F-150 adds competence and style for 2018 model

John Gilbert

2918 Ford F-150 4x4 Super Crew fits right at home in the northland. Photo credit: John Gilbert
2918 Ford F-150 4x4 Super Crew fits right at home in the northland. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Photo credit: John Gilbert
Photo credits: John Gilbert

You remember the old grade-school joke, where the kid turns in a blank white sheet of drawing paper and draws the scorn of the art teacher, but then he says, “It’s a white cow, eating marshmallows, in a blizzard.”
My guess is he got a good grade with that deft maneuver. Maybe we could also guess what he did when he grew up. I’d suggest he had something to do with the design and exterior finish of the 2018 Ford F-150 that was sent to me for a test drive during one of those serious but common snowstorms on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Yes, it can be cold in Minnesota, as anyone watching the events leading up to the indoor Super Bowl in the Vikings enclosed Minneapolis stadium. But we’re not talking about cold, here, we’re talking snow. Maybe 4-5 inches hit this time, which isn’t a lot, but accompanied by temperatures plunging below zero, that white coating was as slippery as it was glistening.

And that’s where the white cow joke comes in. The test truck was the completely redesigned and refined 2018 F-150 4x4 Super Crew, and it came in a color called White Platinum Metallic, which glistened as brightly as the snow cover. Despite shiny aluminum wheels and darkened windows, the F-150, glistening white against glistening white outside, was as close to invisible in that snowstorm as a monstrously large pickup truck can be.

The F-150 is going into its 40th year, and it has been an amazing success story almost all that time. It continues to be the top-selling single vehicle in the U.S. with almost boring regularity, and it comes with so many models and versions and trim levels that the toughest task might be in picking one out and making sure you’re getting everything you want.

Prices of  the new F-150 range from just under $30,000 to just over $65,000. Before options, of course. The loaded test vehicle was at the upper end of that range, and added the Platinum series and technology packages, plus active park assist, a 360-degree camera for surveying all you can survey, the patented tailgate step, adaptive cruise with stopping ability when it senses a collision, so it was well over that $70,000 ceiling.

Design wise, the new Ford has a slick appearance, with two bold, horizontal bars across the grille, enclosed by horseshoe-shaped light enclosures that are either meant to be brackets, or to resemble a pair of Pac-Man critters about to devour those grille bars.
Much appreciated is Ford’s side window concept, which is pretty normal except for a large cutout that drops the sill down a couple inches at the front, affording, so to speak, greatly enhanced downward visibility from your position on high.
It was on high, sitting up on thost leather bucket seats that seemed to bulge in the wrong places on my back, until I fiddled with the electric adjustment switches to let a little tension out here and add a little there, until I got it perfect. 
Base engine in the F-150 is a 3.3-liter V6 with 290 horsepower, more than adequate in warm-weather climes where you might buy a 4x2 in a normal cab, or even extended cab.

But we need more punch for the Super Crew 4x4 in the Great White North, so ours went right up and past the 2.7-liter Twin Turbo EcoBoost to the 5.0-liter V8. There also are 3.0 and 3.5 V6 Twin Turbo EcoBoost engines available with torque numbers as high as 510 foot-pounds.

But the test vehicle’s V8 is less complex and very in-your-face efficient, with 395 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque. You step on it, it goes. Straight, direct power, and its dependability is a selling point for those who might be hesitant to go all-in on the EcoBoost turbo technology. There also is a potent 3.0-liter V6 Turbodiesel available with 440 foot-pounds of torque and undoubtedly better fuel economy.

A 10-speed automatic transmission harnesses all that power and distributes it to all four wheels, as determined by whether you click the dash knob to rear-wheel drive, 4x4, or automatic, which lets the big beast shift its torque fore or aft at its own choosing.
I didn’t get the opportunity to try any mild off-road work, or to get it out on any lengthy highway trips, but just running in and out of town, up those steep-incline avenues in Duluth, and maneuvering into and out of crowded parking lots at grocery stores and hockey arenas, we got just about 17 miles per gallon over the course of a week.

Parking is definitely one of the big challenges of a full-size truck, because you have to make sure you’ve pulled far enough ahead to clear those objects that might be next to you. The F-150 does have exceptional steering control and handles like a much more agile vehicle than its size might suggest.

Genuine leather and wood trim bring warm comfort. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Genuine leather and wood trim bring warm comfort. Photo credit: John Gilbert

These days, the comparative battles among the F-150, the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, and Toyota Tundra leave little margin for different capabilities, which is a nice factor for any truck buyer who isn’t already cemented into a brand based on family heritage. They all do the job, none gets very good fuel economy, they all can tow heavy things, and they all can haul an amazing amount of stuff in the bed behind the second row bucket seats, which can fold to accommodate either two or three, your choice.

Photo credit: John Gilbert
Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Ford has the tradition of being such an enormous seller, and it now has a new tradition of having a lot of its body made of lighter aluminum to save weight. Arch-rival Chevrolet jumped on that to boast in television ads that their steel bed can withstand large boulders being dumped on it without taking as much beating as the aluminum Ford, but all the while, the GM engineers are back there in their white smocks designing how to build an aluminum-intensive Silverado of their own.

You can choose your pickup by looks alone, where the Ford does very well, but the better way is to take a test drive. That gives you a chance to try out the improved suspension and steering that makes the F-150 handle with surprising agility, and you also can try out the interior features. 
The test truck had quad beam LED headlights that covered the snow and neighborhood with brilliant white light, and it had genuine wood accents outlining the leather seats, plus an array of creature features as standard in the Platinum model.
 Some of those are auto start-stop to cut power at red lights, a Bang & Olufson audio upgrade that threw out a  lot of precise sounds throughout the cab, blind spot detection, curve control, remote start, SYNC 3 connectivity stuff, trailer brake control, voice-activated navigation,  and all the front and side airbags, as well as an optional twin-panel moonroof, and a spray-in bedliner.

On those days when we went dashing through the snow, the big F-150 made you appreciate more why some people insist on having the biggest pickup they can find. I haven’t measured, but I’m sure the F-150 in its redesign gained interior space, in that different interior with the soft-touch cover, and all the center console USB connections, is as big or bigger than the competition.

Ford also has the Super Duty trucks for enormous service bigger and beyond the F-150, and now it is reintroducing the midsize Ranger smaller than the F-150. But based on its looks, its performance, and its features, anyone buying a pickup should insist on at least driving the new F-150. And to really be impressed, try one in a snowstorm. If you find a white one, so much the better. Don’t forget the marshmallows.

The new F-150 shines bright on the shores of Gitchee Gummi. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The new F-150 shines bright on the shores of Gitchee Gummi. Photo credit: John Gilbert