2018 Ford F-150 First Drive Review: Powered Up

2018 Ford F-150 First Drive Review: Powered Up

Ford dubs its base 3.3-liter naturally aspirated and 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engines “all-new”—a moniker that’s only partially hyperbolic. The 3.3-liter is heavily based on the 3.5-liter it replaces, but it has brand-new cylinder heads that make accommodation for both port and direct fuel injection. The bore and stroke are reduced by about 2.0 and 1.0 millimeters, respectively.

The 2.7-liter represents the second generation of this compacted-graphite-iron-block engine, with lightened cams driven by a new dual-chain setup that saves weight and reduces friction. A new electrically actuated wastegate provides more accurate turbo boost control. It also gets the port/direct injection setup—as does the merely “enhanced” 5.0-liter V-8. (Enhancements include Ford’s first mass-produced application of the plasma-transferred wire arc spray cylinder bore lining process Ford introduced on the GT350’s 5.2-liter engine.) All engines also get auto engine start/stop, and all but the base 3.3-liter get mounted to a 10-speed automatic transmission. (Note that the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 got the dual injection, auto-start/stop, two-stage or fully variable oil pumps, and the 10-speed tranny last year in normal and high-output Raptor states of tune.)

Why spend so much money doubling the injector count and adding an additional higher-pressure fuel-delivery circuit on all these engines? To boost both economy and performance.

When you mash the go pedal for a dramatic freeway merge or to scale the Davis Dam with your camper in tow, the fuel that gets injected directly into the cylinder cools the intake charge enough to prevent knock despite increases in compression ratio on each engine. (The naturally aspirated V-6 goes from 10.8:1 to 12.0:1, the EcoBoost increases from 10.0:1 to 10.3:1, and the V-8 jumps from 10.5:1 to 12.0:1.) Then when you set the adaptive cruise control on a long, flat freeway as you cruise along in top gear in any of these engines, the port-injected fuel mixes nicely and thoroughly as it whooshes into the cylinder and burns more completely and efficiently as a result of that higher compression ratio.

The results are dramatic. Output increases on each engine, and EPA fuel economy improves. The 3.3-liter gains 8 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque while picking up 1 mpg on the city and highway cycles in both rear- and four-wheel drive; the 2.7-liter twin-turbo was tuned to optimize torque, adding 25 lb-ft at the same power level and picking up 1 mpg in the city on rear-drivers and 1 mpg each on city and highway with four-wheel drive. The 5.0-liter gains 10 hp and 13 lb-ft while adding 2/1 mpg city/highway with rear-drive and 1 mpg each with four-wheel drive. (See the spec panel for all the numbers.)

Naturally these upgrades pay dividends elsewhere in the bragging department, adding incremental pounds here and there to the max payload and trailering ratings for each configuration. Somehow the top trailer rating for the largely carry-over 3.5-liter EcoBoost rear-drive truck even managed to grow by 1,000 pounds to 13,200.

So how do they drive? Starting out in the 2018 F-150’s 3.3-liter V-6, the max acceleration rate felt perfectly competitive with other base engines. The yawning gap between second and third gears in this legacy six-speed automatic draws attention to itself when driven on the same day as several 10-speed F-150s, and the performance will no doubt be improved someday if volume production drops the 10-speed’s per-unit cost enough to find a home in this truck, but don’t hold your breath. The good news: A Sport drive mode greatly improves throttle response and gear-selection strategy, brightening performance up considerably. (Six-speeds just get Normal, Tow/Haul, and Sport modes—the 10-speeds add settings for Wet/Snow and Eco.)

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