Our test unit came equipped with the popular 5.4-liter V-8, rated at 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque (320 horsepower and 395 pound-feet running on E-85). As strong as that sounds, it still felt taxed during normal driving. Make no mistake, with all the safety and strength-adding support to the frame and undercarriage, as well as sound-deadening material throughout the cabs, this is a heavy truck, and it drives like it. In fact, the new six-speed (really more like a five-speed with an extra overdrive) allows much of the engine's inherent power to feel like it slips away. Chalk this up to Ford's desire to achieve the best cruising fuel-economy numbers possible. Recently released EPA numbers list the 5.4-liter V-8 rated at 14/18 city/highway, with its new SFE F-150 (see sidebar) rated at 15/21.

We also towed a few heavy loads with the new Ford, specifically, a 6500-pound trailer through suburban Detroit. This is where the F-150 is at home. With wider and longer leaf springs, stability and confidence under load are as good as anything in the segment. Maybe that's not surprising because the new F-150 has the highest towing capacity at 11,300 pounds and the largest payload at 3030 pounds of any vehicle in the segment. With 700 pounds of tongue weight, steering feel was solid and without wander, much of which is most likely due to the standard integrated brake controller, which now includes an anti-sway algorithm.

We further took the off-road package through nasty trails and obstacles. The four-wheel-drive system offers a push-button rear locking differential for extra traction, as well as bigger, standard all-terrain tires, new shocks, custom wheels, stickers, and a unique grille. The system is so capable, we made it through heavy-duty mud bogs and rocky hillclimbs in four-wheel-drive high range, not even needing low range. The FX4 had no trouble extricating itself over a slushy steep slope, crossed with a few felled trees and several ill-placed boulders, where low range was put to use, the rear locker engaged. Gearing is excellent in the 5.4L V-8: The standard six-speed has a 4.17:1 first gear, which, in combination with the 3.73:1 ring and pinions and 2.64:1 low-range ratio, gives a huge slow-crawl advantage.