Ah, spring. Warm breezes, quenching mists, a time of flowers, young buds, tender sprouts, tissue-soft leaves and fecund soil; a time of renewal, when the fancies of many people turn to . . . big-honkin' pickup trucks. After all, we've got garages and cellars to clean; the detritus of winter to move from our yards; loam and manure and railroad ties and rocks to haul; lumber to truck in for new decks and docks and sheds. What more utilitarian vehicle for many of us to own at this time of year than a pickup truck? It was just over 50 years ago that Henry Ford himself spotted this looming need and one of the last projects he oversaw at Ford Motor Co. was the development of the F-Series pickup trucks, arguably the most enduring of its ilk in auto history. Today, the pickup truck is in constant transition and, to the surprise of folks at Ford, some of its biggest trucks, developed with contractors in mind, are now selling to the general public. And why not? They'll seat six comfortably, have the 4WD panache of an SUV, and have that pickup truck bed. And in a day when size matters to many, they are huge. We're rolling up and out of Boston's North End and onto Interstate 93 in the 1999 F250 Supercab. It felt big on entry, since that was a step-to-running-board and then step-into-cab-from-there affair. It feels even bigger looking out the driver's side window and down into the lap of someone sitting in . . . a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Ease out onto the highway and open up its V-10 Triton engine and this beast charges down the lane. Gain speed and hold it and some remarkable traits are noticeable. Given how high it sits off the ground -- creating a potential wind tunnel underneath -- and the huge mirrors that radiate like wings from each front doorpost, this is an aerodynamically quiet vehicle. Even tire noise -- and these are serious, gnarly truck tires -- is minimal. The engine, 6.8 liters pushing out 275 horses, is noticeable but not intrusive. It sounds more like a strong and distant wind blowing somewhere out on the stretching mesa that is the hood than it does any thumping engine of stressed steel. Consider that this engine puts out 410 lbs.-ft. of torque and you are into the diesel league in that category, serious hauling and towing capacity without the loud and incessant chatter, or the smell, of diesel. And in any truck or SUV, with their specific design intent, torque talks far louder than horsepower. The difference: Consider a track star and a mountain climber. The track star's horsepower can send her flying down the track. But strap an 80-pound pack on that nimble track star and another on the seasoned climber and ask each to put one leg up on a step at waist level and hoist themselves up on the power of that leg, and the woman who's climbed mountains will push up with far more ease. That's torque. It's what let this F250, its front tires set against an 18-inch ledge in th e woods, push itself up and over from a dead stop. It's what let it be hooked to a trailer hauling a 22-foot waterski boat with its own 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine, and pull it with ease. At speed -- 60 m.p.h. and less than 2,000 rpms -- the presence of the trailer and boat were not even noticeable. While smooth and relatively quiet on the highway, its stiffness was noticeable even on small bumps, cracks, or even pressure plates on the ends of bridges and ramps. One jolt dropped the rearview mirror from the center of the windshield. Yet it is quite a comfortable truck for long trips. Its front bench seat holds three adults easily. Three could ride in the back -- accessed with a door on each side -- but it would not be fun on a long trip. Three kids are OK back there. If Aretha Franklin sang about this truck, the song would be ``RESPECT'' -- as in that's what you get from drivers who might otherwise challenge you on the road. In Massachusetts rotaries, its heer size imposed what neither the law, common sense, nor common courtesy has been able to do: acknowledgement that a vehicle already in the rotary has the right of way. But with mass comes responsibility. In traffic, you must drive this truck far more carefully -- and differently -- than you would other vehicles. Its rear end sits so high that smaller cars can virtually disappear behind it. They shouldn't be that close, but folks do that and you have to be aware of them. Because of its massive wheelbase, turns must be anticipated -- and thus announced -- earlier, and they must be made slightly wider. Finding a place to park in the city is problematic and some tight turns into alleys or parking lots are nearly impossible. Off road, it has plenty of power, of course, and its bite in mud and muck and water and gravel and sand is phenomenal. The problem is, the deeper you get into the woods, the narrower the roads become. If you've done any serious four-wheeling you know that you sometimes have to squeeze between trees on narrow roads and -- bane of 4WDers -- sometimes turn around and go back. There are places out there just too tight for this truck to pass through and places where you might get stuck and not have the space to turn around. Expect between 10 and 13 miles per gallon from a 38-gallon tank and expect crowds to gather around it when you park it. In my neck of New Hampshire it drew them. My pal ``Big Truck'' Mike Delisle took one look at it down at the local baseball field, forgot all about his cup of coffee and crawled over, under, around and through it. He particularly liked the tow package with its grill-mounted transmission cooler, the separate fuse box for all trailer electrics, and the myriad tie-in options to those electrics that come standard on the F250. And women, who virtually ignored recent past appearances of a BMW sports car, a turbocharged Volkswagen Beetle, and a $70,000 Mercedes in my little town, were far more interested in this beast. And at the heart of that may be something that Ford Motor Co. says it has noticed: families looking to get into trucks the manfacturer thought would sell almost exclusively to industry and contractors. This is not a truck for the city; it is not even a truck you'd want to use to drop into the city from the suburbs. It is not an offroad truck in the pure sense. It was not designed to be any of these things, really. But if you've got hauling to do -- big loads or kids or both -- it would not look bad in your yard. Nice touches: -- The back row of moving clips to match the buttons that hold down the tarp covering the bed. Ever try to stretch a cold tarp to a fixed button? These do the job for you. -- The huge center console that is available when you fold down the back of the middle seat in front. Annoyances: -- It is forgivable that the windshield mirror fell off on a bump; it is not forgi vable that even when it stayed in place, it kept drooping out of place and there was no way to adjust for its loose balljoint attachment. -- Why do the rear door handles have to be tucked inside the door frame, accessible only when the front door is open? Why not put them outside on the door? SIDEBAR: The numbers Base price:$25,055 Price as tested: $32,110 Horsepower/Torque: 275 hp/410 lbs.-ft. Wheelbase/Overall length: 158 inches/243.3 inches Width/Height: 79.9 inches/77.3 inches Curb weight: 5,724 lbs. Seating: 6 passengers SOURCE: Manufacturer
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