2009 Ford F-150 Platinum 4x4 – Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

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