How important is the F-150 to Ford? Very. It's been the top-selling vehicle in North America for most of the past 25 years, and the best-selling truck in North America for – what? – the past 40 years, at least.
Along with the Mustang, it's arguably the model most people identify with this company, and Ford's fate as a manufacturer is tied inextricably to it.
It turns a decent buck as well. At the launch of the 2013 models in the Alberta badlands, we couldn't help but notice some of the price tags of the new trucks. For example, a well-optioned Super Duty King Ranch Platinum edition, with all the goodies, goes out the door for $68,000 and change. Make it 70 large after all the extras and before taxes. Throw in the fact that Ford sold more than 100,000 F-150s in Canada last year, and that adds up to a pretty penny. And the Super Duty King Ranch isn't even the most expensive model in the F-150 lineup.
Driving in and around Calgary, the roads and parking lots were full of similarly equipped trucks – from all manufacturers. Pickup trucks are big business and Ford is in the thick of the fight.
"We find that the No. 1 reason people purchase an F-150 is because of all-wheel-drive," says Jackie DiMarco, chief engineer for the F-150. "But fuel economy is also one of the main attractions for buyers. Our EcoBoost engine has been a huge story for Ford."
For 2013, changes to the F-150 take the form of refinements and minor upgrades – 2011 was a transformational year for this truck, with the introduction of new drivetrains and engines, and Ford is basically maintaining its status quo.
Four engines are available: two V-6s and two V-8s. Base models are powered by a 3.7-litre V-6 that develops 302 horsepower with 2WD or 4WD availability, and three cab configurations are available, depending upon the model. There are also three box sizes to choose from and a hot-rod SVT Raptor version that brings 411 horsepower to the table. If nothing else, the F-150 offers buyers a mind-boggling array of options – right down to choosing your own rear axle ratio.
"We've also increased the towing capacity by 12 per cent to 6,700 pounds [3,039 kilograms] for 2013," adds Darren Halabisky, Ford's marketing plans manager, "with an increased payload." How was this accomplished, given the fact that the power outputs for 2013 are much the same as 2012? "More testing," says Halabisky.
Like virtually all pickup trucks, the F-150 is a remarkably quiet vehicle to operate. Even belting along the high prairie at 120 km/h-plus, with a nasty sidewind, you can easily carry on a conversation without raising your voice.
And Ford's clever EZ tailgate assist, with its grab handle and folding step, is one of the best ideas on the market. It's also a standalone option and can be ordered with any model. It turns out that the tailgate on the F-150 – and other models – is favoured by thieves. Replacing a kaput pickup tailgate is an expensive proposition, and because it is used for work, it gets damaged on a regular basis. A handy thief can unbolt and remove one in a few minutes, and some reprobates apparently have two: one for work and a freshly stolen undamaged one for cosmetics.
For those who like to burn up the pavement as well as destroy the shrubbery, the Raptor, with its 6.2-litre V-8, is possibly one of the fastest pickups on the market. It comes with a six-speed automatic, shift-on-the-fly 4WD, Torsen differential and, for 2013, a nasty camo paint scheme. No big surprise there; the American military is Ford's biggest fleet customer. Fuel economy, as if it matters, for this hellion is a terrifying 18.5 litres/100 km in town and 12.8 on the highway. Your typical Raptor buyer likely doesn't care much about this side of the equation.
Hot off the drawing boards at Ford is the F-150 Atlas concept truck, which features the "next generation" of EcoBoost engine as well as intriguing extras such as an engine shut-off feature that automatically disables itself when towing, self-charging battery-powered wheel "shutters" that automatically open at low speeds for aesthetics, but close during highway driving for improved aerodynamics, and a back-up trailer assist that allows the driver to control the trailer with separate knob. The Atlas made the rounds at car shows throughout North America earlier this year and, in Ford's words, is the "future vision" for pickup trucks.
2013 Ford F-150
Price Range: $19,999-$60,499
Engines: 3.7 litre V-6, 3.5-litre turbocharged V-6, 5.0-litre V-8, 6.2-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 302 hp/278 lb-ft for 3.7 V-6; 365 hp/420 lb-ft for 3.5 turbo V-6; 360 hp/380 lb-ft for 5.0 V-8; 411 hp/434 lb-ft for 6.2 V-8
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) 12.9 city/9.0 highway (2WD regular bed with 3.7-litre V-6); regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Tundra, Nissan Titan, Honda Ridgeline, Chevtolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram 1500