As the redesigned 2009 Ford F-150 pickup starts rolling into dealerships, Ford marketing executives are eschewing those elaborate TV commercials in which trucks swing by their tow hooks in giant centrifuges, race through gantlets of flying steel pendulums, or chatter their brakes to the edge of a precipice while trying to stop a 10,000-pound trailer.
I guess these are inauspicious days to launch a new pickup truck. The F-150, perennially the best-selling vehicle in America, has fallen on hard times. Sales are down 26 percent this year, and Ford will be lucky to move 500,000 F-150s this year, down from about 700,000 in 2006.
Yes, Dearborn has its troubles, but this is the best pickup truck on God's little acre. Yes, the Japanese have beaten up on the domestics, but Toyota and Nissan only wish they knew how to build a full-sizer as tight, as tough, as well-sorted, as keen and mean as the thing behind the Blue Oval. I mean, people, it isn't even close.
What the Ford F-150 does is simply to exceed expectations by a few degrees in every category.
It rides a little more smoothly. It's a little quieter. It's more agile in day-to-day driving and more of a draft horse when you need it to haul or tow. It's better-equipped. When you add all those margins up, the Ford is vastly better than anything else in its class.
Take, for example, its bronze-bell solidity. Ford isn't the only truck manufacturer to use hydro-formed, fully boxed high-strength frame rails in the chassis. But it might be the only one that laser-welds the roof seams and body-side panels to the truck's superstructure.
Compared with robotic spot-welding, seam-welding essentially turns the various welded parts into a single piece of steel. The resulting sense of foundry casting isn't something you can exactly measure, or even describe. You slam the door, and nothing trembles or rattles. You mat the throttle on the open highway, and what you hear in the cabin is a deep, pleasant timbre. Between the fancy engine mounts, the clever tuning of bushings and chassis mounts, and acres of sound-deadening, the F-150 has the noise-vibration harshness of a luxury car.
The pickup proprieties have been observed. Three cab styles, four box styles, and seven trim levels are available, including the new Platinum series (electronics galore, 20-inch chrome wheels, brushed alloy trims in the cabin, power-deployable running boards, heated/cooled seats, and loads of mirror-polished metal). The F-150 XL regular cab starts at $21,320, whereas a loaded Platinum series SuperCrew 4x4 will approach $50,000.
Three V-8 engines are offered: a 5.4-liter three-valve (320 horsepower); a 4.6-liter three-valve (292 horsepower); and a 4.6-liter two-valve (248 horsepower). Mileage is up across the line. The 5.4-liter, backed by a six-speed automatic, returns 14 miles per gallon city and 20 m.p.g. highway, largely thanks to the new six-speed automatic (the 2008 F-150 got 14/17 m.p.g.). Ford also is offering something called the Superior Fuel Economy package that, with the help of a friendlier rear-axle ratio and low-rolling-resistance tires, gets 15/21 m.p.g.