2004 Ford F-150
Styling, in and out
Could use more power
In racing, they say it’s harder to lead than to follow. Ford’s F-150 must have cracked the code for sheer domination because for 22 years it has been our nation’s top-selling vehicle.
For most of this battle it was only a three-workhorse race between Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet. But then came along Toyota in 1999 with the Tundra, and this year Nissan introduced the Titan. With Honda’s truck entry looming on the horizon, any slip-up by the F-150 could see its reign atop the sales chart screech to a halt.
To find out what makes this truck a perennial best-seller, we thrust the Lariat 4x2 SuperCrew with the top-range 5.4-liter sohc V8 into our AutoFile test gauntlet. It pumps out 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, up from the old truck’s 260 hp and 350 lb-ft. In this race, though, that is only enough to trounce the Tundra’s 240 hp and 315 lb-ft.
We clocked a respectable 8.44-second 0-to-60-mph time, which easily outpaces the 9.7-second run posted by the Dodge Ram 1500 (AW, Oct. 28, 2002). But that was with the 4.7-liter V8. Factor in the 345-hp, 370-lb-ft Hemi engine and those numbers should be bettered.
Handling, as well, is just enough for the F-150 to keep pace. It ran through the pylons at 40.3 mph and laid down 0.73 g on the skidpad (the Ram did 42.0 mph and 0.76 g). Stopping from 60 mph took 132 feet, beating the Ram’s 134 feet and equaling the nearly 1500-pound-lighter Lexus RX 330 (AW, Feb. 2). Not bad for a two-and-a-half-ton machine.
That mass did contribute to the most frequent owner complaint: thirstier-than-advertised gas mileage. We confirmed this allegation, averaging 13.71 mpg in mixed driving compared with the EPA estimates of 15 city and 19 highway.
Thus far no slip-ups, but no definitive signs, either. So why all the Truck of the Year fuss? As usual, numbers rarely tell the whole story.
From the first photos to our initial acquaintance face-to-face, we instantly recognized this truck was a winner. One owner boasted, “In agricultural country it’s treated like the new Mini I had in Boston. Every time I stop, someone comes up and admires my new truck and asks me all about it.” We got the same reaction, with one staffer recounting, “I got stopped twice by anxious truck guys who had to look it over like it was a Ferrari.”
“Then you open the door and, Wow!” described another owner. Wow, indeed. Gone are those uninspired, cheap-looking plastics in favor of a roomier, elegantly styled environment fit for a sports car. Owners echoed our praise for the F-150’s classy interior and also applauded the huge leap forward in quality over not just the last F-150, but Ford products as a whole.
On the road, the F-150 is nimble and negotiates its weight with athletic precision due mostly to the car-inspired double-wishbone, coil-on-shock front suspension (a truck first). The powertrain is smooth in its delivery, and the cabin is so isolated it could easily be called a luxury ride. As one staffer said, “You wind up going 75 or 80 without even realizing it.”
Even under testing conditions, the four-speed automatic was direct and quiet with no hesitation during full-throttle shifts. The sublime driving experience had one owner forgetting there was a bed in back. However, with a fully equipped towing capacity of 8500 pounds, its rugged—if vastly more refined—character is still intact.
We found most respondents to our AutoFile survey didn’t just buy the new F-150 out of loyalty. Almost every owner revealed they first tested the Ram, Silverado and Tundra and researched the Titan before signing on the dotted line. It was the F-150’s overall package that swayed their hearts and their wallets.
And if those enthusiastic new owners are anything to go by, we should see the best-seller streak grow to 23 years.
The F-150 has striking good looks and a premium interior that would look at home in a sports sedan. It drives with an athletic prowess and is solid, comfortable and quiet. It was our main choice because we also like to go off-road at most any opportunity. With the F-150, we didn't have to compromise on or off the pavement.
Bill Davis, Paris, Ky.
I've always liked Chevrolets, but I'm not impressed with that new design. Without a doubt, the new F-150 is one of the best-looking trucks available. Everyone I meet can't stop looking at it and wants to know all about it. The cavernous interior is light-years ahead of other trucks in terms of luxury and refinement. The tall bed imposes on rear visibility, but it's easy to get used to and allows for more payload capacity. The lack of power and poor gas mileage are the F-150's only drawbacks.
Paul Marshalek, Naperville, Ill.
I looked at the Toyota Tundra and Dodge Ram, but the F-150 made a better work truck. The Tundra is too small and expensive, while the Ram is cheap in spots and not as reliable. All the necessary safety and utility features came standard on the F-150 and I was able to negotiate a really good price. For the money I could not have found a better deal. The truck handles and brakes well, and the bed will carry just about anything.
Jim Hayes, Fallbrook, Calif.
I looked at Toyota, Chevrolet and Dodge, but they could not offer the solid overall package found in the Ford. This is one of the best vehicles I have ever bought. The 4.6-liter V8 suffers from a major lack of power, but the truck looks and feels like a car from the inside. Other than wishing for the 5.4-liter, my only major complaint is with the shoddy customer service I get at my dealer-the same experience I used to get from Chevrolet. Aside from dealer service, Ford has finally made a product that can compete with the imports.
Mike Jeske, Tomball, Texas
Ford Motor Co.
The American Road
Dearborn MI 48126
Customer assistance: (800) 392-3673
Internet address: www.fordvehicles.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 4000 (est.)
Base (includes $795 delivery): $32,910
As tested: $36,175
Owners paid; average:
$21,734 to $40,185; $29,640
OPTIONS AS TESTED
Rear-seat entertainment ($1,295); leather
captain's seats ($595); tow package, with
heavy-duty battery, hitch platform, transmis-
sion oil cooler, heavy-duty radiator and trailer
harness ($350); 3.55 limited-slip axle ($285);
platform running boards ($250); power rear
window ($245); reverse sensing system ($245)
OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Moonroof ($810); deluxe heated-seat package,
with power-adjustable pedals, dual power seats
and heated seats with driver-side memory
($645); tubular running boards ($350); six-disc
CD changer ($295); audiophile stereo system
($250); two-tone paint ($250); truck bed
extender ($150); 3.73 rear axle ($50)
Body-on-frame four-door truck
Wheelbase (in): 138.5
Track (in): 67.0 front, 67.0 rear
Length/width/height (in): 224.0/78.9/73.1
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 5305/7050
Fuel (gal): 30.0
Cargo (cu ft): 55.5
Towing (lbs): 8500
Front-longitudinal 5.4-liter/330-cid sohc V8
Horsepower: 300 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 365 @ 3750 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Fuel requirement: 87 octane
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Final drive ratio: 3.55:1
Front: Double wishbone with coil springs,
gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Hotchkiss-type non-independent live
leaf springs, outboard gas-charged shock
absorbers, antiroll bar
Discs front and rear, ABS, aluminum
265/60R-18 BFGoodrich Radial Long Trail T/A
0-60 mph: 8.44 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 8.91 sec
0-quarter-mile: 16.22 sec @ 85.3 mph
20-40 mph (first gear): 2.9 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 5.0 sec
60-80 mph (second and third gear): 6.1 sec
60 mph-0: 132 ft
490-foot slalom: 40.3 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.73 g
INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Full throttle: 73
Steady 60 mph: 65
EPA combined: 16.80 mpg
AW overall: 13.71 mpg
$18,016 after 36-month lease,
49.8 percent of new vehicle price
RUNNING COSTS COMPARISON*
Ford F-150: $84.66