Rental Review: 2017 Ford F-150 XLT 4×2 SuperCrew 5.0

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Never mind the bollocks coming from professionally cynical actors-turned-rappers: This is America. At least it is for much of this country’s working middle class. The F-150 is designed in America, tooled-up in America, and made in America. By an American company. For a customer base that is overwhelmingly American. It’s also a solid candidate for the title of World’s Best Passenger Vehicle.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. The media has long vilified the full-sized pickup as an avatar of this country’s long-discredited and frankly unwanted silent majority. Never mind the fact that today’s pickups have long surpassed traditional automobiles in many of the qualities that real customers want and will pay for. Nor should you look too closely behind the curtain that covers the deficiencies of unibody SUVs when compared to full-sized trucks. My colleagues in the car business, many of whom are notable for their childlessness, sedentary lifestyles, and complete lack of a classical education, love to screech about BANNING these HICK-MOBILES from the VIBRANT STREETS OF AMERICA. Some of their points have merit: I’m far from thrilled with the ride height of today’s half-tons from both an active safety and a visibility standpoint. Most of their complaints, however, are so much sound and impotent fury signifying nothing more than the fact they can’t afford to drop $60k on a cowboy Cadillac of their own.

The 2018 F-150 is already in showrooms and media fleets, but if you know me then you know I prefer the spin-free zone of the rental counter to the walled garden of a press trip drive. Furthermore, there are thousands of trucks just like this available through secondary sources for prices in the $24,000-28,000 range. What do you get for that money? Let’s find out.

As I write this, I am approximately eight hundred miles into a 1,450-mile trip from Ohio to South Carolina via a couple of racetracks and side projects. My initial plan was to take my Silverado Max Tow on this journey, as I did last year. Once I did all the math, however, it made more sense to rent this F-150 and use it than it did to put that kind of mileage on the Chevy. Using a 6.2-liter, six-foot-bed, fully-loaded 4×4 truck to drag three people and four bicycles around the country feels like overkill.

[Get new and used Ford F-150 pricing here!]

Which leads to the question: How is this any different? I’m glad you asked. This F-150, which could be picked up as a new 2018 model for maybe $33k if you stacked your incentives right, is much cheaper to buy and run than my Silverado. Let us count the ways: It rolls on dirt-cheap 245/70R17 tires instead of the Chevy’s twenty-twos. It doesn’t have a front axle, which allows the 5.0 V8 to return about 21.5 mpg on regular gasoline and a remarkable 17 mpg on E85. It’s substantially simpler both inside and out, so there’s less to wrong and fewer repair costs involved if something does go wrong. In short, if my Silverado is the direct successor to the Kingswood wagons of the Seventies, this is more like a middling-spec Ford Galaxie sedan from the same years. Which is appropriate, because it performs pretty much the same role in many American families as those anonymous full-sized sedans did back then.

As a former Ford salesman from the Nineties, I still remember when the XLT trim was vaguely aspirational for F-150s. The approximate spec hasn’t changed — hard-wearing cloth seats, power windows/locks, tilt/cruise, an okay stereo, a generous but not flashy helping of chrome trim — but in the meantime there’s been a space race to pimp out the full-sized pickup, so the first impression a modern buyer gets from an XLT is “work truck.”

One of the B&B said earlier this week that XLT was roughly equivalent to Chevy LTZ; that’s a laugh. This is somewhere between 1LT and 2LT in terms of equipment, with seating areas that wouldn’t be out of place on a Chevy LS.

The dashboard and center stack are poverty-spec, with deliberately chintzy dials and an HVAC control system that feels designed to make the customer regret not buying a model with automatic climate control. It’s obviously the same electronics and capabilities behind the panel — and how can it be any cheaper to have an “manual” fan control with LEDs that light up around the knob to show what position you’ve chosen? Someone like our own Bozi Tatarevic could probably install a Lariat-style dual-zone setup in an hour or two. It doesn’t help that the HVAC system in general feels less able to precisely control the temperature than the equivalent GM equipment. On full blast, however, the F-150 was able to handle the 97-degree South Carolina heat without much difficulty.

The seats are probably the one area where this modern XLT doesn’t measure up to its Nineties predecessor. The fabric looks like it was overrun production from the 1997 Windstar GL, the manual seat adjustment is far from precise, and general comfort is more in the range of “acceptable” than “comfortable.” The flip-fold center middle seat has to be the worst in the business, offering a remarkably small amount of storage and requiring all manner of contortion to access the cubby on the center tunnel. On the positive side, it showed very little wear and tear from 27,000-plus miles of rental use. Ford knows how to do this better — just look at any mid-level Fusion for proof. It just doesn’t have any interest in selling you this over a Lariat, King Ranch, Limited, or Platinum.

There’s a bit of obvious skimping in the powertrain, as well. Not in the 5.0-liter engine, which loves to rev and sounds appropriately butch even through the soda-straw exhaust. Having driven both EcoBoost variants before this normally-aspirated V8, I would move heaven and earth to make sure than my own F-150 had the 5.0 under the hood. I’m less impressed with the six-speed transmission, which has a few bad habits. It’s reluctant to shift under power and slow to engage the clutches once it gets around to making the decision. Around town, it steadfastly refuses to shift up or unlock the torque converter when you come off the throttle. Instead, it drops to fourth gear in a hurry (for once) and engine-brakes your face into the airbag cover.

Pressing the button at the end of the poverty-spec hard-plastic column shifter engages tow/haul mode (if pressed once) and a “sport” mode (if pressed twice). I can’t speak to this truck’s towing ability — as with most rental half-tons, it was deliberately lacking a hitch — but the sport mode is risible at best and should be named “Fifth Gear On The Freeway Mode,” as the only observable difference when it’s engaged is that sixth gear is locked out, even above 80 mph.

I hate to say it, because I appreciate and respect the work Ford has put into developing first-rate overhead-cam engines, but the old-style 6.2 in my Silverado whips it coming and going. The best thing I can say is that current Titan and Tundra owners will be very impressed, while 5.7-liter Ram owners will probably come to accept the way the Ford prefers revving to twisting.

In matters of chassis and dynamics, however, the F-150 is the undisputed class of the field. This platform feels a little overwhelmed when it’s asked to underpin a jacked-up 4×4, but as a 2WD short-bed crewcab on 17-inch wheels it’s an authentic joy, effortlessly handling the mountain curves on I-77 at 90 mph and returning steering feedback that wouldn’t disgrace an E-Class. While the aluminum Ford might not weigh any less than a steel Chevy, the distribution of the weight is superior. This is the Lotus Evora of full-sized pickups, and the lack of a front axle just adds to the joy of driving. Shame that the aluminum panels are so dent-sensitive. As with a Lotus, you do pay a price for the athleticism.

Road noise is extremely low for a full-sized truck, and the “head toss” behavior that sullies much of the competition doesn’t make much of an appearance here. Compared to the Silverado, the F-150 has less space up front and a little more in back. It’s also missing the extra glovebox on the passenger side: blame the compromises of XLT trim for that. The same’s true for the rear window, which lacks any kind of sliding mechanism.

As a $30,000-ish proposition, either new or slightly used, this Ford amounts to the bargain of the century. For the price of an Accord or Camry, you get twice the power and twice the capability. It will last a long time and there will be a willing buyer lined up when you’re done with it. If there’s anything to regret about the F-150, it’s the fact that the resale market tends to punish people who choose a reasonable specification and the simpler two-wheel-drive powertrain. Shame, because this, not the Lincoln-ish Platinum or the absurd Raptor, is the best way to buy your all-American pickup truck.

Do I regret buying my Silverado? Not as a 6.2, 12,500-pound-tow-rating tugboat. But if I wanted a little bit less truck for a lot less money, I’d choose this one without hesitation. This is America. It’s pretty good. Give it a shot and see for yourself.

[Image: Jack Baruth/TTAC]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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2 of 150 comments
  • Pmirp1 Pmirp1 on Jun 26, 2018

    I like GM’s 6.2 V8, but unless you go for higher trim levels, it’s not available. I take the Coyote with new 10 speed over the 5.3 GM V8 and its not so good 8 speed automatic. Until they make the 6.2 and 10 speed automatic available in lower trims and make it in USA, forget the GM trucks. F150 with V8 and 10 speed all day.

  • CombiCoupe99 CombiCoupe99 on Jun 26, 2018

    After all these years, I STILL don't get the four door luxo-truck with the mini-bed. I guess its OK to be like that - I just don't relate.

  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.
  • 1995 SC So if they vote it down, the UAW gets to keep trying. Is there a means for a UAW factory to decide they no longer wish to be represented and vote the union out?
  • Lorenzo The Longshoreman/philosopher Eri Hoffer postulated "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends up as a racket." That pretty much describes the progression of the United Auto Workers since World War II, so if THEY are the union, the answer is 'no'.