The Ford Motor Co.’s best-selling product gets a modest external makeover for 2009 plus a host of subtle but important revisions inside and under the hood in an attempt to stay atop the sales charts in a soft market.
Ford has stayed with the bold styling that debuted in 2004 while polishing the edges. The front grille is larger with wide chrome strips dominating most models — there are now seven trim levels — plus wraparound tail lamps accent the boxy stance of this perennial top seller. In four-door SuperCrew body all the doors are larger in a cabin that is now 6 inches longer, while the pickup box shrinks to a semi-useful 5.5 feet.
The boxed frame rails are stronger yet slightly lighter, while rear leaf springs grow in both size and load capacity, giving the Ford a small payload edge over rivals.
Under the hood, the F-series is no longer available with a six cylinder engine. A revised 248-hp 4.6-liter V-8 is now the base engine for several models, while a stronger 292-hp version of this motor is the base powerplant for several other renditions. The 5.4-liter V-8 soldiers on as the most powerful F-series engine with 320 hp and 390 pound/feet of peak torque. The latter two engines are backed by new six-speed automatic transmissions.
Fuel economy is improved across the board, but all of the F-150’s engines give up horsepower ratings and acceleration prowess to its rivals. The Ford motors do have good torque ratings, which translate into competitive tow ratings.
After 700 miles my sample SuperCrew 2WD XLT returned 19.0 mpg, just one mile per gallon less than the EPA highway rating. This is a 15 percent improvement over several recent pickups, but the tested truck was a two-wheel drive model with no foul weather experiences.
Perhaps more attractive to many drivers will be the enhanced cabin in the latest F-150 SuperCrew. The stretched passenger space is most evident in the rear, where legroom grows by over 4 inches and allows Ford to recline the seatback for greater comfort. Fold the split bench seat up and a huge, flat-floor cargo hold is exposed that helps to compensate for the shrunken pickup bed. Three abreast adult seating is now comfortably possible with a huge amount of leg and head room.
The instrument panel is revised and offers clear controls and smarter switchgear. You can now get Ford’s Sync system for audio controls plus real-time voice command navigation. The revised dash also gives the Ford an upscale feel sometimes evident in top-end SUVs but largely lacking in their pickup brethren. Some drivers might find the row of gauges atop the dash too small.
On the road, the F-150 is much quieter. Additional sound deadening material adds weight, yet the Ford is more hushed and relaxed at highway speeds. Steering feel has more heft built into the wheel, yet the Ford still lacks the precise responsiveness of the GM and Nissan pickups and even trails the latest Dodge in this area. Ride motions, however, are nicely balanced and the Ford behaves better than most pickup buyers have been accustomed to.
On the flip side, the Ford’s tailgate man-step aids cargo bed access but could this be eliminated if the bed were a little lower? I did use the flip-up hand lever one day to secure a long box of vinyl siding, which worked better than expected, but the absence of stake pockets in the bed-wall will aggravate some buyers, while the folding plastic cargo-extender made access to the rear corner tie-downs almost impossible.
For almost 30-years, the Ford F-series has been the top-selling vehicle — not just truck — in America. With the latest F-series making big strides in occupant comfort, interior space and operating efficiency perhaps Ford should bring back one of its more popular ad slogans; “Have you driven a Ford, lately?”
Next week: Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid Pickup
Just the Facts: Ford F-150 SuperCrew
F-series comes in regular cab, four-door SuperCab and four-door SuperCrew with three pickup box lengths; 5.5-, 6.5- and 8-foot. The regular cab with folding rear doors has been dropped.
Engines range from 248-hp 4.6-liter to 292-hp 4.6-liter to 320-hp 5.4-liter. EPA estimates for upgraded 4.6-liter are 15/20 for 2WD and 14/18 mpg for 4WD. A special fuel saving model, SFE, earns EPA estimates of 15/21 mpg.
Trim levels and pricing range from base XL truck at $21,095 to new Platinum SuperCrew at $43,885, plus innumerable options. Tested XLT trim CrewCab — the most popular model — with 2WD and upgraded 4.6-liter V-8 starts at $30,845.
Stability system is standard on all models now. SuperCrew XLT trim includes: split-folding rear seat, power rear windows, outside temp display, rear privacy glass, 17-inch wheels, six-speed automatic, remote entry, traction control, curtain side airbags, full-size spare and much more.