Texas scrublands, outside San Antonio: Wind dances with wisps of grass as somebody waters the dirt. Something starts poking pinpricks in the calm... An airplane? Nah; five cackling maniacs running a 2015 Ford F-150 toward the fresh mudpatch at full tilt. A mudpatch somebody was about to be wearing.
(Disclosure: Ford flew myself and a bunch of other journalists to San Antonio to have our way with the 2015 Ford F-150. They even set up a cute little off-road course for us to get some pictures making mud-wakes. But we ended up having a lot more fun after we ditched our corporate nanny on the side of the trail and set to flogging the truck like we were late for a moonshine delivery.)
I climbed into this FX4 short-bed SuperCrew (full four-door) with sarcasm enthusiast Doug DeMuro in the front seat and a Ford rep in the back. He will remain nameless so he doesn't get in trouble.
This truck was running the 3.5 EcoBoost V6 which churns 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Front suspension is coil-on-shock, long-spindle double-wishbone independent, stamped-steel lower control arm type up front. Hotchkiss-type solid axle and leaf springs are in the rear, with gas shocks all around.
For 2015, the FX4 Off-Road Package includes Hill Descent Control, an electronically-locking rear axle, skid plates, and "off-road tuned shocks" (though I've had a hell of a time getting anybody to tell me exactly what that means).
Dropping into 2WD as I trotted toward our first obstacle, we got our first cries of protest from the back seat.
"The course is really meant to be driven in 4, better leave it in there."
I had no doubt the course was meant to be driven in 4WD. It was also meant to be driven by folks who've never dared venture off-road since that time they backed over their neighbor's flower bed.
"I think we'll be alright," I said, half-heartedly attempting to conceal my obnoxious overconfidence.
"I think you're an idiot?" encouraged Doug, which I took on advisement along with the sermon about how I'd really "be happier with a Range Rover from Carmax" he'd given me a few times already.
Without making you scroll any further, here's a quick breakdown of how the 2015 F-150 made it's way through the course, vaguely illustrated here:
The first stretch trail took us through deep holes on opposite sides of the road that tried to twist the truck like a wet towel while the shocks pumped through their range of travel like an elephant vigorously masturbating.
The frame felt pretty straight, the clearance could have been better. Driving a little faster than I probably should have, we had a wholelotta noise coming through the cabin from what I think was the axles hitting bump-stops.
The Roller Coaster Up N' Over
One of the best parts of off-roading, because it invariably gets passengers squealing, is a climb that gets your hood over the horizon. That's also not particularly safe though, since you have no clue what the hell you're driving over and I know you're too lazy to walk the course.
The 2015 F-150 has a decidedly nifty camera under the Blue Oval badge in the grille; which provides a full 90º of vision directly in front of the truck. It's invaluable for situations like the steep climb, or any time you have small hazards to keep track of that get obstructed by the truck's massive hood.
Down the other side of the drop, Ford's new truck is fitted with Hill Descent Control that works the brakes for you to maintain a gentle walk downward.
That freshly-watered mudpatch I mentioned earlier, about 40' feet long, was waiting for us at the bottom of the hill.
"Probably time for that four-wheel," our rep begged from behind me.
"Nah, we'll get through with a little speed."
Before anybody could complain I barreled into the bog with a healthy boot in the throttle. The drive wheels crossed the poop-colored patch at a gallop and instead of hitting what I was sure would be molasses-like resistance, they broke the truck's tail loose like an Inflatable Wacky Arm-Waving Tube Man.
Chocolate rooster tails were coming off the truck like beads from a pride parade float, dousing the poor bastard who'd pulled the short straw and was watering the course.
We came out on the other side and I'd finally won over our Ford rep.
"Welp, nobody's ever gone through it that fast!" he gasped between laughs.
"Yeah, tell your water guy I'm sorry! That mud looked... a lot deeper from up here."
"It's all good, he was driving a Chevy."
With Traction Control on, the truck had been easy to modulate through a little hyrdoplane. And, obviously, a lot of fun.
Two roads diverged in the yellow wood; a flat grass trail and a washboard of telephone poles that had been laid horizontal and half-buried in the dirt.
I was about to take the easy way out so Doug could finish the novel he was texting, but our rep wasn't having it.
"Our engineers didn't spend a week burying these logs so you could skip 'em!"
Yeah, what was I thinking?
We bobbed up, down, up, down, up, and over again. Between the truck's reasonably plush suspension and it's deliciously soft seats we weren't in pain per se, but nobody was enjoying themselves.
"The speedometer is literally on zero, and we're miserable," said Doug. He wasn't wrong, but the truck had no trouble getting over the bumps.
Sauntering the truck across maybe 300' of standing water between 1" and 8" deep, the F-150 experienced no slippage whatsoever. Even when I poured on the juice to throw a little wake for our photographers, the truck was just as easy to drive as if it was on dry pavement.
That's partially thanks to new tires, and mostly because the 2015 Ford F-150 has a host of features to keep you from crashing. Or misbehaving much... more on that right now.
Three photographers, who'd been waiting all day for some idiot to charge through the creek as fast as I had, were ready to head back to camp after they'd photographed us. One volunteered to sit in the bed, but our Ford rep put his foot down.
"He falls out and it'll be my ass. You all get in the cab, I'll just wait here for the next truck to come through."
Our truck was now one corporate nanny lighter, and about six hundred pounds worth of photographer heavier. It was finally time to do donuts.
With Traction Control and AdvanceTrac disengaged, a little slip of the brake and big dose of gas pedal, the truck was happy to spin tires and sow seeds of hooning on the Texas scrubland. For a few seconds. Then another system you can't turn off pulls the plug on your rambunctious antics and cuts your power before you can put a heart around your girlfriend's initials in tiremarks on the dirt.
That said, a little modulation went a long way in overcoming it.
This is, obviously, a testament to Ford's safety dedication and is great for people who want to drive the truck without playing rodeo clown. If you really have to make a mess, there's probably a fuse you can pull somewhere.
The Corner Climb
The last stretch of trail was steep and windy over loose rocks. We still hadn't needed 4WD up to this point, and if I'd carried more than 1 MPH of speed up the last hill we wouldn't have needed it at all. But I didn't, so we did.
At half walking-pace the one big rock we bounced off brought us to a halt, and our rear tires changed jobs from forward-propulsion to trench digging.
A spotter looked on nervously from the top. Doug and our three new friends wasted no time in razzing me, and fair enough. But a little overzealous reversing was what got us off the course and into real trouble.
Guess I should have looked at that back-up camera.
So the truck was hanging halfway off the course, awkwardly perched on a few slippery rocks with the dash inclinometer reading something like 22 degrees of tilt. Despite my reassurances to my passengers it was "all part of the plan to finally test out 4WD" they just kept laughing and got out to take pictures.
The spotter had sprinted down the hill, radio in hand like a TV cop, and now paced around in panic demanding we call the tow truck. I know this guy didn't work for Ford, because I gotta hope they have more faith in their equipment.
Doug briefly looked up from his phone to offer insight; "As long as all four wheels are on the ground, I don't see any reason why you can't get out."
That's a little something we call "the right attitude," my friends and it's what makes Mr. DeMuro
vaguely bearable a great co-driver.
Dropping to Low Range 4WD, I blipped the throttle and we surged backward into the forest.
Having last driven the Chevy Colorado, I wasn't expecting quite so much juice. How does that make sense? It doesn't, but Low Range effectively doubled the twin turbocharged Ford's 420 lb-ft of torque. When I gave it way too much gas, it turned into a high-velocity projectile which turned into a truck-shaped mud displacer.
We finally really were someplace requiring 4WD. And while Low Range was probably still like bringing a sledgehammer to a circumcision, I elected to keep it there so we could have a delightfully dramatic explosive exit from the bog and give the sweaty spotter one last good scare.
I wasn't disappointed; the F-150 extracted itself effortlessly and we motored on home to suck down some more free coffee.
Quick Break-Down: Great Toys, Lots Of Potential
We all know a lot of 2015 F-150 customers aren't going to be taking their trucks on trails. So does Ford; you can tell by the big front air splitter sacrificing approach angle for aerodynamics. Aside from the low chin, the truck's plenty competent in the dirt. But what's more exciting for off-roaders is the array of awesome gadgets.
Front and side visibility cameras, only the domain of Range Rovers not long ago, are hugely helpful in tight and technical spots. Hill decent control takes the thinking and foot-work out of tedious downhill driving. And Ford is still the only outfit who offers a beautiful digital tilt-and-roll gauge on the dash.
The tech in the 2015 F-150 make it the easiest full-size truck to punt through a trail. A little lift and great tires would make it almost venerable. Who's ready for the next Raptor?
Check out more interesting stuff about the 2015 Ford F-150
On fuel economy:
Photos: A few from Ford, but mostly actual pictures of our test taken by Andrew P. Collins and Michael Harley of AutoBlog.