January 16th, 2008 is the 60th birthday of Ford's F-Series pickups and Ford is taking the wraps off a very large present for its truck buyers at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Ford has made big improvements to the 2009 F-150, in an effort to keep the number one selling vehicle in America the leader in sales and competitive with the latest trucks from Chevrolet, GMC, Toyota, and Dodge. The company committed over 1,000 engineers, designers, and others to the revision program during its development period.
It's not an all-new truck, like the 2009 Dodge Ram, but it's a thorough top-to-bottom update of the vehicle that debuted in 2003. The upgrades start with the frame and extend all the way through the truck to the powertrain, interior, and exterior.
"This is a major change for the F-150. The exterior is bolder, tougher, the back end changes are very strong, and the interior is all new - every element from the fabrics to the materials to the designs. We've put new features in the truck that are going to make our customers' lives easier," says Mike Crowley, Ford Truck and SUV group marketing manager.
Chassis, Cabin, and Suspension Changes
The F-150's fully boxed frame adds new hydroformed side rails, made from high strength steel. The high strength steel improves torsional rigidity by 10-percent and saves weight from the chassis by using a narrower gauge steel compared to the previous F-150's frame.
The rear suspension has been upgraded with longer leaf springs, for better ride handling and load control. The springs are mounted farther forward from the axle, like Ford did similarly updating the 2008 Super Duty.
To meet tougher 2010 federal rollover regulations, the F-150's roof has been reengineered with high strength steel. High strength tubes run from the base of the A-pillar up through the roof, forming a safety cage around the truck's occupants.
New Powertrain Options, Technology, and Transmissions
Ford is only offering V8 engines for the 2009 F-150. The entry level 4.2-liter V6 has been dumped.
The legacy two-valve per cylinder 4.6-liter single overhead cam (SOHC) Triton V8 four-speed automatic moves downstream from the middle position to take the old V6's slot. Ford says the 4.6-liter V8 delivers more horsepower and torque with the same fuel economy numbers as the outgoing V6.
Ford also says a V6 will return to the F-150 lineup for the 2010 calendar year, when Ford's new EcoBoost gasoline turbo direct injection V6 is added to the list of truck engines. A diesel motor will also be offered in 2010. Sources say the diesel will be a 4.4-liter V8 oil burner.
Ford is adding a new three-valve version of the 4.6-liter Triton V8 as the F-150's middle engine. It's pairing the 3V 4.6L with the new standard 6R80 six-speed automatic transmission that debuted in the 2007 Ford Expedition.
The 6R80 six-speed is also the standard transmission for the top of the line 5.4-liter Triton V8, where it replaces the old four-speed automatic.
Both the 5.4L and 4.6L V8s use new 'open valve injection' technology. As the name suggests, open valve injection injects fuel into the cylinders while the intake valves are open (instead of closed like during conventional combustion cycles). The incoming air improves the mixture of air and fuel before the 'charge' is ignited. Ford says the result is increased horsepower during towing, higher RPMs, and an improvement in emissions from the more efficient burn.
Ford isn't releasing any horsepower or torque figures for the new engine line, but better power band management from the 6-speed transmission and improved horsepower from open valve injection are expected to help Ford meet its claims that the new F-150 will continue to tow and haul the most payload in the segment. The 6-speed should also help the F-150 hit higher fuel economy numbers.
Brand New Interior
While the previous F-Series interiors were more car-like than ever before, the 2009 units kick it up another few notches. It's all new and closely aligned with the interior design of the 2008 Ford Super Duty. Interior trim pieces include real wood surfaces and finished metals.
"Customers tell us that they spend an awful lot of time conducting business from their trucks, so we've worked hard to ensure the new F-150's interior is both functional and comfortable," says Michael Arbaugh, the F-150's interior design chief. "We raised the bar on ourselves, pushing even beyond what we delivered on the game changing interiors in 2004 and brought home the new trucks with architectural elements finished in real woods and metals that help the new F-150 interior look like it's been 'built,' rather than designed."
The revised gauge cluster is built around two large meters in the instrument panel that display tach and speedo information. Four smaller analog indicators constantly provide transmission, coolant, and oil temperatures and fuel levels.
FX4 off-road and the new, ultra-premium Platinum edition F-150 get real brushed aluminum trim that borders and flows around all of the control surfaces and switchgear. It's a tough look that F-150 design director Pat Schiavone says took over 10 tries to get the right appearance and feel.
The center stack of the dash is crammed with buttons for the HVAC controls (dual zone in some models) and infotainment systems.
The F-150 also receives Ford's new telematics system, SYNC v2.0, that's been created in partnership with Microsoft. SYNC allows for easy pairing between the vehicle and electronic peripherals, like phones and iPODs. SYNC enables the truck's occupants to control all of those devices hands-free, using voice commands.
Even though SYNC 1.0 just debuted in the new Ford Focus, 2.0 adds two important new features. '911 Assist' will automatically call 911 through a SYNC Bluetooth paired cell phone if the airbags deploy. 'Vehicle Health Report' will produce a maintenance schedule and service condition report for the truck.
A new 8-inch center navigation display is an option. It's much easier to read than the previous navi screen and can display subscription-based real time traffic alerts and fuel price information from Sirius Satellite Radio, to make filling up the F-150 a bit less painful at the pump. Plus, another new infotainment box to check on the order sheet is a 700-watt Sony stereo system.
The floor console has been redesigned and now sports a slant forward ergonomic gear shifter that replaces the old 'baseball bat' lever. The console has also been lengthened by 2-inches. It's large enough to stow two or more laptop computers. Rails molded into the edges of the console bin make it easy to drop in hanging file folders. The console also has a multi-tiered, removable tray and locks to protect valuables.
There's more storage than ever inside the F-150. More than 30 cubbys, nooks, trays, and boxes are built into the interior to accommodate tools cell phones, MP3 players, PDAs and gate access cards.
All-new seats are made with upgraded materials and expertly trimmed with fine stitching. The new seat design is more comfortable and includes power recline, power adjustable lumbar and heating and cooling functions, like the 2009 Dodge Ram.
Truck manufacturers continue to fiddle with crew cab dimensions in an effort to balance interior space with vehicle proportions and bed lengths. The new Dodge Ram has dropped the cavernous Mega Cab option for a smaller, traditional-sized crew cab. Ford moves slightly the opposite direction.
Ford has lengthened the SuperCrew four door crew cab by 6-inches and made the rear cabin load floor almost completely flat. The second row is big enough to swallow and secure a 52-inch flat screen television, when the back seats are folded up. The total cargo space behind the front seats is a class-leading 57.6 cubic feet and items up to 47.9-inches tall can be stored.
The 6-inch gain in Super Crew cab length has an interesting history and other benefits. In an effort to reduce manufacturing cost and complexity, Ford eliminated the tiny rear-opening doors on regular cab F-150s. Regular cab F-150s are once again simple two-door work trucks. But what to do with the extra space left behind from those doors? Ford made the front doors 6-inches longer. In doing so, that pushed the B-and C-pillars in the Super Crew back 6-inches. It also improves the driver's line-of-sight looking rearward over the shoulder, because the B-pillar is no longer next to your ear.
The King Ranch interior used to be the top end of luxury in F-Series pickups but Ford has pushed the style and refinement envelope again with its Platinum package. All of the materials and electronics in the Platinum are among the best offered in any Ford car or truck. Inspiration for this new trim comes from the Super Chief concept shown at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show.
The 2009 F-150 retains most of the major styling cues the previous truck had, but Ford has toughened up the exterior with deeper character lines and distinctive front and back-end appearances for each trim level.
"One of our strengths has always been understanding the customer and how they use their vehicle. We go all the way from the XL work truck to the new Platinum model. By getting close to the customer and listening we understand what features they're looking for. We p the whole breadth of our customers because there are different types of owners out there - and we think we do the best job in the marketplace offering these products, from the basic all the way up to the most luxurious," says Mr. Crowley.
There are now seven trims that include three work truck grades (XL, STX, and XLT), factory off-roader (FX4), and three upscale models (Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum).
Work trucks and the FX4 get three bar grilles, Lariat and King Ranch have two bar grilles, and Platinum has an exclusive single bar mesh grille that deletes the nostrils the other F-150 grilles share with the Super Duty. A new sculpted power-dome hood raises the truck's front profile two inches for more presence.
Redesigned tailgates combine new forms and functions.
Each tailgate features an abstraction of Ford's three-bar grille. Bold character lines are stamped into the side of the tailgate. The lines flow around to the truck's new tail lamps and curve up at the top to form a prominent spoiler that helps improve the truck's aerodynamics. There's also space inside for an integrated tailgate step, like the Super Duty added for 2008. The Platinum tailgate features a unique brushed metal surface.
Further improving the effectiveness of the tailgate spoiler, Ford shaved 10-degrees off the center high mounted stoplight on the roof, so instead of having a flat housing over the cab brake light there's a slight downward slope that pushes air back more smoothly over the tail spoiler.
As we've already seen, the 2009 F-150's badges are new too. They've been inspired by big, Texas-style belt buckles. F-150 is spelled out in chunkier italic font with the trim level series designation inset in smaller type.
When Ford redesigned the F-150 for the 2004 model year, it changed the proportions of the truck to create a tougher profile. That meant raising the lip of the bed 2-inches, which made it more cumbersome and awkward to reach into the back of the box.
"When we introduced the taller pickup box on the 2004 F-150, we heard from customers that they loved the extra cargo capacity but they were having trouble accessing the box from the side," says Matt O'Leary, chief engineer of the 2009 Ford F-150. "We watched them try and jump up on the tire, use the edge of the running board or carry a milk crate to use as a step. They told us that we should just take the box height back down - but taking away cargo capacity from customers seemed counterintuitive, so we went to work on smart solutions that make the box even more functional."
So, to improve access to the bed, Ford has added "Box Side Steps" just ahead of the truck's rear wheels. The steps are attached directly to the frame and are stowed away when not in use. They're manually deployed or folded with the push of a button on the edge of the step, using your foot. The 11-inch wide steps can support up to 500 pounds.
Ford carries over the cargo management system for the bed that first debuted in the 2008 F-150. The basic system comes with two side rails and a pair of cast aluminum cleats rated for 600-lbs. Available side-mounted, blow-molded plastic tool bins can hold up to 60-lbs and feature double-wall construction, providing a water-tight, thermal barrier that can even keep beverages cold.
Ford says the 2009 F-150 will continue to be the most capable towing rig in the half-ton segment. The company hasn't said publicly but we're expecting the F-150 will continue to pull over 11,000-lbs in max towing configuration.
To help drivers tow better, Ford is adding new trailering technology to the F-150.
Trailer sway control works with the F-150's traction control system to automatically brake the wheels or reduce engine power if the truck's yaw sensors detect trailer sway. This includes asymmetrically braking the truck's wheels, opposite the sway, to cancel out uncontrolled trailer motions.
First offered in the 2005 Super Duty, and also in GM's 2007 heavy duty pickups, the 2009 F-150 can be optionally equipped with a factory integrated Trailer Brake Controller. The brake controller operates the trailer's brakes at the same time the truck's brakes are applied. Brake sensitivity is easily adjusted by the driver squeezing two toggle (i.e. gain) switches on the dashboard. It's intuitively positioned to the lower right of the steering wheel.
The slick reverse backup camera system that first debuted on the 2008 Ford F-150 adds the capability to display its picture on both the rear view mirror and in the navigation display - new for the 2009 model year. The image includes colored guides that give the driver a better perspective of the vehicle's center point and periphery.
The 2009 Ford F-150 can't arrive soon enough for Ford. The company watched sales of its F-Series trucks fall over 12% last year, as the economy slowed, GM brought out all-new half-tons, and the redesigned Toyota Tundra gave buyers another full size truck to shop.
The addition of a six-speed automatic is the most important change. We're expecting the new shifter to give the 4.6L and 5.4L V8 powertrains a second wind until new, more powerful and fuel efficient V6 and V8 engines can arrive over the next few years.
The long list of interior upgrades, innovations, and improvements also carry the ball forward to make the F-150 more comfortable and luxurious than ever before and continue the truck's reputation as the benchmark in this segment.
The 2009 Ford F-150 goes on sale this fall.
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