The biggest news from Ford's freshening of the 2011 F-150 is the addition of the 3.5-liter, direct-injection, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine to the top-selling vehicle's lineup. This high-tech engine marks a radical departure in a traditionally V8-driven market segment. We recently completed our full testing of two versions of the updated F-150, to see how the V6 fares in a V8 world.
Consumers have embraced the EcoBoost technology, with initial trucks sales being stronger than expected. (See for yourself by spotting all of those EcoBoost trucks on the road by their offset front license plate, which allows airflow to the giant intercooler.)
So what does the EcoBoost engine get you for its $750 price premium over the also-new 5.0-liter V8? While the V6 has a slight horsepower gain (365 vs. 360 hp), the bigger change is torque. The EcoBoost has 40 more pound-feet of maximum torque at a lower 1,750 rpm. Finally, EPA fuel economy ratings are 1 mpg city/2 highway higher for the EcoBoost.
How do all of these numbers play out in the real world?
To find out, we bought two nearly identical 2011 F-150 XLT 4x4 Supercrew trucks to test here at our track. Other than engine and axle ratio differences, the only variation in equipment between the two trucks was that the EcoBoost had Ford's convenient integrated trailer brake controller. Our V8 stickered at $39,395; the EcoBoost came in at $40,410.
A note on axle ratios: Our EcoBoost has a 3.31 rear axle ratio while our F-150 5.0-liter V8 has a 3.55. Changing that ratio affects payload and tow capacities. Regardless of the difference, our two trucks were well matched when it came to capability. Maximum towing was within 500 pounds (7,700 for the V8, 8,200 for the EcoBoost) and max payload differed by all of 30 pounds.
|Version||0-60 mph (sec)||45-65 mph (sec)||CR overall fuel economy (mpg)|
|3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6||7.7||4.5||15|
Is the EcoBoost faster?
Not really. There is a slight advantage in 45-65 mph passing times but other acceleration measurements are nearly identical.
Is the EcoBoost more fuel efficient?
Not in our tests. Despite the different EPA numbers, both trucks got 15 mpg overall in our extensive measured fuel economy tests. (See how we test fuel economy.) The F-150s did pretty well for a truck, tying the Toyota Tundra 5.7-liter for best-in-class full-size truck fuel economy.
Why buy the EcoBoost?
In a word, torque. In a second word, towing. The EcoBoost engine is more relaxed to drive with better mid-range oomph. This makes a big difference when you're hooked up to a trailer.
To compare the two trucks, we hitched up a 7,500-pound enclosed car trailer. We then clocked 0-60 mph acceleration and 45-65 mph passing times at our track. We also measured fuel economy while towing over a 33-mile mixed driving loop that combined steep hills, rolling two-lane roads, and some highway stretches.
|Version||0-60 mph towing a 7,500-lb. trailer (sec)||45-65 mph towing a 7,500-lb. trailer (sec)||Fuel economy towing a 7,500-lb. trailer, mixed tow loop (mpg)|
|3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6||16.2||10.1||10|
The towing tests are where the EcoBoost proved its mettle. The twin-turbo V6 is quicker than the V8; that added performance aids merging into traffic, reducing the white-knuckle factor. Towing performance actually rivals that of some turbodiesel heavy-duty
Subjectively the EcoBoost felt much more capable than the 5.0-liter. The V8 had to work hard on the hills; one long hill on a 65-mph highway required flooring the accelerator pedal to maintain speed. By contrast, the EcoBoost was quiet and relaxed, rarely going over 2,500 rpm. It simply downshifted a gear or two to keep up. Fuel economy while towing was the same for the two trucks.
The EcoBoost’s performance while towing wasn’t a total surprise: We had towed smaller trailers with our Ford Flex Limited and Lincoln MKT and were impressed. But our F-150 tests show that its performance scales up to the heavier pickup and heavier trailers. (Read “Flexing trailer-towing EcoBoost muscles” and “2010 Lincoln MKT: Towing with EcoBoost.”
So, which engine should you buy?
If you don’t tow much, the 5.0-liter V8 is a pleasant engine with a great sounding exhaust note. It’s a solid improvement over the old 5.4-liter V8. While turbochargers have gotten a lot more reliable over time, there is no denying that the V8 is a simpler engine. But if towing performance is important, spending that extra $750 will make lugging a trailer around a lot more enjoyable.