Ford Motor Co.'s (NYSE:F) F-150 has been America's best-selling vehicle -- of any type -- for the last 32 years. I was in Detroit when management unveiled the new 2015 models, and the news that they would have an aluminum body instead of steel was definitely a big deal.
Sure, the significant weight reduction means better performance and fuel economy. But why take the risk -- with your most important segment -- that buyers might shy away from the aluminum?
In the months since, however, that concern has pretty much disappeared as consumers learn more and more about the military-grade aluminum and other compelling features on these new trucks.
With the new models finally arriving in your dealer's showroom sometime this month, I was able to set up a test drive and get a detailed, first-hand look at this hugely important vehicle. Want to ride along? Just fasten your seat belt and click the play button below!
Rex: Ford went all out when it unveiled the new F-150s at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was one of the most spectacular presentations I've seen at an auto show. And why not? The F-150s -- the country's best-selling vehicles -- are hugely important to Ford and its shareholders, accounting for the bulk of North American profits.
With the trucks set to hit showroom floors very soon, I was able to take one of these on a test drive -- the F-150 Lariat with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine.
Before we hop in for a ride, let's get a rundown on these brand new F-150s from Rona, a Ford product specialist. Any talk of the new design starts with Ford's groundbreaking decision to replace the steel body of the truck with aluminum, saving up to 700 pounds and improving fuel efficiency and performance.
Rona: So everything you see painted is the aluminum. It's a high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy. That's what they're using. It's up-gauged. It's dent resistant. It has corrosion protection on it the way they coat it and also a special paint process. It will never red rust.
Rex: How has it held up? The aluminum?
Rona: Well, they've done lots of testing. There's all kinds of videos online to show the tests they've done, but Ford has been using aluminum in their vehicles for years now. For instance, the hood of the Super Duty, the hood of the Mustang have been aluminum. This is a little bit different combination of elements, it is different now, but it is the same type of thing they've been doing for years. And also the military uses it.
Rex: And in fact this aluminum has been tested extensively when Ford provided vehicles for the toughest of users -- construction workers and miners. These users weren't aware of the aluminum body, and the test trucks have held up very well.
There are a few other noteworthy features on the exterior...
I know there's ramps in there.
Rona: Yes, we have dividers, ramps, and tool bins for the back of the truck. They're specially designed to fit it. We don't have them here today, but you can take a look. First of all, the tailgate is remote now. It will unfold with just your key fob. And it's a lock, as well.
This is nice. Back here you have lights in your bed. These are LEDs. Especially helpful if you have a tonneau cover on there. They've revamped the tailgate stuff this year, too. It's a lot easier to use. They also moved the handle. It used to lay in the tailgate, and now it's recessed. Pretty lightweight.
These are LEDs. They're not meant for driving. They're actually meant for working outside. You get to your campsite late and you want to set up your tent. These are so bright and you can actually move the mirror so it will move the light, too. They're really nice.
Rex: What are there? Three types of engines you can get? Or four?
Rona: We have four in the F-150 lineup this year. This 3.5-liter engine, this is the Ecoboost. Twin turbo, direct injection. It came out four years ago. This is the fifth year for this engine. The 2.7-liter is our new Ecoboost. So, the same technology, a smaller engine. The horsepower and torque on this will be the same as last year. That's 365 horsepower, 420 foot-pounds of torque. It will tow, though, max, up to 12,200 pounds, which is up 900 pounds from last year. All due to the weight reduction in the aluminum body.
Rex: Now we move inside and get ready for the actual drive... and the interior is definitely a big deal. Think about it this way: Many truck owners spend a lot of time in these things. It's their second home. As my colleague John Rosevear has pointed out, one reason the Dodge Ram is selling well right now is that it's a really quiet, nice-riding truck. They win a lot of customers on test drives. So let's see how the F-150 plays out.
Rona: Inside, there's a ton of new technology this year for 2015.
This is your 8-inch touch screen. MyFord Touch -- we've had this for a long time now. The SYNC system, it's the best out there as far as Bluetooth and how it hears you and being able to give voice commands. It works extremely well. A lot of people drive this truck for business and they say they use their SYNC for meetings while they're driving all the time.
Some new things [for] the climate. Heated steering wheel is one of my favorites because I'm from Detroit. That's awesome.
This is your lane keep system. If you see, I'm turning it on and off. It's going on and off on above the PRNDL. If this is on, and you're driving down the road and you go over 35 miles per hour, if you start to drift and you're falling asleep, you drift over your lane, it actually steers you back.
You have the ability to turn it off if you're not wanting to use that. And this is one of the new features, too, this year that we didn't have before. A 360[-degree] camera, right here.
This is awesome. You have a split screen. This is an aerial view around your vehicle. It's about seven feet all the way around. Cameras under your side mirrors, the front grille, and the rear tailgate. This is looking out the front. You can tell from the lights pointing forward. You can change the view to a full view, a wide-angle view, and then it does the exact same thing when you're in reverse, but out the back.
You can see the cones to my left. Those are actually out here.
Rex: And where is the camera?
Rona: Underneath each side mirror.
Rona: Out the front grille. There's one in the front...
Rex: I see...
Rona: ...and then your rear backup camera is used.
Rex: So, we're seeing the actual road and then a representation of the vehicle.
Rona: Yes. There's someone's feet.
Rex: OK, I see.
Rona: Seven feet all the way around. They just put that view of a vehicle in there so you get perspective. It's an aerial view.
Rex: I think they're stealing Heather's purse...
Rona: This is your media bin.
Rex: I see you're still touting Microsoft here. Are they still a partner?
Rona: Yes. Still working with Microsoft. It's a great system.
Things that people notice are the way the doors are designed. There's a lot of visibility in this vehicle now. You can see out really well. We have a cutout right here, too. It's just easy to see out. Not to mention the vista roof. Makes it feel very open. And then while we're looking at the backseat, she has inflatable seat belts, one on each side. That is Ford's...
Rex: Is that in case you land in the ocean? A water landing?
Rona: No. It's in the event of an accident, your seat belts may inflate. To protect your children's bodies -- they have softer bones. Ford shares their technology with other brands. You don't always do that when you have something great, but when it comes to safety, Ford wanted to share it with other carmakers.
Heather: So, it expands when you're in a crash like an airbag? So it doesn't cut into them?
Rona: Right. Exactly. In the mirrors, too. Blind-spot indicators. It's hard to see, but if someone's in your rear quarter panel, the sensors will pick it up and it flashes a little yellow light at you so you see it before you change lanes. And there's also a cross-traffic alert. When you put this vehicle in reverse, those same sensors determine if a vehicle -- or even just a person walking a buggy -- is coming toward you and it will make an audible noise so you won't back up.
Rex: Shall we give it a spin here?
Rona: Yes, it's fun to drive.
This engine is designed for people who want to hear and feel like they're in a V8 because this one has more of a guttural tone to it. When you step on it, you hear the turbos more, and that's done on purpose. It's actually enhanced through the speaker system.
Rona: Go ahead and step on it, if you can.
Rex: Are you ready, Heather?
Rona: You're right at the light.
Rex: OK. I just wanted to...
Heather: We thought we were ready! Until everything went flying.
Rona: I know. It throws you back like you're taking off in an airplane.
Yes, this vehicle is awesome. It just feels powerful. And people wanted to feel like they're in a V8, so they've put that back in the 3.5 this year. That's one difference over last year. The 2.7 is a quieter ride. You can still hear the turbos, but not like you can in this one.
Rex: OK. So, a lot of features, now, that used to be only on luxury cars... Parking assist would be one, and then the fit and feel in interior... not only do they have to work with this truck -- and we know Ford makes a great work truck and everything -- but they have to live with it and they want to be comfortable. And this doesn't feel like a normal pickup truck.
Rona: You forget you're in a truck. I know. That's probably people's No. 1 comment, especially people who come to test-drive that don't drive pickup trucks. They are shocked at how comfortable it is, how many features there are that make day-to-day life nicer. I've run into a few people that have driven Mercedes and Audi and they will say, "That's a better system than my Audi has" or, "This is more comfortable than my sedan." It's a good family vehicle now.
Rona: Now this would be a good time to use your 360 camera.
Rex: Yes, let's see here. So, we're getting close to the curb...
Rona: You're close, but you will just make it.
Rex: OK. Yeah, that's really nice.
Rona: Good job. Set that right up.
Rex: Last but not least, you'll have no worries parking these big boys thanks to the "active park assist" feature -- which lets you know when it finds a spot it can fit into, and then takes over the steering wheel to guide you right in.
Rona: So if you're looking for a parking spot on a busy, crowded street -- and this actually works on a one-way street -- you could park on the left, as well. We'll park on the right, right now. You're going to activate parallel park assist by turning it on. And the screen tells you what to do. It's scanning for a spot. Please pull forward. Slowly pull forward until it tells you. Whoops. Spot found. Keep pulling forward.
Rex: Stop vehicle. OK, I've removed hands.
Rona: Trust the truck.
Rex: Back up slowly. See the steering wheel, Heather?
Rona: And this works when the cars are super-tight. If it can find a spot big enough to park your vehicle, it will park it on a dime.
Rex: Wow. Oh, keep going.
Rona: It straightens out your wheels for you and it's perfect.
Rex: It's amazing.
So we know the new F-150s will be tough. I don't think there's any question the aluminum bodies will be durable, and they're a big plus in my book. The interior is nice, and the ride feels solid and quiet for a pickup. You can have some features previously found only in high-end cars -- besides the ones we talked about here, there's also adaptive cruise control and curve control.
There will be no huge changes in the pricing: MSRP is generally only slightly higher for the various models than their 2014 versions.
Bottom line for investors: Early on it may have seemed Ford was at risk of being too innovative with this hugely important component of its business. What if where were problems with the aluminum? But management knows what it's doing, these things have been tested extensively, and Ford has stepped up its game with the country's best-selling vehicle.
On the road with the 2015 Ford F-150, I'm Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore.
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Rex Moore has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.