When we gathered a diverse crop of contenders for the '97 Motor Trend Truck of the Year award, we found the field ripe with fresh pickups, sport/utilities, and full-size vans, each approaching the market with its own distinct offerings. In the face of truly formidable competition, the all-new Ford F-150 stood out as the most significant truck, making a giant, evolutionary leap forward in mainstream pickup design, bolstering its work abilities with people-friendly attributes that result in a highly desirable truck for the money.
An unbeatable combination of smooth, efficient powertrains, strong towing abilities, commendable ride compliance and handling, and marvelous cabin packaging earned the F-150 the honored distinction of Motor Trend's '97 Truck of the Year. With three examples on hand for the big photo shoot and Motor Trend Television videography, the staff became so enamored with the SuperCab Lariat that we secured the mighty maroon truck for a year-long evaluation.
With an astronomical number of possible configurations available from V-6-powered Flareside standard cab truck to full-bore V-8-powered SuperCab 4x4, there is no shortage of F-Series choices. Our pick was a third-door-equipped, two-wheel-drive SuperCab in Lariat trim. Starting with a $23,110 base price, we opted for the 5.4-liter/235-horsepower SOHC Triton V-8 for an extra $555. Replacing the standard 4.6-liter, the larger-displacement engine boasts a modest 15-horsepower gain, but torque touts a 40-pound-foot improvement for a 330-pound-foot total.
To encourage staff sedan stalwarts to transition from the Lexus ES 300 and other posh four-doors in our custody to the long-term F-150, we ordered Preferred Equipment Package 508A featuring leather upholstery, Lariat trim, air conditioning, six-way power driver's seat, tilt steering wheel, and electronic speed control. Further civilizing the demure work beast, we added a four-speed automatic transmission ($970), six-disc CD changer ($400), and remote keyless entry ($255). Functional 3.55:1 limited-slip axle ($250) and protective bedliner ($201) round out the list. Factoring California emissions, destination and delivery, and package discounts, th e dressed-to-impress F-150 stickered at $26,551.
Surveyed owners paid a fair amount less than our pre-negotiated total, averaging $24,170 for their SuperCab trucks. Interestingly, only a mere 3.4 percent leased, indicating that buyers were investing in an extended ownership. Typically, the key influence in new vehicle purchase considerations among survey respondents is the styling, but with the F-150, it was the industry-first third-door that had consumers reaching for their checkbook. The controversial exterior ranked as a distant second for purchase influence, followed by prior Ford experience, comfort, and quality. That the leading purchase motivations didn't include traditional truck attributes such as power, payload capacity, and tow ability, speaks volumes about the modern, mainstream truck buyers who value convenience and comfort in their daily driver.
Laudable suspension compliance contributes to the F-150's refined character. The front twin-I-beam setup of old has been replaced by a short-and-long arm assembly. Combined with careful suspension tuning, the front A-arm and rear leaf spring arrangement delivers a pleasantly supple ride without sacrificing essential truck toughness. Owners agreed, as half the surveys featured such comments as, "It rides like a car but works like a truck" and "The ride quality is the best of any truck, two- or four-wheel drive, that I have ever experienced. Ford did its homework!"
Beyond subjective impressions, the F-150 proves that it can raise the benchmark without compromises by averaging 56.7 mph through our 600-foot slalom course despite a lengthy 138.5-inch wheelbase. Circling the skidpad at 0.71 g puts the massive Ford at the front of the truck and minivan pack. It is no wonder then that 94.7 percent of survey respondents rated handling above average.