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Test Drive: Can Ford Pass Off Its 2011 V-6-Powered Truck as a V-8?

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Ford Motor Co. is the only Big Three manufacturer that currently does not offer a six-cylinder engine in a full-size pickup. For next year’s F-150, however, Ford will reintroduce a V-6 as its base-level engine; to show it is really serious about V-6 power, the company will also offer a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine that claims to have the capability of a V-8 with the fuel economy of a V-6.

Photo: Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
The 2011 Ford F-150 is repowered with two V-6 engines designed to lower operating costs while delivering power akin to a larger V-8. Two V-8 engines are available, as well.
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Does this sound too good to be true? As with any engineering exercise, performing multiple feats becomes a balancing act. We discovered as much during a Ford-sponsored test drive this month at the Texas Motor Speedway. Loaded or unloaded, the EcoBoost clearly delivered power akin to a V-8. Loaded up, however, the boosted V-6 seemed to lose its fuel-economy edge. We learned you can’t expect miracles of physics.

The EcoBoost, which cranks out 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel while displacing only 3.5 liters, will tow up to 11,300 lb, which is as much as the F-150’s premium 6.2-liter V-8. The boosted V-6 sits between two V-8 options—a Mustang-based 5.0 that hits 360 hp, and a 6.2, rocking 411 hp. The EcoBoost is set to cost $1,750 more than the base V-6, which, at 3.7 liters, is slightly larger. The manufacturer has not yet set the truck prices.

Still, the low-cost V-6, with its 302 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque, is nothing to sneeze at and will meet most contractors’ jobsite needs. It replaces a 4.6-liter V-8 that offers less horsepower (248) and slightly more torque (294). Moreover, tow ratings are up 100 lb, to 6,100 lb, compared to the outgoing base V-8. Oil changes are every 10,000 miles, and the 3.7 will likely power Ford’s work trucks well into the next decade as the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker ramps down domestic production of the compact Ranger in favor of more F-150 options.

Ford has not yet released official fuel-economy numbers on the four new truck engines, but it says it is targeting 23 miles per gallon on highway with the new base V-6. Reaching that goal would put an F-150 work truck on par with the 2011 Chevy Silverado Hybrid, a costlier, more technologically complex V-8 rig rated at 21 mpg combined city/highway.

Simply put, with that kind of economy on the V-6, “it’ll sell,” says Mike Monnot, vice president of equipment for American Infrastructure, a Worcester, Pa.-based contractor. “We’re always concerned about fuel economy,” he adds.

All engines but the EcoBoost will be available in the fourth quarter. The twin-turbo V-6 is slated to come online early next year. Offering a six-speed automatic transmission and electric power steering as standard equipment—only the 6.2 sticks with hydraulic steering—helps further shave down miles-per-gallon while delivering a pleasant driving experience.

Booster Club

How about that promise of V-8 power tucked under the hood of a V-6 truck? First of all, we think Ford already has hit the mark with the 3.7 liter, given that its fuel-economy predictions are accurate.

For sure, EcoBoost is exciting technology—twin turbos coupled with direct injection—but we would like to see it on the road awhile before giving it a thumbs-up. On short hauls, it has the upper hand, as we saw driving quick highway trips around Ft. Worth, Texas. Hitched to a 6,700-lb trailer, our four-wheel-drive XLT- and Platinum-edition trucks sporting the boosted V-6 hit between 9.5 and 10.1 mpg. According to the trucks’ computer readouts, the EcoBoost rigs burned less fuel than a V-8 Chevy Silverado and Toyota Tundra, both of which we drove.

Over a slightly longer haul, however, EcoBoost’s fuel-economy advantage over the larger V-8s evened out, perhaps because it was forced to work harder. Ford engineers noted during our drive that these were pre-production trucks. Also, we relied solely on the trucks’ computers to tell us fuel economy, so it was not a scientific test.

Regardless, the addition of two turbos and extra cooling demand makes us skittish about service costs in the Version 1.0 engine. For the next year or so, a contractor would be safer buying either V-8 if the naturally-aspirated, base V-6 won’t do. Watch out for those turbochargers, though: Some will likely be blowing their way onto the jobsite.

See Ford officials talk about the new F-150 in our latest video.

 

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