If there's been one upside to the collapse of full-size pickup truck sales this year, it has been the way it has served to exponentially increase the amount of semi-entertaining trash talk spouted by manufacturers in the segment. And Ford Motor Company has led that charge, using the introduction of its substantially improved 2009 Ford F-150 as the club with which to pummel the competition.
Ford has not gone so far as to say that the use of coil springs for the rear suspension is totally girly -- but it has come close. This, naturally, is a swipe at the 2009 Dodge Ram, the first full-size pickup to use those newfangled springy things in the modern era. "We don't build coffee shop trucks," sneers George Pipas, Ford's usually mild-mannered sales guru. Oh no, you didn't say that!
Ford has not gone too far as to say explicitly that the Toyota Tundra is wimpy. But it has gleefully shown everyone with a pair of eyeballs that the Toyota's bed gets all kinds of giggly and agitated on Ford's rugged route in Arizona where it tests durability. Further, Ford notes that the skinny bolts that hold the Tundra's leaf springs in place are no match for the thick, manly items used to perform this function in the F-150.
So now, after all the calculated jabs (and several months' delay to allow dealers to unload a big backload of '08 F-150s at enormous discounts), the new, thoroughly revised (and thoroughly tough, manly and unwimpy) 2009 Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck is going on sale as you read this.
And, you know what? It's pretty good.
All V8s! For Now!
Based on our one-day drive on and around Ford's proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, we can say the 2009 Ford F-150 is a fine entry in the pickup truck market that will grab at least its share of the projected 1.6 million sales in the pickup segment this year. (At 1.6 million units, the pickup market is down nearly a million from its peak in 2004, which should explain some of the sniping and back-biting as everyone squabbles over the scraps.)
First off, Ford gets to say that its entire lineup of 2009 F-150s -- from the lowliest work truck with a standard cab to the Lincoln-style Platinum-edition luxury truck -- is powered by a V8.
The 4.2-liter V6 bites the dust for '09 and is replaced by last year's midlevel engine -- the 4.6-liter V8 with two valves per cylinder. This engine makes 248 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. Of course, we had to specifically ask Ford officials for a drive of the base-model F-150 equipped with this engine. Once they dug one up and we drove it, we found out why it wasn't part of the regular test-drive program. Trying to move 2.5 tons of truck, the base V8 has its work cut out for it, especially with a four-speed automatic transmission (no manual transmission is offered). This engine might not be a V6, but it isn't much of a V8, either.
Step up, my friend, to the 4.6-liter V8 with three valves per cylinder and you get a boost of 44 hp and 26 lb-ft over the base V8. And with two more gears in its automatic transmission, it not only feels a bunch more sprightly than the base truck but also gets slightly better fuel economy (15 mpg city/20 mpg highway, compared to 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway). That's what they call a win-win, right?
The top-of-the-line 5.4-liter V8 gets a bump in power for 2009 as well, as it cranks out 320 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to the new six-speed automatic, this motor also returns improved mileage over last year's 5.4, up to 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway in two-wheel-drive versions of the F-150. Only the Toyota's big, thumpin' 5.7-liter V8 feels substantially more powerful than the Ford Dearborn V8, which at 381 hp, it is. Of course, we haven't yet driven the forthcoming 2009 Chevy Silverado with its 6.2-liter V8 and 400-plus hp, but we imagine that it feels pretty strong, too. Oh, and the new Hemi in the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 isn't exactly weak either.
Slinky and Butch
Ford says the new 2009 Ford F-150 is the most aerodynamically slippery truck on the market. A SuperCrew 4x2 with a 5.5-foot cargo box has a drag coefficient of 0.403. This relative efficiency in aerodynamic drag (funny how no one wants to talk about frontal area) is what helps the special two-wheel-drive SFE model with its 24-valve 4.6-liter V8 get 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Well, that and low-rolling-resistance tires and a super-tall 3.15:1 axle ratio.
This is a neat trick, because Ford is playing up its real-truck credentials as opposed to what it portrays as mere lifestyle truck-ettes from the competition. There's no mistaking the tall, bluff front end of the Ford (derived from that of the old Super Duty pickup) for anything other than a full-on truck-based truck, which is all full up with truckishness. The tall walls of the cargo bed (a familiar feature of the existing truck), along with the slab sides and hard corners of the body make the new F-150 look utterly massive. Even so, the use of high-strength steel in the boxed frame rails helps the new F-150 reduce its weight by about 100 pounds compared to the outgoing model.
Moreover, Ford has stretched the popular SuperCrew configuration by 6 inches in length, providing 57.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats. Flip up the rear seats and you're greeted with a truly flat load floor. Nice.
Built Ford Fluff
"Nice" also pretty aptly describes the rest of the interior of the new truck, too. If there's one aspect of the American pickup truck that has been improved thanks to the lifestyle interests of all those girly, untrucky image buyers on the way to Home Depot, it's the interior. Ironic, since it's those image buyers who are running away screaming from pickups just as the interiors become nicer.
The F-150's interior isn't a bad place to spend some time. Ford has apparently launched a crusade against noise, vibration and harshness, and it has done a fine job of keeping interior noise to a minimum in the F-150. The payoff is that the lack of noise tends to be perceived as quality. And since this thing feels like a rock (with apologies to Chevy) and steers with an unexpected accuracy, the F-150 is perceived as a quality piece.
And it's not just the highfalutin Platinum edition that's nice, although this model does have a heaping helping of satiny, woody and leathery stuff, plus a thick, laminated "quiet-glass" windshield. The materials both look and feel like quality. And should an image buyer or a regular guy choose, he can have pretty much all the niceties that a Lincoln buyer can have and then some. Sync, Ford's popular hands-free communications and entertainment system, is available, as are voice-activated navigation, a 10-speaker Sony audio system and a reverse camera system, not to mention Sirius Travel Link which (for a fee) will provide weather and traffic data as well as a list of nearby dining establishments and local entertainment listings.
For all this, the 2009 Ford F-150 is not all fluffy comfort-and-convenience interior gadgets, though. For '09 Ford brings exterior and mechanical gadgets, too. There are the now-obligatory bed extenders and cargo system rails for the cargo box, of course. The F-150 also nabbed from the Super Duty the step that slides and folds out of the tailgate, which should be good for getting ladies into the cargo bed. And because Ford has made the walls of the cargo box so high, the new truck has bedside steps that tuck under the fender.
Every F-150 comes with not only electronic stability control but also a trailer sway control system, which uses the brakes to help bring a wagging trailer under control. An integrated trailer-brake controller is also offered.
A matter of some importance (given Ford's taunting of its competition) has been the '09 F-150's ability to tow or haul more than rival trucks. And with a maximum rating of 11,300 pounds and a maximum payload capacity of 3,030 pounds, it does.
With three engines, seven trim levels, two driveline configurations, three cab sizes and three bed lengths, there are far too many configurations of 2009 Ford F-150 to even describe each one, much less price them all. But a regular-cab Xl with a base-model V8 and four-speed tranny with only air-conditioning on the options sheet will start at $21,320 (including destination). The high-volume XLT model starts at $25,290. And the Platinum model starts at $41,415.
This wide spread in pricing should suit most truck buyers. In any case, the basis from which all of these models sprout is a good all-around package. And that, the Ford guys tell us as they catch a breath in their persistent trash talk, is why the F-Series has been the best-selling pickup truck since Henry Ford invented the wheel.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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