"My house, my house - a King Ranch for my house!" With apologies to The Bard, I can think of no other way to summarize my two weeks' worth of basking within the tucks and folds, scents, and sensibilities of Ford's leather-special trucks blazoned with King Ranch badges.
Back-to-back, I test-drove, first, the gargantuan Super Duty F-350 "one-ton" version with six-passenger Crew Cab, followed by the baby-brother "half-ton" F-150 with five-passenger SuperCrew Cab. The interiors of both were, literally, swathed with an aromatic, supple, guilt-defying leather that Ford calls Casta?n recognition of its dusky chestnut hue.
It's worth carrying on a bit about Ford's King Ranch phenomenon. I've encountered no other truck aesthetic like it in two decades of reviewing vehicles. The ambience and opulence of the leather upholstery, the wood trim, the cornucopia of accessories and gadgets literally transform what it means to own and drive a pickup truck. A King Ranch pickup is the automotive equivalent of a four-figure pair of custom Lucchese boots: They symbolize a romantic conception of "the cowboy way" without any hint of the blood, sweat, and tears this way of life exacts upon its authentic practitioners.
These boots, in other words, ain't made for walkin'. But it's not quite fair to say these pickups ain't made for truckin'. By certain estimations, this is one heck of a trailer-haulin', cargo-totin' duo. Still, you can take it on faith that the King Ranch F-350's best-in-class tow rating of 15,000 pounds is most unlikely to be employed shuttling a seven-and-a-half-ton dung spreader from one muck pit to another.
Hauling in and out
These are glory trucks, pure and simple; and they're probably best envisaged as worthy accessories to their owners' expensive toys and hobbies. Among the big-boat and horse-trailer set, for example, the Super Duty F-350 is not only capable of towing 15,000 pounds but also of hauling simultaneously another two-and-a-half tons of people and cargo. It's built upon an entirely separate frame structure from that of the F-150; and in the case of my tester, it was powered by Ford's all-new 6.8-liter single-overhead-cam V-10.
This monster motor produces 362 horsepower and 457 whopping pound-feet of torque. Only an optional 6.0-liter "Power Stroke" diesel (with a 19,200-pound tow rating) grunts harder in Ford's lineup.
The SD F-350 is, predictably, huge. It's over 20 feet long, eight feet wide and almost seven feet tall. Even with its short-bed cargo box, the wheelbase is 13 feet long. So it's all the more surprising how pleasant and comfortable it is to drive. A new coil-spring front suspension helps dramatically with maneuvering in tight quarters; but a driver, particularly a five-and-a-half foot cowpoke like myself, is nevertheless most grateful for the optional ($245) reverse-sensor warning system when parking.
The open road is where the King Ranch F-350 thrives. To the accompaniment of a nicely tuned, guttural exhaust note, the Super Duty devours freeway miles.
It delights in the rolls and sways of the road, but there's never any feeling of suspension harshness on the one hand or excessive leaning and wobbling on the other. The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are not only massive, but also they integrate for the first time with a factory-installed, optional trailer-brake controller ($425). Via dash-mounted switches, in other words, the timing and pressure of trailer-brake application can be integrated automatically with the F-350's own brakes to help eliminate white-knuckle episodes.
Ship of state
From the Casta?pholstered perspective of a driver, the King Ranch F-350 glides though the landscape with all the pomp of a ship of state. I won't be so glib as to liken the SD F-350 to a bargain, but its $45,505 as-tested price is very appealing in a certain context. At that level, after all, it's likely to be towing playthings costing significantly more. A 32-foot salt-water sportfisher with twin engines and trailer, after all, can cost well into six-figures. Although its 6870-pound curb weight lifts the F-350 into commercial-truck territory where fuel mileage isn't reported, even its estimated 10-to-12 miles-per-gallon average pales in comparison with boarding and feeding the typical stable-full of polo ponies over a year's time.
So it's all the more interesting to note that the Super Duty's little brother F-150 costs $41,750 in its own right when decked out in King Ranch leathers. This, too, is a fine truck in many respects, and the interior opulence isn't diminished in the least when translated into the smaller, half-ton truck category. From the standpoint of working credentials, however, the F-150 is but a shadow of its Super Duty sibling, even if the price doesn't suggest so.
For example, with its 5.4-liter V-8, the F-150 delivers 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. Towing capacity is 8200 pounds, and the payload limit is 1560 pounds. Within the light-truck category, these are honorable, even impressive credentials. But within Ford's own pup tent, there's something incongruous about a 45-percent lower towing capacity and 69-percent lower payload capacity in an F-150 costing only eight percent less than an F-350.
Of course, the F-150's virtues are many: ride is nimbler; fuel economy (14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway) is better; and variable valve timing packs a zesty engine punch. The Easy-Lift tailgate is a godsend, and the new-for-'04 interior redesign is especially inventive and convenient. It's just that there are plenty of other F-150 trim packages that cost many thousands less - as much as $10,000 to $12,000 less - than this pricey King Ranch version yet deliver every bit as much muscle and gumption.
I'm tempted to suspect, in other words, that there's a touch of hornswagglin' going on where this King Ranch F-150's window-sticker is concerned. If so, let the cow chips fall where they may, and be careful where you step in them purty Lucchese boots.
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