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.