For the past 26 years, the F-150 has been the best-selling truck in America, accounting for 23 percent of Ford's total U.S. sales. So, with the future of the company in the balance, Ford didn't mess around with its redesign of the new F-150 and went for broke.
The all-new F-150 is a huge improvement over the outgoing model. The '04 model offers a fully boxed hydroformed frame, which is nine times stiffer than the previous truck. The new F-150 is available in three bed lengths, three cab configurations, two engines, and two drivetrain choices. The rear shocks are now positioned on the outside of the framerail for better motion control, and both two- and four-wheel-drive models benefit from a coilover front suspension.
Our Lariat tester came in two-tone Toreador Red over Harvest Gold and was powered by the new 5.4L SOHC three-valve V-8 connected to a four-speed automatic transmission pushing through 3.73 gears. This new 5.4L Triton engine is rated at 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque and is the top engine in the F-150 lineup. The 5.4L feels strong, but being in such a heavy vehicle, it is definitely not as quick as the competition. Around town the brakes excelled; this is one Ford that actually has good pedal feel. At the track, consistent stops and minimum fade highlighted the braking power the F-150 holds in reserve for towing. With a tow rating at 9,900 pounds, it is crucial for the F-150 to have this level of braking performance. The new F-150 is also superior to the competition in ride and handling. Somehow, the F-150 hides its size, feeling almost nimble in the way it drives like a much smaller vehicle. Visibility is excellent in all directions, and the big mirrors with integrated turn signals made lane changes a breeze. Most drivers will appreciate the excellent steering with perfectly weighted effort and excellent on-center feel.
If the chassis surprises you, the interior will blow you away. It was the interior that really won our judges over. The F-150's cabin is spacious, quiet, luxurious, and accented by the highest quality materials of any pickup truck we've ever tested. A comfortable seating position was easy to find, thanks to power leather seats and adjustable pedals. The premium sound system was crisp and clear, benefiting from the hard-hitting downward firing subwoofer under the expansive rear seat. Finally, the addition of a power sliding rear window finally makes having a slider in a crew cab truck practical.
As for the new styling, it is bold and distinctive. Most of our judges like the F-150's new duds, although some felt it didn't break far enough away from the current truck. However, everyone agreed it is instantly recognizable as a Ford F-150. The bed is 2.2 inches deeper, the beltline has been raised, and the front windows now have Ford's signature drop down, la the Super Duty.
We feel the Ford F-150 is at the top of the heap in the fullsize pickup truck arena. While it may not be the fastest or most powerful in this test, it does everything exceptionally well. Stay tuned, because the pages of Truckin' will be overflowing with wildly modified versions of the newest Ford. So, here's to the Truckin' Truck of the Year for 2004, the all-new '04 Ford F-150, and the standard it has set for the industry to follow.