By: Patrick Smith
Ford has completely renovated the F150 truck for 2004. The F150 led the American market for 26 years and has been number 1 in Canada for 37 years. Ford realized the vehicle needed some "million-mile service" to stay ahead of the pack. Ford started from scratch with new ideas, tooling, bodies, parts, even a revised big bore Triton V8 engine. The 2004 F150 represents the latest in modern industrial arts and sciences.
The F150 offers five trim levels from XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and the luxurious Lariat. Two engines are supplied, the 4.6 liter Triton is standard with the 5.4 liter 3 valve Triton optional. My test truck was an F150 Lariat SuperCrew equipped with the 5.4 liter V8. Finished in Aspen Green metallic with Arizona Beige trim, this truck came loaded with options and is a fine illustration of how comfortable you can make your work surroundings.
Inside is a lush tan grained leather interior with heated power seats, moonroof, audiophile CD system, a/c and console shifter. The truck is equipped with automatic 4x4 system. Externally the F150 is rugged and resembles the heavy truck line with some carryover from the 2002 Tonka concept truck styling. The 18-inch aluminum wheels and Goodrich Roughriders go nicely with the chrome bumpers. The F150 successfully combines substantial presence with grace.
While driving I observed that the new F150 is remarkably smooth and composed. The steering has no play and goes exactly where you direct it. The switch to a rack and pinion unit plays a large role in this. You get plenty of assist at low speed but it doesn't penalize you by reducing road feel at highway speed. Out back, overdrive is the default setting for good mileage when using 2-wheel drive and light foot. When you want power or better comfort in heavy traffic, disengage the O/D and let the 3.73 axle run directly. The acceleration is very good. You'll have no trouble changing lanes or merging with traffic. The same holds true when hauling a load. The 5.4 liter uses two intake valves per cylinder and variable cam timing. The engine is able to match load with torque for smooth operation. The electric throttle is excellent and very linear in application. Unlike other drive-by-wire setups, this one is seamlessly integrated with the automatic transmission programming. The 5.4 liter produces 300 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and torque is 365 lb-ft. @ 3750 rpm. The Lariat has more torque available at lower rpm than the Chevy Vortec 6000 V8.
Thanks to the new rear suspension, lane changes and sharp turns around corners are improved. It used to be common to experience a hopping rear axle when making a fast sharp right to merge with traffic. The rear shocks have been placed outside the frame rails for better handling and towing. When the bed is loaded, the leaf springs are better able to resist twisting and deflection because they're 20 percent wider than before. The bed is deep and 5 feet long. An optional bed extender allows you to haul full sized goods and park your truck inside the average garage. Removing cargo is easier with a new tailgate assist that allows one armed open and closing. This is a blessing for those with arthritis in the elbows.
The frame is fully boxed and the front section is hydroformed steel. I've driven F150s from the 1980s and early 1990s and this truck is miles ahead in terms of rigidity. I crossed railroad tracks at speed, potholes, deteriorating roads and even ventured into construction sites slick with winter runoff. The Lariat suspension is tuned for town and country use. It matches the lush surroundings and gives a great ride. Those who want a suspension with higher spring rates and specific load carrying attributes can order different packages.
The Snowplow Prep Package is offered only on regular and SuperCab models. It gives you a heavy-duty frame, springs, shocks, 4.10 rear axle, wheels and tires, alternator and tranny oil cooler. The Trailer Tow package comes with a class 4 hitch, 7-pin wiring harness, tranny oil cooler and heavy-duty alternator. The Lariat SuperCrew's maximum weight for regular towing is 9,500 pounds.
I tested the automatic 4x4 while negotiating drainage ditches and a muddy construction zone. The Lariat went through sticky, nasty stuff at a slow rate of speed and had no problems. I didn't know of any territory capable of safely testing its true capability. The 4x4 was useful in the field and on the one day we had snow covered roads.
The SuperCrew seats 5 people with the optional floor console. The stereo performs very well with automatic volume control geared to road speed. The steering wheel buttons regulate cruise control functions on your left while heater fan, temperature and audio controls are on the right side. The heating system and all the electronics work flawlessly. Even with a moonroof, you have two inches of headroom for anyone over 6 feet tall. Adjustable brake and gas pedals are a nice touch.
The dash lighting is a muted green for metric numbers and red for the British Imperial scale and the pointers. The lighting is attractive and similar in execution to the 2003 Ford Thunderbird. The chrome hardware blends nicely with the satin silver door and dash trim. The interior is a luxurious cabin suitable for a yacht club regatta, augmented by the best fit and finish I've seen in a North American truck yet. The speaker grilles, arm rests, headliner trim, center stack trim all line up perfectly. No rattles or noise either and this was with 7,200 punishing press pool miles on it. The Kansas plant did an ace job here.
There was one minor annoyance. The high beam indicator is on the turn signal stalk that you push forward to activate. The stalk also controls the windshield wipers. This induces an abnormal amount of wear and tear on a single control. You can accidentally trigger the turn signal when activating the high beams. It certainly is convenient but splitting up the high use functions would be a better engineering practice for longevity.
Barring that, the new F150 is a fine truck. I believe it will continue to lead the market despite some of the toughest competition in years.