The good news about being King of the Hill is that challengers have to climb uphill to reach you.The bad news is that everyone has you in their sights and a slight misstep is all it takes to slip from the top. Ford's F-series trucks are in just such a spot. They have been the top-selling truck for two decades, and the best-selling vehicle of any kind for 15 years. A radical redesign debuted in 1996 and sales continue to go through the roof. SuperCab models came with a third door at no extra cost, and a whole new family of overhead-cam V8s was offered. The F-150 brought the comfort of a car to the rugged personality of a truck. Its aerodynamic styling was not only attractive but efficient, decreasing wind noise and improving fuel economy. Now, nearly two years later, the 1998 F-150 continues with incremental improvements intended to keep it at the head of its class. Larger front brakes and 16-inch tires are standard, along with a boxed frame for improved rigidity and de-powered airbags. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are optional, and so is a load-leveling rear air suspension. Our test vehicle was a black, top-of-the-line SuperCab equipped with the Lariat package, 4.6-liter V8, four-wheel drive and the Flareside bed. A pretty fancy rig, in other words, as plush as an Expedition (which is based on the F-150) but with the hauling versatility of a 6.5-foot bed. While the Flareside box looks tough, with its flared fenders and molded-in steps, it holds less than the regular box because it is 5.5-inches narrower. The width between the wheel houses is the same as the standard bed, so you can still slip in a 4X8 sheet of plywood. The steps on the front of the bed are quite handy for grabbing things from inside. This baby sits pretty tall, and that made it hard to load heavy items, as I found out at the rental store when I picked up a power rake for a Saturday afternoon torture routine. Thanks to running boards, getting yourself up into the cabin is no big deal. A grab handle on the driver's side, however, would be better than hoisting yourself in by tugging on the steering wheel. The passenger does have a handle, so fitting one on the left side should be a snap. The third door enhances access to the bench-type back seat that is actually big enough to carry adults and can be folded down for stowing large items such as suitcases or tool boxes. Bucket seats in front, plus multiple cupholders and a large console with storage for myriad small items, make the cab a comfortable place to spend lots of time, an important quality for persons who use their trucks for work or long trips. The front airbags now inflate with less force, and the one on the passenger side can be turned off with a switch so it doesn't endanger small children or babies in car seats. When the Lariat equipment package is specified, the power mirrors come with turn-signal indicators built in so drivers alongside can tell you are changing lanes. The 4.6-liter, single-overhead-cam (SOHC) V8 is as smooth as a Town Car, yet has adequate power (220 horses) for hauling its payload. Those who demand more oomph can choose a slightly larger 5.4-liter version that has 235 horsepower and an additional 40 ft.lbs. of torque, which is crucial to actually moving the vehicle. A knob on the dash operates the shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system that is the ideal partner for the four-speed automatic transmission. With the optional 17-inch alloy wheels and off-road package, the F-150 should be formidable in the outback should you choose to take it there. Chevrolet is readying a redesign of its full-size pickup truck, and Dodge has added four doors to its Ram, forcing Ford to stay at the top of its game in order to keep a lock on truck sales. Price The base price of our test truck was $27,295. Optional equipment included the Lariat package, tilt steering wheel, cruise ontrol, AM/FM stereo, power mirrors, power driver's seat, electronic shift for four-wheel drive, off-road package, 17-inch aluminum wheels, skid plates and leather upholstery. The sticker price was $31,500. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: The F-150 is almost as smooth as a car, thanks to a vibration-free, overhead-cam V8. The back seat of the SuperCab is big enough for adults and easy to get into because of a third door. Counterpoint: The Flareside box is narrower than the standard box and holds less. A grab handle would ease the driver's entry. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 4.6-liter, V8 TRANSMISSION: Automatic WHEELBASE: 138.8 inches GVWR: 6,000 lbs. BASE PRICE: $27,295 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $31,500 MPG RATING: 14 city, 18 hwy.
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||November 15, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 12, 1997|
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