What It Is/Who It's For
The 2012 Ford F-150 Lariat adds a layer of luxury to the company's best-selling truck, making it as comfortable as it is hardworking.
Ecoboost V-6 offers zero compromise in power and performance compared to V-8 engines.
Fuel economy didn't live up to the promise.
The 2012 Ford F-150 Lariat with the Ecoboost V-6 engine is a huge leap forward in full-size truck engineering, and may even tempt non-haulers to enter the truck market.
Generally speaking, Americans are spoiled. We've become accustomed to the finer things, regardless of who we are or what we do, and we now expect even our work vehicles to coddle us in the lap of luxury.
Case in point: The 2012 Ford F-150 Lariat EcoBoost.
At their core, pickup trucks like this are designed for work. Their reinforced frames and heavy-duty suspensions are made for towing and hauling heavy loads. Their powerful engines possess the low-end grunt needed for a hard day on the farm or construction site. Bigger really is better, and the trucks' enormous size equates to a physically bigger payload.
But when you rely on your truck for day-to-day transportation, all that stuff can make it a pain to deal with. If you don't have a load in the bed, the rear end will bounce like crazy over broken pavement. That powerful engine may get the job done, but it also sucks down gas like there's no tomorrow. The behemoth size is great when it comes to payload, but it's a hassle in parking lots.
Then there's the 2012 Ford F-150 Lariat EcoBoost. With a fuel-efficient V-6 engine and luxurious interior appointments, it's designed not merely to be a jack of all trades, but to master them all. While giving up none of the tough-truck stuff, the Lariat package smothers any rough edges with a leather interior complete with a navigation system, backup camera, and other luxury-car features. The EcoBoost engine is a turbocharged V-6 designed to offer as much work-ready horsepower and torque as a V-8, but with much better fuel economy. Yet at its core, the Ford F-150 is still a truck, with a big bed, big interior, and big capability.
We'll let the truck people tell you how good the F-150 is at towing trailers and hauling hay (spoiler alert: it's pretty awesome). What we wanted to know is how the F-150 behaves when it's off duty, driving in the city, getting you to work and back, and hauling the family to dinner. Does that V-6 live up to its big-power/little thirst promise? Does the Lariat's interior effectively disguise this 5000-pound work truck? Can you, if you're so inclined, live with an F-150 even if you never haul or tow anything? Here's what we learned during a week behind the wheel.
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What We Drove
Breaking down every single one of the Ford F-150's 600,000 possible equipment combinations would take forever. Suffice it to say, if you can dream it, Ford can build it. Our tester started with a $34,110 Ford F-150 4x2 Supercab body on top of a 145-inch wheelbase. Translation: It's rear-drive only; has a medium-sized cabin with a rear seat; a medium-sized bed; and as full-size trucks go, its length is about average. The out-the-door price was inflated by several factors. The navigation system alone added $2495, but includes Ford's Sync voice-activated system; the power moonroof was $995; that comfy leather on the seats was $975; and the two-tone candy red paint added $500. The EcoBoost V-6 engine cost an additional $750, then there's the $565 towing package, the $300 limited slip rear axle, a $250 bed extender...and so on. All told, the out-the-door price was $41,865 including the $975 destination charge. That's as much as many mid-sized luxury sedans.
On the safety front, the Ford F-150 looks pretty good. It gets only three stars in federal front collision tests, but five stars in side, and four in rollover tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it Good ratings (the best possible) in front, side, rear, and rollover tests. Credit the standard front, side, and curtain airbags, not to mention the physics that come with a big-honkin' vehicle. The F-150 also comes with a fairly standard variety of features to prevent collisions in the first place: anti-lock brakes, stability control with roll prevention, and traction control. Our test vehicle also had a backup camera, an extremely useful tool for parking maneuvers, considering the truck's size. The rear bench seat is wide enough that three car seats can use the LATCH positions, although they have to be on the narrow side.
On all but the roughest of surfaces, it's easy to forget you're driving a truck. The phrase "Lexus-quiet" gets bandied about quite a bit, but immediately prior to this truck we had several Lexus test vehicles, and this big Ford gave up surprisingly little to them in terms of silence at speed. If you still think trucks are loud workaday vehicles, a quick trip down the freeway in this Ford F-150 will dispel that notion once and for all.
The interior is downright pleasant. The front seats are big and comfortable, and the multiple adjustments make it easy to ideally position yourself to the steering wheel and shifter. The leather strikes a good balance between durable and soft, but it's clear that despite the luxury treatment this is still a work truck, with hard, durable plastics on nearly every surface. The busy dash's multiple textures, surfaces, and panels will make you dizzy. At least the gauges, climate control, and navigation system are easy to see and use. The center console is wide, and the center storage bin is literally big and deep enough for a laptop and several hanging files. If you can't find enough room for your stuff in this truck's various nooks and crannies, it's time to lighten your load.
Once you've stowed your belongings and made a list of where they are so you can find them again, you can hit the road and enjoy the remarkably good audio system. Complete with a touch-screen navigation system, Ford's excellent Sync music-and-phone-and-address-book-and-texting integration technology, and multiple speakers, it's a top-notch system made even better by the quiet listening environment.
For the most part the F-150's ride is smooth...for a truck. Travel over bigger bumps, such as railroad tracks, and the body quivers for a second or two longer than you'd expect in a car. Over rougher roads, you'll feel the body shake even more, and if you're on a freeway with evenly spaced expansion joints, the rear end hops around noticeably. It's better than competitors like the Chevrolet Silverado, and especially the Toyota Tundra, but there's no disguising the fact that the stiff suspension is designed for towing up to 8700 pounds and hauling more than half a ton of stuff in its bed.
But what about the much-ballyhooed EcoBoost engine? It's smooth, quiet, and musclecar powerful. The F-150 has no problem squirting up to freeway speeds, or making a quick pass of a slow semi. If you need to sneak into that quick-closing hole in traffic, one jab of the gas pedal will have you there in no time. But the fuel economy didn't live up to the promise. We got 15.7 city mpg, which is maybe on the high side of normal for a pickup, but it didn't equal the EPA's 16 mpg city, and not once did the highway mileage approach the EPA's 22 mpg figure. Throw in the usual disclaimer about driving habits and whatnot here, but if you're thinking the Ford F-150 with an EcoBoost engine will give you econo-car fuel economy, think again. This is still a big truck, and it drinks gas like one.
The Grocery Run
If your weekly shopping run consists of pallets of diapers or toilet paper procured from your local Costco, then you probably already own a truck. Dropping such mega-sized items into the F-150's 6-foot-long bed is a snap, and if they're too lengthy, the $250 plastic bed extender allows you to lower the tailgate and stuff something longer back there without worrying about tying it down. Just keep in mind that if you do that, your backup camera is rendered useless as it stares at the F-150's rear bumper. When you're done, just fold up the bed extender and keep it out of the way.
However, if your grocery runs result in plastic bags instead of 12-gross boxes, you might have a bit more trouble. If you're comfortable letting things slide around in the back of the truck, then have at it. You can also use the bed extender in reverse, acting as a corral against the closed tailgate to keep your items in check. But if it's raining, or you just don't like the idea of exposing your eggs to the elements, you'll have to store them inside. While the Supercab's rear seat can easily double as a cargo area, the bad news is that actually using it like that is an enormous hassle. The rear door is hinged at the rear of the cab, which means you have to open the front door to access it, keep it open while you open the rear door, and then figure out how to get your stuff from the cart into the rear seat while seriously contemplating adding a few more dings to the beat-up Corolla that parked too close to you. Not to mention that you've eliminated your rear passenger area in the process.
As long as they're not dodging grocery bags, your little ones will love the rear seat. It's a scramble to get in there, though, and kids will need a boost. Problem is, once your adorable little tykes grow into surly teenagers, the lack of adult-sized rear legroom will be another reason for them to shower you with sarcasm: "Oh, this is comfortable." No matter your rear passenger's height, those rear hinged doors make it a hassle to get in. If you think you'll use the rear seat more than just occasionally, spring for the Crew Cab, which features four traditional doors plus more legroom.
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The Weekend Fun
If your idea of weekend fun includes towing a boat or trailer, putting a camper on the bed, or loading up on free pizza and beer by helping your friends move, it doesn't get much better than the Ford F-150 Lariat. When towing a trailer or with a bed full of stuff, the bed shake disappears, and the F-150 gives a solid but smooth ride. The serenely quiet interior lets you actually enjoy the excellent sound system, rather than just use it to drown out wind noise. With your favorite satellite radio station or your best road-trip mix blasting, you and your family surrounded by heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and even a sunroof, getting there is almost fun as actually being there. Of course, if you're pulling or hauling heavy items, don't expect to see the 22 mpg the EPA says you'll get on the highway.
On the flip side, if you're not loading up the truck bed, you might find the ride less than stellar. The bed shake isn't too terrible in this truck, but a long haul to grandma's that doesn't include delivering antiques will get downright annoying after a while. In that case, you might just want to take the car.
There's a phrase that's bandied about in truck circles: never-nevers. It refers to a small minority of truck buyers who like the idea of driving a truck every day, but never haul and never tow. As fuel prices have gone up, the never-nevers have become scarce. But the 2012 Ford F-150 makes a compelling case for the never-nevers to return. Thanks to the Lariat package it's extremely comfortable, offers tons of luxury features, and although it suffers from some bed shake on the freeways, it's tolerable as long as you know what you're getting into.
The good news is that none of this comes at the expense of capability. The F-150, even with the Lariat package, is all truck, able to tow, haul, and carry with the best of 'em. So you real truckers can rejoice, and those never-nevers will never know the difference.
EPA City: 16 mpg
EPA Highway: 22 mpg
EPA Combined: 18 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 468 miles
Cost of Ownership: Below Average
"It's smooth. It's quiet. It's luxurious. It's quick. But it's still a party in the back." - Jacob Brown, associate editor
"Despite the mismatched materials and outdated feel, I love this truck." - Matthew Askari, associate editor
"In my 85 miles, mpg went from 15.4 to 16.0. Where's my 22 mpg?" - Jason Davis, associate editor
"Buttons on the infotainment system too small and too close together, especially if you have work gloves on. Also, found on practically every Ford vehicle in the fleet." - Joel Arellano, associate editor