Review: 2009 Ford F-150

It looks like they're getting serious again. That's what I thought when we were driving the new Ford F-150 on Interstate 94 outside of Detroit earlier this week. Seemingly content in the past to rely on trucks to bolster their bottom line, Ford Motor Company under the leadership of Alan Mulally has returned focus to fuel efficient cars as well as products from their European portfolio.

At the same time, they cannot ignore the fact competition in the light truck market has become exceedingly tough, and as new as the new F-150 was, Toyota, GM, and Dodge were nipping at its sub-two ton heels.

Which brings us to the point of why we are back in Detroit to see the next generation of the best selling truck in America.

What is it?
The Ford F-150 is the best selling truck in America, and what some analysts say accounts for more than half of Ford Motor Company profits. Available in Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew Cab, and with various bed-lengths and drive combinations, there are over 35 different models available carrying the F-150 badge.

What's it up against?
The F-150 is up against all the other big "playas" in the field, including Toyot's Tundra, Chevrolet's Silverado, Dodge's freshly redesigned Ram, GMC's Sierra and Nissan's Titan. There could also be interest in the Hummer H3T.

Any breakthroughs?
Start with an increase in fuel economy across the board. The F-150 features an average of 8-percent across the entire line, through increased engineering enhancements. According to Ford, the F-150 leads the class by its towing capacity of 11,300 pounds and a hauling capacity of 3030 pounds. An assist in towing comes from the Trailer Sway Control and standard Roll Stability Control to help prevent out of control trailer flop and rollover risks, respectively.

Other breakthroughs come through via small points of interest that add up. Features like the Microsoft Sync, a new navigation system, as well as the cable lock cargo security system and a high-zoot Sony audio system. A boxside step, and a tailgate step help to gain access to the bed, while a stowable bed extender and cargo management system help to keep things in place. By themselves, they might appear to be small, but combined they make for a really usable truck.

How does it look?
Evolutionary instead of revolutionary, the F-150 faces the world with a look that instantly reminds viewers of the "˜150s larger brother, the F250 Super Duty. Incorporating a look that cues the three-bar grille design that Ford's sisterships are carrying, the F-150 features a new more refined appearance that shows technological advances on the sides and the rear.

Back to that grille appearance: Starting with the XL workhorse, you get the base model with the three-bar grille in basic black. Imagine one of the fleet trucks from your local utility. Step up to the STX and FX4 sport models and again you will get basic black, but this time with body colored surrounds as well.

Order the XLT midrange version, and your grille will glow with bright chrome while the Platinum, Lariat and King Ranch models receive a stylized grille with mesh inserts and unique finishes. This final group makes up what Ford calls the "Image buyers."

The tailgate features design cues that blend from the taillights, and lend to an aerodynamic improvement according to Ford. We are wondering about that, though because without a tonneau cover, air will likely become trapped in the bed, which in turn causes wind drag.

And inside?
Looking at the high-end Platinum interior, it's clear that change has come. It's a revision that leaves it more car-like than ever. With newly sculpted, leather covered driver and front passenger seats in place, comfort on long hauls is better than it has been in a long time. The dashboard reminds you of a near-luxury car, which begs the question "Why drive a truck, anyway?" Wood trim accents the brushed aluminum-like finish of the plastic areas around the dashboard.

The Sony audio system, combined with the new voice-activated navigation takes up the top third of the center stack and controls, all of which is easily reachable from the driver's seat. The interior's overall width is wide enough to feel like a stick is needed to poke your companion in the passenger seat. But the thing we noticed when driving on a variety of terrain - interstates, temperature-cracked highways and back roads - was how quiet this interior really is.

Rear seat room is as commodious as the back seat of a Rolls Royce. Well, maybe not, but you can stretch the legs forward from the back seat. Rear seat cushions flip up so that the extra-wide opening of the rear doors can accommodate large items that can't brave the elements that riding in the bed might otherwise expose them to.

The one curious thing that we noticed about this new F-150 was the lack of a grab handle on the driver's side inside A-pillar. A grip exists on the passenger side, and would seem obvious on the driver's side, but after receiving numerous inquiries, Ford tells us that they may revisit this omission.

But does it go?
With three engine choices and so much at stake, it sure better! The 5.4-liter, three-valve Triton V8 is back, delivering 320 horsepower and 390 lb-ft. of torque. This revised edition runs on E85, gasoline, or any blend in between, according to Ford. The 4x2 models have achieved EPA ratings of 14-mpg in the city and 20-mpg on the highway. The 4.6-liter three-valve V8 is new to the F-150 lineup. The same powerplant that's under the hood of a Mustang GT, it puts out 292-horsepower, and 320 lb-ft. of torque in this application. The EPA checks its mileage in at 15-mpg city and 20-mpg highway. Ford attempts to boost mileage by shutting off the fuel flow under deceleration. When the driver lifts off the accelerator, the system shuts off the fuel flow until pressure is again applied to the go pedal.

A new six-speed automatic transmission comes with both engines, and features a tap down function where when brakes are applied on a downhill grade, the tranny will automatically step down so that forward momentum will be kept. We discovered the usefulness of this feature by towing a 7,500-pound trailer at Ford's Michigan Proving Grounds. The downshift proved to be vital as we rounded a turn and started uphill climb simulating what a driver might encounter somewhere like Tennessee's mountains.

Also new this year is a new two-valve 4.6-liter V8, delivering 248-horsepower and 294 lb-ft. of torque, with the same fuel economy ratings (14-mpg city/19-mpg highway) as 2008's V6 engine. Finally, Ford announced that an EcoBoost gas-turbo engine would debut in 2010.

The F-150 rides on a new, lighter, and stronger boxed frame chassis that is hydroformed, and along the way has seen a 10 percent gain in torsional rigidity, and a weight reduction of nearly 100 pounds. Chassis engineers have outfitted it with short- and long-armed double wishbones and coil-overs in front, and outboard-mounted shocks and six-inch longer leaf springs than those found on the 2008 model in the rear. This, in the Platinum model, along with other refinements has resulted in a truck, that Ford's press material claims "is just ahead of the Lexus LX450 SUV for interior quietness." We're not sure why they'd compare the F-150 to a Lexus that has been out of production for about a decade, but we can tell you that it was pretty damn quiet!

While off-roading in the FX4, we tore through the "Fisher" road course, which was a combination of gravel roads, trails, moguls, hills, dips, pits, potholes, and mud bogs. Switching to four-wheel-drive high range while on the fly showed a truck that had extremely responsive steering and felt confident as it wailed over the bumps and terrain throughout the infield of the Michigan Proving Grounds. It was only in the overly sloppy mud bog that we truly bogged down. After two days of vehicles tearing through the bog, not to mention rains compounding the situation, the mud was three-feet-deep, and had the consistency of pea soup. So it was no wonder that we finally had to be towed out of the slop.

Why you would buy it:
Because Fords are all you have ever driven, you'd never think of driving anything else, and you totally dig company pitchman Toby Keith. That, and the fact that Ford has once again raised the bar for light-duty trucks.

Why you wouldn't:
Because the drunken stupor you've been living under has come to the sobering reality that despite cheapening gas prices, you really aren't an urban cowboy and don't need a pick "˜em up truck anyway.

2009 Ford F-150base price range, $21,120 - $44,860.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.