By Lucas Elke
When Ford offered CarEnvy their brand new 2011 Ford F-150 Platinum EcoBoost truck for a week, they probably thought it would be a shoe-in for a great review.
It came loaded with their V8-vanquishing 365hp twin-turbo V6, graced with every option on the checklist, and would be driven in the heartland of truck country where the religion of Ford is more widely practiced than the religions of Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam combined. What else could Ford do to all but guarantee themselves a great write up? It’s worked on every other Albertan car journalist, so of course it would work at CarEnvy! Well, they probably weren’t anticipating it being driven by a truck-hating cynic who hasn’t “driven a Ford lately” and, until now, had no intentions to do so.
To be as ‘fair’ as possible, I thought it best to think and act like a “truck guy” for the week. So, my first night with the Ford I did what every other young man does with their flashy new truck: rolled the windows down, turned the music up, and aimlessly cruised Whyte Ave. With the optional 700-watt SONY subwoofer blaring, and the 20-inch chrome wheels glimmering in the reflections of neon bar signs, I certainly gained notice amongst the party hoppers on The Ave. Although most of the nods were from guys wearing Ed Hardy t-shirts and girls too drunk to realize they weren’t standing still, “The Platinum” (as I started to refer to it) unquestionably had a pronounced presence.
When I picked up my staggeringly intoxicated friends from the bar that night, the automatic running boards were particularly helpful in easing them inside. The whiz-bang items (the boards, not the friends) descend and extend from the undercarriage every time a door is opened and neatly tuck back in when the door is shut, a feature every person found cool. After a single night of cruising I was already impressed by The Platinum’s “oohhh” and “aawwhh” features. The sound system was great, the abundant chrome caught people’s attention, and it was an amusing vehicle for idling around town.
Sure the geeky gizmos will sell some people on the value of the Platinum but, in reality, it also needs to be useful, practical, and of quality commensurate with the nearly $65,000 price tag. To check all of that out, I loaded up a couple friends and headed to the mountains for a day of biking.
The next morning we left for Jasper at 7:00am, nearly two hours after the sun grabbed the ledge of the horizon and pulled itself over. After a late night at the local pub we were looking for anything to make packing our gear into the truck easier. Luckily, The Platinum has a slide-out “man step” leading into its lined bed. At first I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but after using it to help load and unload three bikes into the rear, it became one of my favorite details of the truck. Even with two full hands, we could easily step up into the bed.
Once we were packed, it was off to the truck’s natural habitat: a gas station and Tim Horton’s. The turning radius was tight for such a large vehicle and, even before our morning coffee, maneuvering through the drive-thru was a breeze. What wasn’t so breezy was the $120 fill-up before we departed; although, with Ford’s new EcoBoost engine promising a solid 9.4L/100km on the highway it was sure to last us a while.
Being a bit tech-savvy, we decided to let the GPS direct us to our destination. After fidgeting with the in-dash screen, which was an awkward reach away, we set the GPS and were off to the mountains. The drive to Jasper is so basic in direction that someone who gets lost driving home from work would make it there without any confusion. As such, our GPS should have had no problems leading us to where we needed to go, right? After ignoring the first few wrong directions we had to turn the GPS off and let our basic male instincts lead the way (truly one of man’s strongest natural traits). If we’d continued on the GPS’ path, we’d probably have ended up back in Ontario, where the truck was registered. Once the GPS was off we were encouraged by the engine’s twin-turbos and made it to Jasper in, lets call it, “good time”.
Unfortunately, our pace didn’t help the gas mileage. Our $120 of petrol quickly burnt away at a rate of 15L/100km. Testing the truck’s 162km/h speed limiter didn’t help our cause either, but it was still a long way from Ford’s suspicious claim of 9.4L/100km. The 420ft-lbs of torque and incredibly smooth ride made passing all too easy, although it was usually accomplished a few “Mississippis” after stomping on the gas pedal. The turbo lag was so long that once, while waiting for the turbos to spool up, I decided to go for a shiatsu massage. After they kicked in I had to call my masseuse and book another appointment for my freshly kinked neck. While the boost made for some occasional fun, it made routine driving a finicky task. Passing in the city became a delicate balance of throttle and brake. Even worse, the transmission would dump three gears at once while making a quick pass – a harsh routine even on the most durable of transmissions.
But I digress. While I walked a “reasonable” portion of our biking trail, I still managed to work up quite the sweat. Fortunately, The Platinum had air-conditioned seats that blew a cool breeze on my damp behind – another very enjoyable luxury. On our way home we drove through varying degrees of rainfall that Northern Alberta farmers desperately needed. This would normally be nothing to recant, but The Platinum’s automatic rain sensors made for a pestering and inaccurate bother. When the skies were fully opened and visibility was all but obscured, the blades would barely wipe. The opposite would occur when there no more than a light drizzle.
The technological frustrations continued when I tried to call a friend about the weather back in Edmonton. Using Microsoft’s SYNC automation to voice-activate my phone was a hassle. Ford advertises it as a safer way to use your phone, but after unsuccessfully calling people on multiple occasions I decided to live recklessly and dial with my hands. While we made it home safely, and very comfortably, some of the toys did more to raise the MSRP than help the occupants.
If The Platinum represents the level of quality of Ford’s new vehicles then it is easy to see why they are garnering much praise and excitement in the automotive world. The new F-150 is a consistently solid product throughout: the interior is upscale, the amenities are plentiful, and the engine is strong. But, as enjoyable as my time with The Platinum was, it wasn’t a good enough vehicle to rid me of my trucking-hating ways. For $64,419 I would expect every aspect of this vehicle to work well, if not perfectly, and too many features did not. Although, I will admit, if Ford continues to build their vehicles with the same passion and commitment as they have of late, it won’t be long before I reconsider my stance on trucks.