While there’s a lot that the 2015 Ford F-150 — which debuted this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit — gets right, there’s still room for improvement. Here’s what’s wrong with the 2015 Ford F-150.
1. Smarter Suspensions
The new F-150 essentially uses a carryover suspension strategy across the board. The same double A-arm (short and long) IFS and live-axle leaf springs set up in back. Yes, the leafs are shorter and lighter (and we’re guessing they’re going to have to create more combinations with the new powertrains) to help minimize the axle hop problems some of the truck configurations have had. But not offering a coil spring version or airbag setup for a premium sport or luxury ride package is curious. Ford knows better than anyone else that its customers will pay for premium packages that offer a softer ride. One possible explanation, which we heard from another journalist, is that Ford doesn’t want to be seen as following anyone else’s lead.
2. No Diesel Announcement
That “no copying” theory may explain why Ford was mum about a diesel option for the new F-150. With the Ram EcoDiesel getting all sorts of media attention, Ford probably decided to wait to announce a fifth new powertrain for the F-150 in the form of the five-cylinder baby Power Stroke. That engine will be offered in the new full-size Transit van, which goes on sale in a few months. This delay may be for the better; it will likely take some time for truck enthusiasts to understand how the biggest-selling half-ton pickup truck in the U.S. will offer three V-6 choices and only one V-8.
3. Will Raptor and Tremor Disappear?
According to Automotive News, the new-for-2014 F-150 Tremor will have only one year of production and not be back in 2015 F-150 lineup. The Tremor was the closest thing Ford had to a street-performance truck, with the powerful 3.5-liter V-6 dressed in regular-cab, short-bed garb. The lightweight pickup had some calling it the Lightning Light. Likewise, there was no word about the fate of the SVT Raptor. Ford was loud and clear in not offering any information about whether the high-performance desert off-roader would survive. Given that the 6.2-liter V-8 is going away (the standard engine for Raptor) for the new F-150, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a speed-tuned EcoBoost aluminum Raptor.
4. Outdoor Package
It’s been fun to watch Ram’s success with its Ford-like trim package strategy, but now that Ford is trying to simplify its trim levels there are a few holes. Not that we’re against any truck corporation making big money on luxury pickup trucks, but those premium packages would probably be even more successful if there was a more solid and credible outdoor lifestyle pickup. Such a package would offer features and technology for activities like hunting, fishing, camping and toy hauling. Sure, every truck maker throws a motorcycle or snowmobile in the bed for marketing photography, but give us a trim level with unique technology to communicate that manufacturers understand customers who want big mileage or work-duty durability and great cost of ownership.
5. Not Enough Atlas
As big as this vehicle is for the Ford and the auto industry (and, yes, we think this was the vehicle of show for 2014), the design change could have been more dramatic. We saw the Atlas concept last year, and that was clearly an inspiration for many of the design cues seen in the 2015 F-150, but Ford should have gone further. Let’s start with the grille; there’s definitely more drama and it’s a nice evolution but some have suggested where the 2014 Toyota Tundra chamfered the bottom corners of its grille, all the new F-150 has done is chamfered the top corners. Really? That’s the big change? To give it a more angular, chiseled look? We assume this is Ford design language that will spread throughout the F-Series lineup, but we’re hopeful that more Atlas, inside and out, will make it into future models.
6. Give us the Numbers
We can be very patient when it comes to releasing horsepower, torque and fuel economy numbers for a completely new lineup of powertrains; however, not providing estimated numbers doesn’t make any sense. Yes, Ford has cut out a reported 700 pounds from a comparably equipped 2014 F-150 SuperCrew, but that’s just 12 percent of the weight of the actual pickup. It puts the F-150 about 200 or 300 pounds lighter than the current Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra (at least that’s what we found during our 2013 Light-Duty Challenge). The F-150 won by a thin margin in that test, and it wasn’t for its ride quality or styling. The GM V-8s were similar in mileage when empty and much better when towing than Ford’s current-model EcoBoost. Saving weight is good, but we know from carrying 700- and 800-pound loads, the real-world mileage numbers won’t move around much. We have no doubt Ford will release these important numbers in tiny pieces over an extended period to get as much media coverage as possible — just like GM did with its new trucks — and we’ll be here to share it.
7. Quiet on Safety
Although much at Ford’s Detroit display this year was about the new production process upgrades and engineering changes that will occur to the new F-150, little was said about crash-testing, crumple zone safety improvements, or insurance and repair costs. On average, we’re guessing truck customers will have had little experience with aluminum construction and repairs. Most people we spoke to assume that aluminum is easier to crumple than steel. But Ford said nothing about crash tests on this revolutionary new pickup. We know Ford is not hiding anything, but we wonder if the company is aware that an education lag might exist when it comes to what people know about aluminum use in vehicles.
8. Production Changeover
This isn’t so much something Ford got wrong as it’s something it could have handled better. Ford recently announced it expects profits for 2014 to be down due to several factors, one of which is the plant downtime necessary for the new F-150 changeover.It seems like this should be completely predictable since Ford knows what changes have to be made to the existing production process. We’ve just witnessed the stunningly complicated “ballet” that GM choreographed at three giant plants making full-size pickups. GM was able to keep the supply line fully stocked and didn’t seem to miss a beat while making dramatic changes to its production lines. Sure, switching from steel to aluminum is probably a much taller order, but to lose so much product in the pipeline is curious. It will be interesting to see how much the numbers change and where that market-share shift occurs with Ram, Chevy, GMC and Toyota ready to benefit.
9. Pushing Too Far?
From our vantage point, the elephant in the room for the new F-150 is how well an all-new, smaller EcoBoost engine will be received by customers. The new compacted graphite block is familiar to many from the monster Power Stroke in Super Dutys, but at 2.7-liters in size, that will sound more like an inline four-cylinder engine than a relatively powerful, small V-8 replacement engine. We’re guessing there has been a great deal of exhaust tuning work done to keep the smallest engine from sounding like a high-revving sewing machine when pushed at or near its gross vehicle weight rating. We give Ford credit for taking this risk and giving new customers exactly what they say they want, which must be much better fuel economy from their full-size pickup. But we don’t expect this engine to have anywhere near the take rates the current (larger) EcoBoost enjoys. What additional cost this new EcoBoost engine will carry will be critical as well. It’s possible this was a push just outside the zone.
10. Just in Case
Although this isn’t directly a criticism of the new F-150, the entire reason for going on the huge diet — using aluminum and doubling down on the EcoBoost technology with an even smaller V-6 option — is that Ford insists its data does not support the need for a smaller, midsize pickup. Whereas GM’s Mark Reuss, executive vice president of global product development, insists GM’s data sees the market needing a smaller, more efficient and more “parkable” option, Ford may be stretching the bandwidth of the F-150 to accommodate too many truck buyers. Only time will tell which strategy will win out; but we will say it must be nice to be Ford, which can easily pull the trigger on the global Ranger if it needs too.