2003 Ford F-150 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All the pickup basics and a Harley-Davidson edition to boot.
Quieter and more carlike than ever, the Ford F-150 continues to be the light-duty pickup truck by which all others are measured. The world's best-selling truck continues to evolve into a sedan with a handy bed attached.
All 2003 models get a new noise control package, 75 improvements in all, according to Ford, for a 10-percent quieter ride. Audio system choices now include a cassette/CD player and an in-dash six-CD changer. All 2003 F-150s now have the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) systems as standard equipment.
A new Heritage Edition F-150 commemorates 100 years of Ford Motor Company history. An F-150 STX Edition is newly available on Regular Cab and SuperCab XL and XLT. King Ranch models get chrome tubular running boards, a six-disc in-dash CD changer and woodgrain bezels.
There is something for everybody at Ford's F-150 store; they've made sure of that. Three engines are available: Standard engine for the base XL is a 4.2-liter V6 that makes 202 horsepower. A 4.6-liter V8 rated at 231 horsepower is optional in XL models and XLT, standard in all others. A 5.4-liter V8 rated at 260 horsepower is available as an option for most F-150s, and we recommend this engine if you're going to be doing serious work with your F-150. Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are available, but you can't get the big engines with a 5-speed manual. No light-duty diesel engine is available for F-150 models. For that, you have to opt up to an F-250HD.
Body styles include short and long beds; regular cab, SuperCab four-door, and SuperCrew four-door, in either Styleside or fendered Flareside bed styles. Two- and four-wheel drive models are available. The three cab styles are offered in XL, XLT, and Lariat trim levels; SuperCabs and SuperCrews can also be had as King Ranch models, with leather captain's chairs, a premium audio system, and unique badging.
SuperCrew features rear seats that can quickly be converted into covered cargo space. The full-size SuperCrew far exceeds a compact four-door pickup for space and comfort, but rides on a light-duty chassis rather than a heavy-duty platform with its excessive weight, rougher ride, and greater fuel thirst. Overall length is kept reasonable by using an ultra-short bed that measures just 5-1/2 feet. The bed is a compromise, but it relieves the driver of the daily burden of maneuvering a pickup into tight urban or country spaces. The Lariat SuperCrew is equipped like a luxury sport-utility, with leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals and an optional moonroof and rear-seat entertainment system.
Air conditioning is standard equipment on almost all F-150s and electronic automatic temperature control is now standard on Lariat, King Ranch and SuperCrew models. Power-adjustable pedals are standard on all models for 2003. Antilock brakes (ABS) are standard throughout the F-150 line, and remote keyless entry is standard on XLTs.
The F-150 model matrix is huge, and includes some specialty models. The high-performance SVT Lightning packs a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 rated at 380 horsepower and 450 foot-pounds of torque. Special SVT wheels, tires, and suspension are calibrated more for handling than for hauling. This limited-production street rod is available only as a 2WD regular cab on the 120-inch short wheelbase.
Also available for 2003 is a new Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 SuperCrew. It features a supercharged 5.4-liter Triton V8 engine with 345 horsepower and 425 foot-pounds of torque. It's available in black or optional two-tone paint, black over silver with a high cutline and orange details. Body-color bumpers, a new front end with fog lamps, a chrome grille and chrome tie-down hooks, and clear-lens headlamps are standard, as are 20x9-inch chromed aluminum wheels with the Harley logo. The H-D pickup is lowered one inch, with a dual inlet-dual outlet muffler that ends in chrome 3 1?2-inch slash-cut exhaust tips. A special 100th Anniversary nameplate commemorates the centennial of Ford and Harley next year.
The F-150 is a stylish truck, one that pays more serious attention to aerodynamics than either the Dodge or GM pickups. It's rounder, friendlier and looks more like a car. That may be part of the reason it outsells all other pickup trucks by a considerable margin. In two years, the whole F-150 design will change to something far more radical and big-truck-like, putting an end to the aero truck phase at Ford Design, but for now, the F-150 is still a looker, loaded with features.
The F-150's aerodynamic hood drops away very rapidly from the base of the windshield, so it's easier to see what's immediately in front of the truck, handy for maneuvering off-road, for parking, and when navigating in the city. Its fenders seem to make small rural roads smaller. In tight quarters, this feels like a big truck.
The F-150 takes its interior design cues from the company's passenger cars. The designers simply adapted these cues to the pickup's larger cab. The curves, surfaces, textures, instrumentation and graphics inside the F-150 are more adventurous, more modern, and in some ways better executed than the GM and Dodge, big and bold but not outsized for such a big vehicle.
The mid-range F-150 XLT has dual air bags with a passenger-side deactivation switch. It comes with a back panel cover and rear storage tray, dual map lights, map pockets, an upper vinyl applique, courtesy lamps, color-keyed carpeting and headliner, complete instrumentation including a tachometer, an auxiliary 12-volt power point, power windows and locks, an electronic AM/FM stereo CD/cassette system with four speakers, cloth split bench seats with recliners, armrests, and manual lumbar support on the driver's side, speed control, tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and speed-dependent interval windshield wipers.
Compared to full-sized cars, pickup trucks come with ample amounts of head, leg, hip and shoulder room. They offer a lot of interior space for the money. Even the F-150 XLT regular cab, which does not have a rear seat or extra doors, offers plenty of room for the driver and passenger to stretch out. The XLT's cloth seats recline, and a lumbar support on the driver's side provides even more driving comfort.
All Ford pickups share another trait: a relatively high ride height, even on 2x4 models. That can be a blessing when you're trying to see out over the traffic ahead, but it's a curse when trying to load equipment into the bed; nor does it help when trying to go around corners, where an unladen pickup can hop, Still, bed heights on the two-wheel-drive models are three inches lower than on four-wheel-drive trucks (32 inches vs. 35 inches on the SuperCrew, for example), a huge difference when loading heavy items.
The Lariat SuperCrew features handsome leather seats, front and rear. Getting into and out of the rear seats was easy. The rear seats are comfortable and offer good legroom, allowing passengers to slide their feet under the front seats. Adults should be able to ride back there for longer trips. It's also a nice, comfortable place to change into and out of almost any kind of recreational gear. And the F-150 aftermarket is a billion-dollar business. You can get anything you want for a Ford truck.
SuperCrew's rear seats fold down and are split 60/40, offering a nearly flat luggage space. It's a great place to put cargo or pets. Small storage compartments behind the front seats add utility. All in all, the SuperCrew offers lots of utility and is a great choice for people who seldom need a full-size pickup bed.
Two-wheel-drive F-150s offer a pretty solid ride when unloaded, but quite a good ride when you're hauling a refrigerator over bad pavement. This is because they use conventional steel leaf springs at the rear, and leaf springs tend to ride softer when loaded.
Up front, the 2WD pickups use a coil-spring independent suspension, while the 4X4 versions use a torsion bar front suspension.
Power steering is over-assisted, to make it easier to park and maneuver in tight quarters.
We find the brakes on Ford trucks to be average in stopping power and average in fade characteristics, and our test truck was no different in that respect. Good, solid brakes, but not impressive in terms of sheer power.
Although the optional 4.6-liter V8 engine is rated 231 horsepower and 293 foot–pounds of torque, we don't think it's as good a performer in many respects as the small V8 engines from GM and Dodge, most of which are larger in displacement. It's a good, solid engine, with millions of examples on the road, and it sounds good at full throttle, but we find it a little anemic for all-around street use, and we would certainly find it wanting if we had to haul anything heavy or tow a trailer up a mountain road. For any customer contemplating those kinds of duties, the 5.4-liter V8 engine is a much better choice.
Ford's F-150 is still among the most carlike of the full-size pickup trucks, with slick looks, pleasing performance, a comfortable cabin, and a proven powertrain.
Ford's new F-150 SuperCrew is the most comfortable of the light-duty crew cabs currently available.
4x2 Regular Cab SWB ($18,715); 4x2 Styleside SuperCab LWB ($21,665); 4x4 Flareside SuperCab SWB XLT ($28,855); 4x4 SuperCrew Lariat ($33,320); SVT Lightning Regular Cab ($32,515).
Options As Tested
4.6-liter V8 ($750); automatic transmission ($1095); Sport Group ($595) includes color-keyed bumpers, mirrors, and grille surround, gray mesh grille, 60/40 split front bench seat with unique fabric, identifying decals, 17-inch, 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels, P275/60R17 all-season white-outline tires, 3.55:1 axle ratio.
4x2 Regular Cab SWB XLT ($21,185).
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