Excepting its wider-set facial features, its smattering of new active-safety technologies, and three new or updated engines, Ford’s 2018 F-150 lineup is the same excellent collection of pickup trucks as before. We bestowed a 10 Best Trucks award on it for 2017, and the updated lineup won the honor again this year.
Tested here is the F-150 that provides the best value among its four available engines, the smaller of the two EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V-6s that Ford offers in non-Raptor F-150s. Displacing 2.7 liters and smoothly making 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque (the latter up 25 lb-ft from 2017), the baby EcoBoost is smaller in displacement than the 375-hp 3.5-liter version and the F-150’s available naturally aspirated 395-hp 5.0-liter V-8. Yet it feels plenty strong, and it’s only a $995 upcharge on the XL and XLT—the lowest two trims, where it replaces the base engine, a naturally aspirated 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6—and it is standard on the Lariat.
In the Money
First, the dollars and sense. We typically review pickups bedecked with leather, cowboy-Cadillac trim, and giant wheels. That’s what automakers send us, looking to show off their latest toys. The crew-cab (SuperCrew in Ford-speak) truck tested here, by contrast, is sparsely optioned, wearing humble XLT spec and cloth bucket seats. If it had a front bench seat and four- or all-wheel drive, it would be closer to a pure work truck.
SuperCrew F-150 XLTs with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost start at $40,950. To that was added the $295 center console and front bucket seats, the $945 Chrome Appearance package (chrome 18-inch wheels, side steps, grille, and other exterior bits), and the $1150 301A package (an eight-way power driver’s seat, a color driver-information display in the gauge cluster, a seven-speaker audio system, a rear-window defroster, heated side mirrors, power-adjustable pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a Class IV trailer hitch and wiring). Keeping the 5.5-foot pickup box (a longer 6.5-foot box is available on the SuperCrew), the total came to $43,340. In a world where fully optioned full-size pickup pricing easily crests $60,000, this counts as Yankee-doodle-dandy basic.
The price creates a pleasant juxtaposition between the XLT’s functional look—the diplomatic description for the interior’s hard plastics, cloth upholstery, and lack of even a touchscreen—and its aluminum wrapper and the new-age technology beneath.
It Goes Up to 10
The thoroughly modern 2.7-liter EcoBoost now bolts to the same 10-speed automatic transmission introduced in the 2017 3.5-liter EcoBoost-equipped F-150 and F-150 Raptor. (Only the entry-level 3.3-liter V-6 still uses a six-speed automatic.) While a console shifter is available, arming the 10-speed with a good old-fashioned column shifter is weirdly satisfying. Also rewarding is the transmission’s Sport mode, which keeps the tightly wound twin-turbo V-6 revving right where it makes meaty power and good boost.
On this stage, the 2.7-liter steals the show. For 2018, Ford implemented changes it deems comprehensive enough to call this engine the “second generation.” A new exhaust-gas-recirculation system, the addition of a port and direct fuel-injection system, and reduced internal friction headline the changes. As before, the little EcoBoost pulls forcefully from idle, its thrust feeling diesel-like—except that it revs toward its low 5750-rpm redline with gas-engine zeal. Power is found seemingly at any rpm, although the smooth-shifting transmission wisely keeps revs low and takes advantage of the prodigious torque on tap.
Wind out the engine, and it emits a quiet thrum with a pleasant mechanical precision to its melody. Read nothing into the advantage measured for the last 2.7-liter F-150 we tested, a four-wheel-drive, extended-cab 2015 model without the 2018’s extra 25 lb-ft of torque. That 2015 truck reached 60 mph 0.2 second quicker than this two-wheel-drive crew cab’s 5.9-second rip. But four-wheel drive offers a tangible advantage in launch traction over a strictly two-wheel-drive rig and did so for that 2015 truck. To wit: When launched in its rear-wheel-drive mode—the configuration owners would actually use when driving on dry pavement—the older truck was a full second slower to 60 mph, needing 6.7 seconds. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost was quick before and is even quicker now, smoking the last Chevrolet Silverado we tested with its 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 (7.2 seconds to 60) and even running an almost dead heat with the burlier, 420-hp 6.2-liter Chevy (5.7 seconds).
During our test, Michigan furnished plenty of fresh snow to challenge this rear-drive pickup. Keeping a light foot on the accelerator helped maintain purchase in the white stuff without throwing the traction-control system into a tizzy, although when the skies really opened up, we tossed a couple of sandbags into the bed to weigh down the rear. Bonus: If you do get stuck, you’ve got some sand to toss beneath the drive wheels.
Other Weighty Matters
Where the lack of four-wheel drive made the biggest difference was at the scales. This F-150 weighed a svelte 4721 pounds, or 153 less than the similarly optioned, 2.7-liter-equipped F-150 SuperCab 4×4 we tested in 2015. This pays dynamic dividends: Our test truck stopped from 70 mph in a mere 167 feet, besting a number of mid-size and compact sedans in that measure. The brake pedal seems to respond more to travel than pressure, but it is sprung nicely and offers firm resistance underfoot.
The 0.79 g of grip we measured on our skidpad is not similarly carlike, but the way the F-150 changes direction and comports itself through turns is. Body motions are well controlled, and on its relatively small-diameter 18-inch wheels and tires, our test truck rode quietly and nicely over pothole-cratered roads. The biggest surprise is the electrically assisted power steering, which has perfect weighting on the firm side of light, is laser accurate (for a truck), and even offers some feedback when the front tires begin to lose grip.
We must also throw a shout-out to the F-150’s seating position, which centers the steering wheel to the driver’s chest (something Chevrolet, until its 2019 Silverado, had not done) and places the pedals, even without their optional power adjustment, low to the floor, allowing the driver’s heel to comfortably rest on the floorboard (unlike in Ram’s 1500). The seats in our F-150 were supportive, and the rear seats in any SuperCrew F-150 offer palatial, limousine-like legroom. As in other full-size pickups at this price, the dashboard is largely made up of hard plastics, although their graining looks nice and most critical touch points inside the F-150 are made from softer materials.
You Can’t Touch This Screen
Without Ford’s now ubiquitous Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system, this F-150 presented the driver with a plethora of hard buttons and a relatively tiny color display in the dashboard. We debated whether this non-touchscreen setup was charming or too button heavy, but there’s no question that the larger Sync 3 touchscreen is easier to read and manipulate at a glance. (It’s available on the XLT as part of the pricier 302A option package.) Fiddling with Ford’s online F-150 configurator reveals that an everyday pickup buyer not planning to use the truck for work could probably find a better buy in the Lariat, the next-level-up trim. It has the 2.7-liter EcoBoost standard and bundles a lot of features (Class IV trailer hitch, leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, proximity-key entry, Sync 3) for only $1430 more than the as-tested price of this modestly optioned XLT.
Whichever avenue you follow, no 2018 F-150 presents as a poor choice. You can’t go wrong with any of the power trains, since even the base 3.3-litre has its positives. We’re partial to the 2.7-litre, but you might enjoy the 3.5-litre Eco Boost’s greater power or the 5.0-litre V-8’s, well, sonorous power delivery. Low spec or fully loaded, the F-150 is as we’ve deemed it: a 10 Best-winning pickup that sits atop the full-size-pickup class.