2008 Ford F-150 Expert Review
Click on the photo above for our photo gallery of the 2007 Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson
Ah, how we miss Ford's second-generation Lightning. By infusing an F-150 with 380 HP of supercharged 5.4L fury and selecting suspension components that were up to the task of harnessing such power, the Special Vehicle Team (SVT) redefined the sport truck genre and sent the competition scrambling to build worthy competitors. In 2003, the Lightning gained a big brother in the form of the supercharged crew-cab wearing Harley-Davidson livery, but unfortunately, SVT's run came to an end a year later, and with it disappeared the blown Ford trucks.
Fast-forward to the present - the Harley-Davidson package has transitioned back to the F-150 after a brief flirtation with the Super Duty line-up (featuring one of the most garish paint packages in recent history), and forced induction has yet again found its way back into the fold. Now packing 450 horsepower and the blackest color scheme imaginable, we recently got a chance to spend a few days with what is currently the most powerful pickup truck available.
The standard F-150 is already a menacing vehicle as far as half-ton pickups go, and the acres of glossy black paint and chrome billet trim on the H-D version makes one think that Satan likely uses this very truck to haul his firewood. The six-bar grille and enormous 22-inch wheels are what first catch the eye, but several other changes abound - including body-colored accents in the headlight capsules, large but tasteful "Harley-Davidson" letters rendered in chrome along the bed rail, and valance trim along the rocker panels. Limousine-dark tint on the rear windows hints at further antisocial behavior and nicely rounds out the package. We dig the orange stripe package, and even the palm-sized H-D/F-150 badges don't seem out of place. Car and bike fans will recognize the special nature of this truck, but it's also subtle enough not to get glaring looks when rolling through a supermarket parking lot.
The interior is by no means neglected, and also gets a similar look. Glossy "piano black" surrounds the dash vents and covers the top surface of the center console, and a similar finish gets a faint H-D logo "watermark" for use on the center stack and door panels. High-quality black leather is used for the seating surfaces, and yet another pair of logos appear on the front buckets. Aluminum pedal covers round out the treatment. There is indeed the feeling that one is sitting in a coal mine at midnight during a new moon, but we definitely preferred the monochromatic look to the jumble of colors and textures that we've recently experienced in other Ford products, and the materials used here are top-notch.
The instrument panel gets a gorgeous silver-on-black styling treatment, with chrome trim surrounding a background with faux machine-turned decoration. All of the usual gauges are featured here, including an oil pressure gauge, voltmeter, and trip computer. For those who need additional information to stay entertained, a separate pod pokes up from the center portion of the dashboard to house boost pressure and air charge temperature gauges.
Enough about cosmetics, though - the real reason that we were so eager to get our hands on this truck is the stuff that's under the hood. Not long ago, the Triton's 300 HP was good enough to lead its class; now, it's at the back of the pack and that just ain't right for a vehicle like this. Enter Saleen and its twin-screw supercharger. Nestled below the intake manifold, in the Mod motor's sizable valley, it discharges compressed air upwards into an air-to-water aftercooler. This system employs its own coolant loop and a front-mounted heat exchanger, and is extremely efficient at delivering near-ambient intake air temperatures as evidenced by the aforementioned gauge. 450 HP and 500 lb-ft of torque is claimed from the pressurized powerplant.
Applying large throttle openings in the lower gear ranges doesn't result in the expected cloud of tire smoke. Instead, the throttle response is a bit muted, as if some electronic trickery is attempting to arrest wheelspin. While we'd normally be offended by such babysitting, it's almost certainly for the best in this application, as the combination of such power with relatively little weight would certainly otherwise result in epic tire wear. Instead, for maximum effect, roll into the throttle at 45 MPH, and let the shove from the seatback speak to the massive power being generated underhood. The supercharged F-150 owns on-ramps and passing lanes like no other truck on the market.
Accompanying the fierce acceleration is a wicked symphony of blower whine and rubble from the twin-tipped exhaust system. While the exhaust is perhaps a bit loud for the average truck buyer, we're guessing that it may be judged as excessively muted by the average Harley owner. The four-speed automatic transmission behaves itself, despite the punishment that's being thrown its way. We'd obviously prefer something with more ratios, but considering the wide powerband of this engine, a quartet of gearing options is quite enough.
Perhaps the best news of all is that fuel economy isn't nearly as bad as one might expect; we averaged 14.7 MPG during our normal mixed driving routine. We don't expect to receive a congratulatory note from Al Gore for this accomplishment, but it's barely any worse than what one might expect to obtain with a non-supercharged half-ton truck in the same conditions.
For the most part, the rest of the package operates much like one would expect from a F-150. The steering is well-weighted, the brakes feel adequate (although we're guessing that hot-lapping at the local roadcourse would change our opinion on the matter), the chassis is obviously rock-solid, and wind noise is minimal at any reasonable speed.
One disappointment about this vehicle is the ride and handling. The aforementioned tall wheel/tire package combine a non-trivial amount of unsprung weight with a rather stiff sidewall, and so this F-150 shakes, bounces, and generally behaves much more poorly than we're used to from this platform. On the other hand, the spring and damping rates aren't all that high (what is high is the center of gravity, as the ride height is pretty much identical to a stock 2WD F-150), and so there's just not as much roll stiffness as one would expect given the poor ride quality. If you're used to riding a hardtail V-twin, it might seem reasonably compliant, but the rest of us would probably be happy with a 20" wheel/tire package and some suspension recalibration.
Coming in at around $44,000, our test example was priced in line with most other well-optioned crew-cab half-ton pickups. If one prefers power over features, it's a heck of a deal; if not, there are plenty of other options on the market. Overall, the F-150 Harley-Davidson is a stylish, powerful pickup that will likely appeal to Big Twin fans who need to haul four people and some cargo when not tooling around on two wheels. While it doesn't possess the same muscle-car feel of its SVT predecessor, it's also a far more practical tool.
New Car Test Drive
A pickup for any application.
The 2008 Ford F-150 lineup offers a plethora of models for virtually every occasion or occupation, starting well below $20,000 and climbing beyond double that. The F-150 line offers something on the order of 75 permutations, more than some car companies' entire lineups. All are capable of work or play, even those models with luxurious interiors, and all have four doors.
One V6 and two V8 engines, the larger available as E85 compatible (for ethanol), and two transmissions are offered. Nearly every derivative is available with two- or four-wheel drive.
On-going refinement following a major 2004 redesign makes the Ford F-150 a refined, easy-to-drive pickup. It offers familiar and comfortable surroundings for previous Ford owners.
The smallest, least-expensive F-150 isn't boring, it leaves room for customization and keeps overhead down. With the segment's only rear-hinged side access doors, the Regular Cab gives excellent recline space and an easy reach to everything dropped behind the seat. At the other end of the scale, premium models include two-tone leather seats, polished 22-inch wheels and other touches: Within those extremes lies something for everyone.
2008 marks the first availability of an XL-grade SuperCrew with 5.5- or 6.5-foot bed: maximum people space with a work truck ethic. Detail changes for 2008 run the gamut from functional to decorative, the latter a Wheels and Stripes package for STX models, the former a standard tachometer for XL and STX with manual transmission, tire pressure monitors on the heavy-duty package, plus the availability of a cargo management system, remote start, telescoping towing mirrors, and a rearview camera (that does not require purchase of a navigation system).
With one of the deepest beds in the half-ton pickup segment, the F-150 has generous cargo volume out back and a maximum payload rating of 3,050 pounds. A properly equipped Regular Cab F-150 is rated to tow up to 11,000 pounds; other models max out in the 9000-pound range.
The 2008 Ford F-150 lineup offers three cab styles, two bed styles and three lengths, six wheelbase choices, six model designations, and three drive systems.
Starting with the least expensive, the trim levels include XL, STX, XLT, FX, and Lariat. Within the Lariat group are special, lower-volume models including the Lariat Limited, King Ranch, and Harley-Davidson, and the FX offers FX2 and FX4 versions. A Foose Edition F-150 designed by hot-rod master Chip Foose will be available as a late-2008 model. Regular Cabs are roomy with one row of seats, SuperCabs add a rear row ideal for kids, with legroom similar to small cars and doors you can't open until the front doors are, and the SuperCrew has legroom like big sedans and four standard doors.
The base XL is for the fleet or first-time buyer where budget's a priority. The base F-150 XL ($17,345) is a short, Regular Cab two-wheel drive. Wheels are steel, the grille is black and bumpers painted, vinyl covers the floor and seats, and the audio is AM/FM. However, it does have intermittent wipers, map lights, a 40/20/40 split bench front seat with driver lumbar adjustment, and on SuperCabs ($23,440) air conditioning. Since it frequently adds other upgrades and a larger engine, 4WD adds almost $6,000 (and a V8) to the most basic example and $3,000 to the lowest-priced SuperCab.
STX models up the ante without going broke, with body-color front and rear bumpers and grille trim, air conditioning, CD player, and cloth upholstery. A 4x2 Regular Cab short bed starts at $21,050 and a 4x4 SuperCab Flareside goes for $29,045; there is no STX SuperCrew.
Central to the lineup, and sales, is the XLT. To an STX it adds chrome bumpers, black honeycomb grille, remote keyless entry, power mirrors/locks/windows, carpeting, auto headlamps, tinted windows, and better fabric for the 40/20/40 seat. The XLT offers the greatest spectrum of configurations, ranging in base price from $23,350-$33,745.
Off-road style and intent characterizes the FX2/FX4 models, which all come with the 5.4-liter V8. Hefty rubber mats protect the carpet; other upgrades include a leather-wrapped wheel, unique instrument display, and sport cloth upholstery with driver and passenger lumbar support. Monotone paint includes the bumpers (gray with tow-tone paint), flares cover 18-inch aluminum wheels, and the door gets keypad entry. On Regular Cabs ($24,105-30,645) the FX4 is $5,750 over the FX2 and there's no long-wheelbase FX4; on SuperCab and SuperCrew ($28,700-35,445), the 4WD version is a $3,295 premium.
The Lariat label is reserved for more luxurious, car-like interiors, and does not include Regular Cab or Flareside models; retail prices range from $29,895-$35,595. Fancy bits include 18-inch aluminum wheels, power heated mirrors with signal repeaters, climate control, leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, powered driver's seat, trip computer, light-faced gauges, and chrome and Arizona Beige trim.
For 2008, Ford will build 5,000 Lariat Limited F-150s, replete with serial-number plates, spun-metal instrument cluster trim, two-tone leather cabin, color-matched grille and bumpers, and three-dimensional chrome bed side badging. Limited models are offered only as 139-inch wheelbase SuperCrews in two- ($35,160) or all-wheel drive ($38,160).
Top tier among regular production models is the King Ranch, with Castano leather modeled after the saddles that roamed the Texas ranch. Exterior trim is similar to Lariats, with color-matching components and Arizona Beige accents. At this level, items such as heated power seats and power-folding mirrors are standard. The King Ranch is SuperCrew only, short or standard bed, with two- or four-wheel drive, and retail from $35,495-$38,795.
The limited-run Harley-Davidson edition SuperCrew ($38,125) comes with special bodywork in Menacing Black or Black and Vintage Copper two-tone, four buckets in two-tone leather, piano-black trim panels peppered with H-D ba.
In the world of pickups, styling boundaries are determined by a three-box layout: one for the engine, one for people, one for cargo. And the 2008 Ford F-150 shows the evolution of 70 years of function. Angular means easy to clean, easy to park and gives maximum inside volume for outside space. The F-150 is easily recognized in any trim level by the circular front lights within a rectangular housing, stepped front window ledge, opening rear doors on the Regular Cab, and the tall bed. In this case, it's hip to be square.
The door edge that allows a lower glass line at the front is stylish but also very useful; it allows a better view of front quarters near the truck and means you can have a good-sized mirror that doesn't limit forward vision because you look over it rather than around it. For 2008, extendable dual-element towing mirrors bring the F-150 in line with the bigger Super Duty pickups, as well as the Ram, Titan, and Tundra. Any cosmetic sacrifice is well worth the extra visibility with a trailer behind.
Pillars between the doors may yield a blind spot for those who sit more rearward and everyone should appreciate the windshield pillar designed to help preserve forward vision. Relatively square shoulders on the hood make it easy to see the edges of the truck, a bonus for tight parking lots, plow operators, and squeezing between trees or rocks en route to outdoor recreation.
The F-150 is a rarity in modern pickups in that it offers two bed designs. The Flareside is shaped to mimic pickups of old, where the box walls were between the wheels and you could stand on the sides for loading. The Flareside really is more stylish than the Styleside bed, that which is essentially a box with some character lines in the sheetmetal, and more space within. In either case you can get a locking tailgate and a rearview camera in the gate latch fitting.
The Harley-Davidson Edition features black paint with red stripes in a scheme that's in keeping with the tradition established by this model. The chrome Harley badges are a bit much for some of us, but it drew many admiring looks.
Ford has all bases covered inside the F-150, with plenty of patterns, textures and finishes, including at least three different gauges clusters, and the choice of a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat or captain's chairs in many models. On those trucks with a bench seat, the central dash area is not designed for better middle-passenger legroom.
Mindful that you can't have everything for $18,000, the basic XL is quite respectable and a good value given a single option tab on a bigger pickup can be nearly half the XL's purchase price. Generous fleet owners will pop for AC for their employees but in typical field work plain is preferred.
At the other end of the spectrum the King Ranch chairs may look like a fine saddle (and require the same maintenance in some climes) but you want to ensure the jeans are clean and spurs off before you climb into this cowboy clubhouse. Virtually everything you might need is either standard or available, and much the same degree of luxury in a more subdued style can be found in Lariats, which follow a more eclectic approach to decor and make one wonder if eight colors and surface textures might be one or two too many.
The front bench is still split three ways: The center section flips down to reveal a console with storage and cup holders. The console is flat, so you can put a clipboard on top of it and it won't slide off until you stop, start or change direction quickly. Captain's chairs on FX and Lariat models, especially with power adjustment and the optional adjustable pedals, provide good driver positioning for virtually everyone. Finding it may take some time because the backrest angle adjustment is manual and the power controls are on the side of the seat with the door very close. The seat bottoms lacked thigh support on the Harley-Davidson model we drove, which could become tiring on long drives.
Controls are simple, lacking arcane icons or any hint of a universal controller, so everyone from 8 to 80 can find their favorite music or change the temperature instantly. Displays are easily read in polarized shades or at night; full instrumentation is typical but the secondary gauges (oil pressure, volts, etc.) are not numbered and rather lethargic. Ford's black temperature controls are not the most attractive (and they look better in silver as found in the Lincoln Navigator). Most gadgets will remain powered until you open a door, even if the key has been removed. Bench seat models use a column-mounted shift lever, while some bucket seat models use a substantial floor shift lever; both work well although we'd often prefer overdrive as a shifter position and not a thumb-button press.
The navigation system works really well. It's easy to program destinations and features like context-sensitive volume make learning how to use it relatively intuitive. We'd say it's better than most. The screen is a bit small, however.
Pickups without space are pointless and the F-150 won't disappoint. The Regular Cab is roomy enough to fit three adults across and has plenty of space for the miscellaneous debris and detritus that tends to accumulate in trucks. SuperCabs have a full-width back seat best-suited to kids and short rides for bigger adults since legroom is the squeeze point; it's similar in size and intent to the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra extended cab or the Titan King Cab. For larger families or routine four-passenger service, the SuperCrew's extra six inches of rear legroom and regular back doors will be welcome in a space slightly larger than a Ram Quad Cab or Tundra Double Cab.
The Ford F-150 is among the heavier trucks in its class, contributing to a solid feel and none of that empty metal box bang-and-clang that characterized pickups of old. There's an impression of substance and tight construction regardless of the road surface or the model; Ford attributes some of this to its laminated Quiet Steel panels in the bodywork.
Any engine will get the job done so long as you pay attention to load ratings. The 4.2-liter V6 gives 202 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, enough to get around town or tow a small boat over nominally flat terrain.
Ratings for 2008 models weren't out at posting, and most recent '07 numbers put the V6 at 16/21 with the manual and 16/20 with the automatic. In general, fuel economy ratings drop by 1 mpg for each increase in engine size or addition of 4WD. Subtract 4-5 mpg for E85 on the 5.4 V8 or be a realist and smile when you get a V8 into the teens.
The 4.6-liter V8 on base 4WD versions was updated last year to 248 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque, and it need not be revved a lot to deliver that power. You could spend money on the 5.4-liter (or on a shorter axle ratio) if you tow a lot or live in hilly areas, but the 4.6-liter is more than satisfactory and will return better fuel economy, perhaps by 5 percent to 10 percent.
Ford's 5.4-liter V8 is the only truck engine with overhead cams and three valves per cylinder, yet it delivers the grunt earlier in the rev range than many traditional pushrod pickup engines: 375 lb-ft of torque at 3,750 and 300 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. It is paired exclusively with a four-speed automatic transmission that shifts gently and as soon as possible for highway economy.
There are two big reasons the F-150 is not the quickest half-ton pickup or fastest tow vehicle. First, it is usually heavier than similarly equipped models from the competition, and second, like GM's Silverado and Sierra, it has to make do with a four-speed automatic where Dodge, Nissan and Toyota offer a five- or six-speed automatic. (We are expecting to see six speeds in the 2009 F-150 because the Expedition's 5.4-liter already has it.)
The F-150 needs no excuses for ride quality, however, whether it's empty of loaded. We've tried all six wheelbases over the worst freeways in Los Angeles and Ford has a handle those expansion-jointed roads, with better-controlled pogo-sticking (bobbing) that plagues many mid-length (say 138-150 inches) wheelbase pickups. Resistance to shuddering is very good too, although it's nearly impossible to rid any two-body-on-frame vehicle of it.
Suspension follows typical light pickup design, with coil-sprung independent in front and leaf springs out back. Aluminum is used to save weight in components in protected positions, with steel parts where they may scrape on a rock. Unlike most pickups the rear shocks are mounted outside the ladder frame, in theory allowing more precise control of the spring, but in actuality the performance of the shock absorber makes more difference than the outboard mount.
And in this regard the F-150 parallels other pickups in that the best ride quality anywhere except a racetrack comes with the FX4 (off-road) package. Off-highway performance strongly depends on keeping the wheel in contact with the ground, and using the most available suspension travel is the best way to do that. Such off-road packages are tuned to take advantage of all available travel, typically with only the slightest reduction in response to turns. Some off-road packages also offer the biggest tire sidewall, the first impact absorber in any suspension system, although the FX4 uses 18-inch wheels and stronger LT tires as an option.
All F-150 models use power rack-and-pinion steering and have been singled out in more than one comparison as the best in class. The F-150 is quick to respond to steering inputs without feeling too light or going too far, and directional stability is superb. Add in the rela.
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 G.R. Whale and Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Ford F-150 XL Regular Cab 2WD long bed ($17,645); STX SuperCab 4WD Flareside ($29,045); XLT SuperCab 4WD short bed ($30,295); FX4 SuperCab 4WD LWB ($32,295); Lariat SuperCrew 2WD LWB ($32,595); King Ranch 4WD LWB ($38,795); Harley-Davidson AWD ($39,500).
Kansas City, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan.
Options As Tested
limited-slip rear differential ($300); LT275/65R18 tires ($275); captain's chairs/console ($695); power driver seat ($285); adjustable pedals ($120); trailer tow package ($350); towing mirrors ($220); Audiophile stereo ($550); rearview camera ($450); moonroof ($995).
Ford F-150 SuperCrew FX4 short box ($34,395).
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