Second Place: Ford F-150 FX4 SuperCab
Ford enters 2004 with a long-awaited and completely new F-150. Highlights include a new exterior and a completely redesigned interior. However, the changes are not just limited to seats, dash and sheetmetal. A new frame is used that is fully boxed and nine times stiffer in torsion and 50 percent stiffer longitudinally. Attached to that frame is a new IFS suspension that uses a coilover shock, along with lower control arms that are made of aluminum. A new rack-and-pinion steering system guides the front wheels. In the rear a new solid-axle suspension features 3-inch-wider leaf springs and outboard-mounted shocks for a claimed increase in lateral stability.
The drivetrain of the new F-150 was also upgraded. A new Triton 5.4L V-8 uses three valves per cylinder and variable cam timing to make a claimed 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. Attached to the new Triton is a 4R75E four-speed automatic transmission that is a strengthened version of the previous transmission. Bringing the new truck to a stop are disc brakes at every corner.
What We Liked
Every one of our judges loved the new interior of the F-150, which is a dramatic departure from the previous generation's interior. It is handsome and well organized, with brushed-aluminum-looking parts and, on our FX4 package, carbon mesh inserts. Easy-to-read gauges with brushed aluminum rings also spruce up the interior. The new leather seats are also very comfortable and the inside of the F-150 is very quiet.
Hats off to the Ford engineers for the new four-wheel disc brakes. Found on the F-150 are new rotors that are larger and thicker, combined with twin-piston calipers up front and single-piston calipers out back. While the Ford's 60-0 mph stopping distance was not the shortest, the brakes felt the best, with the pedal giving a nice initial bite and a powerful feel that made it easy to modulate them during crawling.
What We Didn't Like
Tops on everybody's list of complaints for the F-150 was its lack of power. Whether it was cruising along the highway, going up a mountain grade or blasting through the sand dunes, the Triton 5.4L did not provide the kind of oomph its engine specifications suggested that it should produce. This was readily apparent when the F-150 and Tundra produced similar acceleration times on the dragstrip. The fact that the Tundra could produce almost the same times in the quarter-mile and 0-60 mph testing with an engine that produces 60 less horsepower and 50 less lb-ft of torque left us scratching our heads.
On the trail the F-150 had the least ground clearance of the bunch, with the smallest approach angle. This left it rubbing its belly on many obstacles unless extreme care was taken. The giant hood with its large center bulge of the F-150 also made forward vision difficult. Creeping along in low-range, the Ford's new suspension yielded a firm ride that did not improve much at speed. Also, at speed on pavement, the F-150 offered an alarming amount of understeer around corners.
The new Ford F-150 is a workable truck, except for a powerplant that produces marginal power, low ground clearance, and marginal pavement handling. While the engine, especially, looks great on paper, our testing found that it was not up to the task of powering the F-150. This is unfortunate, as the rest of the truck is a dramatic step forward from the previous F-150.
Check It Out If:
You are looking for a truck with a great interior that has excellent brakes.
Avoid It If:
You need to haul or tow heavy loads.
The Short Version
Great styling, terrific interior and seats, but a chassis that doesn't satisfy and an engine that doesn't pull nearly as hard as it should.