The 2015 Ford F-150 and Forest River Wildwood travel trailer make it easy to enjoy the journey and the destination
If you are of a certain age, you can probably recall a time when a camping trip was met with as much trepidation as excitement. Trailers were often towed by passenger cars that weren’t really assigned a tow rating, and certainly were not available with specialized equipment designed for hauling heavy loads. As a result, many (OK, probably most) of us towed trailers that were too heavy for the vehicle, resulting in sketchy handling on the highway and overheating on steep grades. If you arrived at your destination without so much as a flat tire or fuming radiator, that was reason enough to celebrate.
Those days, while still fresh in memory, seem difficult to imagine as we drive the highway in a 2015 Ford F-150 with a Forest River Wildwood travel trailer in tow. The scenery moves past the windows in an almost surreal silence as the engine pulls its load without complaint. Integrated Trailer Sway Control prevents the trailer from imposing its will on the tow vehicle. And perhaps most importantly, the temperature gauge hovers far west of the red zone, further building confidence with every passing mile.
By now, you’ve likely heard all the mainstream news about the new F-150, which has been celebrated by many as the most advanced pickup of our time. In case you haven’t, here are the headlines. Its new aluminum-alloy body saves up to 700 pounds compared to steel (depending on model, equipment level, etc.), according to Ford, a bold engineering move that the company is gambling will pay dividends in the face of ever-tightening fuel economy standards. Two new engines join the existing 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8: a normally aspirated base 3.5-liter V-6 making 282 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque, and a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that churns out an impressive 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic with available SelectShift manual control is the only transmission available.
What all this means to RVers is perhaps more significant. The lighter weight enables the new truck to haul up to 530 pounds and tow up to 1,100 pounds more than last year’s model. Further, Ford is offering technologies that make it a lot easier to tow, including Trailer Hitch Assist and a Smart Trailer Tow module. Trailer Hitch Assist adds a new rearview camera feature that incorporates a dynamic line in the display that is based on steering wheel angle. In simple terms, guidelines on the screen predict the truck’s path as you back up, making it easy to connect a trailer without a spotter. The Smart Trailer module incorporates an all-new wiring harness that helps identify and inform the driver of potential trailer connectivity issues, including inoperable brake/tail/marker lights. And, if your activities include toys or other equipment, the new F-150 is available with integrated ramps to make loading motorcycles or ATVs easier and a BoxLink system that uses metal brackets and custom cleats to help secure cargo.
The test F-150 that Ford delivered to our offices had pretty much all the equipment an adventure-thirsty RVer could want.
Outfitted with the FX4 off-road package and XLT Sport Appearance package with painted grille and bumpers, the F-150 looked thoroughly modern and well finished with its Magnetic Metallic paint and matching 20-inch painted aluminum wheels. Useful equipment for our purposes included the optional 7,000-pound gvwr package, Trailer Hitch Assist and Max Trailer Tow Package that, paradoxically, does not include towing mirrors. In fairness, Ford is not the only manufacturer that offers towing mirrors as a separate option, but it seems to us that these should be included whenever a towing package is specified. Another curiosity is a standard power locking tailgate, which is great for those with a hard tonneau cover or camper shell but does not include a damping feature (offered by the competition) that makes the gate easier to lift or lower.
There was other optional equipment on the truck that we probably wouldn’t have selected when ordering but definitely came in handy, most notably, the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert. Changing lanes with a trailer in tow can be a stressful situation, especially when you need to do it quickly. With the BLIS, a yellow light on the appropriate mirror illuminates if another vehicle is present and flashes insistently should you then activate the turn signal for that side. And we had forgotten about the Cross Traffic Alert feature until we were backing out of a parking spot while driving solo and the system alerted us to a car that was approaching from the right. We would definitely recommend BLIS as an option.
From the moment we climbed into the cockpit, it was clear that this new F-150’s mission is to not only retain current customers but also secure new ones. Brand loyalty in the light-truck segment is fierce, after all, and many buyers won’t jump ship even if it is clearly demonstrated that the competition has a better offering. But this truck has the power to secure even hardened Chevy, Ram and Toyota loyalists. Its blend of style and refinement appeals to the sensibilities of truck enthusiasts as well as the expectations of car owners.
The cabin feels roomy and masculine (but not too masculine), with the right amount of bright work and excellent ergonomics. The steering wheel is thick and leather wrapped, and elbows fall onto a nicely padded armrest and center-console lid. The chrome-clad, leather-wrapped shifter is big and feels good in the hand, and the SelectShift buttons, which allow for manual shift control, are intuitively placed — the upshift button forward and the downshift back. Gauges are large and easy to read, and all of the controls are either leather wrapped or feature a grippy rubber that is tactilely satisfying. Rear-seat legroom in the SuperCrew test model was exemplary, and with no transmission hump in the floor, three passengers could sit abreast quite comfortably without awkward foot placement.
We drove last year’s F-150 with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, and though it was quiet, Ford’s continuing battle against Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) is evident in the 2015 model. When coming to the first stoplight, we had to glance at the tachometer to make sure the engine was still running. At cruising speed, the cabin is virtually silent, and yet, somehow, the lack of a thrumming V-8 doesn’t diminish the truck experience. The EcoBoost offers amazingly strong power delivery, and the chassis, while providing a compliant ride, still feels substantial.
Well suited as the F-150 SuperCrew is for family travel, we paired it with a Forest River Wildwood T26BSS travel trailer, an entry-level unit that should answer the prayers of those who camp with the modern-day equivalent of the Brady Bunch and understandably have a conservative budget. There are three single bunks in the rear, and the large living area slideout houses a U-shaped dinette that can sleep two and seat four to six. Next to it is a jackknife sofa that folds out easily to sleep one large or two small people, and up front is a queen bed for Mom and Dad. By our count, that brings the total to eight, maybe nine. We didn’t have that kind of crew available for a max-capacity real-world test, but we did borrow some kids from family members and set out for a few days to see how successful this floorplan is.
The Wildwood is yet another example of an entry-level trailer that doesn’t feel entry-level. With the single living area slide deployed, the room feels nice and open, and the clever use of inexpensive materials makes the T26BSS feel more upscale. For example, the flooring is simple sheet vinyl but looks like wood, and the countertops and table are laminate but have the appearance of a natural stone product. Unfortunately, the functional aspect of this trailer leaves something to be desired in several areas.
First and foremost, the bathroom is located in the rear of the trailer on the street side, which means that the slideout must be deployed at least partially anytime someone needs to use the bathroom during travel. With Big Gulps and small bladders on board, it’s easy to imagine how this would become a problem. What’s harder to imagine is why Forest River didn’t put the bunks on this side instead, which would leave the bathroom accessible during travel.
The bunkhouse is a cute idea, but it also suffers from its share of problems. The bottom bunk is at floor level, which requires one kid to crawl on his or her hands and knees into the sleeping area. We could find no ladder, which means your little monkeys will have to climb their way into the upper bunks, and jump down with an alarming thump in the night when they need to use the bathroom. Bringing your own stepladder would probably help, but we don’t think that should be expected. There are lights at the entry point for each bunk, which helps with ingress in the night, but once in the sleeping position, they do little more than illuminate small feet. If the kids are flexible enough to turn around in the narrow space, they could read — but then they’d have to turn back around to get out of bed. A simple solution would be to put a light at either end of each bunk.
The U-shaped dinette is roomy and comfortable enough, and we appreciated that the table is supported by two posts instead of one for added stability. A light above the dinette features an integrated switch so it can be turned on once you are seated at the table, and windows at either end of the slideout help bring the outside in, if desired. There is also a storage drawer on the forward leg of the U, which could be useful, but we were disappointed to find that it was poorly finished and clunky to use. The jackknife sofa, however, deployed very easily, was reasonably comfortable and featured a huge drawer underneath to store blankets, pillows and other items.
On the curbside is the kitchen, which features stainless-steel-appointed appliances to further the upscale appearance. The dual-bowl plastic sink is large and looks like white enamel, but we really wished for sink covers since there isn’t a lot of counter space and there is no stove cover. There is, however, decent storage, courtesy of a large, deep cabinet underneath the sink, and next to this is a single cutlery drawer. Above is a double-door cabinet with a shelf, and we liked the glass inlays that were painted to look like woven cloth. The three-burner stove has a standard oven, and above it is a small microwave. The Dometic refrigerator looks nice with its stainless-steel front and was big enough for our needs, but we question how well it would work when the trailer is filled to occupant capacity, as 6 cubic feet isn’t any larger than in other non-bunkhouse trailers this size.
At the front of the living area is the entertainment center, which in the test unit was TV-ready. There is a depression in the front and hookups for cable, etc., and the panel is supposed to swivel so it can be viewed from the bedroom, although we couldn’t see how. Beneath the TV area is a rectangular cubby, to the right of which is an all-in-one DVD/AM/FM player with built-in Bluetooth for audio streaming. All the way beneath are two cabinet doors with a single shelf.
The forward bedroom isn’t large but has enough room come bedtime and offers good privacy with two sliding doors instead of a curtain. The queen bed is comfortable, and there is plenty of walk-around space. On either side of the bed are large, deep wardrobes, and although there are no overhead cabinets, there is a shelf with lighting underneath for reading. Ahead of each wardrobe are carpeted areas, which we found were a good place to put books, glasses of water, etc., and there are 120-volt AC power outlets in case you want to plug in an alarm clock or charge your phone.
You might expect a travel trailer designed to host so many kids to have generous exterior storage, but the Wildwood does not. It offers a narrow pass-through compartment up front that is just large enough for essentials, plus a large rear door that opens up to — wait for it — the bunk area. We have no idea what purpose this would serve, other than to use the bunks for storage during travel.
With the reliability and comfort provided by the F-150 and the sleeping accommodations of the Forest River Wildwood, the whole family can enjoy the same travel experiences we had as kids, minus the drama.
Forest River | 574-534-8107 | www.forestriverinc.com