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An entire powertrain revamp means there's now an F-150 for nearly every buyer. We shake down all four new engines for the first time.

Back when a gallon of gasoline cost as much as a value meal at McBurgerville, hundreds of thousands of truck-driving lemmings (or shall we call them owners) jumped ship and headed to gas sippers.

You remember it. Sales of cars like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and Ford Focus skyrocketed, while spider webs and dust bunnies took residence in the former showroom darling SUVs and trucks.

As content as we are with our two-and-a-half-dollar-or-so gallons at the moment, a spike will undoubtedly happen again. Just when it will occur depends on which analyst or economist channels his inner Nostradamus the best, but we all know it'll happen.

Ford thinks it is well prepared. The Blue Oval's latest round of updates to its F-150 truck range is perhaps its biggest ever, even if the fresh 2011 models you see in the photo gallery here look rather like their 2010 and 2009 predecessors. Externally, they're essentially identical. But it's what's underneath that matters.

A four-prong attack

An engine for every buyer - that's Ford's intention. After its two dated V8s soldiered on, eclipsed by every rival, Ford knew it was time for something drastic.

At the bottom of the lineup sits a 302-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 that has now made its way into most of the automaker's larger vehicles. From there, the offerings climb to the Ford Mustang GT's 5.0-liter V8, cranking out 360 horsepower in this application.

And at the top of the four-engine pack is a limited-availability 6.2-liter V8 rated at 411 horsepower.

But wait, you say: Where's the fourth engine?

Things are getting interesting now. Slotting between the two V8s is a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder EcoBoost engine rated at 365 horsepower.

Will truck buyers see the value of a complex V6 offered at a premium price tag? Only time will tell, but our evaluation drives through the hills and prairies west of Fort Worth, Texas, proved very intriguing.

A misnomer

Let's start with the base V6, although calling it such is more a matter of keeping with hierarchy than forcing a fleet stigma. Like the rest of the lineup, the V6's 302 horsepower and 278 lb-ft. of torque makes its way to the wheels exclusively via a six-speed automatic transmission. Available in the base XL, value-oriented STX and high volume XLT trim levels, the V6 will power a wide range of F-150s.

Smooth and refined, the V6 possess all the grunt necessary to convince most buyers they're driving a lower-output V8. As it should. It produces more usable power than the outgoing 4.6-liter V6, not to mention mid-level V8 offerings from General Motors, Ram and Toyota, all while achieving decent fuel economy (EPA figures aren't out yet, but an ideally-optioned model should be capable of 22-23 mpg on the highway). Ready to scream its way to a nearly 7,000 rpm redline, the 3.7.-liter V6 outguns any six-cylinder truck engine before it. Ample torque is available right off the line and it's enough to motivate even a laden F-150 with decent reserve power.

We've never said this about a full-size pickup before: Most buyers who qualify as light-duty users should stop reading here and buy the V6.

For those who require more capability than the V6's 6,100 lbs. of towing capacity, Ford offers up three choices. Commanding a $1,000 premium on lower models (standard on FX2/FX4, Lariat, King Ranch and the reborn Lariat Limited) is the aforementioned 5.0-liter V8. It produces 380 lb-ft. of torque at a relatively high 5,500 rpm. Smooth and sonorous, the V8's exhaust burble rivals the Ram's growling 5.7-liter Hemi. It feels like a pickup engine should, albeit one with a dose of refinement.

The biggest surprise, however, came from the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, a $750 premium over the 5.0. Lifted from a variety of Ford cars, the EcoBoost is beefed up to provide noticeably more torque - a flat 420 lb-ft., 90 percent of which is available from 1,700 rpm to 5,000 rpm. Needless to say, the twin-turbo V6 is an impressive mull. At-speed acceleration is EV-like in its linear response; think of the skinny pedal as a (very aggressive) on/off switch.

We had the opportunity to lug around 6,500 lbs. worth of trailer weight in a four-wheel-drive King Ranch crew cab (well under its 11,300 lbs. limit), but we hardly knew the weight was back there. It's not much faster than Dodge and Toyota's 5.7 V8s overall, but it doesn't have to work as hard to provide power. Chevrolet and GMC's 5.3 V8s are simply outclassed now.

We didn't have the opportunity to test out fuel economy, but the EcoBoost will likely at least provide highway figures around 20 to 21 mpg; no great shakes for a V6, but darned impressive considering the power on tap.

The EcoBoosted F-150 emits only a refined induction growl, sounding more like a muted luxury car than a truck. It does, of course, lack the V8 burble that many pickup buyers love. Flowmasters ain't gonna fix that.

But Ford is also finally able to provide traditional V8 grunt. Available on all of the higher trims except for the King Ranch (where it would seem a natural fit), the 6.2-liter V8 lifted from the F-150 SVT Raptor supplies power for those who don't mind regular Texaco trips. We had only limited wheel time in a range-topping F-150 Harley-Davidson, which comes exclusively with the 6.2. While the Harley edition's trim package might be tough to justify at nearly $50,000, the V8 is a serious rival to GM's identical displacement unit.

Wheelspinning

All models except the big 6.2-liter V8 gain standard electric power steering for 2011. Undeniably a fuel saver, electric steering hasn't quite won us over yet in other products - and, well, it doesn't do it here, either. At speed, the F-150 feels a little number than the Ram, although the power assistance itself is well weighted.

The problem comes at low speeds, where too-fast and too-light tuning renders the F-150 feeling unpredictably snappy. The truck is easier to navigate into a parking spot than before, but first time drivers might be a little disconcerted by the loosey-goosey feel.

The F-150's solid structure and compliant ride remain. Although not as smooth a rider as the coil-sprung Ram, the F-150's rear leaf springs provide it with more capability. Either way, both models are truly comfortable as daily drivers and haulers.

That's not all, folks

Powertrains aren't the only news for 2011 - there are a few other changes to the F-150 lineup. Almost all models gain a trick LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer with a multi-function trip computer that includes a nifty "Truck Apps" section. Functions vary by model, but Truck Apps are programs like off-road details, feature tutorials and advanced trip computer details.

In addition, a new Lariat Limited model tops the lineup. It doesn't feature many interior upgrades, although some trim shades are revised and it rides on 22-inch alloy wheels. Don't look for one hauling lumber at your local Home Depot.

Otherwise, the F-150's cabin returns essentially unchanged. Stylish and boasting terrific front seats, it could benefit only from a dose of Ram-like material upgrades throughout. With powertrain engineering as impressive as this, it seems a shame that the door panels and portions of the dashboard are covered in budget grade milk carton plastic.

Leftlane's bottom line

A quartet of grand powertrains means the F-150 no longer needs to make excuses. There truly is an engine for every driver, but the biggest challenge will be convincing the masses - namely, notoriously conservative pickup drivers - that a V6 will fill their needs.

The pick of the litter for mainstream users is certainly the surprising 3.7-liter V6. Simply put, it redefines the concept of pickup power. The toughest sell for Ford, unfortunately, will be its best overall powertrain: The EcoBoost. Will buyers be attracted to the complex and sophisticated V6 when they're used to tried-and-true V8 grunt?

No matter what, Ford finally has a lineup ready for any buyer's - and any market's - needs.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.