2006 Ford F-150 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Six distinctly different trucks.
The Ford F-150 delivers all the big-truck attributes of toughness, strength, and cargo capacity, but offers interior design and comfort that would rival some luxury cars. It's also stylish, among the best-looking in a group of handsome full-size pickups for the 2006 model year.
Properly equipped, an F-150 can tow 9,900 pounds or haul more than 3,000 pounds in the bed. The F-150 is comfortable as well, with a quiet and refined ride and comfortable interiors that show attention to detail. Handling is excellent for a pickup.
The F-150 earned a five-star safety rating from the government (NHTSA) in frontal crash testing and was named a 'Best Pick' in offset-crash rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. F-150 comes equipped with dual frontal airbags designed to deploy according to the severity of the crash and who or what is occupying the seat. Seat belts, your first line of defense in any crash, are equipped with pre-tensioners and energy-management retractors.
For all these reasons, the F-150 has been America's best-selling full-size pickup for 28 consecutive years. It's the most important, most profitable vehicle Ford makes.
F-150 was last redesigned in 2004, when it earned numerous awards, including North American Truck of the Year. Ford has not significantly changed the F-150 since then except to expand the lineup every year with new trim levels, variations, and specialty models.
For 2006, SuperCrew (crew cab) models will be available with a longer, 6.5-foot bed; as well as the standard 5.5-foot short bed. A limited-production Harley-Davidson edition, previously offered on Super Duty models, is now available as an F-150 SuperCab (extended cab). SuperCrew buyers can choose the King Ranch model, lavishly outfitted in Castano leather, one of our favorites. At the bottom of the lineup is a V6 work truck.
F-150 offers more choices than any other pickup nameplate, with six distinct trim variations, the industry's widest variety of body configurations (three cab styles, three bed lengths, two bed styles), and a choice of V8 engines, all thoughtfully designed to address the distinct needs and wants of individual buyers.
The 2006 Ford F-150 is available in six distinct trim levels. The XL, STX, XLT, FX4, Lariat, and King Ranch each boast their own interior style and features. Engines, suspensions and cab configurations are designed to meet specific needs. A myriad of configurations and options within these model lines ensure buyers can select the right pickup for them.
The 2006 Ford F-150 SuperCrew (crew cab) is available with a 6.5-foot bed, mounted on a new 150.5-inch wheelbase. Wheelbases as long as 163.0 inches (e.g., a SuperCab with the 8-foot long bed) are available.
Three engines are offered: a 4.2-liter V6, a 4.6-liter V8, and a 5.4-liter V8. The V6 offers a choice of four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, but comes in only the most basic F-150s. In the models most consumers will buy, the 4.6-liter V8 is standard. Both V8s come with four-speed automatic transmissions, although the 5.4 comes with a heavy-duty unit.
XL is the budget-priced F-150 with a work-truck interior: vinyl-covered 40/20/40 bench seats, black vinyl floor covering, and an all-plastic dashboard housing a basic AM/FM radio. XL is readily identifiable by its black grille and fascia, painted silver bumpers and 17-inch steel wheels. Regular cab and SuperCab (extended cab) styles are available, and the latter comes with air conditioning (an $850 option on regular cabs). An F-150 XL Regular Cab 2WD short wheelbase model with a 4.6-liter V8 and automatic retails for $20,635, or $18,790 with a V6 and manual gearbox; a SuperCab long-wheelbase 4WD with a V8 and automatic retails for $27,275. Chrome bumpers and cloth seats are optional.
STX is sportier than the XL, with body-color bumpers and body-color trim for the black grille, and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels. Cloth seats, a CD player, and air conditioning come standard. STX comes in Styleside and Flareside 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 2WD Flareside retails for $23,030.
XLT is the most popular model, nicer and better-equipped than XL. It comes with chrome bumpers and a honeycomb grille that sets it apart from the other models. XLT comes in regular cab, SuperCab or SuperCrew; and depending on cab style buyers can choose 5.5-, 6.5-, or 8-foot bed lengths, plus Styleside or Flareside beds. Carpeting is standard, as is a premium cloth upholstery on the standard bench seats or optional captain's chairs. The XLT instrument panel gets more flash than either the XL or STX dash; and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry are standard. The XLT features an overhead rail console system that the owner can tailor to his or her needs. Fog lamps come standard on 4WD XLTs. An XLT SuperCrew 4WD 5.4-liter V8 automatic retails for $34,055.
FX4 is a special off-road model. The interior features a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a floor shifter, and chrome accents; while the exterior is distinguished by a unique grille, 18-inch cast aluminum wheels, and body-color or Dark Shadow Gray bumpers, depending on paint choice. FX4 is available in regular cab, SuperCab, and SuperCrew body styles, but the long (8-foot) bed is not available. The standard engine is the 5.4-liter V8. The FX4 has its own instrument package with carbon mesh accents on the metallic dashboard. Captain's chairs in cloth or leather are optional. An F-150 FX4 SuperCrew 4WD retails for $35,495.
Lariat is the luxury model, distinguished visually by a unique grille design (chrome housing around Arizona Beige insert) and bright-finish 18-inch aluminum wheels. Bumpers are chrome or Arizona Beige. Lariat features black-on-cream instruments, lots of wood trim and brushed metal, a multi-function steering wheel, and a shiny floor shifter mounted in a floor console. A power-adjustable and leather-trimmed 40/20/40 split bench seat with seat memory is standard, along with power-adjustab.
In the late 1990s, F-150 went aerodynamically curvy, and although it remained number one in sales, not everyone liked the look. So for 2004, Ford returned the F-150 to its square-shouldered roots, with a more utilitarian look that continues essentially unchanged for 2006.
It's a functional look, but in its own way it's at least as stylish as the much-heralded Dodge Ram. In fact, the F-150 has a unique image, no small feat when designing within the hard parameters imposed by a pickup. It's at once crisp, bold, and sturdy. In short, we think the F-150 is a great-looking truck.
The F-150 shares styling cues with Ford's handsome Super Duty pickups, including the sharp downward drop in the forward part of the door windows, allowing a clear view of the massive outside mirrors. A high beltline gives the truck visual strength and makes occupants feel more secure.
The whole nose is square in concept, with a large, bold, big-rig grille opening. Yet the front fascia wraps around to the fenders for a precise, sophisticated appearance. The bodyside and cargo box sheet metal is chiseled, though it looks slab-sided at the same time, a theme that carries through to the tailgate. F-150 is both upscale and utilitarian, a look that's very appealing.
The different trim levels are quite distinctive. Just one example: XLT and Lariat have a honeycomb grille (black on XLT, Arizona Beige on Lariat), while XL, STX, FX4, and King Ranch wear a bar-style grille.
Practical considerations are a big part of the design, and some of this can be easily seen. Every bed, no matter which length or style, is more than 22 inches deep, for a generous margin when hauling larger cargoes. All models, including the regular cab, have four opening doors on the body with storage room and/or seats behind the front seat. The SuperCab (extended cab) doors are larger than the vestigial doors on the standard cab, while, as mentioned, the SuperCrew has four full-size doors.
The Ford F-150 features six distinctly different interiors, and your take on each will vary according to how you think your pickup should be outfitted and how much you want to spend. The basic XL is surprisingly nice. At the other end of the spectrum is the King Ranch, which evokes images of Texas and cowboys. We love the King Ranch, but it's not for everyone.
We found the XLT's front bench seats attractive, but they are flat and lack support. The front bench is split three ways. The center section flips down to reveal a center console with storage and cup holders. The console is flat, unlike GM's, so you can put a clipboard on top of it and it won't immediately slide off.
The FX4's optional captain's chairs were much more comfortable, offering decent support for the hips and back. They also looked great, trimmed in black leather with light gray stitching. Adjusting the power seats may be a little awkward for drivers with big arms, however, because the clearance between the door armrest and the seat is a little tight. Rake adjustment on the power driver's seat is manual, and raking it forward can be a bit awkward. The center console between the captain's chairs is deep, holds a lot of stuff, and features a pair of big, solid cup holders. The floor shifter for the automatic transmission works very well.
Radio and HVAC (heater) controls are plain but straightforward and easy to operate. Delayed accessory power means you can turn off the ignition, remove the key, and continue to operate the power windows and run the radio until you open the door.
The Lariat has one of the classiest, quietest, most completely equipped pickup truck interiors we have spent time in. Lariat comes with every known amenity. In Lariat trim, an 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.
At every level, attention to detail is obvious. Giant mirrors afford an excellent view rearward. There's a hook for your dry cleaning. Optional rear park-assist helps greatly when parallel parking one of these big rigs. Its alarm beeps ever more rapidly as you back toward something and it even turns down the radio to make sure you hear its warning. A set of overhead storage bins is available that snap into rails; Ford offers five different sets of these bins, and the aftermarket is making additional versions with overhead entertainment systems and other specialty items built in. One of our few gripes is that the clear plastic over the instrument panel is too reflective in bright sunlight, making the instruments hard to read. Everything else inside functions very well and looks beautiful.
The SuperCrew features a roomy back seat where adults should find comfortable and convenient accommodations. The big difference in the back seats between SuperCrew and SuperCab models is rear legroom: 39.0 inches for SuperCrew, 32.7 inches for SuperCab. The rear seat bottom flips up for carrying cargo behind the front seats.
The Ford F-150 offers a ride that's smooth and firm, with a minimum of body roll in corners, and a nice, plush ride over cobbled pavement, rutted dirt roads, and freeway slabs. We found this to be true in all the models we drove. Among them: an XLT SuperCab 4WD, a Lariat SuperCab 2WD Styleside with a 6.5-foot bed, an XL with a standard cab, and an FX4 SuperCrew. We were delighted by the ride of the FX4. It seems smoother than most off-road pickups. It offered a firm but comfortable ride around Los Angeles even with no weight in the bed to pre-load the rear suspension.
The power rack-and-pinion steering in the F-150 is exemplary. It's responsive, without hesitation or delay, and without being darty or overly quick or nervous. The truck tracks like a laser beam, turns in quickly, and recovers quickly even with no load in the bed.
The F-150's excellent ride and handling are benefits of a frame that's fully boxed with hydroformed front rails. The seven-crossmember skeleton is stronger, stiffer and heavier than any previous Ford pickup frame. The current frame is nine times more resistant to twisting and 50 percent more resistant to bending than the C-channel frame used up through 2003.
The front suspension is a double-wishbone setup for both 2WD and 4WD models. The rear suspension has outboard shock absorbers to control rear-end motions better in quick maneuvers. The outboard shock position provides better control on washboard surfaces, reducing the tendency to skate around in bumpy corners. The rear leaf springs are three inches wide. Liquid-filled motor mounts and a long list of other measures keep vibration and noise to a bare minimum.
Braking is smooth and responsive. They start slowing 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. All F-150s come with four-wheel vented disc brakes and ABS.
We found the big 5.4-liter V8 smooth and quiet. Rated at 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, it delivers quick acceleration, although it doesn't seem as responsive as the 5.6-liter V8 in the Nissan Titan. The F-150's 5.4-liter V8 is part of Ford's Triton engine series, and features a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, three valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing. EPA estimates for a 5.4-liter F-150 with 2WD are 15/19 mpg City/Highway. A flexible-fuel (gasoline/ethanol) version of the 5.4 is also available for the 2006 model year. The high-capacity 4R75E four-speed automatic transmission that comes with the 5.4 is smooth and responsive, downshifting quickly and crisply when you punch it, and shifting almost seamlessly when cruising.
The 4.6-liter Triton V8 also features aluminum overhead-cam heads, but with a more conventional two valves per cylinder. Rated at 231 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque, it offers a broad torque band, with 90 percent of its peak torque available at just 2000 rpm for strong towing performance and solid acceleration when hauling heavy loads. The 4.6-liter is also rated 15/19 mpg.
The 4.2-liter V6 is an attractive option for work trucks. It's a nice, smooth engine of the traditional pushrod-overhead-valve kind, and we liked the XL model we drove with it, though performance is sluggish by modern standards. The V6 is rated at 202 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A V6 2WD automatic rates 16/20 mpg; with a five-speed manual transmission, city mileage actually drops to 15 mpg.
The Harley-Davidson edition comes with a suspension biased further toward precision handling. The 5.4-liter V8 comes with a unique exhaust tuned for more hot-rod rumble. The available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system is electronically controlled and continuously monitors throttle position and wheel speeds to determine how much power to shift from the rear wheels to the front.
The Ford F-150 delivers a strong combination of style, interior comfort, performance, ride and handling. With six major trim variants and a choice of drivetrains and body styles, there's an F-150 for every type of pickup owner.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Dearborn, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Ford F-150 XL regular cab 2WD ($18,790); STX SuperCab 2WD Flareside ($28,855); XLT SuperCrew 4WD ($33,160); FX4 SuperCab 4WD LWB ($33,495); Lariat SuperCrew 2WD ($32,995); King Ranch 4WD ($39,615); Harley-Davidson 4WD ($38,130).
Kansas City, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia; Dearborn, Michigan.
Options As Tested
5.4-liter V8 ($895); electronic shift-on-the-fly 4WD ($160); 255/70R17 tires ($325); limited-slip rear differential with 3.55 axle ratio ($300); trailer tow package ($350); platform running boards ($250); AM/FM/6 CD stereo ($300); keyless entry keypad ($75); reverse sensing system ($245); power driver's seat ($285); two-tone paint ($300).
Ford F-150 4WD Flareside SuperCab XLT ($31,850).
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