• Model: Ford F-150 4x4 Supercrew
• Exterior color: Platinum Metallic Tricoat
• Engine: EcoBoost, 3.5-liter V-6
• Horsepower: 365
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic
• Fuel economy: 21 mpg highway, 15 mpg city
• Dealer: Marshal Mize Ford
• Price (as tested): $53,080
Last fall, Ford and Shell Oil issued a challenge to see who could coax the best gas mileage out of an F-150 pickup truck equipped with the company's groundbreaking EcoBoost V-6 engine.
The winner was Carlee Mallard of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., who stretched her weeklong gas allotment to get 28.3 miles per gallon in an F-150, according to a Ford news release.
Mallard said she maximized her mileage by cruising without air conditioning and driving 55 mph on highways. Still, the thought of averaging 28 mpg in a full-size pickup seems almost like science fiction.
Todd Dyer, general manager at Marshal Mize Ford here, said the EcoBoost technology, which delivers V-8 power from a V-6 engine, is driving buyers of Ford's bread-and-butter work truck into showrooms.
The government estimates drivers in most real-life situations will get 21 mpg highway, 15 mpg city. Dyer said the best gas mileage comes after a 7,500-mile, break-in period in which the F-150's onboard computers learn to optimize throttle and transmission response to fit your individual driving style.
Speaking of style, our F-150 test vehicle was dressed up in Ford's Platinum trim level, which transforms a work truck into a feast for the eyes.
Our tester came with the optional Platinum Metallic Tri-color paint, which adds depth and luster to the exterior. The interior is outfitted in sumptuous leather with "Platinum" stitched handsomely on the seat-backs. Standard equipment includes a power-sliding rear window, power running boards, remote start and rain-sensing wipers. The front seats are both heated and cooled, and the rear bench seats -- with plenty of room for three -- are also heated.
Options on our tester were a moonroof ($995) and a Sony navigation and sound package ($2,470). The F-150 is equipped for Ford's excellent Sync voice-activated system for hands-free calling, entertainment and turn-by-turn directions.
If you haven't driven a full-size American truck in awhile, the F-150 is a wonderful example of mass in motion. The EcoBoost engine, a turbo-charged V-6, results in a 20 percent gain in fuel efficiency over larger-displacement V-8 engines, according to Ford. (Ford is so sold on its EcoBoost engines that the Blue Oval company says it will eventually offer the option on 90 percent of its nameplates.)
The EcoBoost turbo spools up quickly and delivers 425 ft.-lbs. of torque. Towing capacity is a whopping 11,200 pounds.
On a test drive earlier this week in Red Bank, the F-150 delivered as advertised. Acceleration was quick and steering fairly nimble. The cabin is nicely isolated with little road or wind noise.
The F-150 offers a commanding view of the road. I pulled up behind a full-sized SUV and felt like I was looking down on a compact car. The feel of solid safety is palpable.
The amenities and engineering in today's trucks is amazing, and Ford is leading the way. Sales of the F-series trucks are up 13 percent so far in 2012 as interest in the gas-saving EcoBoost engine soars. It looks like the F-150 will be the runaway winner in the sweepstakes for America's favorite vehicle (car or truck) this year. Our test drive confirms buyers are on the right track.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...