DRIVE New F-150 is trendsetter

By Ann M. Job

For The Associated Press

Ford's re-engineered 2004 F-150 is the biggest news in full-size pickups in years.

It's not just because the new F-150 has a stiffer frame, improved brakes, more towing capacity, quieter ride, more V-8 power, more interior Regular Cab and Super Cab room and deeper pickup beds than its predecessor.

The new F-150 also is a trendsetter, dropping two-door base models and instead giving every base Regular Cab a body with four doors -- two of them small, rear-hinged, access doors.


The new F-150 also is a trendsetter in the way it mixes and matches pieces of the dashboard inside and grille and bumper treatments outside to customize different appearances for each style of truck buyer. And it's all done at the factory.

There's another new element, too: A Super Cab model with a shortened, 5.5-foot-long pickup box that's easier to fit inside a garage.

"We have a huge owner base and we used our customer insight to help us anticipate the 'next big thing in the market,'" said Matt DeMars, executive director for Tough Trucks at Ford Motor Co.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $22,010 for a base XL Regular Cab 4X2 with 4.6-liter V-8.

The test F-150 Lariat 4X4 SuperCrew brought all sorts of questions and admiring looks from current F-150 owners. One owner of a 2001 F-150 wondered out loud why he didn't wait to get this new one.

It's not that the old F-150 -- which continues to be sold as the "2004 Heritage F-150" -- was bad. Indeed, for some 20 years, the F-150 has ranked as the best-selling vehicle -- car or truck -- in the United States. It also has been the best-selling truck in the United States for 25 years.

Big seller

And the F-150 is critical for Ford, accounting for some 23 percent of the automaker's U.S. sales.


Competition is becoming the fiercest ever in the full-size truck segment in this country, with Nissan soon to launch its first entry, the 2004 Titan, and Chevrolet's Silverado being offered with discounts.

For all the impressive upgrades given the 2004 F-150, the exterior styling remains familiar -- maybe too familiar.

Sure, the old front styling is emboldened in the new model as the hood is raised -- it's also weight-saving aluminum now -- and grilles are different.

But the overall look still doesn't stray far from the 2003 model.

This probably explains why most of the attention tends to focus on the interior, where Ford designers split the dashboard into three areas and tailored the looks for each of the five trim levels accordingly.

Thus, the new FX4 trim level oriented for outdoor enthusiasts has a jazzy, "warm steel"-look center console with floor shifter -- the first in a full-size pickup. The Titan will offer a floor shifter, too.

Meanwhile, the top-of-the-line 2004 F-150 Lariat, which was the test truck, is oriented to those preferring some luxury in their pickup.

Accordingly, the dashboard here has some woodgrain touches and unique gauges with cream-colored background.


The roominess inside the passenger compartments is noticeable. Both Regular Cab and Super Cab models benefit from 13 additional inches of interior room.

The SuperCrew tester provided good room for up to six riders, with rear legroom an impressive 41.3 inches. This compares with 41 inches in the 2004 Dodge Ram Quad Cab and 38.8 inches in the 2004 Silverado Crew Cab.

The updated 5.4-liter, Triton V-8 is revised and includes variable valve timing for the first time.

Better torque

The result is better low-speed and peak torque.

Horsepower now is 300, up 15 percent from before. Ford officials boast best-in-class low-end torque, with more than 80 percent of the 365 foot-pounds of torque available at 1,000 rpm. It tops out at 3,750 rpm.

Just this month, Ford increased the tow rating for the new, light-duty F-150, putting it at 9,900 pounds, up 400 pounds from before. This leads the class.

Engine sounds from the 5.4-liter, Triton V-8 are confident but don't intrude often or much into the passenger compartment. Neither do many other sounds, thanks to Ford's efforts to insulate the cabin with door seals, thicker front-door windows and noise-and-vibration-absorbing engine mounts.


A 231-horsepower, 4.6-liter Trion V-8 remains the base F-150 engine.

Both V-8s are paired with four-speed automatic transmissions.

Riding on a new, stiffer architecture, the 2004 F-150 is a noticeable step up in ride comfort. The ride is smoother than I expected, and body motions are managed better than in any previous F-Series.

In fact, I noticed a bounciness only occasionally, on broken-up pavement and some off-road terrain. Otherwise, the ride felt quite controlled and pleasant.

Steering, too, is much improved and provides a direct-feeling response not necessarily found in a pickup truck. This new model has the largest rack-and-pinion steering system ever put in a Ford vehicle.

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