I may have more cars than most of my neighbors but I remain a not untypical pointy headed New Yorker, in that I share the view of many here, thinking that extra-large pickup trucks are not the ideal vehicle genus for personal transportation. And I say this as a committed believer in automotive tolerance, the idea that (broadly speaking) with the exception of your coal rollers and other gross polluters, people should be able to drive whatever they want to drive.
But, even so, the way I see it, there's just no societal upside wherever you might live, to commuting to work in lumbering, 15 mpg trucks that take up as much space as tract houses, unless it's involved in your work or regular recreational habits. Fortunately for the shareholders of the big car companies, many Americans disagree. They think pickups are sensible transport for all occasions. It's this belief that makes it profitable to build this category of machines because they sell so well--in the millions--year in, year out. Pickups are the industry's biggest, most reliable economic pick-me-ups, too, and surprisingly impervious to whether gas is cheap or not.
Having said all that, I just spent a week with a 2016 all-aluminum Ford F-150 Limited Edition. And I am duty bound to tell you that while very large (over 20-ft. long) and quite thirsty (15.1 mpg overall in roughly 500 miles of driving), this truck reminded me that there are times when there is nothing better than a great big American pickup. Such as when you have something genuinely heavy-duty to do. No wonder people like these things so much. They may not have anything heavy-duty to do, but boy, if they did.
I did: booking my 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS into the northern Connecticut workshops of DB Enterprises for a rebuild of its tired independent rear suspension – so enterprising for its day that they'd made IRS part of the car's name – I wanted to borrow a pickup so I might pull a friend's trailer, sparing me the need to dig up a ride home to New York and giving me something more appropriate to do with the gargantuan F-150 crew cab, which I'd been meaning to experience. Surely, this was better than driving it in and out of the city for business meetings.
Still I hadn't counted on the Limited Edition. With its four doors, heated leather seating, all-wheel-drive and eye-watering $67,270 price tag, it was more truck than I needed. Towing a trailer and a Triumph (under 3,800 pounds, combined) would tax it not in the least. But I wasn't about to say no.
And I'd be a liar if I didn't say that it was a very civilized, high-performing machine, a luxury tugboat, that it is so much better in its field I can't really imagine improving it without entering the realm of fantasy. Unless it is one of the top-of-the-line GM, RAM, Toyota or Nissan offerings, I don't have sufficient current experience to compare, though it's hard to imagine anything of this type being dramatically better.
It's no secret that pickup trucks have been moving in the luxury direction over the last 50 years, ever since decisions were made across the industry in the late 1960s to mainstream trucks for mass consumption. But while I wasn't paying attention these vehicles seem to have made a greater leap towards the luxurious in the last few years – all the while getting bigger, not smaller. And as long as gas is cheap, it seems, nothing can slow the sales juggernaut, driven by salaried men and women, often solo commuters, as much as tradespeople.
The F-150 is comfortable. It would be quiet for a car, it is unbelievably so for a mammoth truck. And it rides well. Especially when you consider that for all of the 700 pounds its largely aluminum construction is meant to save, this truck still exceeds two-and-a-half tons in weight (5,236 lbs.) It's easy to temporarily forget this as you whip it around turns on its low-profile tires and enormous 22-inch rims, however. The 365- horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine makes 420 lb. ft. of torque and an aggressive sound as you rocket away, with the sort of menacing bellow that makes parents tense and pedestrians cringe. But jacked up and riding high inside the truck, I got over an initial sense of embarrassment and felt the power.
Strategically located around the luxe cabin are numerous plugs and ports, enough to allow you to film and edit your own reality television program with room for six large cast members and almost enough space for the studio audience. The bed is large and deep but short, at five feet six inches, truncated from the working pickup's typical eight feet to give the elongated crew cab truck a fighting chance of fitting into any parking space, anywhere. There's got to be one out there.
One of your reality show's first episodes will have to be the one about the time you set out to program the Pro Trailer backup assist, and shows you turning over much of the responsibility for backing up your trailer to the truck, steering its front wheels for itself, spinning the steering wheel you've taken your hands off of as you reverse. It's still directed by you, using a dashboard knob that turns right or left, while you view the scene behind your rig through the screen of a backup camera. Loved the idea – trailer reversing is confounding for towing novices and journeymen – but in practice Pro Trailer feels like a video game that will likely take as much effort to master as learning how to back up a trailer the old fashioned way. (Here's a video of Pro Trailer in action.)
This truck and its pickup bed sit very high. So rather than expect Limited Edition customers to be extraordinarily fit, the company wisely makes sure that a giant running board extends every time you open a door, easing access. The tailgate similarly boasts a pop out ladder option to help less athletic users access the cargo hold. Hydraulically controlled footsteps help users to get at the cargo area from the side and screwed to inside panels are substantial black metal twin ramps, which can be deployed to load a motorcycle or ATV into the tough as nails (spray linered at the factory) bed. The ramps are steeply angled when attached to the lowered tailgate, though, so in this instance, some muscle will be required.
When I'd finished towing, the F-150's size started to bother me, especially in parking lots. And its thirst was considerable. To sum up: a great tool when you need it. But driving it to the grocery store, it made me feel like a tool. But I did mention that I'm from New York, an island off the coast of America, didn't I?