2003 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
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by Jim Kerr

While the shiny red pickup looked like a sharp custom, nothing other than the small SVT badge on the tailgate prepared me for the raw power of Ford’s F150 Lightning. An intercooled, supercharged 5.4 litre Triton V8 makes this truck live up to its name. Turn off the traction control and the sticky rear tires go up in smoke. Drive it with finesse and the Lightning will reward you with impressive performance.

How about 0 to 60 times in 5.8 seconds, quarter mile time of 13.9 seconds, and 0.85 g’s on a 100 foot skidpad. Those are specifications normally delivered by sports cars. Braking is equally impressive, stopping this 2120 kg truck in only 136 feet from 60 miles per hour. Performance like that propels the SVT Lightning to the front of the line in sports pickups, a position challenged only by the new Dodge Ram SRT-10.

SVT, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, was created to build the company performance image. The small SVT group work outside the mainstream Ford development system so that high performance niche vehicles can be designed and marketed without many of the compromises found in regular production vehicles. The SVT Focus, SVT Mustang, and SVT Lightning are all unique vehicles built for driving enthusiasts and are sold only at select Ford dealerships with sales staff and technicians specifically trained to meet the demands of those drivers.

2003 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning

2003 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
Click image to enlarge

There is much to distinguish the SVT Lightning from a regular Ford F-150 pickup. Cosmetically, the Lightning has crystalline headlamps, clear turn signal lenses, round fog lamps and clear tail light lenses. A unique body coloured front facia with large lower air intake directs air
into the intercooler for optimum performance. Lower rocker extensions integrate a dual tip side exhaust out the passenger side and SVT tuned suspension lowers the truck 51 mm in the rear and 38 mm in the front giving the truck a low and aggressive look. Complete the image with special 18 x 9.5 five spoke alloy wheels and sticky Goodyear Eagle F1-GS 295/45ZR-18 tires. The truck looks sharp, like a well integrated custom truck should, only this is a factory model anyone can buy!

Custom touches are found inside as well. The 60/40 split bench seat has improved side bolsters for better lateral support and “Preferred Suede trim with textured Nudo Leather inserts”. Sounds fancier than it is, but it feels comfortable and does look good. SVT logos embroidered on the backrest adds a special touch. Other not as obvious changes include brushed aluminum interior door handles, new steering wheel design, and new plush carpet material. Special SVT electroluminescent gauges include a boost gauge and large tachometer.

Under the hood, the 5.4 litre Triton has been massaged by adding an Eaton supercharger that pushes air through an air to air intercooler. With 380 horses and 450 ft lbs of torque, the Lightning accelerates instantly at any rpm and at any speed. All that power is transferred into a four speed automatic transmission with the same internals used behind Ford’s Powerstroke diesel and then into a beefy aluminum driveshaft. Finally, it goes through a 9-inch traction lock rear differential before reaching the ground on the sticky Goodyear tires. As powerful as the Lightning is, it is also an easy truck to drive everyday. It idles smoothly, cruises quietly, and of course, passes effortlessly.

2003 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
Click image to enlarge

The Lightning’s suspension uses Bilstein gas shocks on all corners to control bounce, with coil springs in the front and five-leaf springs in the rear. The ride is firm but stable. I expected it to be rough but SVT’s tuning efforts made it ride much like a newer 4×4 pickup. The real
surprise is the lack of wheel hop when the gas pedal is floored. It is difficult to handle all that torque with a truck’s light rear end, but the SVT tuners have done a great job.

The SVT Lightning isn’t for everyone. It is a performance truck built for enthusiasts. It uses premium fuel, and performance comes with a premium price. Sport truck owners are dedicated however and will put up with the cost. In country where pickups rule, the SVT Lightning could be considered the ruler.


Technical Data:

2003 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
Base price/tested price $42,345/$43,765
Type 2-door, 3 passenger full-size pickup
Engine 5.4 litre V8, SOHC
Horsepower 380 @ 4750 rpm
Torque 450 lb-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Transmission 4 speed automatic
Tires Goodyear Eagle F1-GS 295/45ZR-18
Curb weight 2120 kg (4670 kg)
Wheelbase 3043 mm (119.8 in.)
Length 5283 mm (208.0 in.)
Width 2009 mm ( 79.1 in.)
Height 1801 mm (70.9 in.)
Cargo Capacity 635 kg (1400 lb.)
Fuel consumption City: 19.4 L/100 km (15 mpg); Hwy: 13.6 L/100 km (21 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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