January 2005 Towdown
The Ford F-150 has been the most popular truck in America for a bazillion years, so when Ford revamped its flagship pickup for 2004, we were quite interested in the results. Along with a more angular, squarish look comes a coilover front IFS suspension, large four-wheel disc brakes and a very torquey three-valve-per-cylinder 5.4L engine. Add to all this the 3/4-ton-ish Ford Sterling 9.75-inch rear axle that Ford 1/2-tons have enjoyed for years, and it seems a foregone conclusion that you should stab a trailer behind the rear bumper and hammer down. So we did.
The truck Ford sent us for our testing was a 4x4 SuperCab with the upscale XLT trim package, 5.4L engine, heavy-duty four-speed auto and freeway-friendly 3.55 gears. Higher tow ratings and better pulling power could be realized by checking the box for the optional 3.73 or even 4.10 gears, but we have to work with what the manufacturers give us.
With the 5.4L engine, trailer tow package, 3.55 gears and 144.5-inch wheelbase, our F-150 tester was rated for a maximum 8,300-pound trailer. Ditching the 4x4 option, selecting 3.73 gears and squeezing into a standard cab will let you tow 9,900 pounds. Our test truck had the 6.5-foot bed, which is a good compromise between cargo capacity and overall vehicle length compared to the available 5.5-foot and 8.0-foot beds. Our tester didn't come with a bedliner, but there were tie-down cleats on the inside of the bed.
Inside, our truck had the 40-20-40 split bench seat with a fold-down console in the middle seatback. There is lots of room inside for CD cases, sunglasses and all your other sundries. There are also four cupholders for the front passengers to fight over and an optional DVD housing that can slide front to back on a roof-mounted track. Ours was empty (no DVD player), so we put Cheetos and other snackies inside. The rear seating area should be considered a penalty box for all but small children and little people traveling to and from the carnival. Also, when the rear seats are folded up for cargo carrying, part of the metal frame remains on the floor. There's no tray that drops down or any other way to get a flat surface to lay bulky stuff on, so unless you're carrying lots of little stuff, your big items had better be able to ride in the bed.
On The Highway
The F-150 rides nice loaded or unload-ed, but the longer wheelbase suffers badly from what we refer to as freeway oscillation, induced when the tires fall into the troughs and crests of concrete freeway seams at the same time. It's like riding a horse on a pogo stick. This is minimized, however, when a trailer with some tongue weight is on the rear.
Power-wise, you appreciate the 300 hp on tap from the three-valve 5.4L as you pull down onramps or try to pass with a trailer. Lots of velvety-smooth acceleration is available with the tap of the throttle. The power delivery is very linear. You never feel a great surge of acceleration, but a quick look at the speedometer will usually tell you you're moving quicker than you think you are.
The four-speed transmission is one of the best of any vehicle we've tested. There's no Tow/Haul button and we never found ourselves wanting one. The tranny always seemed to know exactly what to do to keep our truck-and-trailer combo rolling. It downshifted exactly when we wanted it to and held the lower gear for passing or climbing exactly until we wanted it to. It's like it was hooked to our brain, which is funny because unlike some magazine writers we know, we're not robots.