We were able to get behind the wheel of the all-new F-150 earlier this summer at Ford's Michigan Proving Ground in Romeo, Michigan, and on the roads outside of Detroit. The first thing you'll notice about the '09 F-150 is that it looks like an F-150. Of course it does, but what that means is that Ford designers didn't mess with what was already working with the Ford truck and SUV design language. The resulting front end looks like an amalgam of Expedition, Super Duty, and F-150 styling. Three separate grille treatments are available for '09, with variations of Ford's trademark three-bar grille standard on all but the Platinum trim level, which gets two horizontal openings and a distinct pattern on the grille bars inside. The rear of the truck continues the horizontal bar theme with the stamping on the tailgate that ties into the taillight and also incorporates a small lip to improve aerodynamics.
The F-150 and Expedition already have one of our favorite interiors, and the '09 F-150 refines what was already top-tier. The new center console can now fit a laptop computer, and, most important, the new SuperCrew cab is six inches longer. The added length has several benefits. Our favorite is that the B-pillar is no longer in the driver's peripheral vision, which makes the truck's cab feel even larger than it is. Second, rear seat passengers have plenty of legroom, without an odd-looking cab like Dodge's MegaCab or Toyota's CrewMax. The larger cab allows for a flat load floor for loading tall, bulky items, as demonstrated by a pair of Ford employees who tried to fit a big screen TV box into both a Silverado and a Tundra, with no success. For you regular cab fans, the new, longer front doors make for a much more attractive regular cab than the current model with its semi-extended cab look.
On the streets and highways surrounding the proving ground, the F-150 felt familiar, with all of the qualities we've come to expect. It felt solid, sturdy, and quiet, just like the outgoing F-150, only more so. The steering wheel is isolated from road vibration with an additional dampener, and the improved chassis separates the suspension's movement from the cab. One of the few complaints we've had about the current F-150 is power, or, specifically, the lack of power. Possibly because it felt so sturdy and heavy, but even with the new 6-speed transmission that got the F-150 up and running easier than before, we still wanted a little more power out of the 5.4L three-valve engine when a SuperCrew is full of people and cargo. That's not to say the 5.4L is a slug, we're just power junkies. Pulling a heavy trailer, the 5.4L proved to be more than capable, with intuitive downshifting when towing down grades.
On Ford's kidney-punishing durability track, the F-150 showed that its time on the course had paid off. Driven back-to-back with its competitors, the F-150 proved to be more stable and have less rattles. Credit the new 6-inch-longer leaf springs and outboard mounted shocks for the improved stability. The Silverado we drove was the next best performer, with hopping and fishtailing over the worst of the course, which was mitigated when we turned the traction control off (not sure we were supposed to do that). It seemed like too much sensory overload for the traction control to deal with. The worst performer seemed to be the Tundra, with the most interior panel vibration. The ride was so bad that the windshield wiper stalk dropped and turned the wipers on, and this was on the tamer of the two durability courses. We volunteered to ride along with one of Ford's durability testers as we took on the nastier of the two, and the F-150 held up remarkably well, tracking straight the whole time.
Off road, the FX4 package showed off its extra suspension articulation and, more importantly, its electronic locking differential as we drove it through a challenging course filled with deep mud holes, large rocks, and tight turns. We did manage to get the F-150 stuck, and we weren't the only ones, but it wasn't for lack of traction, at least going forward, it was lack of trail. Ford's test track is bordered by trees, and rather than have a grille makeover via deciduous tree, we called for backup from "Hoss," Ford's F-350 off road concept, to pull us out of a mud hole. The F-150's locker proved to be invaluable driving up a slight grade filled with loose, bowling-ball-sized rocks. We just shifted into low range, pointed the truck where we wanted to go, and eased on the throttle. For the sportsman and weekend adventurer, the FX4 package should have most scenarios covered, and it actually drives on the trail like a smaller vehicle. Granted, we're not the most experienced off-road drivers, and the trails were nowhere near rock crawling, but we were impressed with the capability.