You’ve probably been bombarded with the news blitz coming out about the new 2015 Ford F-150. But what do you really know? The new body is aluminum. It’s powered by a new small-displacement turbocharged gasoline engine. There are any number of things you have no doubt read, heard, and seen. Forget all of that. We went inside to talk to some Ford engineers, and now we’re going to show you some things you might not know.
First of all they began by building an all new frame. Think about it, if you were building a new house, wouldn’t you begin with the foundation? Well, that was Ford’s thinking too. So they created the strongest F-150 frame ever, and it’s a stronger and more rigid backbone with which to build upon.
Although Ford has used fully boxed frames on the F-150 since 2004, this one has a new innovative 12-point corner design in the front crush horns to help absorb energy. Imagine instead of four traditional corners on the end of a rectangular steel tube, each corner has an indent, making three corners at each of the four. It’s sturdier and tougher to crunch down that way. The thickness of the E-coating on the frame was also increased compared to the previous truck to bump up its corrosion resistance.
It has now has eight, instead of the previous seven, crossmembers. Of those eight, five of them go through the frame rails, and are welded on both sides to create a sturdier structure. The frame rails are taller and wider than before for greater resistance to bending and twisting, and yet the frame is lighter due to the fact that it’s made up of 78 percent high-strength steel compared to 23 percent in the previous F-150.
The 70,000 psi high-strength steel Ford is working with is stronger than that of some of the competitor’s heavy duty pickup frames. The key is that less metal overall had to be used in order to create a stronger frame, for a weight savings of up to 60 pounds, depending upon the model.
Not A Beer Can
Now let’s talk about the new body a little bit because it’s not your average aluminum beer can. The 2015 Ford F-150 is constructed of unique “military grade” aluminum alloys that Ford developed to meet its specific needs.
The aluminum alloys used on the 2015 F-150 have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than common steel, and that allowed Ford to up-gauge the thickness of many of the truck’s body panels in key areas (especially in places such as the bed) to resist dents and dings while dramatically losing weight. As a matter of fact, they were able to increase the box bed floor thickness by 65 percent over the 2014 model.
We talked to Colleen Hoffman, Structures Supervisor at Ford, about key elements of the new body, “We use some proprietary heat treating that increased the strength of key pieces of the body structure such as the A-pillar tubes and the B-pillar tubes on the SuperCrew models.”
“There are specially designed extruded inner structures (Editor’s note — it looks somewhat like honey comb) within the rocker panels of the SuperCrew that add strength; and hydroformed aluminum allow tubes span the A-pillar base, doors, and back of the cab roof in all models.”
“Multiple panels of aluminum alloy are layered over one another, riveted, and bonded together with special high-strength adhesives, joining a number of components into one sturdy structure.”
Hoffman also said that in order to learn how to work with the new material while shifting from steel to aluminum, “We spent many more years in development than normal, and we sought out and learned valuable lessons from industries and manufacturers, such as defense and aerospace, that had decades of success developing and forming high-strength aluminum alloys.”
Its Got Legs
The entire rear suspension design went through a re-think. – Peter Frantzeskakis, Ford
We learned that quite a bit has been changed up when we spoke to Ford engineer Peter Frantzeskakis. “The entire truck was re-designed to lower the center of gravity for much better safety and stability, yet we were still able to gain three-quarters of an inch in ground clearance over the previous year’s vehicle, in part by pulling up the crossmembers.”
“Some of the major differences between the 2014 and the 2015 F-150 suspension are in the rear of the truck. The previous truck had an outboard shock design, which the 2015 truck retained, but the shocks are now also staggered on the 2015 F-150.”
“The rear springs have been shortened by three inches, and we are using new bushings to get better action. The entire rear suspension design went through a re-think. We were looking for more vertical movement rather than lateral motion, and ended up with more wheel travel, and it’s much easier on the pinion too.”
“On the front end, there’s a new aluminum knuckle, and the shocks all the way around are revised twin-disc units for better compression and rebound. The track has also been made 15 mm wider.”
Power For Pound
We’ve already talked about the better strength-to-weight ratio of the military grade aluminum alloy used in the body of the 2015 Ford F-150, but what about the new truck’s power-to-weight ratio? Well, according to Ed Waszczenko, a Ford engine design engineer, there has been a 5 to 16 percent improvement from base to top across the four engine spectrum available for the new truck.
The largest displacement engine available in the quadruplet of power producers is the fuel-injected 5.0L TI-VCT V8. This four-valve-per cylinder workhorse has an aluminum block and cylinder heads, is Flex-Fuel (E85) compatible, and can put out 385 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque all day long.
Next in line is the fuel-injected 3.5L TI-VCT V6, also a Flex-Fuel (E85) engine. It puts out 283 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. Third in line is the 3.5L EcoBoost, it offers a real kick in the pants, and is also Ford’s ace in the hole when claiming best-in-class towing under SAE J2807 standards (12,200 pounds) for the 2015 F-150 with an output of 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
The new 2.7 liter EcoBoost has special coatings on its internals to keep it lubricated during Stop/Start cycles. – Ed Waszczenko, Ford
Weighing in at just about 500 pounds, it cranks out 325 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque, and in the right application properly equipped, an F-150 with this jewel can be rated at 2,250 pounds max payload and 8,500 pounds max towing.
Waszczenko told us, “The new 2.7 liter EcoBoost has special coatings on its internals to keep it lubricated during Stop/Start cycles. Otherwise oil would drip down off certain parts of the engine. It also features integrated exhaust manifolds to help manage heat.”
“The turbo system is designed to syphon from the engine when it’s off. The cooling system is also reversed, so coolant goes to the heads and turbo first, then to the block, also to help manage heat better.”
“The engine’s upper block is compacted graphite iron (the same as we use in the Power Stroke engines), the first in a gasoline application, and the lower block is a ladder-frame aluminum design for strength and weight reduction. We’re using I-beam connecting rods that can handle the power loads while reducing weight, and the intake manifold and oil pan are composite, again to help reduce weight.”
We especially liked the cartridge oil filter that has been integrated into the top of the engine for easy service.
And for you diesel guys who think you have lots of boost–Waszczenko told us that the two Borg-Warner turbos on the new 2.7L V6 Ecoboost spin at 53,000 rpm during idle, 198,000 rpm at WOT, and run up to 31 pounds of boost when fully engaged!
The engine is backed up by an six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode, and offering SelectShift with Progressive Range Select (not available on the 3.5L engine). Progressive Range Select allows you to lock out gears beginning at the top for control of the transmission for better towing control. The truck comes in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations, and 4x4s get an electronic shift-on-the-fly system with neutral towing capability.
AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control is standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes, Hill Start Assist, power rack-and-pinion steering, and trailer sway control. Depending on cab style, wheelbase, and engine choice, there are four axle ratios available, either standard or as options, 3.15, 3.31, 3.55, and 3.73. All four axle ratios, again depending upon a combination of things, are available as an E-locker.
Inside the bed of the new 2015 Ford F-150 you’ll also find dozens of new features. We’ll tell you about those that we found most interesting and useful. First of all the tailgate now has a remote release, you just press a button, and it can be power-locked through the key fob. The tailgate is damped and drops down, hands-free.
The tailgate step and grab-handle post have been integrated into the tailgate, and are nearly invisible once closed up inside the top of the tailgate. Stowable aluminum loading ramps perfect for motorcycles or ATVs are available, and can be quickly and securely mounted to an included tailgate plate that allows for easy adjustment of width between ramps.
There are two very bright, four-LED light clusters near the rear corners of the bed, with a switch located near the light on the driver’s side as well as in the cab. These are very handy for those owners with tonneau covers, as the cab-top rear facing bed lamp becomes useless for lighting the bed interior with a cover on.
When it comes to LED lighting, the new F-150 is a real turn on. Nose to tail, inside and out, it’s all about LEDs and utilitarian lighting. The headlamps and taillamps are LED, the rear-facing cab-top bed light is LED. There is also a powerful LED rear light that shines down on the trailer hitch, making those late night, dawn or dusk hookups much easier.
Our favorite though was the Super Puddle option, segment-first LED puddle/side mirror lights that rotate with the mirrors. They not only light up the ground directly below the doors, but project a good amount of light outward from the sides of the truck for a distance of about 20 feet-excellent for working by the side of the road at night.
Moving on to the cab we found a pleasant surprise–a new rear door on the SuperCab that opens a full 170 degrees, great for getting passengers in and out, or loading and unloading gear in tight spaces. The redesigned interior is two inches wider, offering more hip and shoulder room in all versions; and there is much better leg room for rear passengers.
The front seats, which we spent considerable time in, have been redesigned for better ergonomics, and we felt the difference. The new instrument cluster is bigger and easier to read, with two larger analog gauges (speedo and tach) on either side, and is easier to navigate through with a tab system that makes clicking through different screens simpler. We especially enjoyed the enhanced off-road screen with its dual inclinometers displaying pitch and roll angles.
Up And At ‘Em
How did it drive? We thought you would never ask. Although we drove all four engines at one time or another, the vast majority of the relatively short (6 to 7 hours) duration of our testing period at the first-drive event Ford held in San Antonio, Texas, was spent in two trucks–an XLT 4×4 SuperCab and an XLT 4×4 SuperCrew–both equipped with the 2.7L V6 EcoBoost, six-speed with SelectShift and Progressive Range Select, and 3.55 gears (the SuperCrew had an E-locker).
We found on-road manners to be sure-footed through corners under any amount of throttle pressure, showing no aberrant behavior that would make us nervous. I think there are many who may wonder about the change to aluminum making the truck feel or behave “tinny,” but those concerns can be put to rest, as it felt well-planted at all times, whether we were tossing it into or charging hard out of a corner, or stabbing the brakes.
Acceleration was robust, and during a short “drag race” event, we locked the rear end of the truck we were driving, loaded up the torque converter, and on the last yellow light stuffed the pedal to the floorboard. The 2015 F-150 jumped hard and fast, and rocketed down the short course. We were more than happy with the performance.
The short (anything short of a full day would have kept us longing for more), but varied off-road course included twisting dirt roads, embedded logs, foot-deep mud, mildly steep hills, and a mucky stream bed to traverse lengthwise to provide a trial of the 2015 Ford F-150’s dirt-driving prowess.
While the truck handled all of this with little or no trouble, climbing hills with ease in 4×4 low (even unlocked), readily slogging it’s way through the mud and muck (one unlucky or novice driver did get stuck in the mud after losing momentum in a particularly bad spot), we did note a bit of a rough ride at anything above idle over the logs.
Let’s be honest, the new F-150 has a lot to offer off-road enthusiasts, but its chassis is certainly biased toward highway use. Unless you creep over obstacles at near idle, you can’t expect the same silky smooth handling it delivers on the blacktop or a graded gravel road. However, in our opinion the 2015 Ford F-150 is a light-year leap in light-truck design and technology, and it deserves a test drive before you make up your mind.