Ford F-150 – capability is king

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

Ford says its truck team had a clear vision when developing the 2009 F-150 — redesign America’s best-selling pickup truck inside and out to “give customers unrivaled capability, unprecedented choice and a host of smart, game-changing features.”

A day spent at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds at Romeo, Mich., showed us that Ford has generally succeeded and in many instances exceeded, at least our expectations.

While the new Ford isn’t totally new — what is these days? — there have been extensive changes, some neat innovations, a new top-line trim level for the well healed and the addition of a base 4.5-liter V-8.

The vast buying choices, as always, with Ford are impressive. The usual mind-boggling array of configurations is still there. We counted dozens of basic choices including regular cab, extended cab and crew cab; three V-8 engines; three bed lengths; seven trim levels; and rear- wheel or four-wheel drive.

Prices range from $22,070, including a $975 destination charge, for a base rear-wheel drive regular cab XL truck with a 78-inch bed to $44,560 for the base version of the new luxurious Platinum crew cab edition. Believe it or not, you can spend around 50 grand if you check off all the available options.

If you want a new F-150 and can’t find one to suit your taste and pocketbook you are not looking hard enough or perhaps it’s because you’re totally confused. Your favorite Ford dealer with a good truck builder can probably fix you up.

We have to hand it to the Ford team who allowed journalists from around the country to pit the truck’s “unrivaled capability” against its chief competitors, the Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado and the new 2009 Dodge Ram in several proving ground tests including towing, hauling, handling and durability.

Make up your own mind, the Ford guys told us.

Indeed, the new F-150 may not be our hands-down favorite in every facet of pickup driving, but overall we came away with the impression that Ford has good reason to expect the newest F-150 to perpetuate Ford’s many years of sales leadership.

Dramatic styling changes are not as important in the pickup ranks as in other segments, but a pickup does have to offer a rugged eye- pleasing quality without straying from the basic theme. We think Dodge hit the right notes with a conservative exterior treatment of the new Ram, and, likewise, we think Ford’s tweaking of the new F-150 is right on target.

The new truck looks more massive than the 2008 model with a larger in- your-face grille, much like the big front end on the Super Duty. The giant grille, the truck’s squared-off corners and the tall walls of the cargo bed make a bold statement.

The truck remains about the same size, but Ford stretched the crew cab six inches creating a large living area for rear passengers. When cargo hauling is your mission, there are 57 cubic feet available under the roof through the use of flip-up rear seats.

The upscale interior of the previous iteration has been restyled with a slightly bigger center console — the center bin will accommodate hanging file folders and a laptop computer — and as many as 30 storage areas around the cab. In top wood and polished aluminum trim the cockpit could easily be mistaken for a Lincoln.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the new truck is its exceptionally quiet interior. Ford has done a remarkable job keeping noise levels low.

We found the seats wide enough and very comfortable, even for our wide bodies.

A tall passenger we were transporting in a crew cab expressed amazement at the rear-seat comfort, something he said he had not found in other pickups.

But we do have a small problem with the interior — the center console, which mimics those found in the newly styled Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape, has too many small, lookalike black buttons on the audio and climate controls. Jeez, we had to complain about something.

Horsepower junkies may bemoan the fact that Ford decided not to inject a massive V-8 into the F-150 lineup. There’s no 5.7-liter making 381 horsepower as in the Tundra nor is there a muscular 5.7-liter Hemi dispensing 390 horsepower as in the Ram. Those seeking horsepower bragging rights will have to skip the Ford.

They may be missing the boat, however. We found its hauling and towing capabilities impressive with the carryover 5.4-liter V-8 making 320 horsepower and an even more important 390 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic.

Pulling a 7,500-pound load up steep grades, we discovered scads of useable power and we felt the F-150 was a more refined tow vehicle than any of the competitor’s trucks.
Ford brags that in top towing configuration, the F-150 can pull up to an industry-leading 11,300 pounds. Top payload is also the best in class at 3,030 pounds. The test load was kept at 7,500-pounds to match the max offered by one of the competitors.

What Ford has that the others don’t is a base V-8 engine. It offers 248 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. The downside — it’s mated to a four-speed automatic. The mid-level engine is a new three-valve 4.5-liter that makes 292 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque mated to the six-speed automatic. It will tow up to 9,500 pounds.

Although Ford didn’t follow Dodge with the controversial use of coil springs in the rear, the traditional leaf springs are beefed up and now longer helping to smooth out the ride and add comfort to both on and off-road rides. Ford believes this take on comfort doesn’t compromise the trucks capability and handling prowess. We found the ride exceptional and its handling equal to any of the tasks we put it through.

We applaud Ford for including numerous safety features as standard equipment including stability control, traction control, four-wheel ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, tire pressure monitoring, front side-mounted airbags and trailer sway control – an industry first.

Several neat features include a step that folds out of the tailgate along with a grab handle for easy access to the truck bed, bed extenders that stow along the bed walls instead of resting in the bed when not in use, and bed-side steps tucked under the fenders that can be opened with a push of the foot allowing the average-sized person to step up and handily reach over the tall cargo box walls.

Options are many and include the very useable SYNC hands free, voice operated music and phone system, a reverse camera that shows the truck’s trailer hitch location making hook up easy, and navigation with the Sirius Travel Link system that among other things helps you find the lowest gas prices and then directs you to the station.

Ford has done a creditable job making a good truck better. We can’t imagine people who need or desire a full-sized pickup unable to find the right combination of size and features fitting their specific requirements and pocketbook.

Except for the month of May in 2008 the Ford F-150 continued to lead all vehicle sales and with the introduction of the 2009 its leadership has grow. It doesn’t take a genius to predict the best-selling truck in America will continue to hold its position.


XLT Crew Cab with 5-foot-5 bed
Base price, $22,070; as driven, $35,595
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8
Horsepower: 320 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 390 pound-feet @ 3,500 rpm
Drive: four wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 144.5 inches
Length: 231.7 inches
Curb weight: 5,628 pounds
Turning circle: 52.3 feet
Towing capacity: 9,800 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 19 highway, 14 city
0-60: NA
Also consider: Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra

The Good
• Incredible array of configurations
• High amount of standard safety
• Best-in-class towing and hauling

The Bad
• Rivals have bigger, more powerful engines

The Ugly
• Will pickup trucks topping out at 50 grand find a wide audience?