Since 1980, the Ford F-150 has been America’s best selling pickup. No matter what the competition or Federal government has tried to throw at it, so far nothing has been able to knock this popular half-ton from the top of the sales chart. Sure, there have been attempts, most notably by GM with its C1500 (now Silverado) and Sierra pickups, but so far the Ford continues to be the number one choice across the country. For 2004, addressing numerous quality concerns, Ford raised the bar with an almost totally redesigned F-150.
1. The 2009 F-150 now only comes with V-8 engines and automatic transmissions, though fuel economy is 10-12 percent better than the 2008 model.
2. Built in, retractable box steps, a tailgate ladder and steps are clever, first in class features.
3. A new top of the line Platinum F-150 gets Rich Stone or Dark Sienna trimmed leather upholstery and 10-way power captain’s chairs, adding a new level of luxury.
4. The F-150’s towing capacity of 11,300 lbs is almost double that of some rival trucks.
Five years later and it’s decided to give the truck another freshening, in an effort to stay ahead of the curve. Among those improvements include a new frame, stronger cab; more powerful and efficient V-8 engines, greater attention paid in the realm of ergonomics, plus the addition of a high end Platinum luxury model. Question is; has it worked?
OUTSIDE AND IN
At a glance, save for the new grille, front bumper, headlights and taillights, the 2009 F-150 merely looks like last year’s model, given a mild nip ‘n’ tuck job. The appearance of this truck is perhaps one of rugged confidence, not over the top and in your face like the Dodge Ram or Toyota Tundra, but a bit more aggressive than the GM twins. But although it might look similar to last year’s F-150, there’s a bit more to it than just freshened fascias. The front doors on Super Crew (read full four-door cab) models are actually longer than before, with the B-pillars moved back. This actually improves visibility (reducing the over the shoulder blind spot) and yet seatbelt reach isn’t a problem. The mirror design is also new, with less distracting turn signal repeat flashers in the bottom of each housing on the higher-level trucks. A new top-of-the line Platinum version (SuperCrew only) features electrically retractable running boards, making entry and exit easier than before. Fit and finish on the sample rigs we tested was first rate, with linear and narrow panel gaps, plus good quality and glossy paint, even on the base level XL truck.
Unlike Dodge, Ford has gone to great lengths to emphasize the ‘functionality’ of their latest F-150 and taking a look at the cargo box bears this out. For starters, there are a couple of retractable steps in front of each rear wheel. Click on them and they pop out, enabling you to jump up and reach in the front area of the bed, right down to the floor. Secondly, the tailgate incorporates a built in step ladder and grab handle, making climbing up at the back far easier than before. A built in bed extender also enables you to fence in bulky items with the tailgate lowered, without having to head to the truck accessory shop and drop some extra coin, which in the current economic climate is definitely a plus. By incorporating these features the F-150 has raised the bar for bed functionality in the segment at this time, we’ll see if the competition follows suit.
The 2004-08 F-150 set the standard for full-size truck cabins when it was launched and the ’09 model goes several steps further. Close the door and you hear an authoritative clunk. Cabin materials, including the dash, door panels, steering wheel and the seat coverings feel a lot more substantial than before and that’s regardless of trim level. The steering wheel has a nice texture to it and the switchgear is nice and chunky, the controls feel functional and strong to the touch, a far cry from F-150s of just a decade ago. Outward visibility is, on the whole, excellent, (helped by those longer front doors), though the hood sometimes feels like it’s a mile long, especially in tight, urban environments.
No analysis of the interior is complete without mentioning the seats. The front chairs are very well bolstered and extremely comfortable for long distance driving and the same applies whether they’re the split cloth bench in the XL or XLT or the leather lined buckets found in the Lariat, King Ranch or Platinum. In some pickups you find yourself trying to stretch your back after a couple of hours driving, but not with in these. On SuperCrew models, thanks to an overall six-inch cab stretch, rear rider space is noticeably improved. In addition, the rear seats can be folded upright, which, combined with a fully flat cab floor, frees up 57.6 cubic feet of cargo space, allowing you to install big, bulky items, like your next big screen TV.
Ford was one of the first full-size truck manufacturers to offer a full-length center console, replete with automatic shift lever and for 2009, both the console and shifter use better quality materials. Storage space is also improved and the console lengthened by some two inches, but we feel that the regular center storage armrest offers plenty of cubby room, without sacrificing front seat, floor and foot space. For 2009, Ford has partnered with Sony to offer a range of premium sound systems in the F-150 and in our sample Lariat, the acoustics were incredible, with a crisp, clear sound normally reserved for high end luxury sedans. Standard Sirius/XM satellite radio is also a boon. Ford has introduced a back up camera, available on the FX-4 and higher-level trucks, that activates once the vehicle is put in reverse. It’s a bit of a gimmick if you ask us, somewhat distracting and potentially perilous (it’s tempting not to look outside when backing up). Having said that, the bumper mounted warning sensors, that beep faster the closer you get to an object are very helpful.
ON THE ROAD
There’s probably one word to describe the 2009 F-150 once in motion – refinement. Each truck we drove, from a base level XL, to the full jam Platinum, felt remarkably tight and solid on the open road. Besides utilizing a fully boxed frame with stouter crossmembers (which has improved torsional rigidity by some 10 percent), Chief Engineer Matt O’ Leary and his team paid attention to noise, vibration and harshness and it shows. There’s minimal intrusion – little wind noise at highway speeds and even when you find yourself driving over washboard type surfaces, creaks and rattles are kept to an absolute minimum. The new F-150 employs six-inch longer rear leaf springs and although the ride is still unmistakably truck, the back end bounces a lot less than some of its competitors, even when the cargo box is empty.
One other element that stands out is the steering – it’s smooth and remarkably precise for a pickup, delivering excellent feedback and confidence, our only criticism is that this truck could perhaps have a tighter turning radius, something that hobbles it a bit during urban, slow speed maneuvers. The steering linkage however, feels stronger than its key rivals in that, even over big bumps, you don’t get the feeling that it’s attached to the chassis with baler twine – credit the engineers, who installed a first in class hydraulic steering damper, for that one.
In terms of actual handling, the 2009 F-150 isn’t going to win an autocross, but taken in context; it performs rather well through the turns at speed. Aided by the precise and quick steering, the truck feels far more athletic than its size would suggest. There’s a hint of understeer (more notable on trucks with the smaller 17-inch wheels and tires – 20s are optional), but it corners rather well all things considered. The back end is surprisingly compliant and with a little practice it’s possible to throttle steer this roughly 5000 lb pickup, not something you can do with many ½ ton full-size rigs. The brakes are perhaps the weakest link – sure the four-wheel disc system with four-channel ABS is more than up to the job, but pedal feel is a bit soft. Push your foot in and it takes a while for the anchors to grab, but when they do, it’s with considerable force. It’s almost as if the system needs more vacuum, but we also think that the four-disc setup is perhaps overkill on a pickup, especially if you’re going four-wheeling.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the latest F-150, is the fact that it only comes with V-8 engines and automatic transmissions. The base motor is the old 4.6-liter SOHC 2-valve unit, coupled with the Lincoln sourced four-speed slushbox. With 248 hp and 294 ft-lbs of torque on tap, it’s a decent workhorse, but somehow feels a bit put out when fully loaded up or towing a trailer, though the transmission’s shifts are smooth and precise, quite remarkable considering the unit’s basic age.
New for 2009 is a 4.6-liter V-8 with three-valve cylinder heads borrowed from the Mustang GT. Rated at 282 hp and 320 ft-lbs this is a well-rounded engine and coupled with a new (and very smooth shifting we might add) six-speed automatic, delivers ample power, especially in the mid range, with fuel economy that’s some 10 percent better than the old 2-valve unit (around 18-20 miles per gallon is possible with this engine, whereas the old truck would struggle to do 13-18 city/highway on a good run). A Special Fuel Economy package, that combines this engine and the six-speed transmission, in a 4×2 SuperCrew truck with short 5.5 foot box, light weight wheels, high mileage tires, special 3.15:1 final drive and front spoiler, goes even further – achieving up to 21 mpg on the highway – rather impressive for a big pickup. The King Kong 5.4 Triton V-8 is perhaps even more remarkable than the 4.6 three-valve. It has more than enough power in reserve, no matter what the occasion (320 hp and 390 ft-lbs) and coupled with that new-six speed trans, is our preferred choice. Fuel economy virtually matches the 4.6 three-valve engine, being in the 14-20 mpg range, so from our standpoint, you’re better off spending the extra coin if you can, it simply gives you more options when it comes to towing and hauling.
Speaking of towing, the 2009 F-150 employs an integrated Trailer Brake Control and Trailer Sway Control function. This allows the driver to have more direct input over the trailer’s braking system, enabling him/her to dial it in more precisely and thus avoiding the wild bucking from behind every time you hit the anchors (an aspect that’s common with many aftermarket trailer braking systems). During sudden lateral movements when towing, the trailer sway control function really comes into its own, minimizing drama and the risk of a rollover. Another trump card in the F-150’s deck is the truck’s overall towing capacity. Thanks to the stout frame and in combination with the 5.4 V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission; in 4×2 form, it’s rated to tow up to 11,300 lbs, far greater than any of its current rivals.
In 4×4 guise, it also equates itself well on the rough stuff. Particularly with the big engine, the F-150 FX-4 off road version, aided by a first in class, electronic locking rear differential, rarely has any traction issues, all you need to do is gun that throttle and the driveline and all-terrain tires do the rest. The only thing we did notice is that for going down steep embankments a hill descent control would be a welcome option, allowing you to concentrate more on just steering the truck, instead of having to constantly feather the throttle as well. Still the fact that the new high-performance Raptor does have HDC, might indicate that the FX-4 could well get it soon.
Although many pickups like this are still bought for personal use, Ford has recognized the contractor side of the equation with the ’09 F-150, offering up a very cool feature called Work Solutions, developed in conjunction with Microsoft. Using a dash mounted Broadband based computer, this allows owners to keep track of inventory, billing and time on the job. A feature called Tool Link, developed with DeWalt, also enables contractors to keep track of each and every tool in their arsenal and will alert the driver when an item is missing. For contractors with a fleet of trucks, a clever Crew Chief program allows them to track the location of each vehicle and send the nearest one to a job site, helping to save time and minimize operating costs.
In terms of personal entertainment and organization, the 2009 F-150 comes with Ford’s SYNC, voice activated communications system, as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio, an MP3 player and an optional navigational system with a Sirius travel link feature, that highlights points of interest, alternative routes and best fuel prices among other things.
When it’s time to fill up, a new Easy Fuel filler system, dispenses with the fiddly gas cap, all you do is simply open the flap, insert the pump nozzle and close the flap when finished. It seals automatically and besides saving time, also helps curb smog formation and reduce hazardous fumes.
There are literally so many improvements to the 2009 F-150 it’s hard to describe them all in a single review. What we will say is this: Factoring in all we’ve just talked about, along with 35 available combinations of cab, box and trim level configurations, plus it’s safety features – the truck employs new, improved K-bag steering wheel and dash cushions along with Ford’s patented rollover ‘Safety Canopy’ among other things, it’s difficult to not come away impressed. As for pricing, in the US, retail for the base XL regular cab starts at $21,095, the STX begins at $23,895, the XLT at $25,065, the FX4 at $33,630, with the higher end trucks, the Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum, beginning at $32,185, $38.840 and $40,440 respectively. And that’s quite exceptional value when you consider just how capable this latest F-150 actually is. As it stands right now, this Ford is definitely the benchmark for full-size, ½ ton pickups.
Interior quality and finish set the bar for full-size pickups Steering is amazingly precise for a vehicle in this class Useful bed features and Work Solutions take practicality to the next level
Could use a tighter turning radius No Hill Descent Control offered on FX-4 version Still feels a bit unwieldy in some urban environments