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Ford F-series (Ford)

FIRST DRIVE: FORD F-150

The star of the F-150 lineup is the EcoBoost V-6 Add to ...

Ford's 2011 F-150 pickups ($19,999-$64,899) don't look any different from the outside, but the overhauled drivetrains represent "the most significant (engine and transmission) change in the F-Series' 62-year history," says Derrick Kuzak, Ford's head of global product development.

Kuzak is not one for wild, rah-rah hype, yet his and the claims of others at Ford have been strong and emphatic - so much so I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn't. The new engines and transmission are remarkable and the EcoBoost V-6 is something of a revelation.

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The much-hyped EcoBoost V-6 is powerful and responsive and does not feel at all like a turbo motor. The base 302-hp V-6 is solid enough, too, and would be just fine for many pickup owners who don't have big rigs to tow. Meanwhile, the new 5.0-litre V-8 and the carryover 6.2-litre V-8 do quite well at the business of moving heavy trucks with trailers in tow.



THE PICKUP ENGINES

The 2011 F-150's new engine lineup

3.7-litre V-6, standard (302 hp; 12.9 litres/100 km city/8.9 highway)

3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 (365 hp; 13.0 city/9.0 highway)

5.0-litre V-8 (360 hp; 15.0 city/10.5 highway)

6.2-litre V-8 (411 hp; 16.9 city/11.4 highway)



Note, too, that all but the 6.2 trucks get well-tuned electric power assist steering (EPAS). This is a fuel-saving innovation on trucks that improves steering feel and responsiveness as a happy byproduct. The 6.2 continues with hydraulic power steering; it feels heavier and more sluggish in tight turns than the electric steering.

The star attraction of Ford's pickup lineup, however, is the EcoBoost V-6, which is a $1,000 step up from the 5.0-litre V-8. Pulling a trailer with this engine was eye-opening. It felt more V-8-like than the V-8 rivals that Ford had hitched up for comparison during a recent test.

With a trailer behind, the EcoBoost-powered F-150 pulled the trailer quite nicely uphill and down, around corners (credit Ford's built-in trailer sway control system) and on straight-aways. All the while the truck was quiet and composed.

A new trick feature to keep the driver informed about all sorts of stuff is the "4.2" driver info screen (a reference to the screen size) between the large round speedometer and tachometer. It allows you to choose what data you want using a menu. Want to know your most recent five-minute fuel economy history? You've got it.

Lastly, a few words about the 5.0-litre V-8. This engine first appeared last year under the hood of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT and it's a fully modern, all-aluminum power plant.

In the Mustang, it cranks out 412 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque on the recommended premium gasoline. In the F-150, using a steady diet of 87-octane unleaded regular, horsepower is rated at 360, with torque at 380 lb-ft - some 45 horses and 15 lb-ft of torque more than its predecessor, the 5.4-litre V-8.

The 5.0-litre is a significant step forward. It feels responsive and eager and like all the engines is tied to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic.

Hard-core truckers should know that to get a 2011 Ford F-150 up near the max tow rating of 11,300 pounds you'll need to opt for the 3.5-litre V-6 EcoBoost engine or the 6.2-litre V-8, the two rock-star engines that sit above the 5.0 V-8 in both power and price.

No surprise there, though. You didn't expect the big towing number to come for free, did you?

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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