The trendiest of the trucks.

by Don Fuller

Base Price $15,375
As Tested $31,450

Ford's F-Series pickups are proof that barnyard workhorse trucks will never be their squared-off selves again. Aerodynamic outside, luxurious inside, overhead cam performance under the hood, and safety and convenience features that only a few years ago weren't available on cars, let alone trucks, the Ford F-Series pickups are as modern as trucks get.

Ford's F-Series line is composed of the lighter-duty F-150, medium-duty F-250 and heavy-duty F-350, but only the F-150 and F-250 share the sleek appearance introduced last year; the big F-350 is due for a complete, big-guy remake for the 1999 model year.

Walkaround

F-150 and F-250 trucks are offered in both regular cab and extended SuperCab body styles with smooth Styleside or nostalgic Flareside bodies. Wheelbase lengths of 119.9 inches, 138.5 inches and 157.1 inches are available (4X4 models are 0.3 inches longer), along with a choice of two-wheel or four-wheel drive and three engines: a 4.2-liter V-6 producing 210 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque, or a pair of overhead-cam Triton V-8s, a 4.6-liter of 220 hp and 290 lb-ft, and a 5.4-liter of 235 hp and 330 lb-ft. These are the world's first and, so-far, only overhead-cam V-8 truck engines.

Then there are four trim levels: standard, XL, XLT and Lariat, in ascending order. Not all possible combinations are available; there's no F-250 Flareside, no F-150 Flareside four-wheel drive in Standard trim, and all F-250 models are on the 138.5-inch wheelbase, which means all F-250s are either extended cabs or long cargo beds. But, by and large, there ought to be something here for just about anybody. Just counting Styleside or Flareside, two-wheel drive or four, regular cab or SuperCab, wheelbase choices and trim levels, we arrived at dozens of choices -- and that was before we got into the multitude of options

Our subject vehicle was an F-150 SuperCab Flareside in XLT trim, powered by the 5.4-liter V-8, with four-wheel drive

The lowest-priced F-150, a regular cab, two-wheel-drive Styleside in Standard trim with V-6 engine has a retail price of $15,375 (all prices include $640 destination charge). The base price for our loaded four-wheel-drive Flareside F-150 was $25,135. The XLT trim includes several items that might otherwise be options. In addition, ours had cruise control, air conditioning, limited-slip differential, floor mats, electronic shift for the four-wheel drive, a trailer towing package, power mirrors, an off-road package, power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, and a CD changer. The total for this high-line truck came to $31,450. That may seem like a lot, but remember that you could have a more typical truck, say a 2WD Styleside F-150, with a nice level of equipment, in the low- to mid-$20,000 range.

The Triton engine is one of the best aspects of the F-Series, especially the 5.4-liter version. In smoothness, it embarrasses every other full-size truck engine on the market. The power delivery is crisp and responsive, and to good low-end power it adds excellent mid-range and higher-speed power to make short work of real-world demands such as quick acceleration to freeway speeds. Whether around town or on the open highway, the Triton makes you forget there are big reciprocating parts down there; it feels more like some kind of giant sewing machine

The F-Series also has a new front suspension with upper and lower control arms. It replaces the ancient Twin I-Beam, and we're thankful. With this suspension, the ride is far better, handling is superior, steering feel is drastically improved and directional stability, such as when traveling at highway speeds in a severe crosswind, is immensely enhanced. We would expect that tire wear would also be better, as this was one of the many weak points of the Twin I-Beam. In ride and handling capability, we would have to rank the Ford F-Series as superior to the other full-size competition

The standard towing capacity for an F-150 4X4 with 5.4-liter V-8 is 6100 pounds, but with the trailer towing package (as ours had), towing capacity goes up to 7800 pounds

The Inside Story

To fully appreciate all the interior features of the F-Series SuperCab you'll have to make a trip to your Ford dealer, but we'll give you the high points. With the 40/60 split-bench front seat, driver and passenger have individually reclining backrests. What can serve as the center backrest is also a folding armrest; when folded forward, it provides a large cupholder and capacious bin. Inside this storage bin are places for coins, cassette tapes and so forth, and a divider which, when removed, allows space for an 8 1/2 x 11 tablet. You could store notebooks, calculators, small tissue boxes, even a cordless drill. Our test truck had captain's chairs, which are more stylish, but the split bench front seat is definitely more versatile and offers six-passenger seating

The driver is faced with clearly legible instrumentation, and important controls are close and easy to operate. There are a pair of cupholders in the instrument panel, and a goodly number of the expected storage compartments and map pockets here and there

The view outward is superb, as the F-Series styling includes a low beltline and big windows all around. Even fairly short drivers should have decent forward visibility. The only vision-related gripe we had was a vertically narrow inside rear-view mirror, which cut down on the view to the rear

All SuperCabs include a third door on the passenger's side for entry to the back seat. This door is operable once the passenger's door is open, and can be opened from inside or out. Two adults should be reasonably comfortable on longer trips in the back seat. With the rear seat folded forward there's a flat, sturdy steel surface, great for carrying toolboxes or large amounts of luggage

Ride and Drive

People familiar with trucks, particularly those familiar with Ford trucks, will find the driving experience in the new F-Series greatly enhanced. Whether traveling straight ahead or negotiating twists and turns, the F-Series offers good steering feel. A high degree of directional stability adds to safety and comfort because it keeps the vehicle headed down its intended path

Ride, too, is remarkably good. One big problem with pickup trucks has always been how poorly they tend to ride when empty; this can become really annoying on long trips down concrete interstates where trucks can bounce ceaselessly. We drove our F-Series pickup over bouncy concrete highways for several hours and the ride was car-like and comfortable, mile after highway mile

The smooth, quiet overhead-cam engine adds to the driving pleasure. There's no truck-like roar or rumble, no feeling that it starts thrashing at higher speeds. Whether driving around the city or taking an extended highway cruise, the 5.4-liter Triton engine is the most velvety full-size pickup truck engine we've encountered. The smaller, 4.6-liter version is equally smooth, but it's less powerful, and we highly recommend the stronger 5.4-liter V-8. It's $665 more, but we think it's money well spent and, besides, you'll probably get most, if not all, of it back at trade-in time.

Final Word

It's a little bit of a contradiction in terms to think of "truck" in the same sentence with "cutting edge, aerodynamic styling," but with the Ford F-Series, we think it works. Style is a matter of personal taste, of course, and you may prefer the traditional look of the Chevrolet or GMC offerings, or the macho, rugged big-rig appearance of the Dodge Ram. But the Ford is certainly the sleekest of the bunch

There's a lot to like about it in addition to the look. The interior is extraordinary, the Triton V8s are silky and strong, the ride and drive is exceptional and it's full to the brim with worthwhile features. We don't see how you could go wrong

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©1998 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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