Work may be a four-letter word, but it is why trucks were originally designed. As gasoline prices soared this summer, consumers fell out of love with trucks, reminding Detroit that the American worker is the core customer.
The latest example is the new Ford F-150, which the company last re-designed in 2004. At the time, the truck set a new standard for making life easier. It brought along practical features, such as tailgates with lift assist and more storage inside and out. It remains one of the best-riding and best-handling trucks I've test-driven.
I shouldn't have worried that Ford would muck with the recipe. The company has built more the 33 million F-Series pickups since it launched the line in 1948. It turns out this new launch isn't an all-new truck, like the 2009 Dodge Ram, but rather a top-to-bottom update of the 2004 model.
The 2009 model looks and feels beefier. In fact, the half-ton bears a strong resemblance to its Super Duty brother. Kent Sundling, a Denver-based truck specialist (Mrtruck.net), says the new full-size F-150 is brawny enough to be a three-quarter if it had a full-floating rear axle.
"It leads the half-ton pack with 11,300-lb. tow capacity across all cab models with the 5.4-liter engine, which is nice in a 4x2. It's also a smart move because it's less confusing for consumers trying to figure out which trucks will tow what trailer,” Sundling says.
V-8 under the hood. Ford claims the 4.6-liter, two-valve V-8 mated to a four-speed automatic delivers the same fuel economy as the V-6. New this year is the 4.6-liter, three-valve V-8. It and the 5.4-liter, three-valve Triton V-8 come with a six-speed automatic that uses open valve injection.
Ford claims improved air and fuel charge conditions in the combustion chamber lead to greater spark advance at higher loads and engine speeds. The result is more horsepower during towing, higher revolutions per minute operation and lower emissions.
A new gasoline turbo direct injection V-6 is expected in 2010. Ford had also planned to add a diesel engine to the F-150 lineup next year but is now delaying that option.
Fuel economy gains an average of 8% with the new guts and other engineering enhancements on the F-150. High-tech, lighter-weight bones help deliver improved fuel economy while boosting towing and hauling capabilities. The hydro-formed steel body structure features an industry first use of tubular ultra-high-strength steel. The lightweight frame delivers 10% more rigidity, and the rear suspension has been upgraded with longer leaf springs for better handling and load control.
Matt O'Leary, chief engineer of the 2009 F-150, says his engineer and design team drew inspiration from listening to Ford's customer base. "We went to their ranches, their job sites and their homes, making sure we crafted features that would improve their ownership experiences and, really, their lives,” he says.
For truck specialist Sundling, the big news is the six-speed automatic and the larger SuperCrew with an extra 6" of rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. "Roll stability control comes standard, and the truck offers trailer sway control and an integrated trailer brake controller—all key features,” he says.
Three cab styles, four box options and seven trim levels add up to 35 different configurations. The XL is your no-frills workhorse—yes, you can still get a truck without carpet.
An 11"-wide side step extends from underneath the bed and tucks neatly beneath when not in use. Another step is integrated into the tailgate, and a grab handle folds up and out to provide extra support on the climb up.
If you want to pony up for it, you can get an F-150 smart enough to tell you if you've brought the right tools or, better yet, packed them back up before heading back to the ranch. A dashboard computer wirelessly connects to the Internet, which stores the tool checklist and displays the RFID data.
Base price for the XL regular cab starts at $21,320; the XLT SuperCab starts at $29,160. For more information, visit www.ford.com.
You can e-mail Pam Smith at email@example.com