The 2009 Ford F-150 isn’t simply an evolution of an automaker’s most well-known, popular and successful nameplate. It is Ford’s single most important new-model design and development program in more than a decade.
Truck sales are currently in a tailspin, and aren’t expected to get any better. Some industry experts believe they will bottom out this year at a 1.5 million units sold. That’s a million less than were purchased in 2007, and spells massive financial losses for the Motor City. On the line is more than just the F-150’s 26-year run as the number-one-selling vehicle in America, and one of the top-selling vehicles in the world. If the 2009 F-150 turns out to be a failure, it could spell disaster for the Dearborn-based automaker.
Luckily, Ford put its best foot forward with the 2009 F-150 lineup. In fact, the enhancements were so well executed that we feel the F-150 is the best new full-size pickup on the market. With 35 possible configurations, the lineup is incredibly diverse. The vehicle is powerful, downright luxurious for a pickup and surprisingly fuel-efficient. Plus, it meets all the needs of truck users (versatility and capability) and more.
When it comes to the F-150, Ford has never subscribed to the "less is more" philosophy. Customers can choose from the no-frills XL, sporty STX, mid-range XLT, or off-road-ready FX4. Those wanting tough luxury can pick from the high-end Lariat, King Ranch or the new ultra-luxury Platinum.
Add the above trim levels to the three cab styles — regular, extended and crew cab — and four cargo box offerings, and the total is 35 F-150 variations.
A new exterior borrows the three-bar grille and bulging domed hood from the F-250 Super Duty trucks for a get-out-of-the-way look. To emphasize what you just moved over for, the grille’s pattern is graphically reproduced on the tailgate.
For 2009 Ford discarded the two tiny rear-hinged doors on the regular cab F-150s, reverting back to its roots as a true workhorse. The space behind the front seats wasn’t lost, however. Engineers utilized it by stretching the SuperCrew model six inches for more rear-seat legroom and cargo space. The second-row seat easily flips up and out of the way to reveal a totally flat load floor.
In keeping with the "more choices" philosophy, there are 12 different wheel options, including two 17-inchers for the XL, 17- or 18-inch for the XT and special 17-inch or 20-inch off-road wheels for the FX4. The XLT, Lariat and King Ranch offer 18- and 20-inch wheels, while the Platinum model comes standard with 20-inch wheels.
All F-150 models have a full complement of airbags, including curtain-style bags and front-seat-mounted side airbags. The anti-lock brakes are vented discs at all the corners. Stability control with traction control, rollover mitigation and trailer sway control are also standard.
Under the Hood
In these trying times, improving the F-150’s fuel-efficiency was essential to its future success. But Ford didn’t want to skimp on power or capability, so all of the new models are equipped with V8s — more fuel-efficient V8s. The base 4.6-liter two-valve delivers 248 horsepower at 4750 rpm and 294 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Connected to a four-speed automatic transmission, it has the same fuel economy numbers as the outgoing V6 — 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway on 4x2 versions.
Next is a three-valve 4.6-liter eight with a six-speed automatic transmission. It produces 292 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm with a fuel economy rating of 15 city/20 highway.
The top engine is a three-valve 5.4-liter that can run on E85 fuel (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline), pure gasoline or any blend of both. It’s rated at 320 horsepower at 5700 rpm and a generous 390 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed auto shifter helps the big V8 achieve an EPA estimated 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
Surprisingly, drivetrain options are few: a choice of two- or four-wheel drive, four rear axle ratios and a cleverly engineered locking rear differential. The locker works up to 66 mph in 4-Hi and up to 25 mph in 4-Lo.
The frame is fully boxed and has been made stronger, yet lighter, with the use of high-strength steel. Combined with larger rear leaf springs, this contributes to the F-150’s major league 3,030 lb. payload capacity and 11,300 lb. tow rating.
For a work-capable truck, the F-150 is pleasingly sophisticated. The interior has been redesigned, with a clean, attractive dashboard/instrument panel arrangement and high-quality materials with nearly invisible seams. The look and feel is close to what you’ll find in an Audi or BMW. And, with some 30 built-in storage areas, there’s a place for just about anything.
New front seats are big, supportive and comfortable across all models. Rear seating mimics the front in appearance but isn’t as supportive, and seatbacks don’t recline like competitors.
There’s a massive array of feature options: from heated and cooled seats to a Sony audio system, to Ford’s Sync voice-activated communication and entertainment system and SIRIUS Travel Link navigation.
And then there’s Work Solutions. This is a suite of products featuring an in-dash computer that lets professional customers, such as contractors, access the Internet, check inventory, print invoices, dispatch workers to job sites and maintain tool inventory while sitting in the cab.
On the Road
Our time behind the new F-150’s steering wheel was a mixed bag of experiences that included in-town stop-and-go traffic, highways, gravel roads, interstates, off-roading, towing and auto crossing. No matter what was thrown at the new truck, nothing upset its composure.
The cabin is the quietest of any pickup we’ve ever driven, and the presence of a solid rear axle has been countered with some nifty trickery that comes close to eliminating the bouncy ride so often referred to as a "truck-like" feel.
Steering is precise and accurate, and there’s little kickback from the rack-and-pinion steering system. Hard cornering brings some body roll as expected from a vehicle this size. Brakes have a firm pedal feel and nosedive is minimal during panic braking.
Though not by design, most of our test time was spent in trucks with the 5.4-liter V8. With plenty of torque at low speeds, the engine is responsive and power progresses smoothly in a linear manner. The new six-speed is well matched to the big V8.
In tow mode, the transmission eliminates frequent gear changes and, impressively, a touch on the brake pedal downshifts and brings immediate engine braking. Add the optional in-dash trailer brake controller and a novice will be able to tow like a professional long hauler.
Right for You?
Arriving now, F-150 pricing starts at $21,320 for the base XL regular cab model, including $795 shipping charges. The popular XLT SuperCab starts at $29,160, while a Lariat SuperCrew starts at $35,820. At the top end, a Platinum 4x4 crew cab with long wheelbase starts at $44,860.
In choosing a pickup, if it’s used as a work truck or for towing or hauling big loads, the 2009 F-150 equals or beats the competition in every measure. If those are not the criteria and ride comfort is, Dodge’s new 2009 Ram with coil rear springs provides a superb ride for a truck. And if a bold look isn’t your style, Chevy’s Silverado has a lot to offer.
Larry Hall is the editor of Northwest Auto News Service and a freelance journalist based in Olympia, Wash. For more than 20 years, he’s covered the automotive industry for numerous trade journals, newspapers and business publications.