The question of the decade, at least for Ford Motor Company, must have been "how do we redesign America's best-selling motor vehicle without degrading the formula that makes it so successful?" The significance hinging on Ford's answer is awesome to consider: In 2002 (2003 statistics aren't yet finalized), Ford sold over 800,000 F-Series pickups, accounting for two in every five light-duty, full-size pickup trucks or one in every 20 vehicles sold (including cars and SUVs). Because the stakes are so high, one might think Ford would do very little to a truck that's been so well received. On the contrary.

Representing 23 percent of its total domestic sales, the F-150 is critical to the health of FoMoCo. And the competition within the full-size pickup category has become so fierce that Ford left not a single part of the 2004 F-150 untouched, unimproved, or unperfected. After 55 years of the F-Series, the 2004 Truck of the Year contest was Ford's to lose. Ford literally invented and has now reinvented America's pickup--carefully and with consideration of every aspect related to styling, capability, safety, driveability, durability, and special features.

Ford ensures there's a broad range with no fewer than 46 distinct build variations from which to choose--bettering its nearest competitor by 13 configurations. This is an amazing accomplishment, especially in the first year of production. There are three cab sizes, three box lengths (and two styles), two engines and transmissions, five different rear-axle ratios, and five trim-level offerings, each with its own unique interior and exterior. Whatever the job, there's an F-150 that's the right tool to get it done. And in case you really like the outgoing model, it's still available as the F-150 Heritage, limited to only 20 configurations.

A good truck starts with a solid foundation. The 2004 F-150 features a fully boxed frame that's nine times stronger torsionally than its predecessor's and that resists bending 50 percent better. To further isolate the engine and suspension, each front rail is hydroformed at 17,000 psi from a single piece of tubular steel. This sturdy frame gives the F-150 the ability to remain responsive and sophisticated as well as robust enough for heavy-duty towing or off-road use. Editor-at-Large St. Antoine notes, "The chassis feels exceptionally tight--splendid isolation from drivetrain noises and road vibrations."

Suspension is a key factor in how well the underpinnings work as a whole. Ford has updated the F-150's front suspension with fully independent upper and lower control arms and coil-over shocks on all models including 4x4s, which previously used torsion-bar springs. Cast-aluminum lower arms result in less unsprung weight for better suspension response to surface irregularities. Also, extending track width and moving the shock absorber closer to the wheel gains a 25-percent mechanical advantage, allowing finer tuning of the entire system. Hotchkiss design rear suspension has been updated by increasing the width of the leaf springs to three inches, same as an F-250/350 Super Duty, and by moving the shocks outside the framerails. These revisions mean increased capacity and stability in all conditions including washboard surfaces, towing, and cornering.

"The F-150 offers 46 different cab/chassis/bed configurations, plus five distinctive interior designs. "