It doesn’t matter whether you give a hoot about pickup trucks or not. It doesn’t even matter whether you care so little about cars you don’t know the name of the model you’re presently driving. Whatever your thoughts about our shared automotive universe and your place within it, you need to pay attention to this: Ford has just unveiled its 2004 F-150 pickup. The world’s most mass-produced vehicle, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the last 20 years — with over 26 million sales on its tally sheet — has just been completely reengineered from scratch and reborn.
The deck is loaded and the stakes couldn’t be higher. As any vaguely aware person can tell you, Ford is on the ropes. The F-150 is the company’s crown jewel and cash cow all rolled into one big safety net. The timing is excruciating: Either the redefined F-150 will tide its masters over and even turn back the surging flood of red ink; or it will disappoint its loyalists, succumb to its rivals and slip heartbreakingly off its perennial throne.
If the consequences weren’t so dire, the debut of such an important new vehicle would be an automotive soap opera of the first magnitude. Staring fate and fortune in the teeth, Ford has made several brave bets with their new F-150.
2004 Ford F-150Enlarge Photo
2004 Ford F-150
Ford’s next big bet concerns its cargo box. As if to compensate somewhat for the additional interior stowage, the bed walls of all cargo boxes are two inches taller. That’s two extra inches of reach-over height for us five-foot-sixers, but there are also almost 10 extra cubic feet to fill. Get it? For 10 more cubes inside, you get 10 more cubes outside. A very neat additional trick is the “close-assist” tailgate. Using a torsion bar as a linchpin for the hinge, the all-steel tailgate opens and closes as if it weighed, maybe, 20 pounds less than before. For forcing shorties to tippy-toe when they reach over the sides of higher cargo-box walls, Ford compensates with a tailgate you can wrangle with one hand.
Exterior restyling, of course, is what the general public will notice first. It’s certainly apparent that the general sculptural effect is chunkier and more angular than the curvaceous lines of the present F-150. Whether the new look represents a sufficiently bold departure to suggest a design revolution is more contentious. Personally, I sense a bit of hedging — particularly so when I learned that the current 2003 design will hold over into 2004 as Ford’s “Heritage Edition” pickup.
Any thoughts of half-measures are banished, however, once you’re inside the cab. From the base XL model to the spiffy, upscale Lariat version, the new F-150 interiors are radically different from anything else available. The angular facets and flowing lines of dash and console create a dramatic command center effect for both driver and front-passenger. In uplevel XLT and Lariat models, the influence of Lincoln’s Navigator SUV is unmistakable. One feature in particular, the powered overhead rail system, is magnificent: here is a place to mix and match a number of Ford’s different storage bins and electronic gadgets, from fitted holders for cell phones, sunglasses, PDAs, and tissue boxes to a DVD player for backseaters.
2004 Ford F-150
2004 Ford F-150Enlarge Photo
Initially, all new F-150s will sport a 5.4-liter Triton V-8 underhood, with the present 4.6-liter V-8 to roll into the model mix later. So, initially, there are 300 lusty horses at the F-150’s disposal. Thanks to a very clever hydraulic system of variable valve timing, the F-150 produces a low and broad power band. Maximum torque is 365 pound-feet; but the better news is that 80 percent of this is available from as low as 1000 rpm. Engine output, moreover, integrates with an electronic (drive-by-wire) throttle to deliver excellent throttle response for absolutely hiccup-free acceleration at any speed.
As with pickups in general, the 2004 F-150 boasts a matrix of choices: the aforementioned three cabs, three box lengths (eight feet, 6.5 feet, and 5.5 feet), and five trim styles (XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat, in ascending order of price). By standards of the past, each new F-150 is loaded with features never before available. So, too, is Ford’s dynastic succession as King of Trucks, which promises suspense-laden drama fascinating to behold.
2004 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew
Base prices: $30,000-$35,000 (est.; base F-150 $25,000 est.)
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8, 300 hp/365 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length x width x height (in): 224.0 x 75.3 x 78.9
Wheelbase: 138.5 in
Curb weight: 5210-5502 lb
EPA City/Hwy:14/18 mpg (4WD), 15/19 (2WD)
Safety equipment: Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control, dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags, Electronic Brake Distribution
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, AM/FM/CD stereo; 4WD adds overhead rail system, fog lamps
Warranty:Three years/36,000 miles