Review: 2013 Ford F-150 FX4 SuperCab

Do Ford\'s continual updates keep its F-150 fresh, or do they simply make last year\'s model outdated? We find out.

If you're in the market for a pickup truck, odds are pretty good that you've already decided what you want to buy. At this point, it's probably just down to color and trim choices.

After all, pickup buyers are among the industry's most loyal.

To court those few undecided buyers, automakers from Detroit and Japan have had to pull out all the stops. Sales leader Ford has emphasized continuous improvement by adding something substantial to its F-Series truck line every year. Are these gradual updates a strategy that will keep bringing buyers into showrooms, or will they prefer the consistency of some rivals?

We hopped into a 2013 F-150 to find out how the latest round up updates has changed the best-selling truck.

What is it?

Though it can trace its roots back to 2004, the Ford F-150 - the lightest duty version of Ford's durable F-Series truck range - has been made over in a number of ways over the last decade. And most of these have been pretty substantial updates.

For 2013, it gained some mild exterior styling revisions and the integration of Ford's touted but controversial MyFord Touch infotainment system. Developed with Microsoft, MyFord Touch was the first mainstream infotainment, but it has been maligned by reviewers for its complexity and its propensity to lag behind user inputs.

Our test F-150 was equipped with a torquey twin-turbocharged EcoBoost-branded 3.5-liter V6 that supplants an otherwise standard 3.7-liter naturally-aspirated V6 and a 5.0-liter, Mustang GT-sourced V8.

Like other full-size pickups, F-150 is available in an extensive range of trims and body styles. Our 4x4 tester came loaded up with the off road-oriented FX4 trim and the suicide door-style SuperCab configuration. Most F-150s bought by consumers these days are crew cabs with traditional four door bodies.

A special FX Appearance Package further dressed up our car with black wheels, tape stripes and tubular running boards.

All told, our $49,835 tester was awfully expensive, but that's the going rate for trucks.

What's it up against?

If you're looking for something that emphasizes off road ability, the F-150 FX4 squares off against rivals like the Chevrolet Silverado Z71, GMC Sierra All-Terrain and Ram 1500 Outdoorsman.

What's it look like?

F-150's 2013 updates included some modest revisions to its grille and headlamps, the latter of which were HIDs on our tester.

Overall, the truck has only been mildly revised since this body arrived in 2009, and even that was a modest update of the 2004 model. Still, the F-150 is mostly fresh-looking, and we like some of the details that have become part of the brand's DNA - like the kick up on the driver's door window sill and the small ducktail-like integrated spoiler on the tailgate.

An optional step with a hand rail deploys from the tailgate when needed. Though it feels durable, the execution looks a little more aftermarket than factory to us. Still, there's no denying its usefulness.

But we weren't crazy about our tester's expensive ($1,780!) appearance package. Matte black wheels look great today, but we think the style will date itself quickly, plus the dark finish is more prone to show scuffing - especially off road.

And on the inside?

The 2013 model year updates gave the F-150 a noticeable bump in terms of onboard technology, but they didn't change the interior's overall appearance.

Blocky and chunky in a decidedly truck-like way, the F-150's cabin is convenient and comfortable if a bit industrial feeling compared to the Ram's more luxurious confines. By that, we're delicately saying that the F-150's plethora of hard, overly-grained plastic trim would be better suited to a work truck than a $50,000 "lifestyle” vehicle.

Generally, there's much to like about the firmly padded and remarkably bolstered front seats. Even the rear seat, accessible by the suicide-style rear-hinged doors, is comfortable enough for short stints.

Let's talk about what's new: Two high-resolution screens. In between the updated gauge cluster sits a single screen with a lot of functionality. Accessed by buttons on the left side of the steering wheel, this screen provides all sorts of trip computer information, ranging from the basics - fuel economy and the like - to details about wheel position and engine hours. If it's not included here, you probably don't need to know it.

A bigger screen sits in the center of the dash for the optionally-included MyFord Touch system. The same unit used in other Ford vehicles, it benefits here from additional buttons and knobs for audio volume, tuning and presets. On other Fords, these features are sometimes accessed only through the finicky touch screen. A major benefit to this is that the system didn't seem nearly as lag-prone here - due, no doubt, to the fact that we didn't have to press the touchscreen as often.

As a result, MyFord Touch and its Sync voice recognition software operates more in the background in the F-150 than in other Fords. A tap of a steering wheel button brings up Sync's voice commands when the driver wants to interact with the system. We found that the computer easily recognized our commands, but some acclimation is necessary in order to learn its "language.”

But does it go?

Ford went out on a limb by introducing the first genuinely desirable V6 engine ever shoehorned into a pickup - the 3.5-liter twin turbocharged, direct-injected mill that also does duty in the Ford Taurus SHO.

In the F-150, it's rated at 365 horsepower and, more importantly, 420 lb-ft. of torque from just 2,000 rpm. All F-150s, regardless of engine, use a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Undoubtedly, this engine is a sweetheart. Smooth and refined, it feels like it would be better suited to a luxury car than a pickup. Acceleration is effortless with little of the lag that plagues single-turbocharged engines. Only an occasionally non-linear feel to rolling start-style acceleration - like after making a 90-degree right turn - detracts from the experience.

Then again, so did fuel economy. Though this engine is part of Ford's EcoBoost family (which means turbocharging and direct injection), it clearly emphasizes boost over eco. Officially, it's rated at 15/21 mpg, but we saw figures more like 13 and 18 mpg in the city and on the highway, respectively. We averaged 15 mpg instead of the promised 17 mpg.

Of course, most people don't buy a truck for its fuel economy. Equipped with the 3.73 electronic locking rear axle and maximum trailer towing package, our test truck was rated for up to 11,300 lbs. - and that rear differential ratio certainly had an impact on fuel economy. It's a shame that the EPA doesn't require automakers to test vehicles with different axle ratios. We couldn't find anything that heavy to tow, but it's nice to know the reserve is there when you're lugging around, say, 5,000 lbs.

You'd think a truck with that kind of capacity would ride and handle like, well, a truck. And the F-150 does that - at least more so than the coil-sprung Ram 1500. The F-150 continues to utilize leaf springs in the rear, which give it the edge in capacity but also a comparatively unsettled feel over the road. That's not to say that it's a poor riding vehicle - impacts are absorbed with a well-isolated feel. But where the Ram rides like a luxury car, the F-150 feels like a truck.

And it can perform like a truck off road when needed, although it is limited by its proportions, its relatively low-profile side walls and a low-hanging front bumper. The optional locking rear differential could prove a boon for slippery boat ramps, but we'd like to see an automatic full-time mode for the transfer case. As it is, four wheel drive is only meant to be used on slippery terrain.

But that demerit aside, the F-150 remains a really, really good truck. And that's not a bad thing.

Leftlane's bottom line

We like Ford's approach with the F-Series - its confidence in regularly updating its best-seller has paid off in what is undoubtedly the most refined "traditional” truck on the market.

If you're buying a truck for the lightest duty use, the Ram 1500 is probably the way to go. But if you're actually going to get some truckiness out of a pickup, the F-150 is a mighty fine choice. We're on the fence about the EcoBoost engine - it's smooth and powerful, but our real-world experience has shown it to be no less efficient than the significantly cheaper 5.0-liter V8.

2013 Ford F-150 FX4 4x4 SuperCab base price, $38,765. As tested, $49,835.

FX4 Package 402A, $4,420; EcoBoost V6, $1,095; Locking rear axle, $570; Max Trailer Package, $565; Navigation, $795; Tailgate step, $375; FX Appearance Package, $1,780; Spray-in bed liner, $475; Destination, $995.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz. Follow Andrew on Twitter.

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