As ubiquitous as McDonald's, the Ford F- Series has served as the vehicular Happy Meal for millions of full-size pickup consumers won over by its versatility, easy-handling nature and comfortable ride. And having been America's best-selling vehicle for most of the last 30 years, the F-Series has also served as Ford's chief cash cow.
But these days, steep gas prices have caused many people to reassess their needs. New pickup purchases are more likely to be from those who actually tow or haul things on a semi-regular basis. As a result, at the 2009 Ford F-150 press event that we attended, the Blue Oval boys boasted about the revamped truck's strong work capacity, improved fuel economy and better overall performance. In addition to the normal, scenic on-road drive loop, the event included a friendly competition pitting the F-150 against its peers, consisting of towing and hauling exercises. Any guesses on which truck prevailed?
In normal around-town driving, the F-150 Lariat equipped with the 5.4-liter V8 might not match the all-out thrust of its more muscular competition, but there's ample pick-up in this pickup. Although the 5.4 got more power this year (now rated at 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque) and a higher-output (292 hp and 320 lb-ft) 4.6-liter V8 debuts, a large part of the increased performance comes courtesy of the new six-speed automatic. With two more gears to use compared to last year's four-speeder, the new tranny allows lower gears at the bottom for improved acceleration while taller top gears allow more relaxed and fuel-efficient highway cruising. These powertrain revisions effectively address our chief complaint about the otherwise well-regarded outgoing model -- its subpar performance. And the 2009 F-150's towing and hauling capacities -- as much as 11,300 and 3,030 pounds, respectively -- are best-in-class.
Stats are all well and good, but how does the new F-150 feel when actually lugging a trailer or hauling a bed full of bricks? Unstressed, to put it simply. At Ford's proving grounds, we took the 2009 F-150 as well as its three main rivals, the Chevy Silverado 1500 (5.3-liter V8), Dodge Ram 1500 (5.7-liter V8) and Toyota Tundra (5.7-liter V8) and ran them back-to-back in towing and hauling exercises.
With a 7,000-pound trailer lashed behind each of them, we ran all four on a hilly 2.5-mile loop. The others might've been stronger sprinters out of the blocks, but the F-150 felt the most composed overall. When it was time to go to work, the Ford just put its shoulder into it and got the job done in fine fashion. Where the F-150 felt steady as a rock and almost made you forget you were towing during the descending and curved portions of the loop, the Tundra made you more aware that there was something big and heavy being pulled behind you. The Chevy and Dodge split the difference in terms of towing feel, but the Silverado's engine got very noisy on the uphill climb, and felt like it was working overtime. The Ram's wider gear spacing had its engine pulling hard off the mark but then losing its legs a bit when hit with the uphill climb.
With 850 pounds of payload in the beds, the coned-off autocross setup in a large parking lot was next, to test how the loaded-up trucks felt when performing quick transitions (slalom) and a sudden lane change. Here, the Ford had the edge with its ideal steering response (no dead spot on-center and neither too quick nor too slow) and relative lack of body roll. The Chevy was a close second, but had more body roll, while the Toyota and Dodge were back a ways due to the Tundra's excessive body roll and the Ram's slow steering.
Having snagged the gold medal in this informal Olympics, the 2009 F-150 had its smart tranny and tow-friendly electronic gadgets to thank for its "no sweat" demeanor when doing grunt work. When in tow-haul mode, the gearbox held lower gears at the right moments, such as when ascending and descending steeper grades. The trailer sway control and integrated trailer braking kept the tail from wagging the dog, especially during harder braking when coming down a curved hill.
Our F-150 also proved to be a fine daily driver, thanks to its comfortable, quiet cabin, confident braking and precise, no-slop steering. A stouter yet lighter frame for '09, along with longer rear leaf springs contribute to the solid on-road feel and compliant ride.
Should you want the best fuel economy possible, know that this year Ford offers an available SFE (Superior Fuel Economy) package that provides an estimated 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. And that's for a roomy SuperCrew 2WD sporting a 292-hp V8.
Already a comfortable rig, the F-150 has grown even more so for 2009. Ford reworked the seats for more support and over a couple hundred miles they drew no complaints from our editors. To accommodate the "truck-as-family-car" crowd, Ford stretched the crew cab body (SuperCrew in Ford-speak) 6 inches, which provides limolike room for rear passengers along with increased in-cab cargo carrying ability. That backseat also has a comfortably reclined backrest; in some of the Ford's rivals, the backrest is nearly as upright as a church pew. A flat rear floor means the rear center passenger enjoys the same comfort as his outboard truck mates.
In keeping with F-Series tradition, there are plenty of trim levels, including base XL, volume-seller XLT, sporty STX and FX4 and a trio of luxury versions. The latter include a new, blinged-out Platinum trim.
Thoughtful features -- both standard and optional -- abound in the 2009 F-150. Deployable steps built into the truck's sides and tailgate allow easier access to the deep-sided bed, which can be fitted with a cargo management system and stowable bed extender. Gassing up is easier for '09 thanks to a capless fuel filler that Ford pioneered on its GT supercar a few years ago.
When you're back behind the wheel, a back-up camera takes the stress out of parking and Ford's Sync system allows voice operation of your music, the navigation system and your cell phone. Should you opt for Sync you can also get Sirius Travel Link which provides current weather, gas prices, sports scores and even movie listings and times.
Even if you load up your F-150 with options, the controls remain fairly straightforward and intuitive. The truck offers both USB and standard audio jacks, and Ford has installed more storage compartments for things like key cards and cell phones. The center console box is larger and can stow two laptops within, while the flat rear floor and flip-up rear seats allow seriously large items to be carried inside the truck's cabin. The Ford guys demonstrated this by putting a 52-inch flat-panel TV box inside the rear compartment of the F-150; none of the truck's competitors were able to accommodate this box.
Design/Fit and Finish
At first glance, you may mistake the 2009 F-150 for one of Ford's Super Duty trucks, what with its massive grille and squared-off edges. That's Ford's intent. Different grille designs (black on base trucks, chrome with mesh inserts on the upper trims) give each trim a distinct look.
Likewise, varying cabin accents, such as different wood-tone and metallic accents, give the interiors some pizzazz. Fit and finish in our test vehicles -- ranging from the basic STX to the leather-lined Lariat -- was solid, with even panel gaps and no squeaks or rattles.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Ford F-150 is a great choice for anyone who wants a truck that provides plenty of towing and hauling capacity. Its comfortable cabin (which is roomy enough to seat up to six adults) and pleasant driving dynamics only sweeten the mix.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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