by Greg Wilson
The fastest way to bring home a load of manure from the gardening centre
First, let me say that I think the idea of a high-performance pickup is a dumb idea. If you want high-performance, buy a Porsche Boxster! Why attempt to go fast in a vehicle built for hauling hay bales and 4X8 sheets of plywood? Converting an F-150 pickup to a high-performance vehicle is like converting a Piper Cub into a fighter jet – there are some basic design issues that limit the possibilities.
Still, I didn’t turn down the opportunity to drive the revised 2001 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning when it was offered to me. I gotta admit, it looks sharp (for a pickup truck). Lowered by half an inch in front and two inches at the rear, the Lightning features low-profile Goodyear F1 18 inch tires and five-spoke alloy wheels, a unique SVT front grille with horizontal bars, a large front air dam with twin foglamps, side sills, and rear body cladding.
The headlight and taillight design is new for 2001 – they now have clear, plastic covers and chrome-like backgrounds. I especially liked the Lightning’s twin exhaust pipes which exit from the right side just behind the passenger compartment.
A sporty but tasteful interior includes special bucket seats with built-in head restraints and extra side bolstering for support. The bucket seats are actually a 60/40 split bench seat which seats three passengers – but they look like separate bucket seats. The driver and passenger seats have attractive suede upholstery with black centre inserts and prominent ‘SVT’ logos just below the head restraints. The SVT’s dash is similar to the regular F-150 pickup, but it has white-faced gauges and a boost gauge for the supercharger.
Under the hood is a supercharged 5.4 litre SOHC 16 valve V8 engine with a whopping 380 horsepower at 4,750 rpm (up 20 horsepower from last year) and a massive 450 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm (up by 10 lb-ft.). Contributing to this generous output is an Eaton Generation IV Roots-type supercharger with a water-to-air intercooler which provides up to 8.0 psi pressure boost to the induction system. To keep things cool, the Lightning includes a engine oil cooler and transmission oil cooler.
Power goes to the rear wheels via a standard 4-speed automatic transmission with on/off overdrive actuation and a column shifter – I thought a floor shifter would have been sportier (but then the gear lever would get in the way of a centre passenger).
The Lightning includes a standard Class 111 towing package and will pull up to 2,270 kg (5,000 lb.) Maximum payload is 363 kg (800 lb.)
As far as fuel consumption goes, that big sucking sound you hear is the money being pulled out of your wallet at the gas station. Expect no better than 14.0 l/100 km (20 mpg) on the HIGHWAY.
In a straight line, the SVT Lightning does 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.9 seconds, VERY quick for a truck weighing 2,120 kg (4,670 lb.) This is an improvement from 6.2 seconds of last year’s truck due to a new 3.73 rear axle ratio. Over the quarter mile, Ford quotes a figure of 13.9 seconds, also extremely quick for a pickup – or for that matter any type of vehicle! Top speed is estimated at 228 km/h, but you wouldn’t want to go there..
Braking, courtesy of standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, is also impressive. According to Ford’s own figures, it will stop in 136 feet from 60 mph and 238 feet from 80 mph. Ford quotes lateral G forces of 0.85g on a 100 feet skidpad – that’s equivalent to high-end sports cars like the Corvette.
When accelerating, there are two separate sounds coming from the engine: a deep-throated rumble from the 5.4 litre V8, and a loud whining, grinding sound from the supercharger. I found the whining noise loud and irritating, but it disappears when coasting or cruising on the highway.
Anyone who owns a pickup knows that when unloaded, the rear tires will spin without a lot of encouragement (because of a lightweight rear-end) – you can imagine what the SVT will do if you floor the accelerator! Fortunately, the Lightning comes with a standard limited slip rear differential which helps prevent one wheel from spinning. Still, I think the SVT needs some form of traction control, particularly for driving in the rain or snow.
Click image to enlarge
Handling is surprisingly good for a vehicle with a solid rear axle and rear leaf springs. The Lightning features super-grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 295/45 ZR-18 inch summer tires with a unidirectional tread pattern, a lowered suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, and Bilstein gas shock absorbers. In fast turns and switchbacks, the handling is neutral with just a hint of oversteer, and body lean is minimal. The power recirculating ball steering offers a fairly quick turn-in response and a firm feel. I hate to say it, but the Lightning is actually fun-to-drive (in a sort of macho, kick-ass kind of way). Get it unbalanced though, and the Lightning’s considerable body mass and solid rear axle produces axle tramp and undesirable directional tendencies. The rear wheels will brake loose when accelerating too quickly out of a corner on a slippery surface, and quick action is needed to regain composure. I would recommend that first-time drivers drive with caution.
Despite its hot-rod attitude, the Lightning could easily be a daily driver. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, and the engine is a purring pussycat at slower speeds. And the cabin is very comfortable: the Lightning is equipped with lots of luxury goodies such as six-way power driver’s seat, AM/FM/cassette with remote six-disc CD changer, power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and cruise control. The only option is the soft tonneau cover.
Click image to enlarge
Priced at $41,300, the Lightning is made in limited quantities at Ford’s Oakville, Ontario truck plant – there is some exclusivity in owning one of these. Next time you pick up a load of manure at the gardening centre, the chances are you’ll be the only SVT Lightning owner in the parking lot.
See www.ford.com for more info.
Prices: Ford F-150