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Ford F-150 has been the best-selling full-size pickup for 27 consecutive years, and it's the most important, most profitable vehicle Ford makes. Last year Ford threw away the old formula and created a new F-150 from the ground up. The 2004 F-150 earned numerous awards, including North American Truck of the Year.
The F-150 more than delivers on all the truck attributes of toughness, strength, and cargo capacity, with a maximum tow rating of up to 9,900 pounds and a maximum payload of up to 3,000 pounds. Being able to get the work done is important, but the F-150 offers new levels of refinement, comfort, style, driving dynamics, and safety.
For 2005, the F-150 gets an expanded lineup. At the top is a new King Ranch model lavishly outfitted in Castano leather. At the bottom is a new V6 model available with an automatic or manual transmission. An inexpensive Work Truck model has been added as well. In between is the industry's widest variety of body configurations: three cab styles, three bed lengths, two bed styles, and a choice of V8 engines. Six distinct trim levels are thoughtfully designed to address the needs of individual buyers with distinct needs and wants.
The F-150 is bigger, heavier, and more costly to build than the previous version, but it offers excellent handling, a quiet and refined ride, and comfortable interiors that show attention to detail. The F-150 comes equipped with dual frontal airbags designed to deploy according to the severity of the crash and who or what is occupying the seat. Seat belts, your first line of defense in any crash, are equipped with pre-tensioners and energy-management retractors.
As mentioned, the 2005 model year brings a choice of three engines to the Ford F-150 lineup: a 4.2-liter V6 rated at 202 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque; a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 231 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque; and a 5.4-liter V8 rated at 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque.
We found the 5.4-liter engine smooth and quiet. It delivers quicker acceleration than previous-generation F-150s, but doesn't seem as responsive as, say, the Nissan Titan. The 5.4-liter Triton V8 is an overhead-cam engine with three valves per cylinder (as opposed to the two-valve 4.6-liter). Ford says it offers the best fuel consumption of any V8 engine it has ever built with an EPA-rated 15/19 mpg City/Highway with two-wheel drive. The new 4R75E high-capacity four-speed automatic transmission that comes with it is smooth and responsive, downshifting quickly and crisply when you punch it, and shifting almost seamlessly when cruising.
The 4.6-liter V8 is an overhead cam engine with aluminum heads. Ninety percent of its torque is available at just 2000 rpm for strong towing performance and solid acceleration when hauling heavy loads. It's rated 15/19 mpg.
The 4.2-liter V6 is an attractive option for work trucks. It's a nice, smooth engine and we liked the 2005 XL model we drove with it, though performance is sluggish by modern standards. A V6 two-wheel drive automatic rates 16/20 mpg.
The power rack-and-pinion steering in the F-150 is exemplary. It's responsive, without hesitation or delay without being darty or overly quick or nervous. The truck tracks like a laser beam, turns in quickly, and recovers very quickly even with no load in the bed.
The brakes are smooth and responsive. They start slowing the truck just a little way into the pedal travel, and the more you push the pedal, the more acute the braking becomes; the absence of dead space in the pedal travel is a welcome relief from typical truck practice. All F-150s come with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS.
The F-150 rides smooth and firm, more like a Lincoln LS sports sedan than a truck, with a minimum of body roll in the corners, and a nice, plush ride over cobbled pavement, rutted dirt roads, and freeway slabs. We found this to be true in all the models we drove. Among them: an XLT SuperCab 4X4, a Lariat SuperCab 4X2 Styleside with a 6.5-foot bed, an XL with a standard cab, and an FX4 SuperCrew. We were delighted by the ride of the FX4. It seems smoother than most off-road pickups. It offered a firm but comfortable ride around Los Angeles even with no weight in the bed to smooth out the rear suspension.
The F-150's excellent ride and handling are benefits of its fully boxed, partially hydroformed frame, stronger, stiffer and heavier than any previous Ford pickup frame. It's the seven-crossmember skeleton onto which everything else bolts, and accounts for quite a bit of the nearly 675 pounds more weight of the new F-150 compared to the old truck. The frame is nine times more resistant to twisting and 50 percent more resistant to bending than the old C-shaped frame.
The front suspension is a completely new double-wishbone style for both 2WD and 4WD versions. The rear suspension now has outboard, rather than inboard, shock absorbers to control the rear end of the truck better in quick maneuvers, along with wider, heavier three-inch leaf springs. The shock position also provides better control on washboard surfaces, reducing the tendency to skate around in bumpy corners. Liquid-filled motor mounts and other a long list of other measures keeps vibration and noise to a bare minimum.
There's never been a better time to buy a full-size pickups. They're all good trucks, and the Ford F-150 is among the best of them. For a while there, Dodge had the hot hand in terms of truck style and function. Then the title went to Chevrolet and GMC for chassis refinement. Then the new Ram one-upped them again. Some say the F-150 is the new leader, though others will argue.
Regardless, the Ford F-150 delivers a combination of style, interior comfort, performance, ride and handling that's hard to beat.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Dearborn, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.