Ford Rolls Out Extensively Redesigned 2004
—Reported by Joe Wiesenfelder, cars.com;
Images by Casey Spring for cars.com
2004 Ford F-150 FX4
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. today unveiled the anticipated 2004 redesign of its bread and butter, the Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck, which has been the best-selling full-size pickup for 26 years and the best-selling vehicle of any style for more than 20 years. “Top to bottom, this is all brand-new,” said Steve Lyons, president of Ford Division, who introduced production versions of all five trim levels at the North American International Auto Show. “Whether you’re taking tires and wheels all the way to the roofline, there’s nothing left over from the old one.”
Be that as it may, the current version of the F-150 will be built until the middle of 2004, in part to allow a production ramp-up at Ford plants in Norfolk, Va., Kansas City, Mo., and the historic Rouge Center, currently under reconstruction in the automaker’s hometown of Dearborn, Mich. The 2004 model will begin production in June of this year and hit dealer lots by August, Lyons said.
The F-250 and higher F-Series pickups have no significant upgrades scheduled, save for the availability in 2003 models of a next-generation PowerStroke diesel engine, which historically has accounted for roughly three-quarters of Super Duty sales. Lyons did show the future direction of the souped-up F-150 in the form of the SVT Lightning concept from the Special Vehicle Team. (The production Lightning based on the current platform will remain available.)
Improvements appear in virtually every area of the 2004 F-150: design, drivetrain, chassis, interior and cargo accommodations, and safety features. The most significant and welcome improvement may be the quality of the interior design and materials.
The new F-150 has some of the elements Ford showed here last year in the Mighty F-350 Tonka concept, but the production vehicle isn’t nearly as bold as some expected or even hoped. It’s a clear descendant of the current F-150, and its front end recalls the recently redesigned Expedition, with multireflector headlights but an even larger grille. The front of the hood is almost 3 inches higher than the current model’s, which lends a more imposing look but perhaps diminished front visibility for the driver.
A characteristic shown on the Tonka and borrowed from Ford’s Super Duty lineup is the stepped belt line, which rises aft of the side mirrors. Behind that point, the belt line is higher than in the current model, as are the cargo box’s walls, by more than 2 inches. This increases the box volume by as much as 12 percent over the current model, depending on bed length. The increased height would have made the tailgate too heavy. Rather than build it of plastic, Ford incorporated a torsion-bar spring that makes the tailgate easy to open and close. Without the spring, the gate would require 30 pounds of force to swing up; with the assist feature, it requires 18 pounds of force. (Engineers say they could have made it lighter, but some weight is desirable when driving with the tailgate down and/or loaded.) The hidden torsion bar becomes tensioned only as the gate lowers, so the tailgate is removable in the same manner as most pickups.
Regular-cab, SuperCab (extended cab) and SuperCrew (crew cab) body styles are offered. All body styles, even the regular cabs, feature four doors as standard equipment. On the regular cabs and SuperCabs, they’re rearward-swinging access doors, where the SuperCrew’s are full forward-opening doors. As always, SuperCrews come with 5.5-foot cargo beds, and regular cabs and SuperCabs come with 6.5- and 8-foot cargo beds. For the first time, the 2004 SuperCab also will offer a 5.5-foot bed, making it the only F-150 body style to offer three bed lengths. Styleside and Flareside box styles are available on the STX, XLT and FX4 trim levels, depending on the cab style.
The five trim levels remain the same: XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat.
Its two main competitors having been redesigned within the past five years, the 2004 F-150 is playing catch-up, and its structure is the aspect that needed it most. The ladder-style steel frame now uses fully boxed rails where the current models’ are C-shaped in cross section. With this and other engineering improvements, engineers say, the frame improves roughly 900 percent in torsional rigidity and 50 percent in bending stiffness over the current model. Additionally, the body is 100 percent more rigid.
Ford replaced the recirculating-ball steering with a rack-and-pinion system that should be lighter and more precise. Though 4x4 versions of the current truck employ torsion bars in their front suspension, all new models have coil-spring, double-wishbone front suspensions with cast-aluminum lower control arms. The coil-over shock absorbers are now closer to the wheels. Engineers made the same change in the rear suspension, where the relocation is more dramatic. Formerly located midway between either wheel and the rear axle’s differential, the shocks are now outboard of the frame rails. This geometry improves body-roll damping without simultaneously increasing vertical damping, which would stiffen the ride quality.
Sway control is further improved by rear leaf springs that are about 20 percent wider than those on the current model, at 3 inches wide. The F-150’s track — the distance between the left and right wheels — has increased by more than 1.5 inches, front and rear, and the standard wheels and tires are now larger as well.
All F-150s feature standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-wheel ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. The front twin-piston and rear single-piston calipers are larger and 60 percent stiffer. The front brake rotors have grown 7 percent in diameter to 13 inches, and the rear discs are a fraction of an inch larger at 13.7 inches. Ford says stopping distances on loose surfaces are down 13 percent.
The 4.6-liter Triton V-8 that currently serves as the midlevel engine is now the standard base engine, offering 231 horsepower and 293 pounds-feet of torque. The upgrade engine is an “all-new” version of the 5.4-liter Triton V-8. The aluminum heads now feature three rather than two valves per cylinder (two intake, one exhaust) and 50 degrees of phasing on the overhead intake and exhaust camshafts. The result is an increase from 260 hp and 350 pounds-feet of torque to 300 hp at 5,000 rpm and 365 pounds-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm. A “by-wire” throttle is claimed to provide consistent acceleration regardless of gear, load and altitude, and it automatically enables a more gradual throttle progression when a 4x4 version’s transfer case is switched to low gear, for finer control.
According to Ford’s power and torque curves, the new 5.4-liter’s power is comparable to the earlier version up to roughly 2,750 rpm, where it shoots up and continues to increase steadily compared to the older power plant. More important, the new block’s torque output is greater at low rpm and its curve more broad across the rpm range, where the previous model’s was peaky at 2,500 rpm. The new Triton achieves 80 percent of its peak torque at 1,000 rpm.
The improvements come from a host of changes seemingly in all parts of the engine, but the additional valves and continuously variable valve timing are among the most significant in terms of power, efficiency and emissions. (Though the fuel economy figures for the vehicle itself are not yet available, engineers say the 5.4-liter itself is 5 percent more efficient, and cleaner, than the earlier version despite its higher output.) Also aiding efficiency are Charge Motion Control Valves in the intake runners. At low engine speeds, these electrically controlled butterfly valves close partially to impart a swirl effect on the intake air/fuel mixture as it enters the combustion chambers, which ensures more complete combustion. At high engine speeds, the valves open fully, allowing a peak airflow of 350 cubic feet per minute to pass through the two intake valves, compared with roughly 250 cubic feet per minute through the older V-8’s single intake valve. The engine draws the intake air through a new air cleaner conveniently mounted atop the engine and featuring an easily removed filter tray.
A manual transmission will no longer be offered when the 2004 F-150 comes to market, which is already causing a stir among F-150 purists. The larger engine mates to a new, 4R75E four-speed-automatic transmission designed to handle the increased torque. The 4.6-liter remains coupled to a version of Ford’s current 4R70E four-speed automatic upgraded with a new torque converter, improved electronic control that limits gear “hunting,” and maintenance-free, lifetime transmission fluid, among other changes.
The four-wheel drive (4WD), as before, is a part-time system with a dual-range transfer case. Manual shift-on-the-fly capability is standard. Dashboard-mounted electronic control is an option.
Interiors Roomier, Classier
Changes in the exterior styling make the cabin wider and front seat roomier, designed to accommodate everyone from a 25th-percentile woman (approximately 4 feet 10 inches tall) to a 99th-percentile male (approximately 6 feet 4 inches tall). Provisions include a standard tilt steering wheel and optional power-adjustable pedals.
The F-150’s developers also added 6 inches to the length of the passenger compartment, a dimension where inches make a huge difference in overall volume. In regular cabs, Ford says, there’s now 13 inches of cargo space behind the seats, so the access doors aren’t just for show. In the SuperCab, the rear seat’s backrest now angles back a more comfortable 21 degrees, up from 18 degrees in the current truck.
Perhaps the most appreciable improvement in the F-150 is its interior design. Ford Motor Co. has made interiors a priority, and the results are already clear on the 2003 Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and Aviator. There’s more of the same here, with the masculine form vocabulary desired in a truck, and improved materials quality. The base XL trim level doesn’t compare to the higher ones, but even it has a two-tone instrument panel. Quality comes from design as well as materials, and elements like the stereo controls are much more pleasing. Gone are the Chiclets-like buttons familiar to today’s Ford owners.
The dashboard’s center control stack is different on F-150s with the 40/20/40-split front bench seat so the center passenger has more legroom. FX4 and Lariat buyers can opt for front captain’s chairs that come with a “flow-through” console and floor-mounted shifter — another feature that has caused an uproar among purists.
In addition to an optional power-sliding rear window, the SuperCab is the first truck in the class to offer power windows in the rear access doors, on the XLT, FX4 and Lariat trim levels.
We’ve often puzzled over vehicles whose overhead consoles have three flip-down sunglass holders. Another innovation in the F-150 promises you’ll have what you need up there, and nothing more: modular overhead components. Standard on the XLT, FX4, and Lariat SuperCab and SuperCrew are a pair of brushed-aluminum rails that run from the windshield to the rear window along the ceiling. A wide variety of modular storage compartments and gizmos snap onto these rails, including a first-aid kit, toolbox, power inverter, flashlights and more. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is also optional, though it requires more involved installation than the basic modules, which tap the rails’ built-in power supply as soon as they’re snapped into place. The rails support three or four modules, maximum, depending on the size of each.
Ford portends excellent crash-test results in government and insurance-industry tests, but until we have those third-party results, we’ll focus on the safety features. The 2004 F-150 includes the Ford Personal Safety System (PSS) seen on other vehicles — with a new, high-tech twist: occupant sensing.
As in other Ford products with PSS, the frontal airbags deploy at one of two intensities based on crash intensity, driver’s safety belt use and seat position. In the F-150, a silicone bladder in the front passenger’s seat actually determines the weight of whatever rests on it. This “occupant classification sensor” deduces that any weight below 75 pounds is either a child too small for an airbag, or an object, and disables the bag. Because a child-safety seat with a well-cinched seat belt may register as more weight than it is, the system is smart enough to detect seat belt tension, a giveaway that the airbag should remain off. Regular-cab F-150s will still include a keyswitch override for the front passenger’s airbag.
Side-impact airbags, which have begun to appear in competing trucks, are not offered on the F-150. Ford claims the cabin structure is designed to provide more-than-adequate side-impact protection.
The backseat, when present, is always the safest for a child, and the center position the safest of the three. For this, Ford supplies three sets of LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) universal lower child-seat anchors in the backseat of SuperCab and SuperCrew models. (Many cars offer LATCH only in the outboard seats.) In regular-cab models, LATCH is on the front passenger seat.
Towing and Payload
Light trucks have casual users and wannabes to thank for the current craze, but that doesn’t explain the F-150’s dominance of this category starting a full 25 years ago. Some pickup buyers really need their trucks to work, and Ford promises not to leave these folks behind, offering maximum tow ratings of 8,300 pounds on properly equipped standard F-150s and 8,800 pounds with the optional Payload Group. Said option package also raises the payload maximum from 2,000 pounds to 2,900 pounds. Four available axle ratios range from 3.31:1 to 4.10:1, with limited-slip differentials available on all but the 3.31:1.
Trim Levels and Features
The full feature and options list will publish closer to the 2004 model’s sale date. For now, here’s the trim level rundown in brief:
XL: The “work truck” of the F-150 lineup, the XL comes as a regular-cab or SuperCab body style with a 40/20/40-split bench front seat upholstered in vinyl or cloth. The standard steel wheels are now 17 inches in diameter. Other new standard features include a two-tone interior, a tilt steering wheel and an LCD screen in the instrument panel.
STX: The sportier STX comes in regular-cab and SuperCab styles and has aluminum wheels and body-colored rather than chrome bumpers. A Flareside box is optional on the regular cab. The SuperCab is eligible for the 5.5-foot box, Styleside only. A six-CD changer and audiophile stereo are optional.
XLT: Considered the family choice, the XLT is available in all cab styles and box lengths, some of which are eligible for the Flareside box. The XLT has two-tone paint, a body-colored grille and standard 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, the XLT gets chrome instrument panel accents and, on 4x4 models, the overhead rail modular console system.
FX4: Available in all cab styles but not with an 8-foot bed, the FX4 is another sporty choice but with an emphasis on offroad use and appearance. It has body-colored bumpers, a black grille with a body-colored surround and 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels. The interior is described as “warm steel” with carbon-mesh accents.
Lariat: This luxury trim level features woodgrain trim, cream-colored gauges and optional heated leather captain’s chairs. Features include automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted stereo and ventilation controls, memory seats and pedals, and more. The Lariat’s grille is silver with a chrome surround.
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My next Ford.....