What do you do when you have to cover some miles in the United States? You get a hold of the vehicle that has outsold all others for a staggering 34 consecutive years — the Ford F-Series.
The new-generation Ford F-150 launched last year to some fanfare, most of which surrounded the Blue Oval brand’s bold decision to switch from a conventional steel body construction to a military-grade aluminium body (saving more than 300kg) on an obviously colossal scale.
How colossal? Ford sold more than 780,000 F-Series trucks last year, a large number of which were the lifestyle-focused F-150 tested here. That’s about three-quarters of the entire Australian new vehicle market.
The appeal, especially given North America's current low fuel prices, is obvious. What you see here is a vehicle with amazing street presence, modern luxury, space inside for six adults and a huge tray to carry all your 'stuff' — motorbikes, tools, you name it.
We often field questions from our readers here in Australia as to why we don’t get full-size pickups at home. It really comes down to the numbers — not many right-hand-drive markets, beyond ours, make a good fit, and our numbers are relatively quite small.
Ergo, most big pickups from the F-Series, to the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 2500 and Toyota Tundra are all left-hand-drive-only. The void is filled by companies, such as Performax and the Fiat Chrysler (Ram's parent) factory-backed American Special Vehicles, that locally re-engineer various big US pickups to right-hand drive and garner strong demand, despite list prices of well over $100k.
Contrary to this business model, Ford Australia has on several occasions sold the F-Series through official channels. In the early 2000s (ending in 2006) we received a number of Brazil-made diesel F-250s that have remained hot property on the used market.
But the previous-generation model never came to us officially, and the new F-150 you see here, in all probability, never will either. For those on a sensible budget then, the Australian-delivered Ford Ranger will have to suffice. But since we were in the US (post-North American International Auto Show) already, we grabbed one for a spin anyway…
The Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 you see here is the mid-range Lariat specification, which kicks off at just under $US40,000 ($56,000). But add in our test car's big V8 and some luxury options and things edge up to around $US56,000 on the road ($79,000).
But what you get is a chrome-plated bloody limo with a big tray attached. As someone used to the cabins of Australian-market dual-cab offerings such as the Ranger, Toyota HiLux and Volkswagen Amarok, the space and commanding driving position in the F-150 is really something else.
While you would hardly call the dash ‘car-like’, the central touchscreen with Sync 2 infotainment is familiar from much, much smaller Fords such as the Focus, as well as the Ranger/Everest. Being the US, the system had the addition of Sirius XM connectivity, for all the Howard Stern your heart could desire (or not…). It's also worth noting here and now that the updated MY17 F-Series gets the much fancier Sync 3 system, unlike our tester.
The steering wheel is also familiar Ford — more car-like than truck-like — while the digital instruments are higher-tech than you might think, unless you’ve driven the latest Ranger. Our red beast came equipped with leather, satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring, a sunroof, a front powerpoint and a host of other luxury amenities.
If there were a US pick-up for ‘weekend warriors’, it’s this one, though there are three higher specification grades available above the Lariat. Our favourite of this trio is called the King Ranch. Because King Ranch.
The front of the F-150’s cabin comprises three big leather seats with three proper lap-sash inflatable seatbelts (the same applies to the second row), with even the middle unit able to handle the average adult — though a few more stops at In-N-Out Burger and we might have had to preclude ourselves from that equation. Said middle seat can also be turned into a nifty storage area.
That said, we aren’t going to speak particular volumes about material quality. The plastics and wood ‘highlights’ are on the cheap and nasty side of the ledger, though the reputation for longevity on historical F-Series’ has been pretty strong.
The real point of difference inside compared to our utes, is the rear seat setup. Legroom, headroom and shoulder room is more Mercedes-Benz S-Class than pick-up. And outward visibility, thanks to those big boxy windows (that go all the way down), is top-notch.
The Ford F-150 Lariat is a genuine six-seater, and said rear seats — actually, let’s call them chairs — are pretty comfortable and well-bolstered. Entry and egress via the huge doors couldn’t be easier, while the back window has a small opening partition so your mutt can poke his head through.
Again, though, the wood and chrome highlights, plus the door plastics, aren’t anything to write home about. Though the four cupholders — and we mean big-old American cups here — kind of are... Ditto the way the rear seats fold and scrunch up to give you a massive in-cabin loading area for your bags.
On the road, the F-150 is an experience — at least it is for us humble Aussies with little experience in something quite so gargantuan.
How gargantuan? The F-150 SuperCrew (Ford US parlance for dual-cab) range maxes out at 6.2 metres long, 2.0m tall, 2.5m wide (including mirrors) and sits on a circa-4m wheelbase. That’s 800mm longer than a Ranger overall, and the same again for the wheelbase, and about 750mm wider.
Naturally, given its dimensions, your driving positioning is beyond commanding, though, the roads of Arizona are littered with modded and heavier duty pick-up trucks that dwarf ours. But the big Ford is really quite a doddle to drive, with light electrically-assisted steering (with lots of on-centre play) and good ergonomics — once you’re used to the novel column-shifter automatic.
Even in corners, the big Ford feels fine. Its steering is feel-free but predictable, and while the ride is softer than soft, the handling is not as wallowy or boat-like as you might think. The double-wishbone front suspension is even a little sophisticated.
Unladen, the rear skips about and doesn’t feel as tied-down and refined as the exceptionally well-behaved Ranger, however. Perhaps Ford US should talk to the Aussie engineers next time…
The F-150’s big tray — about as big as the average well-bodied single-cab ute in Australia and fitted with an awesome electric tailgate — and the leaf suspension underneath, can handle around 1200kg of payload. Single-cab models can lug closer to 1500kg.
What’s under the ‘hood’? This is ‘Merica, a land where petrol reigns. Ergo, the idea of a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine in a pick-up just makes sense. There are rumours of an imminent diesel F-150, but for now oil-burning engines are the province of the bigger Super Duty versions.
Look, you can have your F-150 with sensible turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engines (in 2.7-litre or 3.5-litre guises), but come on. The V8 in question offers 287kW of power at 5750rpm and 525Nm of torque at 3850rpm. It runs on regular unleaded or E85 and is matched to a six-speed auto with that previously mentioned column-shifter setup.
Plant your right foot and you’re left in no doubt what this engine is. The induction note is fantastic — it sounds like an old school muscle car, all hairy-chested burbles and growls. Ford knows its demographic… The longitudinal driveline shunt is evident, but the response is instantaneous and epic.
Crucially, with the right technical parameters met, a V8 F-150 can tow about 5.0-tonnes, which is around 50 per cent more than our smaller diesel dual-cabs are licensed to.
We matched Ford’s combined-cycle economy claim of 16 miles per gallon, which equates to an eye-widening 17.7 litres per 100km. And that’s unladen. It’s thirstier than a 19th century Irish poet on pay day, then… But with US fuel prices currently at about $2.20 a gallon (55 cents per litre), you wouldn’t much care.
Of course, it would be a different matter in Australia, and even with the fuel economy improvements claimed, the F-Series as a petrol would be monumentally expensive to run Down Under.
How would we describe the Ford F-150 Lariat? It’s a limousine with a tray, an experience, a status symbol, a tower of luxury boats, a Vegas staple… This really is a weekend warrior’s dream. The appeal couldn't be more obvious, especially in its native land.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Ford F-150 Lariat images by Matt Campbell.