First Drive: 2009 Ford F-150
Survival Of The Fittest: This Pickup Has To Be The Biggest Hit In Blue Oval History
This time, Ford has brought every possible F-150 configuration to the table where other makers are being measured. In other words: No one will accuse Ford of bringing a knife to a gun fight. Plenty of buyers will appreciate this, Ford's Baskin-Robbins approach to truck building, with more than 31 flavors from which to choose. But can Ford keep making so many flavors when the economy and truck lovers have gone on a crash diet?
The new F-150 features an updated, fully boxed frame to act as a more rigid platform, which allowed suspension engineers to make incremental improvements. Nothing revolutionary here. In fact, the overall suspension strategy of the truck is no different from the previous model (front coil-over shocks with double A-arms, and a rear live axle on leaf springs). The rear spring pack is wider and six inches longer, while the front uses a stronger stamped-steel lower control arm. Ford also uses two separate steering ratios, depending on which wheelbase and towing option package the truck has, to improve the often criticized numb F-150 feel. And it works.
We recently sampled several of these new varieties under a host of conditions at the manufacturer's proving grounds. Steering feel in our SuperCab tester proved a bit soft on center but had a firmer, quicker feel when cornering, and directional stability has been improved. The ride on our SuperCrew around uneven concrete and blacktop surfaces of Dearborn, Michigan, was noticeably absorbing just about every rut and pothole (and there were many). Likewise, on several around-town freeway loops, where concrete was broken and rutted, our empty Ford tester hunkered down and swallowed up the hits. A drive around the racetrack, however, revealed an oddity in the suspension. Off the line, at or near wide-open throttle, we encountered a notable axle-hop oscillation. A simple adjustment on our takeoffs ended up putting 0-to-60 times in the eight-second range. It's possible this was a track-surface anomaly, but we'll keep our eye on it.
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.
As to interior and exterior design, Ford has stuck with its "flavor for every trucker" mentality, offering seven different trim packages (with three types of grilles), three cab configurations, three bed boxes, and three engine choices, bringing the grand total of truck choices, depending on how you count, to more than 60 packages (see sidebar). Certainly this strategy should satisfy core truck buyers, but will the market continue to support more expensive, luxury appointed (in some cases, $45,000), high-zoot pickups? The folks at Ford seems to think so, as they keep their premium-priced Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models strong in the mix. Whether there are still enough of those buyers to keep this significant investment a viable choice remains to be seen, but Ford still has a few cards left to play.
New technologies like EcoBoost (a V-6 with V-8 power) and a new diesel are just around the corner, and at first glance seem worth the extra money. Ironically, Ford's investment into size and strength (big towing and payload numbers) to keep core truck buyers happy could be the truck's greatest weakness. Downsizing for efficiency and practicality could be in the cards for many new buyers, which means there could be an opportunity here for Ford's long-ignored Ranger or something new in the vein of last year's Ford Explorer America (wouldn't be too difficult to hybridize a smaller pickup truck from that) or the coming Pontiac G8 ST.
Ford has a lead against just about every competitor in clever details. Inside, the vastly improved Gen-II SYNC technology helps provide directions to the cheapest fuel, your favorite football team's full-year schedule, a seven-day weather report for the local area, and tons of music options. The tailgate step and arm-hold, pop-out sidesteps (for easier access into the bed) are fun to play with, and the new cargo management system makes it easy to clip in the separators, along with a tool chest and storage box.
The price range for the 2009 F-150 runs the entire spectrum. A regular-cab XL (rubber mats, bench seat, 4x2, 4.6-liter V-8) will start at just over $22,000, with a fully loaded Platinum (20-inch wheels, electric runningboards, 4x4, leather) will top out around $45,000. But is it enough?
Many will argue this is the wrong time to release a full-size pickup. The F-150 is Ford's best-selling vehicle, however, and if it doesn't remain a hit in the marketplace, there may be little hope for Ford's survival. We'll find out how the new F-150 stacks up against the other new trucks this year in our February 2009 issue. Stay tuned!
Working for Superior Fuel Economy (SFE)
We're told this package has been in the works, practically from day one of the redesign, but it looks awfully suspicious that not long after GM announced its new XFE (Extra Fuel Economy), here comes the Ford equivalent. The target was to achieve 15 mpg in the city and over 20 mpg on the highway, and Ford got it. Special low-rolling-resistance tires, high 3.15:1 axle gears, and a few aero changes allow this 4x2 SuperCrew to reach such un-trucklike numbers. Could it get more with a few body-panel tricks, some de-contenting, and maybe a CVT? We'll see. Ford's EcoBoost V-6s should raise the mpg bar even further.
|2009 FORD F-150|
|Base price range||$22,270-$44,860|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, RWD/4WD, 2-6-pass, 2-, 2+2, or 4-door pickup|
|Engines||4.6L/248-hp/294-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve V-8; 4.6L/292-hp/ 320-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8; 5.4L/310-320-hp/365-390-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8|
|Transmissions||4- or 6-speed auto|
|Curb weight||4750-5850 lb (mfr)|
|Length x Width x Height||213.1-250.3 x 78.9 x 74.6-76.7 in|
|0-60 mph||7.0-9.5 (MT est)|
|EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ||14-15/18-21 mpg|
|CO2 Emissions||1.13-1.25 lb/mile|
|On sale in U.S.||Fall 2008|
Makes and Model Configurations
Mix and Match
Three engine options
- 4.6L 2-valve SOHC V-8
- 4.6L 3-valve SOHC V-8
- 5.4L 3-valve SOHC V-8 with variable camshaft timing
- 126 in.
- 133 in.
- 145 in.
- 157 in.
- 163 in.
Two automatic transmissions
- 4-speed 4R75E
- 6-speed 6R80
Three cab configurations
Three bed lengths
- 5.5 feet
- 6.5 feet (regular or flareside)
- 8.0 feet
Four axle ratios
- 11 new
- Four 20-inch wheel choices