Driving Ford's New Pony
When one of the Big Three comes to market with a new truck, everyone keeps his eyes on what could possibly change the way trucks are made. Chevy did it in 1988, Dodge did it in 1994, and now Ford looks like it could be the newest trendsetter as we enter 2004. Recently we had a chance to drive the newly redesigned '04 Ford F-150. Ford really outdid itself this time, raising the bar of the 1/2-ton light-truck market. The new F-150 is a completely new vehicle, with only an axle and part of an engine resembling the previous model. Ford made sure that it would continue to have the bestselling truck on the market.
Initial driving impressions were very positive, as there is very little lateral roll cornering through windy roads, and steering is very responsive. This is due to a number of changes, such as a new fully boxed ladder frame and suspension redesign that drastically improves handling. Independent front suspension is still retained, but torsion bars have been replaced by coilover shocks to spring the vehicle. In the rear, the shocks have been placed outboard the framerails, and the leaf springs have been widened to 3 inches. New, bigger brakes have also been added, along with an all-new rack-and-pinion steering system. We almost got a little ahead of ourselves during the test, as this truck would cruise effortlessly at 90 mph with almost no sound in the cab, thanks to the double-thick firewall and seamless gear shifts from the new four-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower has been kicked up to 300, making the F-150's 5.4L engine the newest addition to Ford's "300 Club." The heads have been changed to a three-valve design, and the 5.4L now sports an electronic throttle control for smoothness and variable cam timing. Torque numbers have also changed, and the V-8 now makes 80 percent of its torque at 1,000 rpm.
The new F-150 body has also been revamped, with more options than ever. New bodies have better insulation from noise (like the double-thick firewall we mentioned earlier), and feature more creature comforts than their older brethren. The cabs are again offered in Regular, SuperCab, or SuperCrew models, but with the major addition of a standard access door on all regular cabs. Bed options have also changed a little, with a 5 1/2-foot bed added to the 6 1/2-foot and 8-foot options. It has also become 2 inches deeper to accommodate more cubic feet of storage, but this also makes it a farther reach from the side to snatch tools.
The interior has been quite nicely updated with large, robust seats that offer excellent levels of comfort. A new flow-through console is available with a floor shifter as an option, and a manual-shift lever for the transfer case has also come back as an option (not with the flow-through console option though).
Hundreds of other improvements to design, ergonomics, safety, performance, and capabilities have been made, such as improved crumple zones on the framerails, but hopefully, if everything goes right, you'll never even know. By the time your read this, '04 F-150s should be available at your dealership. Go try one out and let us know what you think.