The cars we loved in 2015: The Ford F-150 pickup joins the 21st century

Editorial note: Last week, Business Insider named its 2015 Car of the Year, the Volvo XC90. We also revisited our reviews of the five runners-up. As a bonus, the transportation team is recalling the cars that they enjoyed, individually, the most in the year that’s almost past.
Do not deny the pickup.

That’s sage advice for anyone who intends to drive, and to drive in America. Sure, this nation is large and its highways and byways contain multitudes of vehicles, everything from lumbering SUVs to motorcycles with sidecars to million-dollar supercars the colours of electric tangerines to large, rolling hot dogs.

But when the rubber truly hits the roads, it’s usually often tires strapped to the wheels of pickup truck. And 2015 has the sales data to prove it. This was the year that the pickup really roared back from the unsettling decline it endured after the financial crisis.

There is no American pickup that’s more devoutly wound into our DNA than the Ford F Series. There are, to be sure, other pickups, sold buy other automakers. But the Ford F Series has been the best-selling vehicles in the US for decades. For better or worse, it defines us.

The Ford F-150 that I drove this year represented a major risk with the definition. Ford decided to re-engineer the F-150 to use more aluminium, shedding good old-fashioned steel and dropping hundred of pounds, all in the quest for improved fuel economy and future invulnerability for the F-150 from more stringent federal regulation

It was as if the Italians had altered pasta. Or Eric Clapton swore off the Stratocaster to spend more time with the banjo. This was deeply dangerous business.

But Ford nailed it. I flat-out loved the new F-150, which is every bit a big and powerful full-size pickup that can haul around a bunch of stuff, but also an ever-so-slightly more nimble icon. I guess you could call it a reboot, more than a sequel. It’s still the same F-150 that America adores and, at a level, existentially requires — but it’s also a utilitarian chariot for the 21st century, rather than than a stalwart relic from the 20th.

I wanted not for technology while driving the F-150 around New York City and Long Island for a week. But if you think this is the ranch hand work truck of the movies, well … you’re right, but it also has plenty of good manners to go along with the grit.

This genre of vehicle always brings me to a place of inner peace: it’s the Zen of the pickup. I owned a pickup for several years in college and I found it to be a liberating set of wheels. Pickups look good clean and they look good dirty. They encourage you to chuck a duffle bag into the bed a just GO, finding your freedom. My test car (which we kept very clean) also came with a back seat and copious infotainment options. My family of five was never less than delighted.

On balance, the year was filled with marvellous driving fun.

Standouts included the road trip that I made with my son in a Ferrari California T to watch a car race, the trip that my wife and two boys took to a summer camp in a BMW i3 extended-range electric car, an enjoyable weekend with a Buick Regal GS, a sexy first date with a Maserati Ghibli, a few bedazzled days with a Corvette Z06, a thrilling negotiation of several New York state parkways in a BMW M235i, and even a quite pleasant jaunt to New Jersey in a a Chevy Trax — in a blizzard!

And let’s not forget the afternoon that we spent in a Tesla Model S P90D — that could drive itself!

But the F-150 just stuck with me. I’ve always liked pickups, as much as I like Porsches, and my theory is that there’s just something purposeful about pickups and sports cars that appeals to my inner minimalist. Keep it simple, stupid. The F-150 is designed to handle everything from dirt bikes to surf boards to guitar amps to bales of hay, and do it all with grace and dignity and uncomplaining aplomb. It a machine that builds a relationship based on trust.

From where I sit, that deserves a hearty “Bravo!” That’s why, in 2015, I was truly smitten by America’s favourite set of wheels, revamped and reborn.

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