Thursday, January 26, 2017

2017 F-150 King Ranch is the aspirational king of the pickups

With more than 118,000 units sold in Canada in 2016 and more than half a century of leading the sales charts, Ford’s F-150 is the undisputed king of the light truck market. Available in a mind boggling array of configurations, to suit just about any truck buyer’s needs, the most coveted model is arguably the King Ranch edition. While some performance fans might argue that the fire breathing Raptor is the one to have, most buyers are more likely to have an affinity for the King Ranch’s Western inspired motif.

Our tester was adorned with a stunning blue hue dubbed, somewhat appropriately “Blue Jeans”. It is a variety of that royal blue metallic colour that many manufacturers have been using of late, the one that makes even the most mundane looking vehicle look like it belongs in the executive valet lot. The tough looking F-150 takes on a more regal demeanor when drenched in this shade than what one might expect from a truck.

From here, the specs on this truck can become a bit confusing. One of the challenges that new sales people and dealers who put more focus on passenger cars face with pickups built by the Detroit three is a mind boggling array of model combinations that often make no sense. The confusion can be made worse when the materials available to the consumer are less than accurate. Our ’17 King Ranch is a perfect example of how confusing this can be.

According to the Ford consumer website, the 2017 F-150 King Ranch is available only with a special edition black leather interior with red accents. It is also only available with a 5.0L V8 mated to a six speed manual transmission.

In the crew quarters, the unit we enjoyed boasted a stunning “java” coloured leather interior “Mesa Antique” leather accents that totally look the part of a ranch owner’s wagon. Real wood inserts are placed around the interior, adding to the Western vibe. As comfy as expected for front and rear passengers, the interior also offers much practicality. The rear seats swing up out of the way to create substantial cargo space. Perfect for keeping the groceries out of the weather. I’m betting that you could even fit a big honkin’ flat screen TV back there.

Interior colour choices aren’t the only differences as our test unit was powered by the 3.5L V6 Ecoboost engine, mated to the much anticipated 10-speed automatic transmission.

As many owners of the 2016 model Ecoboost 3.5 equipped truck had complained about dismal fuel economy, Ford likely hopes that the 10-speed unit will rectify the vehicle’s thirsty reputation. To add a bit of real world perspective, my cousin who lives in Texas recently picked up a 2016 Ecoboost and has been recording an average of about 15.7 US miles per gallon. An retired Supercross racer, he admits to having a heavier foot than most. Our own week with the ’17 was a mixed bag of highway and very short trips around town. The on board computer reported an average for the week of 16.9 L/100KM, which translates to, wait for it, 14.7 MPG.

As frightening as that number is, I have to give Ford a break here. With just a tick over 2,000 km on it, this engine is nowhere near close to being broken in and was likely only on its third tank of fuel. New engines typically get up to 30 per cent poorer fuel economy than expected as the engine breaks in and computer systems “learn” and adapt to a driver’s habits. Add in the fact that most press vehicles are constantly being driven by different operators, with different driving styles, and the poor engine computer system has its work cut out for it. As if all of that wasn’t enough, our drive took place during a cold spell, which diminishes fuel economy even further.

So how did the 10-speed feel you ask? The shifts are so smooth that they are imperceptible. So much so that it didn’t even dawn on me that this was the ten speed until after I finished driving the truck. This might just be the smoothest transmission I have ever felt in a pickup. If Ford’s consumer website is to be believed, this transmission is not available with the V8, which is a shame, as that would be one sweet combo.

I didn’t have a chance to tow with this truck, but a ’16 model with the same engine that we tested earlier this year made easy work of the event trailer we’ve been hauling around, so I have no doubt that this drivetrain will be happy to cart around the weekend toys that most of these trucks seem to be used for.

One of the features I love most on the F-150 is the power retractable running boards. They live beneath the body, leaving a much cleaner line than an old school stationary board, deploying when any door is opened. They make the step up into the vehicle super simple and feel extra sturdy, even when supporting a big boy like me. I am not such a big fan of the short kick down steps which allow access to the bed, as every time I have tried to use one of these during the Winter, they have been frozen shut. This truck was no exception.

It may sound like I have rambled off a bunch of negatives here, which isn’t overly typical of my reporting. The reality is however that the F-150 is the standard by which all other pickups are judged, and for good reason. The truck really is that good, which makes items which aren’t so perfect stand out.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve here is the confusion that consumers are presented with when trying to research their own purchase. If their dealer isn’t a true truck specialist, navigating the spec process would be a nightmare. Dealers and potential customers deserve better.

from The Garage
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