Ford F-150 brings brawn and brains to the road |

Ford F-150 brings brawn and brains to the road

Andy Stonehousespecial to the daily
Special to the DailyAfter a late-1990s redesign produced F-150s with soft, Taurus-inspired curves, Ford's 2004 version has happily resulted in a truck that's chunky, solid and distinctive

There’s never been anything subtle about America’s best selling truck, the venerable Ford F-150. The reliable, sturdy and hard-working truck has long been a fixture on every job site, highway project and government project from here to the Arctic Ocean, the ubiquitous and universal automotive equivalent of a Big Mac.After a late-1990s redesign produced F-150s with soft, Taurus-inspired curves, Ford’s 2004 version has happily resulted in a truck that’s chunky, solid and distinctive – not to mention more powerful and mechanically sound, to boot.

Powered by a wonderfully punchy 5.4 liter V8 Triton engine (producing 300 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and 365 pounds per foot of torque at 3,750 RPM), the new F-150 is a solid hauling machine with great power both for uphill shots and highway passing.Put through the paces on the same stretch of Golden Gate Canyon (we realize we should have taken a true performer such as the Chrysler Crossfire) the F-150 still proved surprisingly maneuverable, solid and easy to handle, keeping a square grip on the ground at all times. Those attractive five-spoke, 17-inch alloy rims and good all-season tires also helped ground the truck when we took a brief off-road jaunt; the switch-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive technology would probably make this an unbelievably solid ride in winter conditions.

The 2004 F-150 is definitely an eye-opener on first glance, with squared looks that give the truck a modern and approachable angularity. With a hood and grille seemingly borrowed from a massive F-350, the F-150 has been given a large and imposing profile, complete with oversized headlights and turn signals. Side views are straight and solid, with a two-tone color scheme and running boards helping to break up the truck’s rigidity.From the rear, the F-150 is a wall of metal, with a huge, flat tailgate the size of a barn door. Large and tall enough, sadly, to create a rear sightline blockage which makes it impossible for drivers to see anything smaller than an Expedition traveling behind you (the reverse sensing radar system comes in handy in this instance). Our test model was pre-equipped with a fully-wired towing package (depending on the size and variation of your F-150 choice, you can tow up to 9,500 pounds).

The F-150’s interior is pleasant and functional although the 2004 redesign has produced a cab full of some occasionally oppressive and overly futuristic features. The two-tone dash and console features sparkly metallic offsets around the very simple stereo and climate controls. Large, rounded switches control the lights and the on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system; an ungainly, chrome-accented gear selector rises like an oversized Mag-Lite out of the center console. All around, there’s an uneven mix of leather and plastic – a huge, central, leather-topped storage box serves as a driver’s side armrest – plus metal-styled mesh on the doors, covering the speakers. Even the front and rear floor mats get a faux-industrial treatment, looking like stippled sheet metal (a design motif that shows up in the rocker panels, as well). Large, Barcalounger-style leather Captain’s seats are a little stiff but provide excellent support.

More functional, especially in the F-150’s crew cab incarnation, are rear-folding back doors that open wide enough to actually allow entry by passengers. Rear seating is reasonably comfortable and complete with headrests; side windows even open for a bit of extra ventilation.Thinking about it, our F-150 Super Cab was configured like a gigantic, more comfortable version of the crew cab, short-box Explorer Sport Trac, which seemed to make sense until we examined the 14/18 miles per gallon gas mileage figure the F-150 generated. Even with a 133-inch wheelbase, the F-150’s payload bed was just a little too small to accommodate a substantial load; if you’re looking for a vehicle to simply haul yourself and four passengers and a couple of bikes, this may not be your best choice. Those with a virtually unlimited fuel budget and a taste for rugged backcountry sophistication may have found their match.

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