Ford F-150 goes aluminum, steals Nissan AroundView Monitor idea, disgusts me

Sections: Car Safety, Chassis, Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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Ford F-150 2015 Debut at NAIAS

The 2015 Ford F-150 debuted at North American International Auto Show and will feature a lot of aluminum and a new, smaller EcoBoost V6 engine that may net up to 30 MPG highway. (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)

The Ford F-150 has probably come across your feed a couple dozen times these last few days since its unveiling at NAIAS. The big news: It’s going to have a lot more aluminum and can be up to 700 lbs lighter than the outgoing model, which in combination with a new engine option could get the truck to nearly 30 MPG highway in EPA testing. So why am I still disgusted?

Because the other big pickup truck news at the North American International Auto Show was the GMC Canyon version of the midsize Chevrolet Colorado making its debut.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology used to improve the fuel economy of the ever-larger Ford F-150 is impressive. Ford says part of the strategy is a new, smaller-displacement 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 gasoline engine with auto start-stop. The base engine gets bumped down from 3.7 to 3.5 liters, with twin independent variable camshaft timing. EcoBoost-equipped Ford F-150s will also get active grille shutters to improve aerodynamics and fuel mileage at cruising speed.

But again, the big news is the diet the Ford F-150 has been put on. Saving 700 lbs is no small accomplishment, and Ford said high-strength steel in the truck’s frame and elsewhere played a role, but aluminum is the star here, being used throughout the F-150’s body panels for the first time. Ford says this helps improve their strength and dent-resistance, but critics say it will be costly to repair when mash-ups happen in a parking lot or while doing work, for those who actually do use the fuller-than-full-size new generation of full-size trucks to do real work. Some of us who have eyeballed late-model Mustangs will also have concerns about corrosion resistance, though surely Ford will offer at least 100,000 miles of corrosion warranty after previous concerns about aluminum panel corrosion incidents in other cars. They don’t call them “Rustangs” for nothing.

But I have a problem, and it’s because I’m totally biased. I own one of the last-generation Ford Rangers, a 2006 model. I’ve driven small pickups all of my driving life, and spent a whole lot of my childhood riding around in them with my father. Meanwhile, my mom and stepfather at one time had a pair of F-150s from 1994 and 1992, respectively — both two-wheel drive and infinitely easier to use for hauling things in the cargo bed than today’s ultra-tall, high-bedsides Ford F-150. Real-world fuel mileage out of both trucks, which had the venerable 300 cubic-inch inline six, wasn’t far removed from the 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V6 in the most recent generation of the Ford F-150.

As a result of that upbringing and a solid 10 years of experience using them in my adult life, I’ve come to really appreciate humble, logically sized trucks. And for all the awesome technology Ford is throwing at the F-150 to try to make it more fuel-efficient, I just can’t love it because it’s so gosh-darned huge. That the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins look like they’re about the same size as those old ’90s F-150s really speaks a lot to our misplaced priorities when it comes to buying trucks. Whatever happened to hauling your stuff in the bed? Beds got too high off the ground, that’s what. And now I see at least 10 skyscraper full-size trucks towing puny utility trailers hauling a riding mower or four-wheeler every day in the summer. (For the record, the 2015 Ford F-150 will try to help you get your mower into the bed by way of built-in ramps in the tailgate. Good luck to you if you choose to try it — it’s gonna be a long fall if you don’t make it.)

And sure, there’s a “technology breakthrough” that has addressed that issue, as well. Ford has the “man-step,” and GM trucks like the new-for-2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra we tested not so long ago have a special foot cut-out in the corners of the rear bumper. I noted in the Chevrolet Silverado test that I had a hard time backing into parking spaces partly because of the tall ride height and bedsides. To help combat a similar situation in the Ford F-150, Ford is going to outfit the 2015 model with the Motor Company’s own version of Nissan’s AroundView Monitor, a technology I really liked in the Nissan Versa Note I tested last year and one I’m sure will be very valuable in trucks of this size.

My point is, we should reassess whether we need trucks the size of those that two human generations ago were used for hauling grain trailers and such. I don’t need an AroundView monitor-like camera setup on my Ranger because it’s easy to gauge distances from objects. And it’s easy to do that because the truck sits at a more utility-focused height, with bedsides short enough that I can reach into the center of the bed standing flat-footed on the ground outside the truck.

That’s why it’s heartening to see GM bring back the Colorado and Canyon. They may not be the size of my Ranger — they’re sizably bigger, in fact — but they represent a logical size for most of us who don’t use trucks for work every day. Oh, let’s be honest: They represent a logical size for a lot of us who do use our trucks for work every day. That’s why there’s a big part of me that hopes GM does well with the new midsizers. I must admit they look good, and they offer a level of in-car tech not found on the previous generation Colorado and Canyon. Hello, Chevrolet MyLink?

If GM does well with their midsize trucks, maybe Nissan and Toyota can be convinced to update their Frontier and Tacoma more than once a decade. And maybe Ford will quit making excuses in the name of preserving F-150 sales and bring us the global “T6″ Ford Ranger that is selling like hotcakes in almost every other corner of the world except for North America. If we can push a gargantuan Ford F-150 to get a theoretical 30 MPG, after all, imagine what can be accomplished with smaller and more aerodynamic trucks.

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