The Ford F-150 Lariat model -- the top of the line of this Best in Class winner -- has an instrument cluster that would look appropriate in a luxury sedan.
By John McCormick / Autos Insider
Who would have thought America's modern workhorse, the pickup truck, would ever boast a better interior than many a car sold today? Well, the day has arrived and the truck in question is Ford's F-150, new for 2004.
Step inside this Ford pickup -- the world's best-selling vehicle for two decades -- and the transformation is obvious. Echoing the trend toward civilized truck interiors, Ford has raised the bar higher than ever before with the latest F-150.
Sure, the Ford is still a rough, tough workman-like truck on the outside -- even more so than the 2003 model -- but inside you'd scarcely recognize it from its functional but plain predecessor.
Credit the single-minded focus of Ford design chief J. Mays on radically better interiors for all the company's vehicles. Simply put, if Audi -- for several years the acknowledged world leader in interior design -- were to produce a pickup, the cabin might look like the Ford's; it's that good.
Inside, the best-dressed F-150 is the range-topping Lariat, but the benefits of the interior makeover are evident even in the base XL model, albeit in far less dramatic fashion.
How can the Ford be better?
So what makes the F-150 best in class in a field that includes such heavyweight competition? How about an instrument cluster that would not look out of place in a luxury sedan? At night the graphics on the cream colored gauges are lit in green with red pointers and chrome gauge rings. It's a spectacular sight.
The Lariat backs up the cluster with a stylish center console that uses broad vertical bands of imitation woodgrain and metal trim as an effective design theme. The same combination of materials, together with attractively grained plastic trim, is used on the doors. Add details like sophisticated looking radio and climate controls and chrome door handles, and the overall effect is standard setting for a truck. While the XL lacks the wood and metal trim it still receives a two-tone color scheme that helps to break up the wall-to-wall plastic appearance that has plagued older pickups.
Another winning feature is an overhead rail system, which allows individual modules, from storage bins, to first aid kits, to a rear DVD screen, to be snapped in place.
There are some chinks in the F-150's armor: The chunky front seats, while very comfortable, do eat into the legroom for rear passengers in the SuperCab model. The center stack cupholder deploys reluctantly, panel gaps are inconsistent and I've seen classier looking examples of fake woodgrain trim.
This is not a runaway victory for the Ford. The competitors outpoint the F-150 in certain areas and the Titan and Ram are nipping at the Ford's heels. Overall, however, the prize has to go to the F-150, not for any single feature, but because it puts together an interior package that both looks and functions better than the rest.