the F-150 – as well as its GM, Nissan, and Toyota rivals – continues to be beaten for ride comfort, control, and versatility by the Ram 1500, which uses coil springs and offers an adjustable air suspension.

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]