A Welcome Bolt of Lightning
I have a fantasy: I'm stopped at a light in the 2001 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning, the new one with 380 fire-snorting horsepower. I'm fiddling with the premium six-disc CD changer, trying to tune in "Satellite" by the Dave Matthews Band and a guy pulls up beside me in a street-tuned Mustang GT with a raccoon tail hanging from the rearview mirror.
The guy's got hockey hair. You know, PIBBIF (party in back, business in front), a.k.a. the Mullet. Anyway, he starts gunning his throaty 260-horsepower engine and glancing over at me. But I don't even look at him. Instead, when the green shows, I stomp down on the loud pedal sending all 380 horses to the massive 295/45ZR18 Goodyear Eagles with the next-generation, extra-sticky F1 GS rubber compound.
The tires grip and rip and I leave ol' Hockey Hair twitching in my rearview mirror.
Wait, it's not over. At the next light, a Yuppie, broker type in a new Porsche Boxster looks over at the Lightning's distinctive five-spoke alloy wheels, the fire-engine-red paint and the ceramic-coated exhaust tips poking from the rocker panel in front of the rear wheels. I can see his lips form the words "bumpkin" and "pickup." I point to the road ahead. He smirks and pushes his Serengeti driving glasses up the bridge of his nose.
I know what he's thinking (because it's a dream), "Doesn't that loser know this is a Porsche?" he says to himself. Except he pronounces it "poursha." Anyway, the light shows green and I leave Broker Boy to figure out what went wrong with the NASDAQ and his Teutonic sports car.
Doesn't he know the 2001 Lightning tears from zero-to-60 mph in 5.8 seconds (down from the 6.2 seconds it took the 2000 model)? The Boxster takes about 6.3 seconds and it's $15,000 more than the Lightning.
Before I can reach the next light, an aging Lothario driving a 2000 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am cruises up beside me on a straightaway. He fingers his gold chain (likely wrestling it from a thick mat of chest hair) and mouths "nice truck" to me. Well, you know the rest.
The Lightning can tear off a quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 100 mph (last year it was 14.6 at 97 mph). Its top speed is 142 mph. With a four-speed automatic transmission, the Firebird does the quarter in 14.5 seconds. The Bird's time with a six-speed manual is 14.0 seconds, but the Lightning is sold only with a four-speed automatic, so we've got to compare apples to apples, even if it is a dream.
The new Ford SVT F-150 Lightning is dream-inspiring. Its supercharged and intercooled Triton V8 generates an astonishing 380 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 450 foot-pounds of torque at 3,250 rpm. Combined with the tuned dual exhaust, the Lightning engine produces a note like the song of the Sirens. It is irresistible to American muscle car lovers and is a summons to all their foolish blood.
We were introduced to the new Lightning at a special preview last October, but we were sworn to secrecy until now. The tension was killing us, because we love this truck. The SVT in its name stands for Special Vehicle Team, the elite shop at Ford that produces wicked street machines such as the SVT Mustang Cobra and the Cobra R.
We were part of a handful of journalists who were permitted to drive the new Lightning on Arizona highways. Tom Scarpello, Ford's specialty vehicle marketing manager, talked while we piloted the Lightning down the desert blacktop.
Scarpello told us performance was boosted over last year's model with improvements to the engine's breathing system. The front intake is 50 percent larger than last year and the tube that conducts that air to the engine has been enlarged, as has the air filter inlet and outlet. The improved airflow means more gas is burned faster, which results in better throttle response. Indeed, pushing down on the accelerator produces an immediate and exhilarating thrust of power (regardless of present speed).
The suspension was also enhanced with the addition of Bilstein shock absorbers, which improve the Lightning's rebound rate. That means the wheels spend more time glued to the road delivering optimum power and handling. The independent front suspension is combined with a five-leaf rear spring assembly (instead of the standard F-150 three-leaf) and SVT stabilizer bars on both ends that limit body lean and maximize traction in corners. During our drive, the Lightning hugged the road like a lover. In testing, it pulls an impressive 0.85 g's on the skidpad. For comparison, the regular 2001 Ford F-150 pulls 0.70 g's and a Chevrolet Corvette rates 0.93 g's.
Scarpello sees the Lightning as the ideal second vehicle. With only three seats (the center console flips up to reveal a third, albeit cramped, seat), the Lightning doesn't qualify as a family car. However, if you've already got a minivan and you want a sports car but you also need to haul stuff occasionally, the Lightning is the perfect vehicle. "If you've got to have a tow vehicle, why not have one you can have some fun in?" Scarpello asked. The Lightning's towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, about the same as a Ford Explorer Sport.
For those craving exotic American muscle, the Lightning is certainly cheaper and more practical than a Dodge Viper. And, it has better braking, Scarpello asserted. The Lightning's four-wheel disc brakes with ABS bring it from 60 mph to a standstill in 136 feet. The Viper requires 139 feet.
That's not all. Scarpello told us the Lightning is No. 1 in customer satisfaction across the board at Ford, including the company's Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.
It's not surprising -- fit-and-finish on the Lightning is extraordinary. All seams, joins and door gaps are uniform and tight. Nothing about its appearance looks flimsy or slapped on. The Lightning we drove was so well constructed it makes the SVT team look like a bunch of obsessive compulsives who made sure everything was snug and then hand-tightened anything that wasn't. Of course, the truck we saw was a pre-production model and once the Lightning is churned out in a factory quality may change. However, Ford only plans to make 7,500 of the special trucks (7,250 will be sold in the U.S.), so it should be easier to control factory standards. And, judging by the Lightning's current customer satisfaction figures, quality shouldn't be an issue.
A few minor changes were made to the Lightning's exterior for 2001. The egg-crate grille (found on other F-150s) was replaced by a distinctive horizontal bar design that gives the front a hooded, aggressive look like the stare of an elite athlete. The headlights, taillights, side lights and the round fogs now all feature clear lenses and the alloy wheels were refined for a more tailored appearance.
Inside, the Lightning retains its sharp black leather and gray faux suede upholstery and white gauge faces. It's a sharp combination that rivals the allure of a Corvette Z06 and a Porsche 911's cabin. The only interior change for the new Lightning was the addition of double-bladed sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors.
The Lightning is well equipped with power mirrors, windows and locks; air conditioning; cruise; premium stereo with six-disc CD; a six-way power driver's seat; driver and passenger airbags; and remote keyless entry with alarm. In fact, the only available option is a soft tonneau cover for $150.
So, for a pretty reasonable $32,450 (less than a loaded F-150 SuperCab) you're getting screaming performance, killer looks and proven quality - what could be wrong with that? Everything considered, the Lightning may be a dream, but it doesn't have to be a fantasy.