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  • Earth Movers: Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat vs Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited

Earth Movers: Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat vs Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited

Earth Movers: Our Last Two Trucks Of The Year. One Winner.

Kim Reynolds
Aug 4, 2009
Photographers: Julia LaPalme
If you follow the San Andreas Fault on a map, from its southern origins near the Salton Sea, it points along a 10-o'clock angle, gradually nearing the Pacific Ocean for 745 miles until it finally glances past San Francisco and then disappears near Point Delgada. It's a mammoth crack in the earth's crust, with Los Angeles heading for Anchorage, and all the rest of it drifting toward the equator.
No point along it is more remarkable to the naked eye than where a splinter of the San Andreas, called the Calaveras Fault, bisects the town of Hollister.
Unlike the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, the Calaveras Fault is aseismic; that is, its sides creep past each other slowly and smoothly. It produces few seismic "events." Gradually, the center of Hollister is being sheared in two, but so hyperglacially that its edifices are simply twisting with it. On their evening strolls along 4th and 6th Streets, pedestrians have acclimated themselves to their sidewalk's mean-dering courses.
Photo 2/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra front Three Quarters View
Two years ago, Toyota began its own slow rearrangement of the truck world's continents with the introduction of the new Tundra. Built in a brand-new factory in San Antonio, Texas--the beating heart of the nation's body--the Tundra seemed to have distilled the thick biographies of Detroit's traditional pickups so potently, we picked it as Motor Trend's 2008 Truck of the Year. Twelve months later, a comprehensive round of improvements elevated the latest Ford F-150 past the interesting new Dodge Ram to clinch the same honor. So what we have here is an unusual clash of truck tectonic plates, 2008's champ versus 2009's. The quick-read, nationalized citizen against the American-to-the-bone, perennial best-seller.
Which is our pick between our last two trucks of the year? We headed to Hollister to find out which one is gradually heading north, and which south.
Snaking up along scenic Route 25, we bisected some of the loveliest cattle country you'll ever see to pay a visit to the Appel Ranch, located about 20 miles south of Hollister (and thanks, Mary and John, for your hospitality). Rolling grassland hills. Meandering dirt roads. Really big moo cows. The perfect playground to let 4x4 trucks off their leashes.
Photo 3/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra rear Three Quarters View
Photo 4/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra side View
Photo 5/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra front View
Both our F-150 and Tundra are the ne-plus-ultra mega-cab, stubby-bed type, the Ford being a SuperCrew Lariat with a 5.5-foot box tacked on (base price, $39,435), the Toyota, a CrewMax Limited trailing a similarly abbreviated bed ($42,405). And both festooned with enough software-soaked gadgetry to make them perfect fits for today's gentleman rancher. Or a family trailering horses. Like Clydesdales.
And like Clydesdales, the F-150 and Tundra are enormous beasts. Until you get acquainted with them, they seem to maneuver like two Thanksgiving Day Macy's balloons wafting down 34th Street. Which can be amusing. And periodically terrifying. Shoe-horning them down into our subterranean parking dungeon (replete with scraped overhead concrete beams and pokey, leaking water pipes) is perpetually terrifying, requiring a faith in geometry that that would impress Euclid.
Photo 6/22   |   Cutouts in F-150's side windowsills help with tow mirrors. Ford's dash is classy; its underhood appearance isn't.
Of the two, the Ford is a bit longer (by three inches), but slimmer by an inch. Yet, the Toyota's front and rear occupants enjoy an extra inch of leg stretch and 0.7 inch of front shoulder room compared with the merely gigantic Ford. To be honest, though, both truck's interiors are just silly-big; sitting behind my own 6-foot-one frame in the Tundra left me with 11 gaping inches of rear kneeroom to ponder. Enough to cross your legs...were, uh, Hollister's boot-wearing ranchers ever to dare cross their legs.
Some of the Tundra's additional interior space derives from its notably cab-forward, stubby-hood profile, a bulldog attribute that's been a turnoff among truck aficionados. But, yes, guys, there can be instances when shorter is better. Rounding a sharp, cliff-bordering single-rack corner following the Tundra, I suddenly discovered the road ahead completely hidden below the Ford hood's horizon line. Only truck-maven Mark Williams' walkie-talkie shout to "turn right!" from the Tundra's cab prevented a million-hit YouTube moment.
On the other hand, the Ford's outward vision has been improved in other directions. For instance, its front doors are now longer, moving the B-pillars beyond our peripheral vision. And the side glass adopts the F-250's drop-down cutouts, offering a better view of our F-150's optional manually extendable tow mirrors.
Photo 7/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Supercrew Lariat engine
Aesthetically, the windowsill's dips are the only jarring moment in an interior that's almost embarrassingly attractive in a glimmering, Mighty Wurlitzer sort of way (and it goes with big, shiny rodeo belt buckles, too). By comparison, the Tundra's instrument panel is merely conventional. Or worse, something of a hodgepodge, a mash-up of several Toyota sedan dash cues and Dodge Ram-like barrel gauges, which don't quite fit within the steering wheel's viewing slot. We all enthusiastically preferred sitting before the Wurlitzer. And the F-150 also gets the nod for second-row functionality, as its rear seats neatly compress against the rear bulkhead revealing a perfectly flat floor--lots more useful than the Tundra's fold-down seatbacks.
Power is a big deal in truckland, and here the Toyota has a major muscle edge, producing 381 horses, 401 pound-feet of torque, and a lot more crispness from its 5.7-liter V-8 than does the F-150's 5.4-liter, which trails with a paltry 310 horses and 365 pound-feet. The result was a Ford spank-fest at the track, the Tundra hitting 60 mph in a scalding 6.5 seconds against the F-150's lukewarm 8.1. And there seemed to be no Ford upside at the pump, either, the F-150 fumbling its theoretical EPA mileage edge (14/18 city/highway to the Tundra's 13/17) as both yielded an identical 16.2 mpg along our trip. Double drat.
Photo 11/22   |   Tundra's sloping nose offers better forward visibility, but less impressive prow. Beneath is a mighty 381-hp V-8.
The table tilted further at tow-test time, where the chore was to lug a nearly 6000-pound Chaparral boat and trailer combo. While both trucks did the job, the Tundra was whistling on its toes the whole time. We measured each rig's 0-to-50-mph time on a real-world freeway entrance: The Tundra growled for 12.6 seconds, the Ford, for 14.2. A big 1.6-second, or 13-percent, difference in growling.
The story wasn't nearly so simple while descending, though. Here's our in-the-cab report from Greg Whale, Truck Trend editor-at-large and extreme tow-meister: "Dropping the Tundra's transmission into manual mode automatically dumps two gears (if you're in fifth or sixth when you do so), but at that point you have the option of choosing any of the six ratios. By contrast, the Ford offers only D321, and going from D to 3 slowed it down more than I wanted, so controlling descent requires either shifting back and forth between D and 3 or tapping the brakes every so often. Still, of the two, which would I choose? The Ford for its better long-distance comfort. It would be less fatiguing." (Read more in the sidebar on the following page.)
Some of that comfort is traceable to our F-150's cushier 18-inch wheels and 65-series sidewalls compared with the Tundra's 20-inchers and 55-series rubber. But even discounting that, the Ford is a veritable reading room, matching the Tundra's 66 dBA at 60 mph but less punctuated by impact noise. It's simultaneously smoother-riding too, registering gentler vertical g's under your rump--whether on asphalt or choppy concrete--with a less distinct pitching motion (the bane of unloaded trucks).
So which way have the truck tectonic plates migrated? With crisper handling, better forward vision, and superior acceleration and towing oomph--gosh, that seems to cover just about everything, right?--the tectonic advantage appears to be the Tundra's.
Photo 12/22   |   2009 Toyota Tundra Crewmax Limited engine
Unfortunately, faults cleave deeper into the earth than what appears at their surface. It takes time to appreciate the F-150; the more days and weeks you spend with it, the more tools appear in its Leatherman arsenal. Easier to read instruments. The flat rear floor. The integrated trailer controller with sway mitigation. The cool tailgate step.
Yes, yes, yes, you say, but those Tundra dragstrip numbers are hard to ignore. Reality check: Although test numbers are a major factor in our ruminations, and they certainly make for convincing advertisement bullet points, it's important to remember that we very, very rarely visit these realms in the real world. What we do experience are all those slippery sublimit subtleties such as ride quality and interior noise, throttle response and ergonomics, seat comfort, and relaxed, on-center steering. And when these trucks' beds are loaded or they're boat-towing, the Ford is capable enough while simultaneously possessing that certain something it's hard to put a number on.
Photo 16/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra front View
Certain what? Behind the wheel of the Ford, you simply feel truck-building history. An engineering wisdom earned over decades that lurks in the Ford's well-oiled moves, sense of solidity, and aura of unruffledness regardless of the chore before it. Periodically, it reflects all its generations of the F-150's predecessors.
It's simply the more three-dimensional truck. Yep, the plates have moved in the Tundra's favor, but its slow creep hasn't quite yet caught up to the category's perennial leader.
Practice makes perfect, and Ford's been practicing its truck-building skills for decades. There's simply more design maturity here.
Faster and more fun to drive, but the new world order of trucks is likely to emphasize practical details over driving grins.
Photo 17/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra side View
Photo 18/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra side View
Photo 19/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra rear View
Photo 20/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Toyota Tundra front View
When Towing, Which Makes the Grade?
By G.R. Whale
We borrowed a Chaparral 224 Xtreme from Sun Country Marine (www.suncountrymarine.com), with disc brakes, low-profile tires, and law-enforcement-attracting paint. At about three tons all up, it reflects what any fully loaded half-ton crew cab with the big engine should comfortably handle. Our track-testing circumstances are controlled for everything but weather (and that is corrected), but we do our tow testing out among the gawking tourists, hillclimbing semis, and watchful eye of you-know-who with the air-conditioning set to 72 degrees F.
Photo 21/22   |   2009 Ford F150 Supercrew Lariat front Three Quarters View
We are painfully aware these trucks have apples-and-oranges issues, but the auto business being what it was when we put this test together, we were forced to take what they had available. That means the F-150 had towing mirrors--big enough that we could see what was going on behind us--and 18-inch wheels and tires, and the Tundra came with car mirrors, which were only big enough to see what was next to us, and it was shod with 20-inch wheels and tires. We certainly appreciate big mirrors, and prefer to sit well back from them to minimize forward-quarter blind spots, which was a plus for the F-150. For the latter, the telescoping function of the Tundra's steering column was a small plus.
If propulsion is your highest priority, the Tundra has the F-150 covered. It got our towed load to speed significantly more quickly in a battery of acceleration tests. It was prone to spin a tire at flatfoot launches and made quicker work of passing, and also passed at higher speeds. To maintain speed on slight grades, the Tundra frequently added a few hundred rpm (unlocking the torque converter), where the Ford appeared to go straight to the next gear down adding 650-750 indicated rpm in the process. The Ford's shorter overall first- and second-gear ratios weren't enough to overcome the 35-pound-foot/70-horsepower deficit, and the Tundra's shorter third and fourth and added oomph made the difference in midrange climbing.
The Ford felt like it wanted to be in tow/haul mode sooner than the Tundra; the Toyota didn't really need it. We had to floor the Ford a lot with Tow/Haul off, and the Tundra ran at a more relaxed pace with less throttle effort. On sections where both trucks were geared down, the rpm versus speed was similar. Per on-board trip computers, the Tundra managed 7.8 mpg on the towing test and the Ford 7.4. Given the Tundra's higher output, stronger performance, and similar empty economy and weight, it has the more efficient drivetrain when you're using the majority of it. And this was the slowest Tundra I've ever tested.
Photo 22/22   |   2009 Toyota Tundra Crewmax Limited front Three Quarters View
Neither truck's water- or transmission-fluid temperature gauges show specific temperature numbers on the display, and it takes a little time to find the gauges on the Toyota. None of the gauges appeared to move after initial warmup. Nothing wavered enough to read, but in three-degree-cooler (Fahrenheit) ambient air, the F-150's fan clutch was heard and felt on three separate occasions in clean air, and the Tundra's remained silent. Lacking proprietary details, we can't say why this happens, but it could be that Ford runs a smaller window of operating temperature range or is perhaps more cautious than Toyota in this regard because of the higher towing capacity.
Getting down the hills, the Ford's integrated trailer brake controller will better an aftermarket controller (and be warrantied), but this applies only to electric trailer brakes; some electro-hydraulic trailer brakes are incompatible and boat surge brakes make it irrelevant. Lacking diesel engine exhaust brakes, for gasoline pickups we turned to gearing to control descent speed on mountain grades.
Engaging the Tundra's manual shifter gate automatically drops two gears if you're currently in fifth or sixth, and one gear in second through fourth. A drop from sixth to fourth might be more than you want, but a quick tap gets you back up to fifth, and we managed a miles-long descent in traffic without using the brakes. At an off-ramp, we got down to second for slowing and the firm shift--apparently just shy of the tire-chirping threshold--was just enough to momentarily trigger the surge brakes on the trailer. The Ford's six-speed automatic has no manual gate, but a lever-mounted switch and 3/2/1 positions, so we never felt in control of six individual gears and frequently found ourselves slowing down more (or less) than intended and had to shift up (or tap the brakes) to get it right. This didn't overheat the brakes by any means; it was just busier than the Tundra's transmission.
Factory hardware was more than sufficient on both trucks and the wiring plugs worked as advertised. The only hitch (pardon the pun) is that the plug assembly on the Ford is closer to the safety-chain loop and made larger clips and links trickier to wiggle in. Ford's camera image and usefulness were slightly better than the Tundra's, but light and shadow will have a far bigger effect in hitching ease.
We didn't weigh the boat, only the tongue weight (just under 600 pounds). That dropped the Toyota 1.25 inches in back and lifted the front 0.25 inch, where the higher-load-rated Ford dropped one inch in back and didn't change up front. Since the 7200-pound GVWRs are identical, the heavier Ford carries 80 pounds less payload, but it's worth noting the Toyota has higher GAWR at each end, which makes load distribution less sensitive. The Ford's tires had a higher weight rating; that could be because they were 18s instead of 20s, or because Ford knows pickup owners overload everything.
We weighed both trucks and found the tow ratings optimistic. With an SAE-standard-weight (154-pound) driver on board, the F-150 has 13 pounds left for hitch hardware (with a weight-distributing hitch setup it'll be more), and the Tundra would be 77 pounds over GCWR. At 11,200 pounds rated, Ford pulls 1100 pounds more than Tundra, but I'd really rather have a 3/4-ton for towing five-digit numbers. (For comparison, a crew cab F-250 6.75-foot bed Lariat V-10 automatic is just 2.5 inches longer, 12 percent more MSRP, and needs an extra 15 inches for a U-turn relative to an F-150 SuperCrew with the 6.5-foot bed.)
When towing, the Ford delivered gentler ride motions, as it did empty. It was always controlled, but missed the sharp impact and tail kick of the Tundra. The Ford's steering felt better, but the Toyota's yard-tighter turning circle was handy when maneuvering. However, the Ford was also quieter, which might be the deal-maker on a long trip. As tested, we'd prefer the Toyota for mountain hauls or near max-capacity towing, and the Ford for everything else. We'd gladly trade the Tundra's 20-inch wheels for the proper mirrors, revisit the debate and, for infrequent use as a tow vehicle, throw an F-250 crew cab into the calculations as well.

  2009 Ford F-150 SuperCrew lariat 2009 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
ENGINE TYPE 90-deg V-8, iron block/aluminum heads 90-deg V-8, aluminum block/heads
VALVETRAIN SOHC, 3 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT 329.5 cu in/5400 cc 345.4 cu in/5663 cc
POWER (SAE NET) 310 hp @ 5000 rpm 381 hp @ 5600 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET 365 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 401 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER 19.1 lb/hp 15.3 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
AXLE/FINAL/LOW 3.73:1/2.57:1/2.64:1 4.30:1/2.53:1/2.62:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT;REAR Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs
STEERING RATIO 20.0:1 18.0:1
BRAKES, F;R 13.0-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS 13.9-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELs 7.5 x 18 in, cast aluminum 8.0 x 20 in, cast aluminum
TIRES, F;R 275/65R18 114T, Goodyear Wrangler SR-A M+S 275/55R20 111H, Dunlop SP Sport 5000 M+S
WHEELBASE 144.5 in 145.7 in
TRACK, F/R 67.0 / 67.0 in 67.9 / 67.9 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 231.7 x 78.9 x 76.2 in 228.7 x 79.9 x 76.0 in
TURNING CIRCLE 47.0 ft 44.0 ft
CURB WEIGHT 5913 lb 5832 lb
WEIGHT DIST, F/R 55/45 57/43
HEADROOM, F/R 41.0/40.3 in 40.2/38.7 in
LEGROOM, F/R 41.4/43.5 in 42.5/44.5 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 65.9/65.6 in 66.6/65.4 in
PICKUP BOX L x W x H 67.0 x 65.2 x 22.4 in 66.7 x 66.4 x 22.2 in
WIDTH BETw WHEELHOUSES 50.0 in 50.0 in
PAYLOAD CAPACITY 1287 lb 1368 lb
TOWING CAPACITY 11,200 lb 10,100 lb
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.6 2.3
0-40 4.3 3.5
0-50 6 4.9
0-60 8.1 6.5
0-70 10.7 8.8
0-80 13.6 11.4
0-90 17.4 14.4
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 4.3 3.4
QUARTER MILE 16.2 sec @ 87.5 mph 15.1 sec @ 91.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft 130 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73 g (avg) 0.72 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.2 sec @ 0.54 g (avg) 29.5 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1700 rpm 1600 rpm
BASE PRICE $39,435 $42,405
PRICE AS TESTED $46,605 $46,289
AIRBAGS Dual front, front side, f/r curtain Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 5 yrs/60,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 5 yrs/60,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
FUEL CAPACITY 36.0 gal 26.4 gal
EPA CITY/HWY ECON 14/18 mpg 13/17 mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.25 lb/mile 1.33 lb/mile
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 16.2 mpg 16.2 mpg
REQUIRED FUEL Unleaded regular Unleaded regular