Thursday, October 14, 2010

Test-driving the 2011 Ford F-150 at the Michigan Proving Grounds. So what's that like?

Tuesday was a busy day. I caught a 6:00 a.m. flight to Detroit, took a two-hour car ride to the Ford Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich., drove the new engine lineup for the 2011 Ford F-150, rode back to the airport in a shuttle van, and was back in Kansas City by 9:15 p.m.

You can read about the new Ford truck in my article on the Examiner. But honestly, you can read that kind of stuff anywhere.  Here, I thought I'd tell you a little about the Ford Proving Grounds and what this type of event is like.

I'm occasionally invited to these things because I am the editor of the Automobile Red Book for my real job. We try to know as much about all the new cars and trucks as we can, because it helps us determine used pricing and future values when there is limited historic information to go by. I also write reviews and summaries that go in our books and on the website.

For this event, we were paired up with Ford's fleet customers. So naturally, Ford was working extra hard to highlight the best qualities of their new F-150 engines. And I have to say, they made a pretty compelling case.

The day was broken up in four parts. First, we got to hear people talk about all the new engines and why we are supposed to love them. They also did a dyno pull with their new 3.5-liter Ecoboost engine, and compared it to the competition.

Then, it was time to drive. First on the agenda was the trailer-towing portion of the day. New F-150s, Tundras, Rams, and Silverados were all hitched up to 6,500-lb trailers, and we were able to drive them through picturesque, rolling hills and turns to compare how they all handled the weight.

Next, they did a "fuel mileage challenge". We were supposed to drive through another course in F-150s equipped with the new 3.5-liter "Ecoboost" twin-turbocharged V6, and see who could get the best gas mileage. The driver with the highest gas mileage in the group would win a key chain. I did not get a key chain.

The final driving portion of the day was the most popular. Ford had a drag strip set up with a working Christmas tree and everything, and we'd cycle through the different engines and see how they stomp on the competition. Probably the coolest part of this was that they had the very first 2011 F-150 Harley Davidson edition out there for us to beat on. I don't get the chance to roast the tires on a special edition anything with a serial number of 00001 very often. Pretty cool.

The Ford Michigan Proving Grounds is a very impressive place. For one thing, it is beautiful out there. Plenty of rolling hills and dense trees with colorful fall leaves line 3,880-acres of roads, test tracks, and testing facilities. They have everything from a five-mile oval track for high-speed testing to chatter bumps and off-road courses. If you want to abuse a vehicle, there are at least 100 ways to do it out there.

You also never know what you're going to see out driving around. You know those camouflaged cars you see in the magazines? They're running around all over the place at the Ford Proving Grounds. Sometimes, you see cars that have bodies on them that clearly aren't supposed to be on that chassis. The place is absolutely fascinating if you're into cars, although they're very protective about what you're allowed to take pictures of and where you can wander off to.

I've had the privilege of visiting the Ford Proving Grounds on a number of occasions over the past few years, and I always come away impressed. There are lots of very smart, friendly people working there. And being able to see how much work actually goes into developing the cars and trucks that we normally take for granted gives you a very different perspective. You can't leave that facility and not have a greater appreciation for your own car. It's all pretty amazing.

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