'Aluminated': 2015 Ford F-150 introduces new body material and then some, from more powerful engine to extra towing capacity

The 2015 Ford F-150 has arrived at Palmetto Ford sporting something it's never had before: an all-aluminum body. This platinum model priced at $61,000 is in front of a downtown building. Leroy Burnell/Staff 1/2/2015

Ford Motor hadn't redesigned the F-150 full sized truck since 2009, but there didn't seem to be any big hurry.

After all, the iconic F Series pickup not only has topped the truck category in sales for 38 straight years but stands as the leading vehicle of any kind by volume for as long as anyone can remember.

So the car company could have been forgiven for making some subtle changes, adding a feature here and there, and calling it a day.

But Ford went the other way. Instead of a significant but hardly remarkable changeover, the company bet the farm, so to speak.

The 112-year-old Detroit carmaker disclosed that the new F-150 would showcase an aluminum body, the first time that's been done for a top-selling full size pickup.

It was a daring move. Not only would Ford have to invest in new technology to build the truck, the company would face scrutiny over its out-of-the-box decision.

With the F-150 such a key player in not only truck sales but company revenues, its makeovers are closely observed and new features can become trendsetters.

"The entire industry watches Ford when it comes out (with new models)," Palmetto Ford sales manager Scott Lambert said, noting that the carmaker leads in technology.

Put in football parlance - the Ford family owns the NFL's Detroit Lions - the carmaker could have called a low-risk play and gained positive yardage but chose to throw deep in a bid for a quick-strike touchdown.

To some extent, the ball's still hanging in the air - since the 2015 aluminum bodied F-150 is only now showing up in dealerships nationwide including Palmetto Ford Lincoln in Charleston. But early indications are the Big 3 carmaker has uncorked a game changer.

"The big thing is it's all new from the ground up," said Graham Eubank, president of the Savannah Highway dealership. "The way this truck rides is nothing like you've ever felt."

Palmetto Ford received its first new F-150s at the tail end of December. "We sold the first 15," Eubank said. Base models will be priced in the mid to upper $20,000s, but early arrivals included a "completely loaded" Platinum edition 4 by 4 costing $61,000.

Clearly, the body change was a groundbreaking action. It wasn't done on a whim. Ford engineers figure the lighter yet tough aluminum frame saves up to 700 pounds from the F-150's overall weight, leaving the best-selling truck more nimble while improving its gas mileage. According to Ford, the 2015 F-150 gets 23 mpg on the highway.

Thanks to the aluminum body, the vehicle has arrived "thicker and lighter," Lambert said.

The carmaker also took steps to upgrade the full size truck, from cosmetic touches to full-scale overhauls, as well as preserve perks from past years.

On the platinum version with extras, these include:

- A new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine blowing out 365 horsepower and 420 pounds-feet of torque. "This is a more powerful engine," Eubank said.

- Towing capacity boosted to an impressive 11,300 pounds.

- Leather seats. They are heated and cooled in front. On the second row, the seats are heated and passengers can control air vents.

- An attachable step stored in the tailgate frame that helps people climb up into the truck bed.

- Elongated steps on the sides that electronically slide out to assist in getting in and out of the vehicle.

- Flexible tailgate extender to lengthen the bed if necessary and to form a smaller carrying area for instance to haul groceries.

- Standard 20-inch aluminum wheels.

- Smart access to automatically open the front door as long as the key device is nearby, and remote start to crank the engine while outside. The truck also has push button start and stop on the center console.

- LED headlights and taillights.

- Touch screen navigation and communications system that includes audio and climate control functions. Commands can also function using knobs or voice activation. The idea is to keep the driver hands free and eyes on the road, Eubank said. "It's about simplification," Lambert said. "It's like today's smart systems."

- A host of accessories, from drink holders to USB ports and 12 volt plugs.

- Camera lenses built into the front grille, back bumper and side view mirrors that provide 360 degree viewing on the center console screen.

- Electronically adjustable pedals and telescopic steering wheel.

- Park assist, in which the driver can program the truck to automatically back into street-side spaces between cars by using built-in sensors.

- A lane keeping system with sensors that detect when the vehicle drifts.

- A Ford standard: push-button code on the side panel to lock and unlock the truck.

- A double sunroof; one that opens over the front seats and a unmovable glass view above the back seats.

In a moderate drive around town in the high-end Platinum F-150, the vehicle would face no problem living up to the moniker "luxury truck."

Leather seats all around were eminently comfortable, with lots of legroom front and back. The touch screen format was fairly easy to use, and the digital display in front of the steering wheel offered scads of information.

In the few places with open traffic, the V-6 engine came alive with a throaty growl.

And, maybe it was the aluminum body but the looks of the new F-150 sporting a metallic forest-green shade seemed to pop.

Quibbles? The price is steep to get a lot of features. Also, the rear visibility is obscured a little by headrests and the sliding rear window.

All told, though, it's safe to say Ford "completed" its proverbial game-changing pass and entrenched its lead on its very formidable competitors.

To learn more about the new Ford F-150, visit your local Ford dealer.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.