First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
2009 Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

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Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2009 Ford F-150

Detroit, Michigan – With the price of fuel these days, it hasn’t been an easy ride for truck manufacturers who have been steadily cutting back production and dropping prices in an effort to get vehicles off the lot.

But no matter how much gas costs at the pump, there are many people who need a truck to make a living. Those are the buyers Ford is targeting with its all-new 2009 F-150, which it hopes will carry on the tradition of Canada’s best-selling pickup truck; come the end of 2008, the model will have held that position for 43 years.
As is common with makeovers, the F-150 is larger than the model it replaces, but it’s more than just new sheet metal: there is a new, stronger and lighter frame; new drivelines; new safety features; and a long range of standard or optional features.

Most importantly, when stacked up against the competition at a hands-on demonstration of towing, hauling and handling, the new F-150 makes considerable gains both on the last-generation Ford, and in most cases, on the vehicles it faces from other automakers. Truck-wise, the blue oval is right back at the top of its game.
Three engines are offered: a two-valve 4.6-litre V8 with four-speed automatic transmission, a new three-valve 4.6-litre V8 with six-speed automatic, and an E85-capable three-valve 5.4-litre V8 with the six-speed. There is no manual transmission offered anymore – Ford said it simply didn’t sell – and there’s no V6, since the company felt that the difference in fuel economy when compared to the new six-speed-equipped V8 wasn’t enough to woo buyers, and it preferred to go with extra capability.

First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
2009 Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

That’s the key with this new F-150; as the number of “image” buyers drops due to economic reasons, Ford has increased the truck’s ability to capture its core buyers who need a vehicle for the work it can do. To do that, the 2009 version, when properly equipped, can tow up to 6,000 lbs with the base engine, up to 9,500 lbs with the mid-range engine, and up to 11,300 lbs with the premium engine – numbers that are across-the-board whether in Regular, Extended or Crew Cab configuration, and which are higher than rivals from Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota with comparable engines. Payload capacity also outperforms the other three companies, with a maximum 1,760 lbs in Crew Cab; 2,650 lbs in Extended Cab; and 3,030 lbs in Regular Cab.

Published fuel economy ranges from a low of 14.3 (city) and 9.6 (highway) for the three-valve 4.6-litre “Fuel Saver” model, to a high of 15.7 and 11.3 for the 5.4-litre in 4×4 configuration.

The F-150 is already on sale in Canada, ahead of the U.S. sale date of November 2, due to faster sell-down of 2008 inventory north of the border. Trim lines are the XL, STX, XLT, the off-road FX4 and the luxury Lariat, which can be further optioned with the King Ranch or Platinum packages. Prices range from $24,199 to $32,099 for Regular Cab models; from $29,899 to $35,599 for the SuperCab (extended) models; and from $33,199 to $54,699 for the SuperCrew models. Regular Cabs come with 8- or 6.5-foot boxes; SuperCab with 8-, 6.5- or 5.5-foot boxes; and SuperCrew with 6.5- or 5.5-foot boxes. Between cab configurations, box lengths and trim levels, there are 35 possible combinations, although Regular Cab models will be a late entry, with production beginning in January.

First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
Ford has retained leaf springs for the F-150′s rear axle (top); Frame cross sections from L-R Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

All of these ride on a fully-boxed frame that has been lightened by almost 7 kg (15 lbs) but strengthened with the use of high-strength steel. While Dodge has gone to rear coil springs for its all-new 2009 Ram, Ford has retained its leaf springs, which it says is the “best setup for all-round customer use.” The rear shocks have been outboard since 2004. In a static display that puts weight on one corner of a bare frame, the Ford frame twisted less than that of Chevrolet or Toyota, while videos taken of Silverado, Ram, Tundra and Dodge on a punishing test course over an undulating surface showed the Ford with less wheel hop and box movement.

Other additions for 2009 include standard AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, trailer sway control, side and curtain airbags, and Ford’s new Easy Fuel capless fuel filler system (which is such a brilliant idea that you wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with it); new available features include the equally impressive tailgate step system (first seen on the Super Duty), a box side step, a cargo management system with cleats that will hold up to 600 lbs each, an integrated trailer brake controller, Sync music and communications connectivity, Sony-branded audio systems, a rearview display to help with trailer hookup, a bed extender that folds against the box sides when not in use, and heated and cooled seats.

Coming this year in the U.S., and scheduled for next year in Canada, is “Ford Work Solutions”, a series of four work-related add-ons that include an in-dash computer with Internet access and wireless keyboard, a Tool Link tracker system that inventories tools in the truck via radio frequency tags, a Crew Chief fleet-tracking system, and a cable lock to secure items in the truck bed.

First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
Platinum trim line interior (top); King Ranch interior. Click image to enlarge

Our first of two days with the truck started with what the company called the “refinement drive”, which simply meant taking it out on the street. It’s a big truck, and I’m not buying chief engineer Matt O’Leary’s explanation that it was designed to look appropriately-sized around a maximum-capacity box; it dwarfs the last two generations, and I can hardly wait for a truck manufacturer to admit that, yes, it’s gotten ridiculous, and bring them down to a more manageable size. I also didn’t appreciate the lack of a grab handle for the driver’s side. Vehicle Engineering Manager Dennis Slevin told me that the company held numerous focus groups to discuss the pros and cons of a driver’s assist handle, and finally decided against it, on the grounds that its usefulness didn’t outweigh a visibility issue on the A-pillar. It depends on the manufacturer: Dodge and Toyota have one, while Chevrolet and Ford do not.

The grab handle aside, the interior is impressive. The seats are supportive, the gauges are easy to read, the dash vents are simple to use with gloves, and the build quality appears to be good, although the upper-line climate and stereo controls become a myriad of small buttons that can be hard to find at a glance. As is standard procedure with Ford, every control is backlit, as every control on every vehicle should be. Most noticeable is what isn’t noticeable – namely, the noise. This new model is extremely quiet when driving; there’s a lot of sound-deadening, as well as a new steering column damper to reduce “nibble”, the engineers’ name for steering wheel vibration. Steering is responsive without being too quick – something you don’t want when you’re hauling a load or pulling a trailer – and the ride is very comfortable; my co-driver and I remarked that it felt more like riding in a Ford Flex crossover than in a full-size pickup truck.

First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
The rear seats flip up just by lifting them (top); The floor in the rear seat is flat. Click image to enlarge

The redesign gives the F-150 a bolder face, with the company’s new signature three-bar grille, angular headlights, and attractive taillights, bisected by a chrome strip. The SuperCrew has been lengthened by six inches, but it’s all in the rear of the cab so that the B-pillar stays put and doesn’t interfere with visibility. The rear floor is also flat, which allows for easier cargo loading, as you can now slide items straight across. Finally, to make it even easier, Ford nicked the flip-up rear seats first seen on the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado; push up the cushions and they stay there, although unlike with Chev, you must pull a latch on the exposed seat bottom in order to lower them.

If it’s meant for work, it’s got to do work, and so at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds, we were presented with an extremely challenging off-road course, as well as a towing course and handling course that saw the F-150 matched against Ram, Tundra and Chevrolet.

The off-road was the FX4′s domain; it includes specially-tuned shock absorbers, skid plates, and most importantly, an electronic locking rear axle. This is manually controlled by the driver, by pulling out the 4×4 switch. In the hands of my very off-road-experienced co-driver, the system got us through a gargantuan mud-hole that even trapped the fellow who had designed the course.

First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
First Drive: 2009 Ford F 150 trucks ford first drives
2009 Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

Towing was with 7,300-lb trailers through a variety of elevations, and while the Silverado and Tundra were equal to the task (the Ram, on a steep hill, got up to about 72 km/h before it shifted and ran out of grunt), the F-150 has a neat trick up its sleeve: in tow/haul mode, on downhill grades, tapping the brakes lightly will induce a downshift (and usually a second one, depending on what gear you were in) that lets you take advantage of engine braking. Getting back on the throttle provides a seamless transition from the six-speed automatic. The Tundra would also downshift, but it was far more difficult to induce.

On the handling course, trucks were loaded with 850 lbs of weight and then sent out to battle slalom, evasive manoeuvring, braking and turning. All of the trucks performed fairly well, given that they aren’t sports cars, but the winner seemed to be the F-150 when clad with Pirelli Scorpion tires. The F-150 also didn’t require as much steering wheel movement to get it around the cones as the Ram did, and it held a sharp corner better than the Silverado.

The verdict? Truck buyers tend to be an incredibly loyal group, and no matter what brand they prefer, all of the automakers are turning out very well-done vehicles. Ford is no exception; for comfort, towing ability and handling while hauling, the new F-150 is extremely well done. You may not see too many of them doing duty as “big cars”, thanks to the prices at the pump, but when it comes to hard work, this is among the very best of the bunch.