2004 Ford F-150 Expert Review
Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
First look at all-new pickup.
When you are the absolute market leader, as Ford is with the F-150 pickup truck, you don't take change lightly. The F-150 is the most important, most profitable vehicle Ford makes. With nearly 900,000 annual sales, the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle (car or truck) in America for 21 consecutive years.
Now, they've thrown away the old formula and created a brand new F-150 from the ground up.
Ford admits the new F-150 is bigger, heavier, and more expensive to build than the wildly successful previous version. It is also the best-handling, quietest, most car-like full-size pickup truck in the history of the world. All of the new F-150 models feature all-new interiors that show attention to detail. The seats vary, but all are comfortable and supportive. Ford says the F-150 will be sold at competitive prices, model for model, against the traditional American as well as the new Japanese competition.
To better meet the needs of different types of buyers, Ford created five distinct iterations of the F-150: XL, STX, XLT, FX4, and Lariat. Each boasts its own interior style and features engines, suspensions and cab configurations designed to meet specific needs. A myriad of configurations and options within these five model lines ensure buyers can select the right pickup for them.
XL is the budget-priced truck. It features an all-new work-truck interior and comes with all the basics such as 40/20/40 bench seats in vinyl or cloth, an all-plastic dashboard, a black grille and 17-inch steel wheels. XL is available in regular cab or SuperCab styles. XL is powered by Ford's 231-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 and comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. An F-150 XL Regular Cab 2WD automatic retails for $21,215, while a long-wheelbase (145-inch) 4x4 is priced at $24,855.
STX is sportier than the XL, with a body-colored grille surround for the black bar grille, and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels. STX comes in Styleside (flat) and Flareside (fendered) body styles, in regular cab or SuperCab, with either a 6.5-foot or a 5.5-foot cargo box. An audiophile sound system with subwoofer and six-disc CD changer is optional. An STX starts at $22,215. (Manufacturer's suggested retail prices do not include the destination charge of $795.)
XLT is Ford's volume model and comes with its own egg crate grille style. XLT comes in regular cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew four-door variants, with a choice of 5.5-, 6.5- and 8-foot bed lengths, and Styleside and Flareside body styles. A premium cloth interior is standard on the bench seats or optional captain's chairs. The XLT instrument panel gets more flash than either the XL or STX dash. SuperCrew and SuperCab versions offer power rear windows. The XLT comes with the new overhead rail console system and fog lamps when ordered as a 4X4. XLT SuperCab 4x4 4.6-liter V8 automatic retails for $30,085 MSRP.
FX4 is a specialty 4X4 off-road model. FX4 comes only in a stepside version with special chrome interior trim and markings, and a floor console with floor shifter. FX4 is available in regular cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew body styles with either 5.5-foot Styleside or 6.5-foot Flareside or Styleside bed designs (no 8-foot bed). The standard engine is the 300-horsepower 5.4-liter 3-valve-per-cylinder V8, which Ford says has the best fuel consumption of any V8 engine it has ever built. The FX4 has its own instrument package as do the rest of the models, with carbon mesh accents on the metallic dashboard. Captain's chairs in cloth or leather and the Audiophile system are optional, and 18-inch cast aluminum wheels are optional. An F-150 FX4 SuperCab 4x4 5.4-liter V8 automatic retails for $32,185.
Lariat is the luxury model and, for the time being, sits at the top of the line. Lariat has its own grille design and comes standard with 18-inch wheels. It amplifies the all-new interior with black-on-cream instrumentation, lots of wood trim and brushed metal, a multi-function steering wheel, and a shiny floor shifter mounted in a floor console. A power 40/20/40 split bench seat with seat memory is standard, along with power adjustable floor pedals, an in-dash message center, and climate control. Heated power leather captain's chairs are optional. Lariat 2WD models are available in all three body styles, but 4X4 versions are only available with Styleside fenders. An F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4x4 5.4-liter V8 automatic retails for $35,570.
The new F-150 takes off from these five model lines into 26 variations by the time you count two- and four-wheel-drive, short bed, medium bed, and long bed, manual and automatic and the five trim levels. The nearest competitor has only 12 variations, a fact that Ford hopes will bring more people into its dealerships. In addition to the 26 variants of the F-150 within the five model ranges, there are dozens of options,.
All Ford F-150s now have the front window style popularized on the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickups: a sharp cut in the forward part of the door sheet metal that drops away to allow much clearer viewing of the large rearview mirrors on both sides.
The whole nose is shaped more squarely, the grilles are larger and bolder, the bodyside and cargo box sheet metal is more sculpted, and every bed, no matter which length or style, is two inches taller than previous beds to give more margin when hauling larger cargoes. All models, including the regular cab, have four full-opening doors on the body with storage room and/or seats behind the front seat. The SuperCab doors are larger than the vestigial doors on the standard cab, and of course, the giant SuperCrew has four full-size doors.
The most notable design feature of the new F-150, however, is one you can't see: the fully boxed, partially hydroformed frame, stronger, stiffer and heavier than any previous Ford pickup frame. It's the seven-crossmember skeleton onto which everything else bolts, and accounts for quite a bit of the nearly 675 pounds more weight of the new F-150 compared to the old truck. The frame is nine times more resistant to twisting and 50 percent more resistant to bending than the old C-shaped frame.
The front suspension is a completely new double-wishbone style for both 2WD and 4WD versions. The rear suspension now has outboard, rather than inboard, shock absorbers to control the rear end of the truck better in quick maneuvers, along with wider, heavier three-inch leaf springs.
The steering has been changed to a heavy-duty power-assisted rack-and-pinion system. Underneath, are four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), which come standard.
In Lariat trim, the Ford F-150 rivals luxury cars in terms of design, materials and completeness, with beautiful, rich wood trim, both shiny and matte metallic finishes on major panels, and a lovely three-pod instrument panel behind the multi-function steering wheel.
Although we were able to sample some of the other models, our test truck was a 2004 F-150 Lariat SuperCab 4X2 Styleside with a 6.5-foot bed and the 5.4-liter 3-valve V-8 engine, a black truck with beige lower trim and a beige leather interior.
Our truck had every known amenity: keyless entry, a rear power point, autolamp, delayed accessory power, outside temperature and compass readouts, message center and trip computer, adjustable pedals, the deluxe heated and self-dimming mirror package, power locks, power windows, visor vanity mirrors, HomeLink, and a set of overhead storage bins. (There are five different snap-in sets of these bins, which ride on overhead rails, and the aftermarket is already making additional versions with overhead entertainment systems and other specialty items built in.)
We would say without a moment of hesitation that this was the classiest, quietest, most completely equipped pickup truck interior we have ever spent time in. The Ford Truck folks committed only one unpardonable by us: the clear plastic over the instrument pod is way, way too reflective and makes most of the instruments difficult to see in bright sunlight. Everything else inside functions very well and looks beautiful.
The new Ford F-150 is built around an improved 4.6-liter V8 for the less-expensive models and, for the larger, heavier models, a brand-new 5.4-liter V8 engine with two intake valves and one exhaust valve per cylinder and a new intake port and combustion chamber design. Ford says that, between these two things, the 5.4-liter engine, which makes a nice, round 300 horsepower and 335 foot-pounds of torque, is also the fuel-stingiest engine the company has ever tested. It's similar in design to the previous 4.6-and 5.4-liter V8s in Ford trucks.
Our Lariat test vehicle performed much, much better in terms of acceleration than the old XLT 4X4 we drove previously, mainly because it weighs a whole lot less and the engine doesn't have to work so hard to get the truck off the mark at stoplights. The regular cab and SuperCab versions with the 5.4 engine move out quickly and quietly, and the new 4R75E high-capacity four-speed transmission performed well.
The power rack-and-pinion steering in our test truck was exemplary; it simply steered the truck in a new direction with each movement of the wheel, without hesitation or delay, but it was not in any way darty or overly quick or nervous. The truck tracks like a laser beam, turns in quickly, and recovers very quickly even with no load in the bed.
The brakes, too, start decelerating the truck just a little way into the pedal travel, and the more you push the pedal, the more acute the braking becomes; the absence of dead space in the pedal travel is a welcome relief from typical truck practice.
With its brand new front and rear suspension designs, the F-150 Lariat SuperCab rides more like a Lincoln LS sports sedan than a truck, with a minimum of body roll in the corners, and a nice, plush ride over cobbled pavement, rutted dirt roads, and freeway slabs.
For a while there, Dodge had the hot hand in terms of truck style and function. Then the title went to Chevrolet and GMC for chassis refinement. Then the new Ram one-upped them again.
Now, the Ford F-150 is the unquestioned truck leader, with a combination of style, interior decor, powertrain, and car-like ride and handling that the other trucks, including the new Nissan Titan and the Toyota Tundra, can't match.
These trucks reportedly cost $1,000 to $2,000 apiece more to build, but Ford plans to eat that in its aggressive pricing strategy to keep prices as close to the outgoing truck as possible. With 26 variations to choose from, there has to be a new Ford truck for everyone in this exciting new mix.
F-150 XL ($21,215); STX ($22,215); XLT ($30,085); FX4 ($32,185); Lariat ($35,570).
Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia; Dearborn, Michigan; Wayne, Michigan.
Options As Tested
leather-trimmed captain's chairs with console and floor shifter ($595); 3.73 axle ratio ($50); trailer tow package ($350); reverse sensing system ($245).
Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4x4 5.4 auto Styleside ($35,570).
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