The Ford F-150 pickup is an American icon. With more than 33 million sold since 1948, the perennial full-size pickup leader offers bold new styling, a huge range of choices, clever innovations and more sophistication for 2009.
My Sterling Gray Metallic tester flaunted an enormous three-bar chrome grille. The theme has proliferated through the Ford line, but in this scale it's almost overwhelming. Standing 6-foot-4, the F-150 is hard to miss.
We expect our hardworking pickups to be chunky, and this one has banished the softer, molded look of its recent predecessors. The side windows drop near the mirrors like those highway-cruising semis.
The F-150 comes in a dizzying range of configurations. There are three cab sizes-Regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew. The SuperCab uses small flip-out rear doors for rear passengers that work only when the front doors are open. The SuperCrew, with four separate doors, is six inches longer for 2009, which means more rear seat legroom and greater cargo capacity.
For 2009 there are nine trim levels, from the basic XL to the sporty STX and offroad capable FX4 to the volume seller XLT (like my test truck). You can step up to the Lariat and King Ranch models, or the brand new Platinum model.
The fanciest F-150 ever, it wears a satin chrome grille with fine mesh inserts outside and features 10-way leather captain's chairs inside. Satin gloss Lacrosse Ash wood grain accents and brushed aluminum panels convey further upscale ambiance. It sits glamorously on 20-inch, 16-spoke alloys.
The new F-150 offers three V8s-no more V6s-and all come with two- or four-wheel drive. The base engine, with two valves per cylinder, has 248 horsepower-more than the V6 it replaces. The midline 3-valve V8 offers 292 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque and is new to the F-150.
The top engine, which my tester had, is the flexible-fuel 5.4-liter 3-valve-per-cylinder Triton. It takes E85 if you can find it, but is perfectly happy with regular unleaded too. With 320 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, it has no trouble moving the 5,493 pound truck along. Depending on which axle ratio you order, you can tow anywhere from 8,300 to 11,200 pounds.
My SLT SuperCab with the 5.4-liter Triton was rated at 14 City, 18 Highway. I averaged 14.4 mpg. Interestingly, the three available engines have nearly identical mileage ratings.
The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide gives the 5.4-liter engine a 7 for Air Pollution but only a 2 in the Greenhouse Gas rating. Big engines emit a lot of CO2. You can push that to a 4 by using Ethanol, but fuel mileage drops to just 10/13.
Driving the F-150 is great on the open road. Listening to the manly hum of the powerful engine under the carved, domed hood you get a sensation of cruising above it all. The interior, at the XLT level, delivers a richness of textures and shapes and big knobs for easy adjustments, even when wearing work gloves. My truck's navigation system screen displayed "Ford F150, Built Ford Tough" each time I turned the key.
The new, lockable console accommodates two or more laptop computers and you can use it for a file box, too. There are more than 30 storage areas built into the passenger space. A USB port and AUX input are right on the dash, ready for your iPod or other MP3 player.
Ford's SYNC system integrates your phone and music player and uses voice commands. I had to fiddle with the system to get my iPod to work, but I was able to request artists and CDs successfully.
This new truck offers some great innovations. Its high-strength, lighter weight chassis uses a fully boxed frame with high-strength steel side rails, for more torsional rigidity, which means greater durability and safety and even improves mileage slightly.
The cargo bed offers a few great advances. The Stowable Bed Extender also serves as a container for a small load near the tailgate. The brilliant new tailgate incorporates a fold-out handle and drop-down steps, greatly assisting climbing in and out.
With Ford's new Easy Fuel capless fuel filler system, you just pop open the fuel door and insert the gas filler. When you're done, it automatically seals up. Why didn't someone invent this sooner?
Prices range widely, depending on cab, trim level, engine, drive wheels, and optional equipment. My tester started with an MSRP of $31,360 but totaled up to $37,945 with a slew of options. A base XL, two-wheel-drive regular cab with the base engine starts at $20,815 while the Platinum begins at $40,910.
If you're in the truck market, the new Ford F-150 remains America's first choice.