Seventy years ago, way back in 1947, Ford (F) released a revolutionary vehicle, the F-series pickup. Slowly but surely the popularity of pickups grew, as Americans went from using them on job sites to everyday vehicles, and by 1981 the F-150 light duty pickup became the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. It’s still the top selling vehicle in America, and there’s a reason for it.
It’s simply the best pickup built in America. From an all-aluminum body, multiple drivetrains featuring turbocharged and diesel engines, and yes, creature comforts, it’s no surprise loyal buyers and new ones keep snatching up F-150s.
But Ford can’t sit on its laurels. That’s because a new Dodge Ram (FCAU) is on the way (rumored to debut at the North American International Auto Show), and Chevrolet (GM) just teased the new 2019 Silverado in Texas last Saturday.
For 2018, Ford has refreshed and revitalized the top-selling F-150, and it appears customers should be better off for it. My colleague Rick Newman and I took a F-150 Platinum edition for a road test to see if Ford’s pickup is still king of the hill.
Upgrades under the hood
Aside from exterior tweaks like a new grill, bumpers and fascia, etc. the big differences you’ll see this year in the F-150 line are under the hood with engine improvements across the range of powerplants offered. There’s the base engine which is a 3.3-liter V-6, a revised 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, and a heavily tweaked 5.0-liter V-8 offering more power. A diesel engine will join the party in spring 2018. Except for the base engine, all other engines use Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission.
The other big thing for these engines — all versions include auto-start-stop technology. And that’s one of the big pushes here with the F-150’s engine range — trying to achieve more fuel economy.
Our tester sported the twin-turbo Ecoboost 3.5-liter V-6, outputting a healthy 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. This engine also includes port fuel and direct injection that Ford says will improve power and efficiency.
On the road
Look, there’s no denying it, the F-150 is one big rig. Our truck in Mars Red and SuperCrew trim with a 6-1/2 foot bed was massively so. Maneuvering this beast in the suburbs of New York City, let alone Manhattan, was a somewhat stressful undertaking.
Luckily, eventually you get used to the dimensions. And when you do, it’s a surprisingly nice ride. You wouldn’t guess the F-150 was a body on frame truck, as its ride was plush, smooth and quiet. The 3.5L twin-turbo V6 provided more than adequate power for a truck that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds.
Yes, it does feel a little bit like driving a land yacht at times with a floaty ride, and that didn’t give me the kind of confidence I like in certain riding conditions. But that comes with the territory of driving a big pickup that isn’t a Baja-bred Raptor with custom Fox racing shocks.
Inside the cabin, our Platinum edition F-150 had everything an urban cowboy would need. Leather seating, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and a technology package that includes a 360-degree camera (amazingly helpful when trying to park this truck), active-park assist, and lane-keeping assist.
In addition, from a safety standpoint some of the big updates are adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, and a forward-collision alert system with pedestrian detection. These are fantastic features that we’ve been saying should be on any new car buyer’s (or leaser’s) checklist.
So who needs this truck?
This of course is the ultimate question. You “could” use this as a work truck, but you’d be crazy to do that with a truck that’s basically a luxury SUV minus the hatch liftgate in the back. Besides, our truck optioned out lists at a pretty hefty $66,650.
The F-150 Platinum is more like a weekend truck for an upwardly mobile contractor, or as Rick jokes, a genteel racehorse breeder, who needs the look of utility with all the creature comforts.
And many buyers who aren’t in those buckets are going to buy these trucks, because how does one stand out in the crowd of SUVs that clog up our roads and mall parking lots? Get a bad-ass pickup — with all the goodies you still like inside.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.