• Oct 17th 2008 at 11:58AM
  • 54

2009 Ford F-150 – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's been said far too often that timing is everything. Sometimes a product comes to market before the market is ready, such as when the Diamond Rio MP3 player debuted a decade ago. Other times, the market moves on before a product arrives. For Ford and Chrysler, the latter rings truer than ever in late 2008. Both companies opened the year with splashy introductions of all-new redesigned full-size pickup trucks at the Detroit Auto Show. Those events were quickly followed by an utter collapse of demand for the entire segment. As U.S. gas prices surged to $4 a gallon and beyond, sales of big trucks dropped by nearly half.

When the last couple of generations of the F-150 launched, Ford spent months building extra trucks on overtime to ensure it had enough stockpiled inventory while it re-tooled factories for the new models. This time around, Ford had so many unsold units of the current F-150 sitting on dealer lots that the Dearborn brand was forced to delay Job 1 for three months while the old stock was cleared out with heavy incentives. That time has now arrived, so Ford invited the media out to its Michigan Proving Ground in Romeo, MI to try out the newest edition of the F-150 that, until last spring, had been the top selling vehicle in America ever since the age of the dinosaurs. Read on to find out if the F-150 is still the leader.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
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In introducing the new F-150 to the gathering, Ford truck marketing manager Doug Scott began with the refrain "Capability Matters!" in discussing the newly enhanced capabilities of the the truck. Certainly no one could argue with that statement. The real question though is not whether it matters, but rather what capabilities do buyers actually need? As gas prices have risen this year, more and more people who were considering full-size trucks have dramatically revised their requirements for what they need in a vehicle. Non-commercial buyers have been deciding in droves that they don't actually need a truck.

In recent years, half of all light-duty trucks were bought for personal tow-haul use with another 20% being for image, according to Scott. In 2008 that has dropped to a combined 60 percent with the rest being used as work trucks. Since it takes 4-5 years to bring a product like this to market, Ford started work on the new F-150 when the segment was at its peak. Now much of the new truck's enhanced capability might go to waste. Scott did bring up an interesting point during his presentation: while many people who had bought F-150s for personal use have moved back to more reasonable vehicles (he didn't actually use that language, but I'm making a point here), the F-150 has also seen new customers. Those are buyers who previously went for the F-250/350 Super-Duty trucks but overbought.

In the first half of 2007, 5.5 percent of previous Super-Duty buyers moved down to the F-150 after realizing they had bought too much truck. In the first half of this year, that number jumped to 9 percent. Scott noted the gap in areas like towing capability between light and heavy duty models for competitors making the step down more difficult. With towing capacities of up to 11,300 lbs for longer wheelbase versions of the F-150, Scott feels the truck is well positioned to catch down-sizing over-buyers.

When we got out into the trucks, a couple of things became readily apparent. Like the competition from Chevrolet and Toyota, the interior of the more pedestrian variants of the F-150 is dominated by hard plastics on the doors and dash. The designs and textures are pleasant enough and everything is fairly well laid out. In fact, the materials are generally more attractive than those in the Toyota Tundra in particular. The steering wheel has a pleasantly thick rim to grab. The seats in particular have also been dramatically improved with more lateral and back support and a longer, lower seat cushion.

The revived FX4 model that we drove first is the designated off-road variant and reverses the trend to ever larger wheels and tires. The FX4 is available with a 17-inch wheel and tire package specifically for those who intend to get off the pavement. The 17-inch wheels allow for more sidewall on the tires, which makes it easier to climb over back trails or Michigan's damaged roads. On the drive out to the off-road area of the 4,000 acre proving ground, the F-150 was quiet and refined even with the Goodyear Wrangler LT tires. The ride was comfortable and well damped and the steering effort was nicely weighted.

There was some heavy rain the night before our drive and the trail was muddier than usual, and areas that had a significant amount of clay got particularly slick. However, the FX4 proved remarkably capable when we got into the mud. Even in the area known as "cat-tail swamp" with the transfer case in 4X4 low range and the electronic locking differential engaged, the F-150 was able to pull itself clear unless you got into the absolute worst stuff. Engaging 4-low requires coming to stop, putting the transmission into neutral and turning a knob. Going from two-wheel drive to four-high, however, can be done on the fly. Locking the rear differential can be done at speed by simply pulling out the transfer case selector knob. On our second pass through the swamp, the F-150 powered up over the hump into the swamp on the other side and promptly impaled a fog light on a branch that was stuck in the ground. The truck kept on going with it's new-found tusk until one of the support staff waved us down to remove the branch from the now empty fog-light socket.

Through some very tight and twisty areas and other rough terrain, the F-150 comported itself very well. There were never any signs of flex or groan from the chassis and the suspension proved very resilient. The body stayed vertical most of the time as the suspension articulated over the trail, minimizing the side to side rocking on the inside.

When we moved over to the trailer towing exercise, Ford had lined up a group of competitors consisting of the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra and the new 2009 Dodge Ram. Each had a 7,000 lb trailer hooked up, the weight being determined by the lowest common denominator Dodge and its 7,300-lb tow limit. The new coil spring suspension of the Ram may be good for on-the-road ride quality, but apparently hampers towing capacity even with the optional 5.7L HEMI – but we'll come back to that in a moment.

The towing test was run over a 2.5-mile loop that included up and down hill grades and a number of corners. The first section included a wide open throttle climb to 55 mph, a task the F-150 and Tundra handled with comparative ease. Ford's new 6-speed automatic transmission is an upgraded version of the unit that debuted a couple of years ago in the Expedition, and one of its more interesting features is an integrated trailer brake controller.

Not only is the unit a factory option integrated into the dash, but it's also integrated with the stability control system that includes trailer sway control. By incorporating it into the slip control system, the trailer brakes can be blended seamlessly with the vehicle brakes.

Ford is also the only truck maker to include a roll sensor in its stability control system. In addition to body, the roll sensor helps detect banking in the road so that offsets can be calculated for lateral accelerometer and yaw rate signals, which enhances the behavior of the stability control. Another feature of the F-150 is a new tow/haul mode. When engaged, a quick tap of the brake pedal while running downhill brings on a downshift to aid engine braking. The overall effect of all this gadgetry is a complete lack of drama when towing a 7,000-lb trailer.

The Chevy and Toyota trucks were both equipped with after-market trailer brake controllers. The systems work independently of the vehicle brakes and often led to rough and uneven braking at low speeds. The Toyota also exhibited a tendency toward fore-aft porpoising when running on level ground at 45-50 mph, which is apparently related to flexing of the chassis and rear suspension.

The Ram and Silverado also had trouble climbing a 4% grade with the trailer. With its 5.7L HEMI and 5-speed automatic transmission, the Dodge had plenty of grunt, but the gap between 2nd and 3rd gears was apparently just too much. The revs dropped out of the torque band's sweet spot, and where the Ford was reaching over 55 mph, the Ram got to just 45 and wouldn't accelerate any more until we crested the hill. Similarly, the Silverado equipped with a 5.3L V8 and four-speed automatic had trouble climbing. A similar Silverado, however, with GM's new six-speed auto would have no such difficulty.

With all its cool new features, like the side step and rear tailgate step, the 2009 Ford F-150 is certainly not short on capability. It has plenty of towing and payload capacity and feels solidly built thanks to plenty of high strength steel in the chassis and cab. It's poised to be the top of its class. Unfortunately for Ford, that class is shrinking and it's not yet clear when it will stop. If you need all the new capabilities that the '09 F-150 offers, it may well be the best choice. However, as we alluded to earlier, the real question is what capability do you really need?

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

You can find more information and specs on the 2009 Ford F-150 over at AOL Autos.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago

      Perhaps it will win TOFY award for 2009.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The NEW F150, A nice looking truck! But where do you want the addvantages? Under the vehicle,Right? Ford has always been the leader when It comes to heavy-duty suspensions, that's why you'll see more Fords making money for Companies,on the road,in off road trails, and other places where trucks are needed. Not to COIN an expression; There's A Ford In Your Future!
      • 6 Years Ago
      nice truck but poor gas consumption...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Uuuuhh, its a truck and its still better than what was available just two years ago. Yes, it should be bettter, but just wait, all trucks will be better in a couple years.
        • 6 Years Ago
        WHAT!? for a full-sized truck with best in class towing and payload, best-in-class technology features (sync, work-solutions), contractor grade storage for laptops/hanging folders, etc... Interior comfort, ride quality, etc... this is AWESOME fuel economy! Did we ever think we would be driving a full size truck that gets 21mpgs?! For those of us who USE trucks and NEED trucks, this is music to our ears.
        Terrific truck Ford, terrific fuel economy and of course it will only get better (ecoboost!).
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Diamond Rio cost a couple hundred dollars and could only hold a dozen songs (32MB or 64MB capacity). Plus, the process to get songs on it was too complex for non-geeks.

      It wasn't a problem of behind ahead of its time, it was a problem of being only a useful solution for a small number of people.
        • 6 Years Ago

        But Disc walkmans were under $50, tape ones even cheaper.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I thought the Diamond Rio was like $99 when it came out (32 mb)? My friend got one when we were in highschool. :P I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, even though the built in equalizer was awful!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I need a truck that can handle the volume of a full-sized truck, but will likely never come near half the towing or hauling campcity of an F-150. The concept of a nearly as large, but lighter weight F-100 is an interesting concept to me. That said, most smaller trucks get similar gas mileage as full-sized trucks, so an F-100 being really fuel effcient is unlikely.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What I was saying originally is that this EXTERIOR, IS NOT ALL-NEW! THE SIDE VIEW OF THE TRUCK IS IDENTICAL. I could care less about all that's been done underneath, it doesn't change the fact that ALL-NEW is not an accurate description of this truck, it has ton's of recycled parts from the "last generation." Damn.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Oil prices Plummeting as we type... i think truck and suv sales will start to stabilize
        • 6 Years Ago
        Oil prices are plummeting..but so are people's savings. SUV and truck sales may stabilize, but that doesn't mean that a new truck will be successful.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes, oil prices are plummeting along with the global economy, but I think Americans are much more fuel-conscious than they were before this crisis started. Even if gas goes back down to $2.00 a gallon (which I think is very unlikely), Americans won't be going back to their unapologetic ways. Just my opinion, of course, but I think the country is ready for smaller, higher efficiency vehicles.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, prices rose today...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't count on fuel prices to stay low...OPEC moved up their meeting. Topic #1...how much are we going to cut production? I am glad I did keep my truck and I purchased a used car for running miles. Has worked out well and I have broken even in 11 months due to fuel savings.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I like the new body, the engines, suspenion, chassis, and interior are all home runs, there is just one problem for me with the looks, the wheelwells. Something wierd is going on with them so that from some angles and if the truck is painted certain colors, the wells dwarf the wheels, which ruins the looks of the truck giving it a silly, almost comical apperance. then from other angles and when painted other colors, both wells and wheels look normal. It's weird and a disappointment. Other than that, it's a fine truck. 21 mpg from a full size truck is great, so stop crying about that. I see the crowd obsessed with the size of a certain part of male anatomy showed up to ruin things, like they do to every article about big vehicles, they need to get a life and take their fascination with male anatomy elsewhere. Also, I think trucks are now on the ALL new every 8 years, significant upgrade every 4 years model that cars have been using for years now, so this is just about right. Good job Ford. Oh and the F Series is still Ford's best selling vehicle, fuel crisis or not, haha take that econobox lovers!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I was in one yesterday and it had a factory 700 watt sony stereo huge rear cab area a very nice truck.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The rise of oil prices and the reduction of idiots who don't need trucks and big cars on the road is probably the biggest factor TO DATE that has helped substantially in the last 6-12 months to reduce emissions and pollution....in record numbers I may add.

      At least we can be happy about that.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Capability matters?

      Yeah I'm sure it does....as you're going down the 405 with your cell phone glued to your ear in bumper to bumper traffic getting 10 MPG.

      The pictures above are probably the first time I've seen a truck like this actually used for utility. The rest of time, they are usually driven by douches with small members or something to that extent.
        • 6 Years Ago

        you are such a freakin hippie.... i would be willing to bet there are more people who would want to send YOU and tree hugging import driving buddies to Mars than those of us who understand the concept of a quality built full sized work-vehicle with fantastic performance and economy numbers.

        i have a hard time not laughing when i hear people squeel in their high pitched voices about "using all our resources!!! waaah waahhh waaah!!!" ... you seriously have no idea what you're talking about.
        thanks for the laugh.
        • 6 Years Ago

        Why don't you go pick up tin hat and gun and plant yourself in front of an oil field then....for the next 40 years...so your dumb ass can continue to piss away natural resources.

        It's a real shame people like you need to share this planet with people who actually care to make some small difference. Can't we transport your ass to say Mars...where you can be free to kill, drive, and waste to your hearts content?

        • 6 Years Ago
        10 mpgs? are you dumb or can you just not read?

        this truck can get better gas mileage than a lot of CARS and SUVs that are out there.. not to mention squash all the idiots like you driving around in your little pea-pods.
        • 6 Years Ago
        ugg.tryptophan :

        I just read this thread...and found you were on it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This truck is not "all new." It merely had a face lift. Different front fascia, and slightly tweaked rear lights, unfortunately Ford's best seller has fell victim to the same fate the "new" Explorer, Escape, and Focus have. Weak.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Thank you Gregg, Styling is a huge part of a redesign, and if you invest that much, why not go all the way? I guess that's one of the reasons Ford is suffering the way it is.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Scott- New frame, suspension, interior, transmissions, motors, exterior sheet metal, more use of high strength steel, wheels, tires, brakes, colors, mirrors, headlights, taillights, emblems, radio options, trailer sway controls, cargo management system, side steps, tailgate handle, 8" navigation screen, larger crew cab. Yeah, its the same truck.(Sarcasm)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Is the frame all new in that it has a new part number (but is an evolution of the '04 frame), or is it completely unrelated design-wise from the previous one? Same goes for the suspension, etc. I'm just curious as to how in-depth the redesign goes, since the phrase "all-new" is way over used. Changes to the cosmetic parts don't impress me, and certainly don't constitute "all new". But if they really did significant work to the core hardware, then, there's substance to the redesign. Has anyone seen whether or not there has been any sort of mass reduction involved in this at all?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Scott -

        You are woefully uninformed and sadly mistaken:

        Best-in-class 11,300-lb. towing capability
        Strangest-in-class frame
        Re-engineered rear suspension
        Re-engineered brakes
        6-speed automatic trans
        4.6L 3-valve V8
        Up to 21 mpg highway
        Standard trailer sway control
        Standard AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control
        Re-engineered Passsenger Safety Cage with new ultra-high-strength steel
        Class-exclusive box side steps
        Class-exclusive tailgate step
        First and only in-class Ford Work Solutions on-board computer/communications, productivity and equipment security systems
        All-new interior with fully flat loadfloor in SuperCab and SuperCrew
        6" added behind rear seats in SuperCrew for best-in-class rear passenger volume.
        • 6 Years Ago
        seriously... get a clue dude.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Its a bit more than that. The Frame is all new and is about 10 percent stiffer. The Super crew cab is stretched about 6 inches. New Dimensions and body panels, 8-12 percent bump up in fuel economy to a new engine line up than the previous. To name only a few things... Its not Merely cosmetic.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Scott, seems like people have cleared up that this new F-150 is indeed a significant overhaul. I don't know much about the focus or the explorer (I think big changes for those are coming up in a year or two), but the Escape has definitely had a complete refresh.
        It came in two steps though, which may be the source of your confusion. First it got a purely cosmetic refresh (front and rear fascia...) but the following model year it got a major overhaul of its internals with a more powerful engine (240 vs 200 or so), a 6-speed transmission, and better fuel economy. Even the hybrid powertrain got significantly revised.
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