Ford has joined Dodge in unveiling its next-generation full-size pickup.
The 2009 Dodge Ram can hold 240 cans of pop-and ice-in the cargo-bed walls.
The 2009 Ford F-150 can hold a 350-pound homecoming queen on the tailgate.
Flip a coin.
The latter didn't come into play when we tested the F-150 XLT Supercab 4x4, which sports a taller hood with a power bulge and the same wide, three-bar horizontal chrome grille as the Fusion car and Flex and Edge crossovers.
It makes for a "tougher look" buyers have been asking for, said Matt O'Leary, F-150 chief engineer.
More lineman than placekicker-much like that 350-pound homecoming queen.
Ford instead offers optional double wall bins ($235 each) that slide onto rails ($115) on the top of the bed walls that hold tools while still providing room underneath for lumber, said Doug Scott, F-150 marketing manager.
If needed, the bins will hold pop cans, "but I don't know how many," Scott says.
Rather than hide pop, Ford instead hid side steps in the bed walls and tailgate to make it easier to load or unload.
The two 11-inch wide steps-one per side at $325 each-pull down and out for use. A metal step ($350) stored in the tailgate similarly slips out and down and a hand rail pulls up from the tailgate for gymnastics-free entry or exit.
O'Leary said the step can hold a homecoming queen in the parade-if she weighs less than 350 pounds. Uh, huh.
These niceties aside, F-150 comes in more versions than necessary-XL, STX, XLT, XFE, FX4, Lariat, King Ranch and a new a top-of-the-line Platinum. There are also regular, Super and Crew cabs and two- or four-wheel-drive.
But only V-8 engines: a 4.6-liter that achieves 248 or 292 horsepower and a 5.4-liter for 320 h.p. The 4.2-liter, 200-h.p. V-6 is gone since it was rated at the same 13 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway as the 248-h.p. V-8.
O'Leary said a diesel is on hold due to the high cost of the engine and the fuel. There are no plans for a gas/electric since it would sacrifice towing capability. And no cylinder deactivation like Chevy and Dodge to turn a V-8 into a V-4 at cruising. Ford instead will offer EcoBoost in 2010, a twin-turbo V-6 to provide V-8 power, V-6 mileage at less cost than diesel or hybrid.
The test truck came with the 5.4 V-8 ($630) teamed with 6-speed automatic rated at 14 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway with 4WD (14/20 2WD). That's up from 13/17 with 2WD or 4WD last year despite a 20-h.p. upgrade. It also can burn E85, that combo of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. An SFE version with special engine calibrations, low-rolling-resistance tires and lower axle ratio comes in at 15/21.
The 5.4 is very quick and can tow 11,200 pounds. Trailer sway control is standard and applies anti-lock brakes when it senses a trailer dance. Stability and traction control are standard, along with side-curtain air bags.
Suspension geometry front and rear has been tweaked, leaf springs lengthened and extra foam added to seats to reduce much, but not all, of the pickup bounce on uneven roads. Despite extra acoustical padding throughout the cabin, wind noise still tends to drown out the radio.
Front seat room is spacious, rear seat a tad tight for knees and legs. Rear-seat bottoms lift/lock against seat backs to add limited cargo capacity, but the floor underneath holds the tire jack and seat rails so it isn't flat like that in the ballroom-like Crew Cab.
Nice touches included a middle front seat with stowage in back and bottom.
A center console big enough to hold laptop or purse plus cell phone, MP3 player and pens under the lid is optional.
Other nice touches include the new capless gas-tank filler-no cap to unfasten or lose. If you need to add fuel from a gas can, a plastic funnel hidden under the rear seat is longer than that on the can to slip easily into the filler neck.
An optional camera ($450) with a display in the left corner of the rearview mirror helps you see behind when in reverse.
The XLT 4x4 starts at $31,360. The basics-air, AM/FM radio with CD player, power windows/locks/mirrors-are standard, but there are a host of options: $1,420 for chrome wheels and running boards; $495 for a package with power pedals/driver's seat/sideview mirrors with turn signals and fog lamps; $350 for trailer-towing package; $395 for Sync voice-activated sound and entertainment system; $195 for a bed extender; $95 for rubber mats; and $95 for a 36-gallon fuel tank, up from the standard 26.
O'Leary won't comment on sales but admits gas prices and interest rates hurt.
Those who buy now need the truck to get to work, for work or to tow or haul-not to just be cool.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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