If you ever get a chance to hang around car executives from both Ford and Toyota, you can entertain yourself by getting them debating about what the most popular vehicle in America is – the Toyota Camry or the Ford F-150 truck.
Granted it’s not a likely scenario that you’ll find yourself in such a scenario, but it’s a fun argument to behold if you’re a car writer. The Camry holds the title of most popular car, parked on top of that hill for a decade now. But, according to Ford, the F-150 has ruled as the best selling truck for 35 years – and as the best selling vehicle for 25 years straight until the Camry presumably nudged it aside.
Regardless of which four wheeled gold mine brought in the most buyers, the F-150’s sales statistics are staggering. Ford reports that they sold more than 28 million F-Series trucks around the world since they debuted their first in 1948. If you keep score by just pure sales, that makes the F-150 the single most popular mass-produced four wheeled vehicle in automobile history.
Sales estimates say about 900,000 F-150s will roll out of Ford showrooms this year sold in one year. Do the math, and that means Ford sells about one F-Series truck every 34 seconds in the U.S. alone.
Knowing all of that going in, I was intrigued to get behind the wheel of the modern F-150 for a week-long test drive. What makes this particular incarnation of the iconic American pick-up truck such a massively popular option with everyone from families to farmers to foreman?
Ford advertises the F-150 in all of its various forms as “Built Ford Tough,” with imagery of smashing concrete and falling metal slabs abounding. But, the F-150 EcoBoost 3.5 liter V6 I drove provided all of the comforts of a large SUV. You’d think with all the aggressive grumbling about tow capacity and drive train warranties, the interior of the F-150 would be cast iron seats carved from a battleships hull and a steering wheel made of stone. But, it was comfortable, well-upholstered and filled with tech-friendly gadgets like the Ford Sync system, Sirius XM radio and power everything.
For a vehicle that’s more than 17 feet in length (with its extended passenger cab), capable of carrying more than four tons in its truck bed, you might expect the F-150 to ride high and jaw-creakingly rough when unloaded. But, with its independent double-wishbone front suspension and heavy-duty, gas-pressurized shocks, the F-150 is easy to drive and no challenge to steer.
If there was any disappointing element to the F-150, it shows up in the power department. At the recent Forward with Ford test driving event at the automaker’s Dearborn, Mich. HQ, I had a chance to drag race a 5.0 V8 F-150. Admittedly, it had five fewer horsepower than the EcoBoost model (360 hp), but I expected a big powerful truck to buck and roar when I stomped on the gas.
It did bellow a bit as we cruised down the quarter mile, but I never got the sensation of brute force no matter how hard I stood on the accelerator. It was a bit of a let down – especially since my passenger seat companion for the race was a tall, striking fashion writer from New York. I was all set to impress her with an adrenaline rush of V8 rage. But, the F-150’s acceleration is smooth and gradual, as opposed to sudden and raw.
Fortunately, Ford engineers realize a truck must be designed to haul a load or tow a trailer – not to go fast in the straight line to please a juvenile goof and a former model at a press day. So, both the EcoBoost and the V8 versions focus on putting the engine power down on the wheels with ample torque. The V8 model puts down 380 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 RPMs, while the EcoBoost gives you 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 RPMs.
In the end, the secret of the F-150’s popularity must lie in its accessibility. By equipping with it all of the driver assisting technologies and hardware of any car in the Ford line, the Motor City giant is able to offer a big truck that anyone with even basic driving skills can handle.
Photo credit – Ford