Can the new 2015 Ford F-150 2.7-liter really tow?

Tom Mutchler

Just 2.7-liters of engine displacement? In a truck? It doesn't sound like much. Lowly Dodge Darts barely get around with their 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines—little more than a cup less. Can Ford’s small six-cylinder engine actually haul around a full-sized 2015 F-150, and a 5,000-pound travel trailer? Glad you asked.

There’s an old adage among classic car owners: "There's no replacement for displacement.” Whoever came up with that never thought about how to cheat physics. Ford pulled out all the stops with its new EcoBoost 2.7-liter V6, including direct fuel injection and a pair of turbochargers. The resulting 325 hp and 375 pound-feet of torque are numbers not far off of some contemporary V8s.

Turns out there's another number that really matters here: 5,060. That’s the weight, in pounds, of the well-equipped F-150 SuperCrew XLT 145" 4x4 2.7-liter (a mouthful!) early build truck we rented from Ford. Thanks to aluminum body panels, it’s a hefty 700 pounds less than the outgoing F-150.

I couldn’t resist hitching up this aluminum truck to an aluminum trailer, my beloved 2007 Airstream Safari SE, which is 23 feet long and about 5,200 pounds as loaded. Turns out it was a good test for the truck. Equipped with a 3.55 ratio limited-slip rear axle, this F-150 has a preliminary tow rating of 7,600 pounds and about 1,500 pounds of payload capacity.

Every time I tow my trailer, I have to deal with the same on-ramp challenge. It’s a gradually sloping ramp that empties out onto a busy highway, plopping you into high-speed traffic on an uphill grade. I’m used to my normal tow vehicle, a 2011 Dodge Durango V8 Hemi, figuratively hitting a wall at about 55 mph, growling in protest. Instead, the F-150 2.7 just merged easily with little clamor. No muss, no fuss.

Pickup truck Engine Horsepower Torque (lb.-ft.) Max payload Max towing
2015 Ford F-150 3.5L 283 255 lb.-ft. 1,910 lbs. 7,600 lbs.
2015 Ford F-150 2.7L EcoBoost 325 375 2,250 8,500
2015 Ford F-150 3.5L EcoBoost 365 420 3,180 12,200
2015 Ford F-150 5.0L 385 387 3,300 11,100
2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4.3L 285 305 1,800 5,600
2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 5.3L 355 383 1,800 11,100
2015 Ram 1500 3.6L 305 269 1,900 7,600
2015 Ram 1500 5.7L 395 410 1,710 10,650

That pretty much sums up my whole trip, towing the trailer on a hilly highway route. Despite some long grades, the Ford seldom dropped below fourth gear in its six-speed automatic transmission. Engine revs stay around 2,700 rpm, even climbing hills at 65 mph. It’s mind-boggling that such a small engine can be so quiet, and feel so unstressed doing this kind of job. Like the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (the F-150’s top towing option), the torque characteristics are as close as you can get to diesel-feel from a gas engine.

Pass or be passed is the rule of towing on hilly interstates. Either you get stuck in the slow lane behind tractor trailers or you pull out and pass assertively. While the 2.7 lacks the addictive swell of torque that I’ve experienced with the 3.5-liter in other Ford products, it still proves very impressive. The one time it downshifted into third was when I pulled into the passing lane to overtake some slow moving trucks on a hill. Without paying attention, it pulled quickly to nearly 75 mph.

While we normally don’t measure performance numbers on press fleet vehicles, I couldn’t resist slapping our test gear on the truck/trailer combination at our track. The 0 to 60 mph run took just 13.9 seconds, an impressive time.

Of course, this new engine comes in the name of improved fuel economy, but citing towing fuel economy numbers is fraught with variables. Trailer aerodynamics and weight, wind, and hills all make comparisons difficult. I recorded 11 mpg with the fuel computer, which is on par for hilly terrain when not trying to optimize fuel economy. While the 2.7-liter V6 might top the class in routine driving, my observation is that it probably won’t revolutionize towing fuel economy. The same could be said for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost. You’d need a diesel for that.

Ford did a nice job incorporating a lot of useful features for towing. A page on the comprehensive full-color display automatically records miles spent towing. The same display shows if the trailer is connected or not, which was helpful when I didn’t fully connect the electrical umbilical. The integrated trailer brake controller works seamlessly. And the rear parking sensors automatically disengage when a trailer is hitched. This is an eternal source of frustration with my Durango, forcing me to fumble for the system’s switch.

Campground entertainment often involves watching others reversing into their spots, or trying to hitch up a trailer. It always feels like there’s an audience. Luckily some features help get this done quickly and easily. Spotlights on the side mirrors can help illuminate hidden nighttime campground hazards. The rear camera does an excellent job of tracking where the hitch ball is going to wind up, even as you make steering corrections. Maybe my only complaint is with the double-duty tow/haul button on the end of the shifter stalk; I like to toggle in and out of tow/haul, but this setup left me inadvertently selecting Sport.

I get the feeling that many F-150 owners who plan to tow will skip right past the 2.7-liter and go for the familiar 3.5-liter. After all, many folks who tow feel that nothing succeeds like excess. While we don’t know if this new-design 2.7-liter V6 will be reliable, nor how it will handle mountain passes out West, my experience shows that many buyers might be impressed by the wee engine, if they give it a chance.

—Tom Mutchler

More from Consumer Reports:
Top scoring cars in Consumer Reports' tests
5 best used cars for teen drivers
How to choose long lasting tires

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.