Injected with hormones from last year's Mighty F-350 Tonka concept, the '04 Ford F-150 pickup is trucklike on the outside and carlike on the inside.
That's the inverse of the current F-150, the exterior of which tried to look too sleek and modern, earning it a wimp image in some camps. Beefy, heavy-duty F-250s and F-350s have taken a bigger share of F-Series sales (912,000 for all F-Series in 2001) and Chevy's rival Silverado has been gaining, too. Ford's answer is heavier-duty styling, evident mostly in the more upright front-end design, riding on a much revised, fully boxed, partially hydroformed frame. Other new F-Series highlights include rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel discs, and a more powerful 5.4-liter/300-horsepower 365-lb-ft 24-valve Triton V-8 engine option.
The 2004 F also has innovations designed to entice people migrating out of sedans into trucks. New this year is a tailgate with a torsion bar that reduces the effort required to raise the gate. The cargo box is two inches deeper than the old truck's for more capacity than competitors' beds, Ford says. Even the blue oval badges on the nose and tail have been widened to nine inches.
The F-150 continues to offer three cab configurations, now exclusively with four doors. The Regular Cab has two narrow rear-space access doors, and the SuperCab returns with conventional access doors. Both have six more inches in passenger compartment space, providing 13 inches of storage behind the seat of the Regular Cab and seating for three in the rear of the SuperCab. The SuperCrew continues with two rows of seats and four full doors for all the comfort of a big sedan.
These cabs will be available with 5.5-foot, 6.5-foot, or 8-foot Styleside boxes, or a 6.5-foot Flareside box with rubber-covered footsteps and three exterior-panel tiedown hooks per side. Trim levels are XL, STX, XLT (mid-level volume model), FX4 (sporty 4WD model), and the Lariat, with standard leather seats and 18-inch wheels. SVT Lightnings, Harley-Davidson specials, and other new niche models will roll out over the next few years.
The interiors are truly impressive. Dashes have accents on the center stack and vertical flourishes along the HVAC vents on each edge--charcoal in XL and STX, charcoal with chrome vent rings on XLT, "warm steel" chromed rings and fake carbon fiber in the FX4, and chrome and real wood in the Lariat. Seat materials, whether vinyl, cloth, or the leather standard (heated optional) in Lariat, are the best we've seen in a pickup. If you order buckets (or captain's chairs in the Lariat), the floor gearshift is a bold chrome-handle grip. An overhead-rail system is standard on XLT, FX4, and Lariat SuperCabs and SuperCrews, with moveable and removable compartment bins that can accommodate PDAs, cell-phones, CD changers, DVD players (backseat passengers only), and the like.