Pickup trucks are selling so fast you'd think half the country is in the home remodeling business.Roughly half of all vehicles sold are trucks, and last year Ford's F-series racked up more than 836,000 sales, making it once again the best-selling vehicle in the country. Most trucks fall into the "personal use" category, where their beds haul little or nothing most of the time. With the accouterments of a passenger car, a ride soft enough to be tolerable on a daily basis and extended cabs with back doors and nearly full size back seats, it's not surprising that pickup trucks have become the epitome of a "personal" vehicle. It was with these things in mind that I approached Ford's F-150 SuperCab as it came into our household for a weekly test drive. The two-wheel-drive test vehicle was typical of a truck sold for general city driving, including the soft tonneau cover over the bed (a $200 option) to smooth up its looks. The standard engine for the F-150 is a 4.2-liter V6, but there are two single-overhead-cam (SOHC) V8s available: a 4.6-liter and a 5.4-liter. The 5.4 got a substantial tweak in power and torque for 1999, and our test truck was so equipped. Horsepower is now 260 and torque an impressive 345 ft.lbs. These changes improve acceleration as well as trailer towing. Both V8 engines are as smooth as those found in the Crown Victoria or Lincoln Town Car. Ditto for the shifting of the automatic transmission. The 5.4-liter engine made our test truck feel really frisky most of the time, and it was possible to squeal the tires with very little effort. This same willingness to leap away from stop signs resulted in a fair amount of skittishness in the rain, however. Come wintertime, it would be wise to load up the bed for better traction. It's too bad the same kind of traction control found on cars is not offered on two-wheel-drive trucks. Probably will be one day. Four-wheel, anti-lock brakes are a $300 option, but special package discounts on our test vehicle meant that anti-lock was essentially a no-cost item. The F-150's instrument panel is almost as curvaceous as the outside. Gauges are black with white numbers. At night, they glow light green and the needles are pink, which is easy on the eyes. Controls for the radio and climate control are grouped together in a pod that is angled slightly toward the driver. Two large cupholders pull out from the bottom of the dash, and a key-operated switch turns off the passenger-side airbag. The test truck also had a cloth-covered, split bench front seat with a large center armrest. Hardcore truck types may think the F-150's rounded styling is too much like a car, but I like it. The soft curves, sloping windshield and rounded front bumper give it a well-integrated look that I find appealing, especially in the SuperCab version. And speaking of SuperCab, four doors are now standard so the back seat can be accessed from either side . This is an exceptionally useful feature, despite the fact that folks unfamiliar with the current state of the truck art might think four doors is excessive. In fact, while driving the test truck I got into quite a discussion with two people who thought the proliferation of truck doors was excessive. However, after even the shortest time with a truck, being able to get things into and out of the back seat from either side is tremendously handy. The Ford's back seat is big enough for adults, although the legroom is a tad crowded. The 60/40, split-folding bottom cushion allows one or both sides to be folded forward, creating a hard, flat load floor for carrying luggage or groceries. I think a bicycle might even fit there in a pinch, which would keep it out of the weather and protect it from theft. Trucks continue to gain in popularity because they are practical alternatives to cars as well as a personal statement. With four doors, a usable back seat and carlike amenities, t's no wonder they sell so well. Price The base price of the F-150 SuperCab is $21,605. Options on the test vehicle consisted of the 5.4-liter V8, automatic transmission, all-season tires, cab steps, sliding rear window, premium AM/FM/CD stereo, power driver's seat, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, soft tonneau cover, two-tone paint and remote keyless entry. The sticker price was $26,265. Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles. To get in touch with Tom Strongman call 816-234-4349 or e-mail: email@example.com. Point: The 5.4-liter V8 has muscled up for 1999 and now boasts 260 horsepower, enough to yank this full-size pickup down the road with tire-squealing acceleration. Having rear doors on each side makes the back seat even easier to use. Counterpoint: Hardcore truck enthusiasts may find the F-150's styling too soft, too much like a car, but they can't quibble with how well it works. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 5.4-liter, V8 TRANSMISSION: automatic CONFIGURATION: Rear-wheel drive WHEELBASE: 138.5 inches GVWR: 6,300 lbs. BASE PRICE: $21,605 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $26,265 MPG RATING: 13 city, 17 highway
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