2009 Ford F-150 Expert Review:Autoblog
The Blue Oval delayed the introduction of its all-important 2009 Ford F-150 by two months late last summer. The company claimed it could save some cash by postponing the pickup's launch, but in the interim, the cost to fill up the F-150's biggie-sized tank was slashed in half. The delay couldn't have been better timed. Marketing North America's best-selling vehicle is an expensive endeavor to begin with, but add in the trepidation of $4-per gallon gasoline and an economy spiraling towards the floor, and there's no doubt that the F150's intended audience would've had a hard time plunking down the coin for a brand new pickup.
No doubt, Ford is relieved that gas prices dropped, but the sketchy fluctuations in the commodities market have changed the way this 106-year-old company looks at the truck business. One consequence of high gas prices has been the sharp drop in truck buying for recreational purposes, so Ford has marketed the new F-150 as the ultimate work truck. Labor-friendly features like an integrated trailer brake controller and pop-out side steps are winning buyers over, but will they be enough to pass muster in the Autoblog Garage? Hit the jump to find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk, Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
For 2009, there are seven different variations of the F-150, and that doesn't include the off-roading SVT Raptor that will be available later this year. Ford has made a truck for practically every person on the job site, and we had the opportunity to test the pickup that only the foreman would buy, the all-new Platinum model.
Our F-150 Platinum came completely loaded and carried a sticker of $48,730. All the luxuries the big boss requires are accounted for, along with optional features including a massive 8.5-inch navigation screen, moon roof and a step that stows in the rear lift gate. The Platinum comes standard with leather seating, stowable side steps for easier access to the pickup bed and retracting running boards for easy ingress and egress.
When Ford set out to reshape the new F-150, designers were challenged to improve the popular pickup's masculine lines. On the outside, they stuck with an evolutionary theme that keeps the same basic shape as the outgoing model, with tweaks to the front and rear fascias. Up front, Ford offers as many different grille options as F-150 variants, with the Platinum edition straying farthest away from the big, bold look of its Super Duty sibling. The grille has a very thick outside frame that encloses Ford's trio of trademark bars. The center piece holds up the massive Blue Oval, while the outside slats are given the cheese grater treatment.
The new F-150 gets a larger, more expressive hood. The intricate bonnet is raised almost three inches at the grille, with two lines leading towards the windsheild and a concave powerdome nestled in between. Ford says it was able to pull off the unique design because of improvements in metal stamping. We just think it looks cool.
Out back, Ford added a tailgate spoiler to give the new F-150 a more athletic appearance, but the lip is more than just an aesthetic exercise -- it's actually aerodynamic. Our Platinum model also had a massive strip of brushed aluminum that stretches between the truck's new tail-lamps. We're not big fans of the overuse of chrome and aluminum, but on the Platinum F-150, it's a good way to differentiate the top dog from the truck's more pedestrian variants.
The Platinum F-150 is definitely the head honcho's pickup, yet Ford made sure it was just as work-ready as any other truck in the F-Series lineup. The F-150 leads the class with an 11,300-pound towing capacity and a 3,030-pound payload. Ford also makes it easier to haul with a class-first integrated trailer brake, following the lead of its big brother the Super Duty.
Any former pickup owner who's had to deal with an aftermarket brake will quickly realize this is one the F-150's killer apps. The trailer brake controller sits neatly within the dash, out of the way of your lower extremities, and towing is made easier with Ford's standard Trailer Sway Control system. The system keeps your load under control by electronically braking individual wheels and powering down the engine when necessary. We didn't pull anything of consequence during our time with the F-150 Platinum, but Autoblog Editor-In-Chief John Neff did manage to pull a fifth wheel for a short time in a King Ranch F-150 and reports the set-up was incredibly simple and trouble free.
Not every truck owner makes money by hauling cargo, so Ford turned its attention to the pickup bed. As trucks get taller, gaining access to tools and equipment becomes more difficult. Ford solves this with a pair of clever innovations aimed at getting truck owners in and out of the bed with ease. First is an integrated tailgate step. This $400 option comes out from within the tailgate and folds down for easy bed access. Ford even provides a sturdy handle to yank yourself up. We're not sure why Howie Long calls it a man-step, but we're certain any hard-working laborer is secure enough in their manhood to avoid breaking bones.
Tailgate step and Side Step
Our Platinum tester was equipped with the Box Side Step, which tucks neatly under the F-150's sheet metal in front of the rear wheel and is extended with a simple press of one's foot. Once it's deployed, the step can hold up to 500 pounds and gives users easy access from the side to grab items stashed in the bed. It's a nifty gadget, but we discovered that the step doesn't work well in the snow; it tends to get stuffed with frozen slush and requires some digging with a pair of gloves and a screwdriver.
On the inside, Ford built upon an already spiffy cabin with better materials, a wicked-good arm rest and a set of massive captain's chairs. Ford has really upped its game on interiors, and one of the best new features is the 8.5-inch navigation screen. It's easy to use, big enough to hang on a wall and as bright and clear as an LCD. Ford also nails the navigation interface with easy to understand menus and commands. However, we were less than impressed with the quality of materials on the Platinum's dash. It looks like a tortoise shell and is just as hard.
Our F-150 came with a commodious crew cab, which is six inches longer than on the outgoing F-150. If you have something that needs to be hidden from the elements, simply lift up the back seats and slide it in. Ford added a completely flat-load floor for 2009 that is large enough to swallow a huge flat-panel TV or a small appliance.
There's no denying the F-150 feels like a real truck on the road. More accurately, it feels like you're driving a Sherman tank. It's big, heavy and sure-footed thanks to three-inch leaf springs and outboard shocks. Being on the outside of the leaf springs, the rear shocks help the F-150 stay stable over rough, uneven surfaces while also greatly limiting body roll in turns. The leaf springs, meanwhile, help the F-150 achieve best-in-class towing and payload numbers while contributing to its beefy ride. And as Ford likes to point out, the F-150 sports a very rigid, fully boxed frame, which helps reduce chassis flex and maintain stability and composure on the road when the bed if full or something's being towed.
The F-150 makes do with a carry-over 5.4L V8, which has been tweaked for improved efficiency and provide additional power. The upgraded powerplant now puts out 310 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque on regular gasoline, and 320 hp and 390 lb-ft when chugging E85. While we found the power to be acceptable, we would have preferred more grunt when driving our Platinum tester around town. The 390-hp HEMI V8 available in the Dodge Ram was more rewarding, though the Ford achieved 17 mpg in mixed driving; 1.5 mpg better than the Dodge.
With gas prices still prone to wild fluctuations at a moment's notice and the economy deeply beaten, battered and bruised, Ford has focused its attention on the construction worker, the carpenter, the ranch hand and the contractor – people who make money with their truck. For that reason, the F-150 leads in almost every meaningful category that the working man holds dear. Best in-class towing, payload and fuel economy will likely draw in some shoppers from the competition, and first class options like the tailgate and side step are substantive options that will actually aid truck owners out on the job site. And if you happen to run the job site, Ford has got a Platinum model with your name on it.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk, Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
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.
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned for 2009.
Pickups are the automotive landscape for bragging rights, best-in-class superlatives, and sales volume. The Ford F-150 has often enjoyed bragging rights and is generally the single best-selling vehicle nameplate in the world.
Completely redesigned, the new 2009 Ford F-150 lineup aims to keep it that way.
The 2009 Ford F-150 lineup offers a plethora of models for virtually every occasion or occupation, starting at just more than $20,000 and climbing well beyond double that. The F-150 line offers something on the order of 65 permutations, more than many car companies' entire lineups. All are capable of work or play, even those models with luxurious interiors.
Three V8 engines of two sizes are offered, including a flex-fuel unit that will run on E85 (ethanol). All models use an automatic transmission of four or six speeds, and the majority are available with rear- or four-wheel drive. One exception: The FX off-road package is available only with 4WD V8 models.
The F-150 lineup runs the gamut from wash-off vinyl flooring and a two-door Regular Cab to leather-lined premium four-door models with as much rear seat legroom as the front of most luxury sedans: Within those extremes lies something for everyone. Yet even the least-expensive F-150 isn't boring; it leaves room for customization, does the work required and keeps overhead down.
2009 marks the introduction of the Platinum model, a further step up in fancy from the Lariat or King Ranch choices and bringing the total variety count to seven. Although that makes the total number of builds and choices mind-boggling, believe it or not it has been simplified.
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 3,030 pounds. A properly equipped Regular Cab F-150 is rated to tow up to 11,300 pounds; other models max out in the 9000-pound range. (The 2009 Ford Super Duty range of heavy-duty pickups is covered in a separate New Car Test Drive review.).
The 2009 Ford F-150 comes in 67 configurations so it's easier to define which setups you can not get: No two-wheel-drive FX4 trim level, no luxury trim Regular Cab, no short-bed Regular Cab, and no long-bed SuperCrew. Everything else is split amongst five wheelbases, three cab sizes, three bed lengths (one of which is available in two styles), three engines, seven trim levels, and rear- or four-wheel drive.
Regular Cabs are offered in standard bed (about 6.6 feet) and long bed (8 feet) XL, STX, or XLT grades; the standard bed is also available in a Flareside style that harkens back to original pickup trucks where there was a side step ahead of the rear wheels. SuperCab trucks add higher FX4 and Lariat trim levels, and a 5.6-foot short-bed option on all but XL models. The Flareside bed can not be combined with XL or Lariat SuperCabs. A long-bed SuperCab is available only with the heavy-duty 5.4-liter package. SuperCrew F-150, which are all short or standard bed, drops the STX grade and adds King Ranch and Platinum derivatives.
The standard driveline is a 248-hp 4.6-liter V8 and four-speed automatic transmission; EPA ratings run 14/19 mpg City/Highway. Most higher-line trucks come with a three-valve-per-cylinder version of the 4.6-liter rated at 292 hp and a six-speed automatic transmission that gets slightly better mileage by one-half to one mpg. This package is used for the high-mileage SFE model, a 2WD rated at 15/21.
A 5.4-liter flex-fuel V8 is the largest offered and comes with the six-speed automatic. It is rated at 310 hp and 365 lb-ft on gasoline (EPA 14/20 mpg) and 320 hp and 390 lb-ft on E85 with mileage dropped to 10/14 mpg. In total, four axle ratios are offered to maximize work and efficiency, a locking rear differential is available on FX4, and 4WD may be electric or lever shift. Since it frequently adds other upgrades and a more powerful engine, 4WD adds about $4,000 to the most basic F-150 and $3,000 to the higher-trim trucks.
The base XL is for the fleet or first-time buyer where budget's a priority. The base F-150 XL ($21,095) is a standard bed, Regular Cab two-wheel drive. It comes with 17-inch steel wheels, black bumper/grille/mirrors, and vinyl upholstery and floor covering. On the plus side XL does include air conditioning, a V8, four-speed automatic, split front bench (and rear on four-door cabs), locking tailgate, tilt steering wheel, stability control, capless fuel filler and a stereo radio. Options are primarily mechanical or minor convenience upgrades.
STX (from $23,895) models add body-color bumpers over a black grille, CD player, and cloth seats with driver lumbar, More equipment is available, including 18-inch wheels, Sirius radio, SYNC, cruise control, fog lamps and power mirrors.
The top-selling model has traditionally been the XLT (from $25,065) which adds chrome for bumpers and trim, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, automatic headlamps, carpeting, cruise control, power windows and locks, better cloth upholstery and on longer cabs the 3-valve 4.6-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission. All manner of options are available on the XLT, including three sizes of wheels, tailgate step, cargo management and towing equipment.
For off-road enthusiasts the FX4 (from $33,630) returns to a black grille with body-colored bumpers, trim and mirrors. Electric-shift 4WD is standard, as are fog lamps, a locking differential, towing package, 18-inch wheels, sporty cloth split bench seat (power driver on four-doors), Sirius radio, and the 5.4-liter V8/six-speed auto powertrain. Options include infotainment and 17-inch (for more severe off-road use) or 20-inch wheels (if the ski lodge driveway is your four wheeling). With a mesh chrome grille leading the way the Lariat (from $32,185) is the mainstream luxury F-150 and hence is four-door only. Chrome trim and bumpers highlight monotone paint, and the Lariat adds heated mirrors with signal repeaters and auto-dimming on the driver's and inside, dual-zone climate control, heated power leather seats with driver memory, leather wheel with redundant audio controls, tow package, SYNC, trip computer, and power adjustable pedals. Options include 20-inch wheels, heated/cooled front seats, Sony sound and navigation, trailer brake controller, rear camera and park sensors, and moonroof.
The King Ranch (from $38,840) is like a Lariat with a different attitude. It adds two-tone paint and KR badges, unique wheels, mesh chrome grille, Chaparral leather heated/cooled power captains chairs with driver memory, running boards, and power folding, heated, signal outside mirrors with chrome caps. Options are essentially limited to a limited-slip differential, alternative axle ratios, 20-inch wheels, Sony sound and navigation systems, moonroof, chrome tube running boards and remote start.
At the top of the 2009 range is the Platinum SuperCrew ($40,440-$43,885). This gets a unique satin chrome front grille and the only one not styled as three sections, body-color bumpers and wheel lip moldings, 20-inch wheels, power-deploy/retract running boards, satin chrome tailgate trim, tuxedo-stitched leather power captains chairs, wood grain and brushed aluminum trim, rain-sensing wipers, power fold/heated mirrors, and unique console. Options are limited but you can get 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tires for luxury on the farm.
Ford's SVT division is planning to offer a Raptor version of the 2009 F-150 intended for serious off-road use. It will start with the 310-hp 5.4-liter V8 and later get a high-performance engine option, but it is the long-travel high-performance suspension, wheels and tires that set it apart. The only factory pickups that are remotely near the high-speed off-road ability of the Raptor are Dodge's Power Wagon and the Tundra Rock Warrior.
The option list has been simplified this year but still resembles tax code to the uninitiated; there are, for example, three codes for a sliding rear window and five for trailer towing mirrors. Most options are dependent on the model and other options, some standard on more expensive models, and listed below by price range. Packages like Decor and Luxury are not listed and, again, vary by model and range from $115 to $3420, with the SFE package up to about $1100.
Mechanical options include (but are not limited to) an upgrade to the 3-valve 4.6 engine for $895 or the 5.4-liter ($630-$1525), alternate axle ratios ($50), limited-slip differential ($300), larger tires and upgraded wheels ($195-$995), electric-shift 4WD ($160), skid plates ($160), towing mirrors ($140-$235), snow plow prep ($225), trailer brake controller ($230), 35-gallon long-bed fuel tank ($95), tailgate step ($350), heavy-duty payload package ($1200) and Ford Works systems like an in-dash computer ($1195). An engine block heater is available to fleet buyers and standard on Alaska and northern plain-state trucks.
Cosmetic and other upgrades include captain's chairs bucket seats with center console ($300-$695, $895-$1250 in leather), power sliding rear window ($250), rear-view camera ($450), reverse parking sensors ($245), dual-coat or two-tone paint ($250), moonroof ($995), Sirius radio ($195), sound systems ($300-435), remote start ($345), and navigation ($2430). A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is conspicuous by its absence.
Safety features that come standard include antilock brakes, stability control (AdvanceTrac RSC) with trailer sway control, frontal airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. Safety-related options include an integrated trailer brake controller, rear-view camera, and reverse park sensors.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) and can change at any time without notice.
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 2009 Ford F-150 shows the evolution of 70 years of function by massaging the look of the previous generation.
Angular lines mean it's easier to clean, easier to park (everything is relative at 20 feet), and gives maximum inside volume for outside space. Some bulge to the hood and large grille openings imply power, as does the higher altitude of 4WD models; many models have big graphics to ensure everyone knows what it is. The F-150 is easily recognized in any trim level by the circular front lights within a rectangular housing, stepped front window ledge, and the tall bed. It's hip to be square.
The front 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. The view rearward can be aided by extendable towing mirrors, a rear camera and for heavy mist mornings a power sliding rear window. We found the available towing mirrors work very well.
Pillars between the doors (called B-pillars) and the rear hand-hold on the pillar may yield an awkward blind spot for some drivers, but everyone should appreciate the windshield pillars (called A-pillars) shaped 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, when the box walls were between the wheels and you could stand on the sides for loading. Ironically, the Flareside is more stylish than the Styleside bed. The standard Styleside bed is essentially a box with some character lines in the sheetmetal. It offers more space within than does the Flareside bed.
With all beds you can get a locking tailgate and tie-down points. On many models you also get a bed extender and tailgate step (rated 300 pounds); the tailgate step makes stepping into the bed but it makes the tailgate feel heavier than some petite drivers will want to open or close. Some models offer a box side step rated at 500 pounds; a pop-out, under-bed step behind the cab but we needed considerable effort to return it and wonder how it will work after grounding on a rocky trail, mud or snow thrown at it, or in freezing weather. Long bed models may be equipped with a Midbox enclosed storage space at the leading edge of the bed for 26 cubic feet of locked storage area, a great feature for stowing towing equipment and other gear. Refueling is done with Ford's capless filler system so you will never lose another gas cap.
Every 2009 F-150 except the Platinum has a horizontal three-bar aspect to the grille and the tailgate styling; the larger grille, stacked headlights and more heavily contoured hood all add to the imposing size, though it isn't as imposing as Dodge's forward-leaning grille setup. On higher-level models the chrome is considerable, and extends to the front tow loops on 4WD.
Apart from styling changes the two biggest changes for 2009 are the elimination of the reverse-opening rear access doors on the Regular Cab and a significantly longer SuperCrew that doesn't look that much bigger unless parked next to an earlier model.
The FX4 model has plenty of decals and real truck tires if you choose the 17-inch off-road tire option. The chassis on 4WD models doesn't have anything mounted much lower than the frame rails, but if you intend to use four-wheel drive for anything more than snow or muddy roads the skid plate package should be considered.
Ford has all bases covered inside the F-150, with plenty of patterns, textures and finishes, including multiple gauge cluster designs, 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 middle passenger should be of a smaller size for both knee clearance and the narrow space between seat and belt brackets.
Mindful that you can't have everything for $21,000, 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. Fleet drivers will appreciate that air conditioning is standard and the truck is quieter and smoother, in part due to a standard V8 where Dodge, GM, and Toyota use a V6.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Platinum is like a Lincoln Navigator with a bed. The King Ranch chairs may look like a fine saddle (and require the same maintenance in some climes), but you'll 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 seven colors and surface textures on a rear door alone might be one or two too many. The speaker grilles on high-line models that look like metal really are (with the three horizontal bar theme molded in), and in some cases the trim is real brushed aluminum. The wood is faux, perhaps to save trees.
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. The seat bottoms may be lacking in thigh support for longer-legged drivers, and the headrests are aggressively tilted forward and may wear on neck muscles unless you have the seatback fairly reclined.
Front seat room is about what it was before but decreased hip room. However, the rear seats are as good (SuperCab) or better than before, the SuperCrew adding hiproom, headroom, and nearly four inches of rear legroom. It's a vast, spacious area for the three seats with a flat floor all the way across and full roll-down windows. On the down side, it could take a while to cool off in hot conditions, we were surprised to find no factory DVD rear entertainment available, and the floor mats cover only a third of the carpet by our tape measure.
The rear seat cushions lift up to stow vertically, with four grocery bag hooks on the underside of the wider driver-side seat and, if equipped, the subwoofer for the Sony sound system under the right rear seat; rear cabin storage seats-up amounts to nearly 58 cubic feet. With captain's chairs up front there are vents in the back of the center console. There are three tethers and two anchor sets for baby seats, outboard rear headrests rise enough to protect tall passengers, but there is no center rear headrest.
We sampled a couple of Lariats, one with buckets and white-stitched black leather, the other a 40/20/40 bench in tan leather; the lighter color interior looked richer, but also busier since it had dual colors for the dashboard where the black truck didn't. Either seat is comfortable, the advantage of the bucket being goodies like heating/cooling on higher trim models. Most of the touch points on Lariat felt good, with a sort of rubberized texture to the door armrests, but there is still plenty of hard plastic in pillar covers and lower doors to ease cleaning.
The cloth upholstery in the STX feels comfortable and durable; in temperature extremes we'd prefer it to the leather on the Lariat. Apart from seat coverings and the steering wheel, the STX doesn't feel overly budget conscious.
All models use the same basic dash layout, with tachometer to left (no marked redline), speedometer to right, and oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel and transmission fluid temperature lined up between. On lower-level models the gauges are more traditional white-on-black and on higher-lines, silver faces with dark numbers that light up green and are often easier to read at night than in daylight. The ancillary gauges are quite lethargic so you need to heed warning lights even if a gauge doesn't quite agree.
Trucks with the Sony navigation/audio system have arguably simpler controls than those without it by virtue of the voice command, logical operation and system integration. Trucks without that option aren't bad, but even on the second-lowest-level STX we counted more than 40 white-on-black buttons on the center panel which could require some familiarization. Window switches are all lift-to-close but the power door lock bar is horizontal so if Rover puts his paw on the right part of the switch you can be locked out.
Bench seat models use a column-mounted shift lever, while most bucket seat models use a bigger console shift lever, both with a Tow/Haul mode. Although most trucks are six-speed automatics the shifter offers only D321 positions so you can't always pick the gear you want for towing or inclines. Liberal chrome on the console can produce some distracting glare.
Headlights and pedal adjustment are to the left, four-wheel drive and the integrated trailer brake controller are to the right. Four round omni-directional vents ensure airflow where you want it, front seatbelt anchors are height-adjustable, and our only ergonomic complaint was the lack of a sun visor that covered the length of the side glass.
The Sony navigation/sound system and Ford's SYNC system bring infotainment to a new level, integrating Bluetooth-enabled devices, 911 Assist, Vehicle Health report, Sirius travel link with real-time traffic, weather, 4500 movie theater listings and show times and 120 gas stations with fuel prices. Power points, a USB port and MP3 input jack are in the lower center dash. The Sony 700-watt 5.1 channel sound system provides very good sonic quality, even if the impact didn't feel like 700 watts. It has the usual assortment of graphics nonsense like the oxymoronic-titled audio visualizer, which we could live without.
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 room and regular back doors will be welcome, with as many as 30 different places to put things.
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.
What stands out most driving the 2009 F-150 is the new verve from the two extra gears in the transmission and that it feels quieter and smoother than its predecessor, which was already good by pickup standards and Ford attributes to ongoing refinement and the Quiet Steel laminate used in some body panels. Ford notes the F-150 Platinum as quieter inside than a Lexus LX450 at highway speeds and to our ears this is accurate. Granted, the LX450 was last produced 11 years ago and was a genuine four-wheel drive with solid axles at both ends; we believe the current LX570 to be a smoother, quieter and more expensive ride than an F-150 Platinum.
The two-valve, 248-hp 4.6-liter V8 is standard and able to tow a ski boat, utility trailer, small toy box, or a couple of tons of dirt. (Ford dropped the V6 engine for 2009.)
The primary reason to upgrade to the three-valve 4.6-liter (from the two-valve 4.6-liter) is because you get more of everything: Despite an extra 44 horsepower and 26 lb-ft of torque it has equal or better EPA fuel economy ratings than the two-valve engine because it comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. This makes the engine work less to accelerate and run slower at highway speeds; 70 mph at 2000 rpm with middling axle ratios.
The 5.4-liter V8 remains the top engine. Its power output is often erroneously reported as 320 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque; those ratings apply to E85 use where EPA Combined rating is 12 mpg. On gasoline, the 5.4-liter makes 310 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque and an EPA Combined rating of 16 mpg. Of all half-ton pickups Ford's 5.4-liter is the least powerful of the upgrade engines, slightly trailing the Nissan Titan and way behind the Dodge Hemi, GM 6-liter or 6.2-liter, and Toyota's 381-hp 5.7-liter. Only a GM with a four-speed automatic might be slower, so if you want a truly fast F-150 you'll have to consider aftermarket upgrades.
Both the four- and six-speed automatics work smoothly, anxious to get into that fuel-saving top gear as soon as possible; engaging Tow/Haul mode will stretch out the shift points and not require a carpet-flattening mash of the pedal to affect a downshift. On long descents or climbs where you might prefer to use fifth-gear instead of sixth you don't get the choice because the shifter offers just D321 positions; other half-ton pickups are superior in this respect.
Although similar to last year's architecture, the 2009 F-150 has a fully boxed frame so it is 10-percent more resistant to twist and one hundred pounds lighter. The front suspension has been upgraded to a dual ball-joint design pioneered and still used by BMW and found on the Expedition sport-utility, while the rear suspension continues with long leafs and outboard shocks.
The sheer mass of the F-150 combines with that architecture to deliver a very good ride (by pickup standards) and quiet composure. Sure, it will skip on bumpy corners and move around over dry wash scrabble at speed but it doesn't get upset or noisy. The steering is nicely weighted and requires little correction because of good directional stability. Longer wheelbases will still bob or pogo-stick on some expansion joints and expressway surfaces but it never becomes fatiguing.
Brakes get the job done with their ultimate performance based as much on tire choice and weight in the bed as anything else. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard across the board. The FX4 offers a locking differential option for the best traction, and in many cases the suspension tuning on an FX4 produces the best ride quality over marginal roads and city potholes.
Some of the factors that aid visibility also hinder it. The tall stance of a pickup is good for more distant views but hides things behind the tall tailgate and this is a wide piece of equipment. Extendable towing mirrors include a flat upper element and separately adjustable wide-angle element for a superb view rearward and safe towing but they are big and will be easily smacked off if you forget about them. (One tester smacked a passenger-side mirror into another truck mirror at 40 mph with no visible damage, so the towing mirrors are quite durable.)
The rearview camera is good for the view behind the tall tailgate and on the navigation screen has colored lines to indicate the width of the truck and centerline for hitching a trailer; however, this display is not predictive and does not move the colored lines with the steering wheel so it applies only in straight reversing. Rear park sensors also aid maneuvering in tight quarters, raising the frequency of audible beeps as you move closer. You'll want to turn that off when backing up to a trailer or in other situations, but that involves going through a couple of menus on the information screen, more tedious than the simple defeat buttons used by Toyota and others.
The payload rating for the F-150 models varies from about 1,340 pounds to just over 3,000, but that includes occupants other than the driver. A construction crew of four 200-pounders in a SuperCrew might have just 700 pounds of rated capacity left for tools and materials. The highest gross combined rating (truck, trailer, cargo, passengers) for any 2009 F-150 is 17,100 pounds and these pickups are among the heaviest half-tons.
Maximum tow ratings for most F-150 models range from 11,000-11,300 pounds with the 5.4-liter V-8 and 3.73:1 axle ratio that might not available in the trim or in combination with the wheels you want. These are the highest tow ratings of any half-ton, though we tend to prefer staying below 9000 pounds as a maximum comfortable trailer weight for light-duty pickups.
The integrated trailer brake controller option (introduced on the Super Duty) is the ideal choice for smooth braking, but only with conventional electric drum trailer brakes; as with the majority of these systems the integrated controller is not certified for electro-hydraulic brakes. As mentioned, the available rear camera helps when hitching up a trailer.
The all-new Ford F-150 delivers a strong combination of style, interior comfort, performance, ride and hauling ability. With multiple choices in trim, drivetrains and body styles, there's an F-150 for every type of pickup owner.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles after his test drive of several 2009 F-150 models.
Ford F-150 XL Regular Cab 2WD standard bed ($21,095); STX SuperCab 4WD Flareside ($27,245); XLT SuperCab 2WD long bed ($28,785); FX4 SuperCab standard bed ($33,930) Lariat SuperCrew 2WD standard bed ($35,145); King Ranch SuperCrew 4WD short bed ($41,985); Platinum SuperCrew 4WD standard bed ($43,885).
Kansas City, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan.
Options As Tested
limited-slip rear differential ($300); Sony navigation radio ($2,430); power sliding rear window ($250); Lariat Plus package ($795); trailer brake controller ($230).
Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat 4x2 short bed ($34,845).
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