It's a conservative approach, like the styling of the latest models from GM and Dodge. The F-150 updates the popular Heavy Duty F-Series appearance, with circular headlights within a rectangular clear cluster cover, bold enough to look macho without alienating light-duty truck buyers who are trading in cars.

Like the outgoing model, the '04 F-150 will be available in three cab configurations, but all come with four doors. The Regular Cab features two narrow access doors, which open suicide style (only when the fronts are open). The SuperCab has two conventional-size pickup-style rear-access doors. The passenger compartment is six inches longer for each, providing 13 inches of behind-the-seat storage in the Regular Cab and seating for three in the rear of the SuperCab. Extra space allowed Ford to lean the rear seatback to a more rakish angle, so back-seat passengers won't feel like they're hunched over in a penalty box. The SuperCrew returns with two rows of seats and four full doors, again offering the comfort of a big sedan.

Since such pickups are the most un-Japanese-like vehicles you can buy in America today, it's fitting that, unlike Japanese sedans, Ford continues to offer the F-150 in an almost confusing array of configurations and trim levels.

Ford will also offer the F-150 with a choice of three box lengths, two box styles, and in five trim levels. All cabs will be available with 5 1/2-foot, 6 1/2-foot, or 8-foot boxes (Ford says the SuperCab/5 1/2-foot box combo is unique in the industry). Next, choose from two different box styles, Styleside or Flareside, the latter a 6 1/2-foot box featuring rubber-covered footsteps and three exterior-panel tiedown hooks on each side. Finally, the five trim levels are XL (the construction-crew stripper model), STX (a minimum level of style and comfort), XLT (the mid-level volume model), FX4 (the sporty model, available in all three cab sizes), and the Lariat, which has standard leather seats and 18-inch wheels. F-Series marketing wizards have taken to calling the Lariat "Texas luxury" (Chevy Suburbans were called "Texas Cadillacs" until Cadillac got a big SUV of its own), which seems to pay homage to the fact that our current, Texas-bred U.S. president has erased all memories of the wimp factor his father suffered. SVT Lightnings powered to take on Dodge's upcoming Viper-engine SRT-10 pickup, Harley-Davidson specials, and probably a few other new niche models also will roll out over the next few years.

Grilles and interiors help differentiate the trucks. The mainstream XLT has a black honeycomb mesh, whereas the XL, STX, and FX4 have that F-350 Tonka-like set of black horizontal bars bookcased by two vertical bars over a black honeycomb. Only the base XL has a chrome ring and bumper, the two sportier models have body-colored accents. Lariat has a chromed honeycomb surrounded in more chrome.