Mountain-Moving Powertrains: A workhorse at heart, the F-150 is powered by a trio of high-tech engines that deliver an impressive combination of clean emissions, thrifty fuel economy, trailer-pulling power, and daily-driver smoothness. All three '97 powerplant choices feature 100,000-mile tuneup schedules under normal driving conditions with regular oil and fluid changes.

Derived from the 3.8-liter Thunderbird OHV V-6 engine, the significantly reworked 4.2-liter/205-horsepower V-6 outmuscles the competitions' base engines, offering eight-cylinder power on a six-cylinder budget. Fitted in a standard-cab, short-bed pickup, the feisty V-6 with a five-speed manual transmission can sprint from zero to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, nearly as quick as an F-150 Flareside equipped with a 4.6-liter/220-horsepower SOHC V-8 and four-speed automatic.

Feeling more like eight cylinders than you would believe, the key to the V-6's strength is a strong 255 pound-foot torque peak at 3000 rpm, with 92 percent of the load-pulling power available from 1500 rpm. Factor in a 5800-pound tow capacity (when equipped with the automatic) and 17/22 city/highway EPA-rated fuel economy, and the base V-6 engine looks very attractive for light hauling and personal use.

For those needing more low-end grunt, the hard-working optional 4.6-liter Triton V-8 packs more punch while sacrificing only one mpg in both the city and highway ratings. This modern 90-degree SOHC engine is well suited to towing or hauling heavy loads, with a potent 290 pound-feet of torque on tap at just 3250 rpm. Built to remain reliable under a life of hard service, the durable deep-skirt engine block uses low-friction internal components, a near-silent chain cam drive, all-aluminum bearings, and new seal technology.

Heavy-duty truck users can choose the king of the Triton engines, the optional 5.4-liter/235-horsepower SOHC V-8. Derived from the 4.6-liter engine, the 5.4-liter shares the smaller engine's rugged virtues. Pumping out 330 pound-feet of torque and available with only the automatic transmission, the bigger V-8 is suited to pulling trailers. This strength comes without any sacrifice in everyday driveability. Both V-8 engines provide a quiet idle and mild-mannered around-town character that instantly can transform into a satisfying, power-pounding growl and viciously aggressive demeanor. Every iteration of V-8 F-150 we tested managed impressive sub-nine-second 0-60-mph times, translating into effortless merging acceleration and downright sporty fun.

Both Triton engines feature the first truck application of a fail-safe cooling system. In the event of coolant loss, a cylinder-head sensor signals the computer to alternately pump air through four cylinders to cool the engine, allowing the truck to drive with reduced power to a service facility.

Civilized Suspensions Built Truck-ToughA civilized truck-tough suspension is the key to the refined character of the all-new F-150. Gone are the legendary front Twin I-Beams, replaced by a new short-and-long-arm (SLA) assembly with a forged steel upper arm. Two-wheel-drive versions use a stamped steel lower arm and a coil spring, while four-wheel-drive pickups upgrade to a cast-iron lower arm and torsion bars to withstand serious abuse. For off-road use, four-wheel-drive versions benefit from a protective radiator shield and modified crossmembers to maximize ground clearance. Larger, heavy-duty shock absorbers and special springs also are available.

Depending on weight rating, the F-150's solid rear axle is supported by either two- or four-element leaf springs. With select optional equipment, this bulletproof suspension combination gives the 4x2 F-150 a best-in-class payload rating of 2435 pounds.