In our last issue, we gave you our first impressions of Ford's all-new '04 F-150. Since then, Ford has given us the opportunity to get behind the wheel of many production-quality versions, varying by trim level, bed size, and engine, including a version of Ford's little-known F-150 payload package.

Think of this package as the toughest version of the F-150; a sort of heavy-duty F-150 for those who don't need Super Duty capabilities, but want more strong-arm ability than is offered by the rest of the F-150 line. Available only with the longest bed option (8 foot), and only in the regular cab and SuperCab variations (all 8-foot SuperCabs are only available with the payload package), this will be the truck of choice for contractors and fleet managers.

Checking the payload-package box at the dealer includes as standard the 5.4-liter/300-horsepower V-8, a 3.73:1 rear axle, and special LT245/70R17 tires. Payload capacity increases 900 pounds compared to a standard 5.4-liter, from 2000 pounds to 2900 pounds in 4x2 regular cab trim, and up from 1650 pounds to 2550 pounds for 4x4 regular cabs. GVWR increases 1150 pounds for 4x2 regular cabs and 1250 pounds for 4x4 regular cabs, bringing total GVWR to 8200 pounds for regular cab and SuperCab models. Max towing capacity remains unchanged from standard 5.4-liter trucks at 9500 pounds, but the payload package does up the maximum GCWR by 300 pounds to 15,300.

We drove a 2WD XLT SuperCab version of the payload package and couldn't help but notice its size. With an 8-foot bed, this is a long truck by any measure, yet once on the road, vehicle navigation comes easy, thanks to the F-150's new heavy-duty power rack-and-pinion-steering unit. There's no longer any slop in the steering unit, and the truck goes exactly where its driver intends. The new three-valve V-8 does a suitable job of providing enough thrust to get this 21-foot truck down the road with ease. Ride quality in this truck is much better than it was in the previous F-150, due to the double wishbone and coil-on-shock system in the front and outboard shock absorbers in the rear. The updated suspension also helps increase towing stability.

As with the entire new F-150 line, the interior on our XLT was greatly improved over last year's model. Ergonomics and plastics have been upgraded, and style accents give the interior a carlike feel. The regular cab F-150 payload package also will win points at the work site with its clever, narrow back doors that allow easy access to the storage area behind the seats.

Ford realizes it's not the only game in town when it comes to offering a special payload group in its 1/2-ton-truck line (GMC offers a 1500 HD), but as of now the F-150 payload package is an additional option not currently offered in Nissan's new Titan.