First Drive : 2017 Ford F-150

Drifting a Ford Focus RS on an ice track and a Raptor through the woods- this is the kind of fun you can never get enough of. But that’s only one of the many perks you get when tagging along on Ford’s Fun in the Snow event. The main reason we are hitting the roads on the north shore of Montreal is to get our hands on the 2017 Ford F-150 and put its second generation V6 EcoBoost engine and ten-speed transmission to the test. We drove from Montreal to Domaine l’Estérel, about 200 kilometers into the Laurentians, for a breath of fresh air and a feel of Ford’s popular pickup truck.

This year, the F-150 receives Ford’s brand new ten-speed automatic transmission. Why so many speeds is a question I have been dying to ask someone at Ford – and I wasn’t the only one. I got to tackle the question with ‎Al Bruck, Manager – Transmission and Driveline Calibration at Ford Motor Company. While most manufacturers are trading automatic transmissions for CVT’s, Ford keeps adding gears, one-upping FCA and their 9-speed box. He explained that, when it comes to a rear-wheel drive vehicle, the layout of the transmission is a factor. Despite a few ideas having been studied, a proper way to apply a CVT in the F-150 has not been found simply because of the space required. The layout of a CVT is parallel to the axle, which works well and leaves plenty of space on front-wheel drive vehicles, but limits options greatly for a rear-wheel drive setup according to Mr. Bruck.

He added that since load capacity is also a factor, a standard CVT could impair the F-150’s ability to be used as a work horse. So for now, throwing in a few more gears, instead of opting for a set of pulleys, is the best way to retain torque and optimize power delivery while providing reasonable fuel economy.

Jumping into the 2017 F-150, I can’t help but make a mental comparison with FCA’s nine-speed automatic transmission; a system that, in my opinion, still has many flaws and is in need of several improvements. This ten-speed arrangement could have easily suffered a similar fate, but it didn’t. From your typical all-day driving to some very intense testing, the gearbox seems to clearly understand what it needs to do. Contrary to its Italo-American counterpart, which feels hesitant and barely even makes use of its top speed, Ford’s ten-speeder will actually skip gears when required and make full use of the available range. From a standstill to mid-range acceleration, it is responsive and torquey – the kind of qualities I can appreciate in any vehicle and especially in a truck.  You still get that split-second delay a transmission needs to acquire the optimal gear, but once it does, the reaction is immediate and it is usually the right choice.

Also new this year is the second-generation 3.5L V6 EcoBoost engine that now produces 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. Lighter and stronger components, as well as a redesigned turbocharger, are only a few of the upgrades that allow it to gain 10 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque. If certain versions of Ford’s popular turbocharged engine series have missed their target – think three-cylinder – especially when it comes to fuel economy, this is one of the best powerplants Ford has to offer. Observed average fuel economy landed at 16.6L/100km, which is a pretty standard number for a two-ton behemoth, without a full charge or trailer. The engine runs very smoothly and, as a colleague noticed after starting up the engine, quietly as well. Pairing it with a ten-speed transmission seems ideal as one nicely complements the other for efficient power delivery.

In terms of design, there are little to no new features besides three new colours and the STX appearance package. Nothing much here, just a bit of fluff added to the well-known and popular thirteenth generation of the F-150. The Lariat FX4 version I got to drive came packed with a full flight of equipment such as heated everything (seats and steering wheel), SYNC infotainment system, Ford’s trailer assist system, 9-volt and 110V outlets, USB ports and a storage compartment in the armrest; the usual grit and luxury of life and work on the road.

Overall, the upgraded 2017 Ford F-150 did better than I expected. Bigger isn’t always better, but in this case, a ten-speed transmission outperforms the competition from FCA. We will have to wait and see what form their retaliation will take, but until then the Ford F-150 remains the work horse and reliable companion people have trusted for generations.

Related links:

Ford Canada

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