Auto Focus – Comfort, Quietness, Mileage…
This is the first in an ongoing series of truck and car reviews that will appear in Woods-N-Water News. We’ll be testing both cars and trucks, not from the viewpoint of enthusiast magazines, but the way you, the reader, will be using them every day. Our goal is to give you an idea of not how a pickup truck, for instance, handles on a sports car racecourse, but how it will perform for you, under normal driving conditions.
The 2009 Ford F-150 is the company’s sales flagship, introduced as it seeks to dig itself out of the fuel price/sales slump/recession blues that was in part its own doing, and in part a result of the economic times we’re now all facing.
And if it’s an example of what we’ll be seeing from the company in the future, it’s squarely on the comeback road.
This is a genuine workhorse that’s surprisingly stingy on gas, and that also can take the family to dinner or a show in style. Ford’s new emphasis may be focusing on marketing the F-150 to those who need it rather than want it, but it will make both the “for show and for go” segments happy. Among the accolades it’s already earned is the Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
We saddled up the F-150 King Ranch edition on a blizzardy day last December and for nearly a week, neither rain, nor snow, nor more snow nor a lot more snow, and even more snow, could stop the F-150 from being at the top of our list of pickups we’d like to own.
Our test vehicle was admittedly not one that most would buy. Price would be a big factor for this top-of-the-line model, but sales of the King Ranch edition are surprisingly high. It may be a lot of truck, but it sure is a lot of money, too.
The King Ranch 4X4 Super Crew kicks the term luxury truck up a notch or two beyond even similar F-150s of only a few years ago. This one, in fact, rivaled the quietness of the Lexus sedan owned by a younger test staffer, who despite favoring foreign name plates, decreed that if he needed a vehicle to haul a load, this would be it.
It may be a high step up into the King Ranch, but once inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the cavernous and luxurious cabin. Everything is Texas big, from the storage bin between the front seats, (one of 30 storage areas throughout the interior) to the circular dash vents. Nearly everything inside is wrapped in rich tan cowhide from its Texas namesake ranch, right down to the dash. In short, a working gentleman’s edition of the more common F-150 most prospective owners would consider.
Its 157-inch wheelbase-nearly three feet longer than the standard F-150-also makes for an enormous back seat in this four-door, with nearly 18 inches of room between passenger knees and the front seat.
Enough, in fact, to easily accommodate three across, along with a dog or two on the flat floor, or room for a week’s worth of groceries for your own bunkhouse crew.
But, while you’ll love the room, the Super Crew is made for wide-open places, not daily trips to the grocery. This vehicle is so long, part of its bed stuck into the lane at our store parking lot as we wrestled it in and out of parking spots. A smaller wheelbase would be more manageable.
When driving in two-wheel mode got a mite twitchy in the snow, a simple flip of the dash-mounted knob put the F-150 into four-wheel drive, and its 18-inch tires (20-inch wheels are optional) dug in whether it was a trip to the store or through a snowstorm to our favorite southern Michigan cross-country ski trails at Huron Meadows Metropark near Brighton. While tempted, we avoided testing its snowdrift climbing abilities.
Towing is what many buy a pickup for, and Ford’s new standard trailer sway control system should definitely a deciding factor for many buyers. It works with the AdvanceTrac system to alternately apply the truck’s left and right brakes if it detects trailer sway. Trailer haul mode reduces annoying and fuel-sucking upshifts when cresting hills and provides downhill braking so the trans can downshift to help control your tow.
The King Ranch also came with the optional rear camera. Shift into reverse and a camera appears in the rearview mirror (or in the in-dash GPS system if equipped) to help the driver not only judge distance when backing up, but also to precisely line up a hitch. Colored guidelines and a center line also help, as well as an audible warning. And with towing capabilities at the top of its class of up to 11,300 pounds depending on configuration, whether your load is a fifth wheel or a boat, it’s got the juice to handle it.
There is one drawback to one of its options, our resident engineer notes. Traction control can cause a vehicle to lose momentum and bog down when driven in deep snow or mud. Check your owner’s manual, but turning off traction control using the dash-mounted switch under those circumstances might be wise.
Forget the bone-jarring ride in pickups of the past. Ford engineers have learned to make its workhorse truck behave like a luxury car inside. Granted this model was top of the line, but the ride pedigree applies to all F-150 models.
The King Ranch package made this truck feel like a living room on wheels. Power adjustable pedals, and power seat memory, standard on higher-end models, also make changing driver preferences easy.
The F-150’s EPA mileage rating is impressive, in part due to aerodynamic improvements. The 150 boasts a fleet-wide 8 percent economy increase over the 2008 truck, and 12 percent with the 5.4 liter V-8. Its XL and XLT Supercrew 4×2 models are rated at 16 city/21 miles per gallon highway, one mpg better than the 08 model. Look for an even better numbers in 2010 when Ford introduces its EcoBoost turbocharged direct fuel injection technology to F-150 powerplants.
Except when driven by our more lead-footed younger tester, this huge truck got remarkably high mileage. The King Ranch’s 5.4 liter three-valve V-8 rated at 320 horsepower cruised at slightly better than 20 mpg, on the freeway, according to its in-dash calculator, thanks to its 6-speed automatic overdrive tranny.
At idle, it barely breached 600 RPM thanks to variable camshaft timing. In the city, we noted mileage in the high-15s and low 16s as long as we were prudent with the pedal. Other available engine options, depending on the truck style you want, include a 292 horsepower 4.6 liter V-8 and a milder version of the same engine rated at 248 HP. The six-speed is offered on 292 and 320 HP versions only, with a four-speed on the smaller engine.
Ford recognized that its new pickup beds beginning with 2004 models are so high, it’s a stretch even for NBA-size users to reach the box. Enter the built-in side-mount and tailgate-mounted hidden steps now offered on its 6.5- and 8-foot boxes. Push on the spring-loaded side step and out it comes. A foot-shove clicks it back in place. Another in the tailgate, which incidentally sports an integrated spoiler, supports up to 300 pounds and a grab handle also helps you up
Ford’s optional cargo management system compartmentalizes the bed space, and there are optional side-mount tool bins as well as a lockable storage system.
The Bottom Line
Combine all the above with cool options like heated and cooled front seats, a Sony stereo system, Sirius radio, Ford’s hands-free SYNC telephone and music selection that also offers 911 service when it senses an airbag deployment, available voice-activated navigation, USB and iPod/MP3 player ports, heated and standard multiple 12-volt outlets, storage compartments galore including atop the instrument panel, and you’ve got a truck with a huge cool factor that also works well at a job site or campground.
America’s car companies have a long way to go to win over the 20 and 30-somethings who due to past miscues by Ford, Dodge and GM, deserted them, seeing foreign vehicles as the be-all and end-all of auto design.
But as Ford introduces more vehicles like the F-150, including the new 41 mpg hybrid Fusion sedan due this spring, it will be turning a lot of heads and changing more than a few minds.
The F-150 King Ranch at a Glance
• Cost: $42,285 MSRP
• Price as tested (including optional 3.55 limited slip rear axle, Sony 6 CD stereo, rubber floor mats, cargo management package, cargo management system, stowable bed extender, box accessory steps, tailgate step and trailer brake controller): $45,505.
• A Six airbags are standard as are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control and trailer sway control.
• Offered at seven trim levels, from XL to Platinum. Choose from three cab options, four wheelbases, two or for-wheel drive.
• Base price F-150s start at $21,565.
• Mileage: EPA rating 14 mpg city/20 mph highway; the F-150 SFE (superior fuel efficiency) is rated at 15/21 mpg. AF observed: 15 city/20 highway.
• Very quiet, luxury car-like ride for such a big vehicle, very comfortable front and rear seats (love the heat/cool option), outstanding interior quality and fit.
• Great mileage for a vehicle its size.
• Safety features including standard trailer anti-sway system.
• Towing ability.
• Bed step system.
• Step-in height, especially for female drivers.
• Parking this big boy in most mall lots is a chore.
• Cost of the King Ranch package. Most will opt for a lesser model, but if you’ve got the bucks, Ford’s got the luxo-pickup for you.
Estimated insurance cost for six months: $359 (based on middle-aged driver with clear record. source: AAA Michigan)
For an interesting side-by-side comparison with Chevy, dodge and Toyota trucks, check out Ford’s Web site featuring “Dirty Jobs” TV show personality Mike Rowe.