America's favorite truck, the Ford F-Series, was revamped from top to bottom for 2015, and the handsomely styled result shows how far pickups have come from their rough-riding and utilitarian past.
The F-Series is more capable than ever of towing and hauling heavy loads, but it's also more refined, smart and high-tech.
It has cameras that provide a 360-degree, bird's eye view of all sides of the vehicle, and one that lets the driver hitch a trailer without having to get out or use a spotter. It's also the only truck to offer an 8-inch dashboard display screen that features a home page customized to show the most frequently referenced pages from the truck's computer menu.
The 2015 F-150 will also please the fuel-conscious truck buyer, as it has vaulted over all full-size, light-duty pickups to claim the top gasoline mileage ratings.
Specifically, the U.S. government rates the two-wheel drive 2015 F-150 at 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway when fitted with the 2.7-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine. This puts the F-150 on par with the smaller 2015 Chevrolet Colorado pickup and marks a big improvement over last year's gasoline F-150.
The safety-conscious will note that every style of 2015 F-150, from two-door Regular Cab to four-door SuperCrew, earned five out of five stars in U.S. government crash tests. This wasn't the case with the 2014 models.
The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $27,225 for a base two-wheel drive Regular Cab F-150 XL with a 282-horsepower turbocharged V-6 engine. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Adding four-wheel drive to the base truck pushes the price to $31,870. And the price of an F-150 can exceed $50,000, depending on the size of pickup bed, choice of engine, trim level and body style.
Among its full-size light-duty pickup competitors is the 2015 Ram 1500, which has a starting retail price of $26,855 for a base two-wheel drive Regular Cab Tradesman with a 305-horsepower V-6 engine. With four-wheel drive, the base Ram starts at $31,325.
Ford's F-Series trucks have outsold the competition in the U.S. for 38 straight years, so there was some trepidation among loyalists about all the changes to the 2015 version, particularly the extensive use of aluminum to reduce the truck's weight and improve fuel economy.
It's not that truckers don't want better fuel mileage. They worried that aluminum body panels might be tinny and not as robust as the traditional steel ones.
But Ford officials emphasize the aluminum is "military grade," and no one could tell there were aluminum panels on the test-driven version — a 2015 F-150 4X4 SuperCrew. This truck's doors closed with a solid thud and its interior was quieter than earlier models and rivaled some luxury cars.
The new F-150 moves in a sprightly fashion thanks to its lower weight. Ford says the new models are up to 700 pounds lighter than their predecessors.
The test-driven truck had the 3.5-liter double overhead cam and turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine that generates 365 horsepower and an impressive 420 foot-pounds of torque at just 2,500 rpm.
This is more torque than what the F-150's V-8 puts out, and some passengers actually thought it was a V-8 under the hood.
The truck's top towing capacity of 12,200 pounds comes with this turbo V-6. The maximum payload is more than 3,000 pounds.
The ride was comfortable, with some jiggles and vibrations now and then as everyone sat high up on well-padded, leather-trimmed seats.
With 43.6 inches of rear-seat legroom, the SuperCrew has almost as much legroom in the back seat, where there is no hump in the floor, as it does in the front.
Power-deployed running boards eased the big climb up. Nice touches included a 110-volt regular power outlet, heated front and rear seats, a power locking tailgate and pull-down box side steps.
The tested vehicle averaged 19.2 mpg in city/highway travel. With the optional extended-range 36-gallon gas tank, the truck could go just over 691 miles without a fill-up. This is akin to the range of a diesel pickup.
But 36 gallons, even of regular unleaded, cost $100 at today's prices.
The 2015 F-150 has been the subject of two U.S. safety recalls.
One involved loose or missing underbody heat shields — a problem that could cause a fire. The other involved a steering component that might have been improperly riveted, potentially leading to a loss of steering control.