First Drive Review: 2009 Ford F-150
By Steven Cole Smith of Car and Driver
Call the vet! Ford's cash cow is ailing. The illness began in May, when the F-150 pickup, the bestselling vehicle of any kind since November 1991, suddenly dropped from first to fifth. Things have not improved much since.
So you can forgive Ford for wondering whether this is a good time to introduce a new F-150, a truck lineup that does, interestingly, feature an all-V-8 lineup, the 4.2-liter V-6 having bit the dust at possibly an inopportune time. And you can forgive the company for having delayed the introduction of the 2009 model by a couple of months, to help dealers unload the 2008s.
The 2009 F-150 is a moderate makeover of the new-for-2004 model, led by fresh headlights and Lincoln-looking taillights. The SuperCrew model has been stretched six inches, and inside, if you fold up its rear seats, you get a new flat load floor. Also, recall that the 2004-and-up regular-cab model had two small rear-hinged doors that made it easier to load cargo back there, but there was no room for people. This added the expense and weight of building two extra doors that, as it turned out, no one cared about, so Ford went back to the old two-big-doors formula for the regular cab.
The 2009 F-150 will be offered in seven flavors: The base XL and the one-step-up STX get the 248-hp, two-valve 4.6-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission; the rest get the 292-hp, three-valve 4.6-liter and six-speed transmission. Next up is the XLT, expected to remain the bestseller, followed by the sportyish FX4, the Lariat, the King Ranch, and a new top-dog model, the Platinum, which has everything Ford could think of as standard equipment. That includes the otherwise optional top engine, the 5.4-liter, now rated at 310 horsepower, up 10 from last year, and able to run on E85.
On the road, Ford says it has enhanced the "rolling plushness," and we won't argue, as we aren't sure what that means. There's a new frame — still fully boxed — and it does feel a little stiffer. The steering is much improved. Late to the active-safety party, stability control with rollover mitigation is now standard.
We spent several hours in new F-150s, and they are indeed improved in virtually every area. But the big question that Ford and all truckmakers are facing right now: Will anything get pickup buyers back inside the tent?
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