Preview: 2004 Ford F-150
A critical new truck at an even more critical juncture.
by Marty Padgett/TheCarConnection 1/9/2003
The best-selling vehicle in the United States isnít a car Ė itís a truck. Fordís F-150 range of trucks has sold more than 26 million copies in its lifetime, and for the past five years itís found its way into more than 800,000 households. As such itís become a critical profit producer for Ford, especially so as Ford tries to recover from a profit slump.
Understandably, the challenge with the new 2004 F-150 is to keep whatever mojo has fueled sales thus far, while meeting the seriously good Ram and Silverado/Sierra Ė not to mention the new Nissan Titan Ė head-on in terms of strength, security and capability. Fordís doing it with a new design that emphasizes crisper styling, a much more rigid frame, and an updated 5.4-liter V-8.
The powertrains include an updated 231-hp 4.6-liter V-8 and a more thoroughly reworked 5.4-liter V-8 with three valves per cylinder and 300 hp. The 5.4-liter engine also gains variable cam timing, Fordís first use of the technology in a truck. Both are mated to upgraded versions of Fordís current four-speed automatic transmissions.
A partially hydroformed frame results in a truck thatís nine times more rigid than the outgoing model, which along with suspension improvements should produce much better handling, Ford promises. Suspensions are double-wishbone independent in front, Hotchkiss axle with wider leaf springs in the rear. Four-wheel drive is of course an option across the lineup, with either manual or electronic shift on the fly capability. Rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all F-150s, as are anti-lock braking and electronic brake-force distribution.
The most recognizable change is in the F-150ís styling. When the last generation made its debut in 1997, its softer, sculptural shape broke dramatic new ground in truck styling. As successful as it was, Ford clearly wants to convey a more rugged image with the new truck. The lines of the 2004 F-150 echo the shape of the Ford F-350 Tonka concept from last yearís Detroit auto show; theyíre more crisp and tend to accentuate instead of diminishing the truckís size. Hallmarks of the design are a wider track (by 1.5 inches), bigger tire and wheel combinations, and a more upright cabin with less side curvature than before.
The bewildering array of F-150 variations starts with the number of cabs. Ford offers three cabs in the í04 full-size truck, and each of them is a four-door. The base Regular Cab has a single row of seats and a rear-hinged pair of doors that allows access to a foot-deep storage area. The SuperCab model has more space and a second row of seats in the same door configuration. The SuperCrew model has two rows of seats too, but four full, front-hinged doors. On the Regular Cab and SuperCab models, the cabins are six inches longer, granting much more interior room than in the previous generation truck.
With the choice of cabs comes the choice of three box lengths and two box styles. The plainer Styleside and Flareside box shapes can be ordered with beds that are 8 feet, 6.5 feet or 5.5 feet long. Availability on trim levels varies, but the 6.5-foot box features a steel liner and composite fenders that reduce weight. All bed styles have Tailgate Assist, a feature that Ford says helps reduce opening and closing efforts.
Fordís decision to sculpt five distinct interiors for the F-150 hasnít pleased analysts intent on seeing big profits from the F-150. From pre-production models shown to the press, however, the effect is dramatic. A common architecture with different trims gives Ford the ability to create custom looks that in some versions, appears as rich as those in a Volkswagen. One features satin-metal trim rings on the vents, another chrome-look trim rings on the gauges. A floor-mounted shifter is incorporated on some models, too, a first in a Ford truck. All incorporate dual front airbags, LATCH child-seat mounting points and three-point belts for outboard seating positions (and in the center position on upmarket versions).
The interiors arenít the extent of the differentiation Ė in another potentially expensive but wise move, Ford has split the F-150 into five distinct trim levels that it hopes will cover the ever-fragmenting truck market and appeal to any full-size truck shopper who wanders by a showroom. The F-150 XL is the classic work truck, with Regular and SuperCab configurations and standard 17-inch wheels and tilt steering. The STX adds cast aluminum wheels to the base equipment, and comes with a wider choice of bed lengths and styles, as well as a choice of high-powered audio systems with a six-CD changer. The XLT will be Fordís versatility player for work and play; it will be available in all cab and bed configurations, and will come with two-tone paint, optional captainís-chair seats and second-row power windows on SuperCab and SuperCrew models. The sporty FX4 if an off-road specialist, and comes in all cab configurations and a choice of 6.5-foot Styleside, 6.5-foot Flareside or 5.5-foot Styleside boxes and steel accent trim inside. The Lariat is the most upscale version, with leather captainís chairs or a split leather bench, woodgrain trim and steering-wheel controls for the audio system and climate control.
Ford will implement a new flexible-manufacturing system at its Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich., when it begins building the F-150 there in 2004. The system will also make its way to the F-150 plant in Norfolk, Va., in 2004.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....