ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $21,320
DRIVETRAIN: 4.6-liter, 248-hp, 294-lb-ft V8; RWD, four-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 4,743 lb
0-60 MPH: N/A
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 16 mpg
After years of slowly dwindling sales, the Ford F-Series ceded its long-held top spot in May in dramatic fashion. Skyrocketing prices at the pump pushed most new-vehicle buyers into Honda showrooms in search of fuel-sipping Civics, while the F-Series dropped to an unheard-of fifth spot on the list of best-selling vehicles. The environment for truck sales has only continued to crumble beneath its wheels in the months since.
But the F-Series has recouped its king-of-the-mountain status, aided in part by exhausted inventories of smaller, fuel-efficient cars, plateauing fuel prices and generous incentives, but that's little comfort. It is, after all, a much smaller mountain these days, and while projections for 2008 calendar-year sales of the venerable truck put it over the 500,000-unit mark, that's a far cry from the nearly 1 million F-Series trucks that Ford sold at its peak.
Eroding sales also forced Ford to delay the launch of its new-for-2009 F-150. As mounting stocks of the 2008 model clog dealer lots, Ford pushed back to this month what should have been a summer debut for the new truck.
Yet those opting for the 2009 F-Series shouldn't be disappointed. Ford has made a number of significant changes to the truck, making it not only more powerful, less polluting and lighter on fuel but also easier to live with for those who like both their towing and their technology.
For starters, powertrain choices will look largely familiar to most truck buyers, with a trio of eight-cylinder gasoline engines available at launch. Top-line models will have a 5.4-liter, three-valve Triton V8, tuned for the new truck to turn out 320 hp at 5,000 rpm, with 390 lb-ft of torque available at 3,500 rpm. That's up 20 hp and 25 lb-ft over the 2008 model's output, largely attributable to less exhaust back pressure and what Ford calls open valve injection, a strategy that also reduces the engine's emissions. Moreover, Ford has made the 5.4-liter flex-fuel-capable for the first time in the F-Series, meaning that it can run on gasoline or a blend of gasoline and up to 85 percent ethanol.
Replacing the 4.2-liter V6 in entry-level models is a 4.6-liter, two-valve Triton V8, formerly the midrange motor, producing 248 hp at 4,750 rpm and 294 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, eclipsing the six-cylinder's output by 46 hp and 34 lb-ft while returning the same fuel economy, an EPA-estimated 16 mpg.
The new entry in the powertrain lineup shows up in mid-level models: a 4.6-liter, three-valve V8 good for 292 hp at 5,700 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. As with the 5.4-liter, the three-valve 4.6-liter relies on open valve injection, and both three-valve motors use a new, fuel-efficient six-speed automatic in place of the outgoing five-speed transmission. The base 4.6 two-valve V8 sticks with the four-speed unit it paired with in the outgoing model.
Ford says the entire powertrain lineup boasts an average 1-mpg improvement compared with the 2008 F-150, though the real economy boosters--diesel and turbocharged direct-injection EcoBoost gasoline engine offerings--won't make their way underhood until 2010.
Besides power and torque, Ford beefed up all aspects of the F-150 that real truck buyers will care about, starting with a fully boxed frame that the automaker says features 10 percent better torsional rigidity than the outgoing model. The stiffer frame helps to increase towing and payload capacities, which, depending on configuration, can reach upward of 400 pounds more than in the comparable 2008 model. And Ford says that every cab style can now tow at least 11,000 pounds.
In addition, tow-friendly electronics such as Advance-Trac traction control with roll stability control come standard, while trailer-sway control, rearview camera and a factory-installed integrated trailer-brake controller are all available.
These refinements in body structure and electronic controls make a marked difference behind the wheel and in a variety of driving situations. Despite a slight increase in wheel articulation, which gives the F-150 even better off-the-asphalt chops, body roll is controlled and predictable through both long, sustained cornering maneuvers and emergency lane changes. And over choppy surfaces, the truck handles impressively, the back end kicking out minimally over the most aggressive road surfaces, with obnoxious washboards soaked up as well as we've experienced in a truck. We think the truck's ride is its most impressive improvement.
Most surprising, however, was how quiet the cabin remains, how remarkably isolated passengers feel from road noises--especially in new-to-the-family Platinum trim.
The grille immediately sets the Platinum-trim trucks apart from lesser F-150s, with its mesh inserts of satin-finish aluminum. But it's the additional sound-deadening material that keeps out even more noise than with other F-150s. Inside, Platinum trucks get 10-way power captain's chairs dressed in leather, with extra-fancy ash-wood and brushed-aluminum accents, while outside are unique 20-inch standard wheels in a 16-spoke polished design, all for a starting price worthy of its name: $41,415.
Buyers can choose from three cab styles (regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew), four box lengths and seven trim levels (XL, STX, XLT, FX4, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum). The permutations come to 35 different mix-and-match scenarios, and in each, Ford has made better use of the space--from its longer, more user-friendly center console to its 30 storage bins--and has made interfacing with the truck's controls and gauges easier. And Ford continues with the innovations to the truck's bed, too, with a retractable box-side step joining the tailgate step and stowable bed extender.
Then there's the 2009 F-150 SuperCrew. Ford stretched its longest cab an additional six inches, giving rear-seat passengers more legroom and increasing interior cargo capacity. Flipping the second-row seats up against the front seats reveals a flat floor and 57.6 cubic feet of space behind the front seats.
As with much of the Ford lineup, the 2009 F-150 gets the automaker's proprietary Sync system, which allows for voice-controlled access of vehicle communications and entertainment options, even plugged-in MP3 players and mobile telephones. A navigation system is optional, but as with all types of add-ons, you can check too many boxes and watch an otherwise reasonable base price of $21,320 quickly bloat--and who needs another economic stressor right now?
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