Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor: The Beast Returns with an Aluminum Body and a Twin-Turbo V-6!
It's a bird, it's a plane . . . it's the boulder-decimating new Raptor!

In one of his last shows as the cocky, right-wing-mocking talking head on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert made a gleeful, deliciously prescient point about Americans’ short attention spans for cheap gas: “Fuel is cheap this week? Give me a five-year lease on a rolling cargo ship with the aerodynamics of a cinder block!” The statement may have been sarcastic, but there couldn’t be a better climate into which Ford could introduce its second-generation F-150 Raptor.

 Hulking on its off-road suspension, widened fenders, and meaty 35-inch tires, the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor is just as outrageously polar bear–mocking and lane-deflowering as its groundbreaking forebear, only now it swills cheap hooch. Not that such a detail matters; since being introduced in 2010, the roughly $50,000 Raptor has had buyers lining up even through the late stages of economic recession and four-buck-per-gallon gas. Naturally, we love the thing. Who wouldn’t, given its huge power, ability to bomb across craggy terrain at 100 mph, and bad-ass visuals?
Built Eco Tough

 Happily, Ford stuck to the script for the new model—almost. There has been some paraphrasing in the engine bay, where, instead of the old truck’s 411-hp 6.2-liter V-8, sits a new twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine with direct fuel injection. While it shares a displacement figure with the larger of the two EcoBoost V-6s available in the regular F-150, the Raptor’s mill features a new aluminum block and upgraded internals, revised heads, and tweaked fuel-delivery equipment. Final output figures weren’t available at the time of this writing, but we’re told to count on 450 to 500 horsepower and more torque than the current V-8’s 434 lb-ft. As for fuel-economy estimates, Ford is likely to trumpet efficiency gains on account of the turbocharged engine, but horrible, ignorable fuel economy is part of the Raptor’s charm. We’ll file preliminary EPA estimates under “we don’t care.”

 Of course, four-wheel drive will be standard, and the Raptor’s setup now includes a terrain-response function that optimizes the truck for varied surfaces such as snow, rocks, and more. Feeding the transfer case is Ford’s first application of its all-new 10-speed automatic transmission.
You Can’t Crush This Beer Can

 The new powertrain is bolted to an equally new frame that, while derived from the 2015 F-150’s steel unit, is substantially upgraded to better handle the abuse doled out by full-throttle (sweet) jumps, huge rocks, and whatever else a Raptor can subjugate to its will. Two wheelbases and cab configurations will be offered: a 133-inch-wheelbase, extended-cab SuperCab and a 145-inch, four-door SuperCrew. Following in the F-150’s footsteps, the high-performance truck also switches to aluminum bodywork, shedding a claimed 500 or so pounds in the process. A composite hood and front fenders further reduce mass.

 Ford’s stylists somehow managed to massage these fancy new materials in such a way as to imbue the Raptor’s rippling body with even more muscle. The slight upkick to the rear quarter-panels lends the tail a bad-ass stadium-truck look, and the grille once again boasts giant “Ford” lettering and federally mandated marker lights on account of the truck’s width. Colossal Ford lettering also makes it onto the Raptor’s tailgate, and there are vents on each front fender and another one on the hood, in addition to LED accent lighting everywhere.

 The most important elements of all, however, are sheltered by the Raptor’s blistered fenders. Those would be the Fox Racing shocks, coil-sprung aluminum front control arms, and the leaf-sprung solid rear axle. To improve on the old Raptor’s impressive suspension travel—11.2 inches in front and 12.1 inches in the rear—Ford upped the Fox shocks’ diameters from 2.5 inches to 3.0. The units still feature internal bypasses that take the edge off of quick, hard impacts. Skid plates in front help protect against meet-and-greets with desert rubble, and shallower front and rear bumpers improve the truck’s approach and departure angles. New 17-inch aluminum wheels are wrapped in BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires that practically scream out for raised white lettering.
It Knows It Can Fly

 Amazingly, another carry-over feature of the 2017 F-150 Raptor is its near complete lack of competition. Dodge offers the 1500-based Ram Runner, but it is available only in kit form through the Mopar catalog. General Motors never picked up the phone when Ford came calling in 2010, and it hasn’t since. Some credit is due to the Ford SVT engineers—who now toil under the Ford Performance banner, hence the absence of “SVT” in the new Raptor’s name—that designed such a product that worked nearly as well on the street as it did in the Baja.

 Having sampled several iterations of the new F-150, we can report that the weight loss afforded by the switch to aluminum construction is palpable from behind the wheel. Yet for all that, this Raptor version is the one we’ve been waiting for. With the base price expected to stay around the $50,000 mark, it will continue to be within reach of anyone with desert-runner fantasies. So, yeah, Mr. Colbert? You can sign us up for one of these babies.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ford F-150

The Ford F-150 has been one of the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. for more than thirty years. It’s a full-size pickup truck that can double as a workhorse or an adventure-seeking family’s daily driver. Over time, it has become a staple of American truck culture.

The all-new F-150, which was introduced for 2015, turns to aluminum to bring weight down and carry the truck world into the 21st century.

See our 2015 Ford F-150 preview for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings

The Ford F-150 range is staggering in its breadth and depth. It runs from "rubber-mat special" base-line trucks ordered for fleet duty all the way up to King Ranch and Raptor editions that ladle on luxury features unimaginable to pickup buyers a decade or two ago. The truck can be ordered in variations that suit utility workers, contractors, ranchers, fifth-wheel trailer owners, and off-road racers alike.

The fabled F-150 competes most directly with the General Motors pickup truck twins, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. Added together, those two trucks have outsold the F-150 in some years, but the Ford nameplate hangs securely onto its "best-selling vehicle line" title. Then there's the (formerly Dodge) Ram 1500, the third in the home-grown list. While the two largest Japanese makers have now dedicated a decade or more and opened plants in the U.S. to build their competing trucks, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan remain far behind the trio of U.S. trucks. That said, a new Titan is looking to challenge the Ford and others come 2016.

The F-Series trucks share some running gear with Ford's Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size sport-utility vehicles. Over the years, the F-150 has also spawned the short-lived Lincoln Blackwood and Lincoln Mark LT versions--both resounding market flops in the U.S., although the latter is still sold in Mexico.

Ford F-150 history

Although Ford had previously built passenger-car-based trucks, the company sold its first true full-size pickups in 1948. Throughout much of the next decades its F-Series pickup trucks came with six- or eight-cylinder engines; three-, four- and five-speed manual transmissions; and a single two-door body style. By 1960, the "F-100" had been christened at the entry level, with F-250 and F-350 versions available with an early kind of four-wheel drive. As most trucks of the era were designed as "flareside" models, Ford added a plain-sided Styleside version that would dominate sales from then on.

For the fourth-generation F-100, Ford added a "Ranger" trim level and briefly built some trucks with unibody construction, returning to body-on-frame designs in the mid-1960s. Four-door models were offered, as were versions that adopted camper tops easily. A fifth generation arrived in 1967, with plainer sheetmetal but the essential truck features intact--V-8 or in-line six engine, two- and four-door body styles, and payload capacity into heavy-duty territory. The sixth-generation truck is known primarily for adding the 302 V-8 to the lineup, spawning a new two-door Bronco SUV, and bringing the F-150 badge to the lineup; the latter was a higher-payload version of the existing F-100.

The F-150 grew more upright and more capable in the next three generations of trucks sold from 1980 to 1996. Diesel engines and new automatic transmissions joined the lineup, and the Ranger name was split into its own compact-pickup truck lineup. An "Explorer" trim level joined the F-150 lineup and would be spun off into its own SUV range in the same decade. In the eighth-generation truck that arrived in 1987, fuel injection became the norm, and flareside bodies went away for a time; rear anti-lock brakes were standard, for the first time on a full-size pickup truck. The ninth-generation truck went on sale in 1992 and brought with it a driver-side airbag and slightly smoother styling.

The tenth-generation F-150, sold from 1997 to 2004, marked a sea change in pickup trucks. Ever more the choice of commuters and daily drivers, the F-150 grew far more shapely and rounded in this generation--mimicking the lines of some of Ford's passenger cars. The old, squared-off truck was continued for a while, until Ford could tell if pickup-truck drivers would approve of the new looks. They did: The F-Series retained its best-selling title and grew even more popular. New engines came with the new body style, including versions of the Ford "modular" 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter V-8 that would prove very durable. The usual two- and four-door and extended-cab versions were available, as were four-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic, along with heavy-duty F-250 versions. Special editions introduced in this generation included the SVT Lightning, the Harley-Davidson F-150, and the King Ranch edition. Safety ratings were poor, though, and while this F-150 had good reliability, its cruise-control system was involved in a major recall for the potential of causing a fire. This F-150 spawned a short-lived Lincoln Blackwood version, along with the longer-living Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

The eleventh-generation F-150 arrived in 2004 and began to revert the truck's shape to its more angular past. A more upright grille, and more squared-off window openings were the hallmarks of the design. While it didn't change much mechanically, it did introduce standard curtain airbags and stability control to the full-size pickup range at Ford. The company put special attention into reducing the truck's cost and complexity, making it easier to build--and even more reliable. By some measures, it was considered the most reliable pickup truck ever built. Ford attempted another Lincoln pickup from this generation--the Lincoln Mark LT, which like the Blackwood before it, was a sales flop.

The last of a long line

The twelfth generation of the Ford F-150 arrived in 2009, with its sheetmetal even more crisply folded than earlier models--bearing many cues of a Ford F-350 Tonka concept truck from  the late 2000s. The twelfth-generation F-150 wore a very large, very bright, very tall grille to emphasize its "truck"-ness. It's somewhat redundant, since the F-150 was one of the most capable towing and hauling light-duty trucks available in America.

In 2011, the F-150 received its most comprehensive powertrain update. To go with its cutting-edge technology--including Bluetooth, SYNC voice control, even ventilated front seats--the F-150 gained four new engines, all teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. A 302-horsepower V-6 rejoined the lineup for the first time in more than a decade, and delivers the F-150's best gas mileage, at 17/23 mpg; turbocharging a version of the engine created the EcoBoost, with 365 horsepower and a towing capacity of 11,300 pounds. A 5.0-liter V-8 with 360 hp brought Mustang-style engine noises to the full-size truck, along with 15/21-mpg fuel economy. Finally, there was a 6.2-liter V-8, with 411 hp and 13/18 mpg fuel economy, offered in the most upscale F-150s as well as the off-road Raptor.

For the 2012 model year, Ford added a new automatic all-wheel-drive mode to some 4x4 F-150s, and swapped out limited-slip differentials for an electronically simulated limited-slip function. Then on the 2013 Ford F-150, the automaker added MyFord Touch's suite of voice, steering-wheel, and LCD touchscreen controls to the pickup, with other minor changes to the front end, including high-intensity discharge headlamps to some models. The King Ranch model returned as well, with a new black interior choice and standard MyFord Touch, for a base price of more than $44,000.

In this generation, the F-150 came in a host of cab, bed, powertrain, and suspension variations. Three cab configurations with multiple wheelbases and box lengths each were offered, providing choices to satisfy just about any trucker's need with the F-150. Properly outfitted, this F-150 could tow 11,300 pounds--while earning top crash-test scores (including IIHS Top Safety Pick status and a 'good' rating in the roof-strength test). Unlike GM's pickups, there was no Hybrid edition, and the F-150 fell behind the Ram's excellent ride quality. However, this F-150 had a well-built cabin, excellent shift quality and comfortable seats--as well as the off-road-ready Raptor model and some of the most up-to-date luxury features found on any truck.

Today's F-150

With the introduction of the 2015 Ford F-150, the automaker set its sights on the most radical reinvention of the pickup truck yet. With a body composed mostly of aluminum, and a downsized range of turbocharged engines on tap, the latest Ford F-150 will be a lot lighter on the road and more efficient at the gas pump. The most efficient of the new F-150s scores 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway cycle.

At the top of that list of changes is an aluminum body. Ford says the high-strength aluminum alloy in the F-150’s body is at least as tough as steel but much lighter. The extensive use of aluminum saves about 700 pounds versus the previous all-steel F-150—a substantial reduction in mass that should markedly improve gas mileage. Under the aluminum body work, however, there’s still plenty of steel—in fact, more high-strength steel than ever is used in the structural underbody and frame elements to improve both capability and crash protection, while also saving about 70 pounds of weight versus the old setup.

Inside, the look isn’t such a great departure from previous versions of the pickup, though there’s a new level of upscale look and feel on premium trims. Blocky shapes and sturdy structures are the visual theme to back the F-150’s chosen mission. Ford has also added a long list of standard and optional features, including massaging seats.

 Engines are another area of innovation for the 2015 F-150. Four engines are available, and while three are familiar, the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 is an unusual choice; Ford sees it as the go-to for gas mileage in the new F-150. Also available is an updated 3.5-liter V-6 engine that takes place of the outgoing truck's 3.7-liter, and the familiar 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8. All four engines are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both 4x4 and 4x2 drive configurations are available. And for the first time, the base engine is available in a crew-cab truck, now that the weight has been brought down to meet its abilities. The 2.7-liter V-6 is the most efficient in EPA ratings, followed by the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter and then the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, followed y the 5.0-liter V-8. In its least efficient guise, with the V-8 and four-wheel drive, the F-150 still manages ratings of 15/21 mpg.

The 2015 F-150’s front suspension is a coil-on-shock independent arrangement, while the rear retains the Hotchkiss-type solid axle riding on leaf springs and outboard shock absorbers. The rear suspension got a significant rework, however, with a switch to staggered shock placement among other changes. Improved electric-assist power steering and four-wheel vented ABS disc brakes round out the key mechanical specs.

 As before, three cab styles are offered: Regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew. Matching the cabs, three beds will be offered, with lengths of 67.1, 78.9, and 97.6 inches. At launch, these cab and bed configurations will be complemented by five trims: XL, XLT, King Ranch, Lariat, and Platinum. New equipment offerings for the 2015 F-150 include Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert, inflatable rear seat belts, pickup-box LED lighting, Sony premium audio, and, on Platinum models, real wood trim. An off-road-oriented FX4 package will be available, bundling off-road-tuned shocks, skid plates, and an electronic locking rear axle.

Ford used the 2015 Detroit auto show to announce a new Raptor based on the aluminum F-150. The new super-truck, which will arrive for the 2016 model year, features an upgraded suspension, a new four-wheel-drive system, and a high-output Ford Performance 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that will make more power and torque than the outgoing 6.2-liter V-8 engine. Ford says the second-generation truck weighs 500 pounds less than the previous Raptor, as well. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ford Flex Review

The 2015 Ford Flex ranks 8 out of 13 Affordable Large SUVs. This ranking is based on our analysis of published reviews and test drives of the Ford Flex, as well as reliability and safety data.

The 2015 Ford Flex is ranked: #8
 in Affordable Large SUVs #13
 in Affordable SUVs with 3 Rows

The 2015 Ford Flex has agile handling and spacious seating for seven, critics say, but they are let down by its small cargo area and confusing infotainment system.

The 2015 Ford Flex comes with a standard V6 engine that test drivers report provides sufficient power. However, they say the available twin-turbocharged V6 delivers quicker acceleration. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with either engine, and reviewers note that it shifts very smoothly. According to the EPA, the Flex gets up to 18/25 mpg city/highway, which is good for the class. Auto writers think the 2015 Flex has nimble handling for an SUV, as well as a smooth, quiet ride. They add that the Flex has good steering feel, and that it’s easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

Some automotive journalists think the 2015 Ford Flex’s interior is well-designed and made of high-quality materials, while others note an abundance of ordinary plastics throughout. Test drivers say the Flex has a spacious interior, and that adults can fit comfortably in all three rows. The cargo area is small for the class, but reviewers say that there’s still a useful amount of space. The 2015 Flex comes standard with heated side mirrors, rear parking sensors and Ford’s voice-controlled SYNC system with Bluetooth and a USB port. Available features include adaptive cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, navigation, the MyFord Touch infotainment system with an 8-inch touch screen, HD Radio, a rearview camera, parallel park assist, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, a panoramic sunroof, a rear-seat entertainment system and a second-row refrigerated console. Many critics report that the MyFord Touch system is complicated to use and prone to glitches. As a result, some recommend trying the system out before purchasing the Flex.
"Along with space for up to seven passengers and all of their gear, the Flex boasts an available 355-horsepower EcoBoost V6 and love-it-or-hate-it sheetmetal that sets it apart from the crowd." -- Left Lane News
"While Flex's boxy styling may not appeal to everyone, this large, comfortable people mover deserves consideration." -- Consumer Guide
"The 2015 Ford Flex offers a desirable combination of space, versatility, features and solid driving dynamics. It's a top choice among large, seven-passenger family crossovers." -- Edmunds
"It's striking and stylish as well as functional and useful - a fine combination similar to minivans and SUVs in capabilities, but clearly different from both." -- Kelley Blue Book (2014)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ford Expedition Review

The 2015 Ford Expedition ranks 6 out of 13 Affordable Large SUVs. This ranking is based on our analysis of published reviews and test drives of the Ford Expedition, as well as reliability and safety data.

The 2015 Ford Expedition is ranked:#6
 in Affordable Large SUVs#9
 in Affordable SUVs with 3 Rows

Reviewers praise the Ford Expedition’s powerful new engine and roomy seats, but they think it’s due for nicer cabin materials and a more straightforward infotainment system.

The 2015 Ford Expedition is powered by a new twin-turbocharged V6 engine that impresses reviewers with its strong power output and quick acceleration. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that reviewers say offers seamless shifts in most situations. However, some say that it can be slow to downshift when cornering at lower speeds. The base Expedition earns an EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg city/highway, which is great for a large SUV. Automotive writers report that the Expedition has well-weighted, communicative steering and a comfortable ride. As with many large SUVs, reviewers say the Expedition isn’t very easy to maneuver in small spaces. An available adaptive suspension system lets you choose between comfort, normal and sport modes. Some critics think it makes a noticeable difference in ride quality, while others think there’s no significant difference between modes.

The 2015 Ford Expedition seats up to eight, and test drivers like that its seats are comfortable and roomy in all three rows. They also appreciate its available power-folding third row and sliding second row, which they say makes it easy to adjust cargo and interior space. However, overall, they think its cabin is outdated and its materials don’t match the quality offered by some rivals. The 2015 Expedition comes with a six-speaker stereo, satellite radio, a rearview camera, Ford’s voice-controlled SYNC system, Bluetooth, a USB port, rear parking sensors and power-adjustable foot pedals. Available features include remote start, front parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, navigation, a dual-headrest DVD system, blind spot monitoring and the MyFord Touch infotainment system with an 8-inch touch-screen display. Some critics wish the infotainment system was more intuitive, and note that the touch-screen system and dashboard controls are not within easy reach from the driver’s seat.
"Ford's EcoBoost engine lineup is a key part of its fuel-efficiency strategy, and for the first time, a turbocharged EcoBoost V6 powers the Expedition. It delivers more horsepower and torque while, according to Ford, using less fuel. That's not the only improvement to the latest version of Ford's largest SUV. Updated styling, new trim choices, and advanced safety and infotainment technology make the Expedition more capable than ever." -- AutoTrader
"Although the ‘refreshed’ Expedition is facing off against completely redesigned GM rivals - which we certainly like - if you're shopping this league, it would be a mistake to overlook Ford's biggest SUV. It may be a distant finisher in the segment sales race, but it just might be a winner for you." -- Consumer Guide
"After years of living in the shadow of GM's fleet of body-on-frame SUVs the Expedition is quietly reasserting itself not only as a rival, but also as a true contender for the domestic full-size-SUV crown. If your vehicular needs include loads of interior space and towing capability in a traditional SUV package, the rebooted and EcoBoosted Expedition deserves a serious look." -- Car and Driver
"If you're in the market for a full-size SUV, the new Expedition absolutely deserves your full attention. The changes made for 2015 are purposeful and effective, breathing new life into this long-in-the-tooth SUV. With its newfound power and refinement, the Expedition is better than ever, and a serious contender for best-in-class status." -- Edmunds