When you spend as much time in your vehicle as we do, what you drive and how comfortable it is on a long trip is pretty important. We are not car people. We don’t debate engines or torque, we just care that the truck does its job, is comfortable and is easy to drive. And our new (as of November 2017) F-150 is just that.
As I write this, we are on our second road trip in this F-150. We got a deal we couldn’t walk away from just after Thanksgiving. We upgraded from a 2012 F-150 XLT to a 2017 F-150 XLT. While it doesn’t sound like that much of an upgrade, it truly was.
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Updated July 2019
F-150 Body Style
In terms of body style, we went from a SuperCab, which has two half doors to access the back seats, to a SuperCrew, which has four full doors. This may not seem like a huge upgrade, but it makes getting in and out of the back seat so much easier. It also increases the amount of space in the back seat by two feet.
We did lose two feet out of the bed of the truck, but since I am no longer a full-time drama teacher, I do not need that space nearly as much. Additionally, the bed does add more hooks to use for securing a load, which is nice.
Another nice feature of the full-size back row is a small nook for tools underneath the seat. This frees up some of the door compartments for other gear while making it very easy to access basic tools.
In the front, the center console was redesigned with a nice catch-all compartment and pen compartment, along with two cup holders. There is also a retractable lid covering a small compartment with two USB plugs. This is nice if you want to leave your phone plugged in while you head to the gas station or rest area.
The console area now locks, as does the glove compartment, which is another nice improvement.
The new truck has the Sync 3 system, which is a marked improvement over the original Sync system in our old truck.
The system has a large touchscreen with a useful “home screen” which displays music information, which phone is connected to the Bluetooth system and, if equipped, navigation. This system allows you to drill down to each of those subsystems easily by one touch.
In particular, using the phone is a lot easier with the new system. The phone app has a native Siri button and, while it could be better placed, it allows for much easier use while driving. The music app displays better information and is easier to use than the older system.
Answering the phone or listening to a text message is also a lot easier. All it takes is one press of the touch screen to answer the phone or listen to a text message. Another press of the screen to hang up. So easy.
Navigation in the F-150
We would not have sought out a navigation system on a truck since we already have that built into our phones, but we have found the Ford navigation system to be well worth it. While it is not as good as either Apple Maps or Waze, it does not require cellular service to operate, an advantage we have already needed to use.
In terms of the display, it is not as easy to read as Apple Maps, but it is less cluttered than Waze. It does provide lane assist visually, but not with audio prompts like Apple Maps does.
One of the really cool features is it has Sirius Travel Link and Traffic Information baked into the app, providing real-time traffic information plus locations of nearby fuel prices and parking locations, plus plenty of additional information. That service has a nominal monthly fee ($1.99 and $3.99 respectively), but was included for five years with the purchase.
The one major flaw of the navigation system is it locks you out of manually inputting an address while the vehicle is moving. You can select a previously set favorite location or a previous destination, but anything which requires more than a couple presses on the touchscreen is disabled for safety reasons.
While I certainly agree with the decision to prevent drivers from spending too much time pressing buttons while driving, there is no option for the passenger to operate the system. This can make things difficult if you need to change destinations while in the midst of traffic. Fortunately, a passenger can easily get around this by using CarPlay and Apple Maps.
CarPlay allows iPhone users to access a lot of good features of the iPhone easily, including music on the phone, various CarPlay-enabled apps and Apple Maps.
Using Apple Maps on CarPlay is a visually great experience, providing the driver with a beautiful display and much clearer voice instructions. While the navigation is not as awesome as Waze, it is better than the native Ford navigation.
I have two gripes about using CarPlay: 1) It requires the phone to be plugged in while you are using it and 2) It does not work with the Ford “home screen” which displays navigation, radio and phone information at the same time.
I am not a fan of having my phone constantly charging while driving. My anecdotal experience has shown it reduces the battery life fairly significantly when done over a long time, say a seven-week road trip.
If you use Android, you will be happy to know Android Auto works with Sync 3, allowing you to use either Google Maps or Waze natively.
Additionally, Ford added the ability to use Waze for iPhones using AppLink. We tried it out but found it sluggish and like Apple Maps, it requires the phone to have a wired connection.
When Apple added Waze to CarPlay, it provided a much better experience than AppLink. It is smooth and does not lock up nearly as often. Still, we rarely use it or Apple Maps. We prefer using the onboard navigation which does not require a phone to be plugged in.
F-150 Towing Features
One of the main reasons we got this truck was the upgraded towing capacity and features. While we had a tow package on the last F-150, we made a point to get the max tow package for this truck with the new EcoBoost Engine and 10-speed transmission. Add in the lower vehicle weight with the aluminum construction and there are some pretty significant performance improvements.
In terms of towing, the truck has about 20% additional capacity over our older truck. It pulls the camper easier. We have taken the truck on two extended road trips, including out to Washington State and it has performed very well.
The other major improvement is the Pro Trailer Back Up system. Once you set this system up, it allows the driver to turn a dial on the console to steer the camper.
After spending two summers using this, I can say this: when it works, this thing is amazing! When it doesn’t, it is a pain. The camera loses track of the sticker when there is bright sun behind or when the trailer is turned tightly. When it does, it immediately stops steer the trailer, so you have to take over. Sometimes, you can reset it, but most of the time not.
When it works, this massively cuts down on arguments between Bonnie and me when backing up the camper.
The truck also has the Ford trailer brake controlled built in. That saved me a lot of hassle of getting it installed.
We will never own a truck without four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive has come in handy on winter road trips as well as allowing us to explore the backcountry in a few parks.
We recently took the truck through several unimproved roads in Big Bend National Park. The truck easily handled all but the roughest conditions in two-wheel drive. I only shifted into four-wheel drive a few times. Most of the time, I only shift into four-wheel drive if I am already having trouble with traction or I know the area I am about to go through will give me problems.
In the stretch pictured above, the angle was a bit steep and the road had several divots from other drivers powering up the hill. I shifted into four-wheel drive and activated the electronic locking differential. The truck chewed through it like it was candy.
Additionally, the instrument panel offers several readouts which are useful while off road. The first and most important is the clinometer which measures pitch, roll and steering angle. The second in the off-road category is the power distribution, which could be useful if you are having difficulty with traction in a spot. Basically, it shows which wheels are getting what amount of power.
Lastly, the digital tire sensors, while not the most accurate, will let you know if one tire is losing pressure rapidly. We actually picked up a lag screw in one of our tires and were able to keep an eye on the pressure until we could get it patched.
While the truck is not a fully-outfitted Jeep Wrangler, the F-150 will easily handle going into the backcountry of a national park.
Other Cool Features
The 36-gallon tank is probably one of the best investments you can get for travel. With the improved EcoBoost engine and aluminum body, we are getting about 20-21 miles per gallon driving on the Interstate. This makes for about a 10% improvement over what we used to get, mileage-wise. This pushes our range in the truck to around 650-700 miles to the tank and that can really come in handy out West. Indeed, we were able to drive from Dallas, TX to Meridian, MS on one tank of gas.
To help out even more, one additional piece of fuel-saving technology the truck has is an auto engine cutoff. Basically, the engine will shut off while stopped at a traffic light while keeping the electronics and climate control on. The system monitors the drain on the battery and will automatically cut on the engine when necessary. It has taken a little getting used to, but we have noticed an improvement in gas mileage while driving to and from work.
Another feature we will never do without on a truck is a backup camera. Oh, it has been so good to have it. It makes backing up and parking the truck SO MUCH EASIER.
One feature we enjoy is the remote start. You can use the FordPass app or the remote to start the vehicle. On cold mornings, it really helps, especially with the seat warmers!
You can also do the remote start from the vehicle key/remote. At first, I kinda thought this was a bit of a useless feature, but then we discovered a really cool use for it: turning on the truck while we get food or use the restroom while our cat is with us. Seriously, we were able to start up the truck, without the keys in it, a couple of times on a trip with the kitty. That made going to the restroom or getting something to eat so much less stressful knowing the cat was in an air-conditioned truck and the keys were with me.
Lastly, the truck has 400-watt power inverter. We are glad to have it for charging a laptop while on the road. We use that often for getting blog articles written or pictures edited while the other person is driving.
Our Modifications to the F-150
While the max tow package comes with a lot of great features, tow mirrors are not one of them. Since the vehicle is so new, model-wise, finding good tow mirrors was a bit of a challenge. We ended up going with Trail Ridge Tow Mirrors. We liked the fact that the mirrors were heated, had turn signals and had the capability to upgrade to puddle lights, spotlights and running lights. They have a lifetime warranty, which we could not find on the other mirrors we looked at.
Installation was very easy, taking a grand total of 30 minutes for both mirrors. I do suggest you pick up a plastic removal tool to make sure you don’t scuff the inside of your truck.
This is a simple replacement with a low-profile antenna. I am not a fan of the big antennas used by Ford. This looks a lot better and works well when have used the FM radio. Most of the time, we use Sirius XM, so I am not concerned with long distance reception.
This cargo system is great for the back of the bed. We can use it for anything from groceries to snow chains to dirty clothes. Installation took about 30 minutes and you can remove it pretty easily. You can also relocate it to different parts of your bed as necessary.
Spray-in Bed Liner
I still occasionally use the truck to move lumber, so getting a spray-in bed liner was a must. The aluminum bed is easier to dent than the old steel bed, so this is a good investment. The Ford dealership used Line-X, which we had on our past truck with no problems.
We love our Retrax Pro. This aluminum retractable tonneau cover is a great investment. While it is not waterproof, it keeps most of the moisture and dirt out of the back. What I like most about the Retrax is it is hard, it is lockable and easily opens right up. That makes it easy to use the bed for hauling big things like furniture or lumber. Be sure to add a gasket around the tailgate if you want more weatherproofing.
Most new vehicles come with Sirius XM standard and generally with the first six months for free. At one point, we let our subscription lapse. What a huge mistake! We figured out pretty quickly driving across Kansas on Christmas Day not having Sirius XM was a bad idea.
While we could stream music (and did), it burns up a lot of data. Streaming doesn’t work in places with no cell service. Sirius XM does. Add in it is the best way to listen to my favorite station, Radio Margaritaville, and we will never road trip without it.
North Carolina Quick Pass
If you live on the East Coast and plan on traveling, there is really only one toll solution: the North Carolina Quick Pass Toll Transponder.
Essentially, there are four toll systems on the East Coast which only sorta talk to each other. The Florida Sun Pass, Georgia Peach Pass, North Carolina Quick Pass and E-Z Pass encompass toll systems throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England. It covers 18 states in all.
North Carolina’s Quick Pass is the only system which works with all of these systems. We set up an account, paid $20 for a transponder (not a sticker) and set it up in our truck.
We have paid tolls in Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts without any difficulty or even slowing down. Until there is a universal toll system, this is the next best thing.
Supposedly, the US was going to complete interoperability between toll systems by 2016, but that hasn’t happened. We can’t wait for it to happen. It will make navigating the various toll systems to much easier.
Our new F-150 is a great vehicle for a road trip whether you are pulling a camper or not. While it does not have the greatest gas mileage, the mileage it has is pretty good based on the capability of the truck.
This truck has good electronics, outstanding tow capabilities, plenty of cargo capacity, four-wheel drive, an outstanding range on a single tank of gas and it’s comfortable to boot!
Stay tuned as I will update this article with more information as we spend more time in the truck.