This review begins with a car, a broken car, a miserable broken ungrateful little four-wheeled implement to which I have sunk too much money and too many pulled hairs, both of which I will never recoup.
My stupid, silly Mazda Miata has been out of commission since, oh, last May, befallen by a faulty engine and then, uh, another faulty engine. (The details are sordid: first time was a journal bearing, if anyone’s keeping track, and the second, a failed oil pump. Someday I’ll gather all of my thoughts on this Horrible Misadventure in Transportation Ownership and publish the eight-thousand word screed to any miscreant willing to stomach it.)
The third engine, as pointed out by snickering colleagues, has got to be the charm. That warm glow of schadenfreude doesn’t feel as good when you’re the poor dumb bastard.
So when an 2015 Ford F-150 FX4 the approximate size, color, horsepower and towing capacity of the USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 showed up on my driveway with a whomp, I called up Chris Hayes, podcast producer extraordinaire of The Hooniverse Podcast—and we took to the road, heading 60-something miles east to Corona, California, to Keegan Engineering, the somewhat-grandiose self-stylings of one Mike Keegan, to liberate the fruits of my financial mess.
Make no doubt about it—the F-150 is still huge, and it feels huge. Swearing off any nod to aerodynamics, its front end is as square and brutish as your average Electro-Motive Diesel product. It will eclipse a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab, too—longer by 13 inches, taller by nearly two. And it certainly drives like it: bulky, ponderous, but never bogged down. It might be all that aluminum. It might be the fact that it can hit 60 miles per hour in five point six seconds.
Our EcoBoosted Ford came with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, pumping out 365 horsepower and 420 flubs of torque. It is a hell of a thing. Counting down that red light? Freeway getting crowded? Gotta move over before the on-ramp ends? Get on the gas and watch the nose rise up like a surfacing Red October, followed by the immediate and calamitous shifting of anything in the cargo bed. There’s a hint of turbo lag, but then the truck shoves you back, harder than a V8, I’d reckon, because turbocharger. And if the windows are down, the littlest prod of the accelerator evinces a constant whoosh “like it’s a turbodiesel,” said Hayes.
At one point, I lined up at a stoplight next to a Ferrari F430, equally grey, the ghost of Enzo all yelling “vaffanculo!” from across time and space, and floored it. Then I felt bad. You drive a flashy car like that, everyone’s gonna try to race you in all sorts of inappropriate machinery.
Still, I could’ve had him.
Chris and I recorded an episode of the Hooniverse Podcast on the hour drive to Corona, which you can listen to here, and which we could because the F-150 is dead quiet. Mausoleum-quiet. Which would be a cliché if it weren’t shaped like one.
We pulled into a nondescript neighborhood of two-story homes, washed out in different tans and beiges. A gentle bald bear of a man, Keegan met us in the driveway of his modest suburban home, next to a flat-white Falcon sedan—his wife’s—and in front of a garage that held untold projects and occasional treasures. It was quiet here, he said, and cheaper than Irvine, where he used to run his operations. Hayes and Keegan talked shop, exchanged handshakes, business cards. Trained by Cosworth, experienced through Champ Car, Keegan notably built Edmunds’ money-no-object Miata project as well as the race car motors for 949 Racing, which brought them to victory at Thunderhill, which certainly counts for something. Now, he works on diesels. We asked him if we could get him on the Hoonvierse podcast, and he smiled wistfully and shook his head no. “Too shy,” he said.
He had wrapped in plastic and strapped it to a pallet. We lifted it with a hoist and pushed it neatly into the bed, nearly filling its width. The F-150, especially with its FX4 off-road package, is so tall that the flip-out tailgate step is the only thing standing between you and your inevitable hamstring hernia. It slides out with a KA-CHUNK, along with corresponding yellow-knobbed pimp cane to climb up, and stepping down from the bed gives even the manliest man the countenance of a prom queen descending a crystal staircase.
The combination probably weighed 330 pounds, according to a snotty Miata.net member. I don’t rely on forums anymore. After spilling my fair share of pathos to bands of the like-minded, I found myself reaffirmed with the inevitable deluge of condescension and bad advice—I was like a vulnerable runaway, looking for support, for sympathy, remembering that I deserved none. From now on, I vowed, I would watch from afar, search and learn. We shook Keegan’s hand, slammed the tailgate shut, and climbed back in for the long drive back to Los Angeles.
Engine all loaded, we headed for the long journey through traffic.
Progress in the truck world advances so rapidly that an FX4 Off-Road edition is quiet, comfortable and serene. The ride is excellent. Let nobody tell you that leather is the be-all, end-all consumer good of lugg-jury: cloth seats are firm, never too grippy, and certainly easy to clean. Up front: gen-you-wine audio and climate control buttons—glove-friendly, self-explanatory. In back is so much legroom that it could serve as a one-bedroom apartment. The doors, however, slam with a shocking flimsiness, never with the hefty reassurance that justifies the purchase of a big new truck.
It’s a turbo, so it’s gotta be efficient, right? Well, Chris and I drove from his home in Redondo Beach to downtown LA, to Corona, where winter rains rendered the Chino Hills unto surprising greenery—grabbed the engine, drove up to the San Fernando Valley, another 75 miles, before I finally filled up to the conclusion of 13.2 miles per gallon. After another two days around town and half a tank, the computer readout displayed something like 16 mpg. Ford expects 17 mpg around town, 23 mpg on the freeway, with our engine and the 4×4 drivetrain, for the record.
And so. A truck is the easiest gadget in the world to justify: you won’t use it every day, but on the days you do, it is as indispensible as your next breath. That’s why Ford sells so many. That’s why so many are headed to the suburbs, where the mulch flows like gold tailings. Few consumer goods in the entirety of human civilization been honed to a knife edge, yet remain steadfastly traditionalist; in a sense, the F-150 makes up for its bold new aluminum experiment by wearing its size boldly, out-hefting its Chevy and Ram brethren. The result is stunning in its effectiveness.
Last year, when my Miata broke for the first time, I hauled it back home along the Central Valley with a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD. It was my first time towing anything. United with its Ford rival, across time and space and weight classes, by a singular fixed point of broken automobile, I learned that modern-day truck transport has no right to be this comfortable, this smooth, this easy—naw, make them city boys work for it! Make ‘em sweat a lil’ bit!
With the new engine firmly in the hands of competent mechanics, allow me say that I enjoyed my time with the F-150—but I hope to never have to drive another truck, into a forgotten corner of California, on another roadster rescue mission.