The 2012 Ford F-150 can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. You can treat it as your basic beat-it-up work truck or embrace it as your own luxury limo.

Starting with the base XL, there are no less than 10 trim levels including the sporty STX, the popular XLT, the off-road oriented FX and Raptor, the luxurious Lariat and Platinum and the beefy King Ranch and Harley Davidson.

And three body-styles -- a 3-passenger Regular Cab, a SuperCab that can tuck three small passengers in tight second row seats and a SuperCrew Cab with nice full-size rear seating.

There are several bed lengths and two- and four-wheel drive models, meaning there are lots of choices.

But all of these choices are one of the F-150's best and most confusing assets.

It does make it a little tricky sizing it up against the competition and there are only a few noteworthy rivals -- the Chevrolet Silverado, the Toyota Tundra and the Ram 1500.

Still, innovations like the pull-down tailgate step and box side steps that really improve the truck's overall utility set the F-150 apart.

Our test SuperCab XLT came with the optional Trailer Tow Package. It's something you'll need if you're going to do any heavy duty towing over 5800 pounds.

The bare-bones XL comes with a radio and air conditioning but not much else for creature comforts. Step up to the STX or XLT, or higher, for power accessories, cruise control and a stereo system that plays CDs and connects to your iPod.

Or even better, Ford offers this SYNC voice-activated communication system on all models except the base XL. With it, you can wirelessly link your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone to make calls and stream apps like Pandora.

We like the 4.2-inch LCD display in the gauge cluster. It's part of the optional XLT Convenience Package but standard on FX2 and higher trims. It's an easy way to monitor fuel economy, towing and off-road information and it's controlled right from the steering wheel.

The F-150 is as comfortable as a large, truck-based SUV when zipping around town or cruising the highway. And it handles in the same way, too.

Our XLT Lariat came with the optional twin-turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 that produces 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. That's V8-level power that's capable of towing 11,300 pounds and hauling 3,100 pounds when properly equipped.

The EcoBoost engine easily outshines the base 302 horsepower 3.7-liter V6. And with its combination of power and fuel economy, it captures our attention more than the available 360 horsepower 5-liter V8 and the 411 horsepower 6.2-liter V8 available in the higher trims.

All engines send power through a 6-speed automatic transmission to either the rear wheels or available electronic-shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive.

A new 2-speed 4-by-4 system with an automatic mode is available in some of the upper trims.

The best fuel economy ratings come with the 3.7-liter V6 but only slightly over the much superior EcoBoost V6.

If all-out off-road capability trumps fuel economy when shopping for a pickup truck, then the low ratings from the 6.2-liter V8 in the SVT Raptor won't matter.

Standard safety features on the 2012 F-150 include electronic traction and stability control and a full complement of airbags including side curtain airbags that protect front and rear outboard passengers.

The base Regular Cab XL starts at under $24,000 while a well-equipped 4-wheel drive SuperCrew Harley-Davidson tops $53,000, which is quite a price-range.

All F-150's are backed by a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. With a mob of choices, it's not all that easy shopping for the 2012 Ford F-150. If we had to single out one qualifying feature, we'd say start with the engine.

We recommend the EcoBoost V6 for most uses. But if you'll be doing lots of heavy duty towing and can cope with a big fuel expense, go with the 6.2-liter V8.

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Scott Markle is an experienced automotive enthusiast and industry observer who is passionate about creating compelling content for car shoppers. He has fifteen years of experience building top-tier websites for the automotive industry and beyond, and was part of the team that launched AutoTrader.com.

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