would be in lots of trouble if it didn't get its redesigned 2004 F-Series pickup truck right. That's because this profitable full-size pickup accounts for some 23 percent of Ford
sales and has been the country's top-selling vehicle for the last 21 years. Ford
got most things right with the new truck, which initially has arrived with the popular F-150
The new F-150
looks more brawny, with muscular contours and exaggerated features--even an oversized blue Ford
oval insignia. But upgraded interior designs are more carlike and the F-150
is roomier, longer, wider and built more solidly. It also has better steering and handling, along with an improved ride and stronger brakes. Ford
said the F-Series will have the industry's widest variety of body and trim configurations, although figuring out the seemingly endless ways you can order a big pickup is a good recipe for going mad.
last was redesigned for 1997 and needs all the improvements it can get, because it faces stiff competition from Nissan and Toyota--not to mention General Motors' Chevrolet and GMC divisions and DaimlerChrysler's Dodge unit.
For most of its 21-year reign, the F-Series only had to really worry about the full-size Chevrolet pickup.
Base prices for the new F-150
, which costs more to build, go from $21,215 to $35,570. Comparably priced 2003 models ranged from $20,970 to $34,935.
There are rear- or four-wheel-drive models. Regular-, extended- and crew-cab body styles return with three larger bed lengths. All cabs now have four doors because pickups increasingly are being used as family vehicles. The regular cab and SuperCab have standard rear-hinged "half doors,'' whereas the SuperCrew crew cab returns with four front-hinged doors.
(Covering all bases, Ford
continues to sell a few carryover 2003 "Heritage'' F-150
models with unchanged styling and pricing, which starts at $19,125.)
I tested the new $34,185 SuperCrew four-wheel drive model; it's the roomiest new F-150
, with space for five tall adults. It had the F-Series' new 5.4-liter, 300-horsepower V-8. An improved 4.6-liter, 231-horsepower V-8 also is offered, but provides modest acceleration.
Neither engine will win any fuel economy prizes, but both work with a responsive four-speed automatic transmission.
The 300-horsepower V-8 provides strong acceleration to 65 mph, but average 65-75 passing times. After all, the SuperCrew is a big, heavy 139-inch-wheelbase truck, which is awkward to park and often impossible to store in an average-size garage. On the other hand, an increasing number of people like huge, roomy pickups.
A key option is the $245 reverse sensing system, which warns of unseen objects behind the truck.
The steering has good road feel and is geared just right--not too fast or too slow for a high, heavy vehicle. Handling is almost carlike, and the brake pedal had a nice linear action. The firm ride is composed on average roads, but the rear end hops on bumpy roads with an empty pickup bed.
My solid, nicely painted test SuperCrew had few options, but could have done without the $300 black tubular running boards; they look nifty but are too narrow to be of much use getting in this high truck--a maneuver that decidedly calls for extra effort.
But the large outside door handles can be easily grasped, as can the inside handles. Substantial front grab handles also can make it easier to climb aboard.
My test truck's "FX4'' interior almost made me feel as if I was in a sporty car because it had "warm steel'' (like aluminum) accents on the instrument panel, console, doors and steering wheel. There also were an aircraft-inspired instrument cluster and carefully placed chrome-ringed dashboard vents. Even the shifter looked as if from a sporty car.
All that nicely accompanied the $595 front firm-but-supportive "captain's chairs,'' which had "sporty cloth.'' (You also can get those seats in "sporty leather.'') Ford
is emphasizing its five new F-150
interiors, which are meant to enhance the difference between various versions of the truck.
The interior is quiet, and large radio and climate controls work smoothly. Cupholders can hold large beverage containers, and the console contains a huge storage bin. There also are storage pockets with bottle holders in the front doors and storage pockets in rear doors. But there's an old-style foot-operated parking brake, and the plastic glove compartment door needs a more sturdy feel in keeping with the improved interiors.
The new F-Series doesn't offer such things as side air bags or four-wheel steering, but it's handsome, tough, roomy and significantly improved.
2004 FORD F-150
Refined. Good handling. Comfortable. Four doors for all models. Especially roomy crew cab.
High step-in. Narrow running boards. Old-style foot parking brake. Cheap plastic glove box.