Here in truck country, the brawny Ford F-series pickup is still the unchallenged king of the hill.
After a stylish redesign unveiled early this year, the F-series remains the No. 1 vehicle in U.S. sales for the 16th year running, pulling away from its nearest challenger, the Chevrolet/GMC CK pickup.
And just a glance at the four-wheel-drive SuperCab F-150 we tried out confirms another superlative.
This thing’s big. Really big, as in huge. And this is just the half-ton.
Does this truck need its own area code? If I walk around to the passenger side, should I pack a lunch?
And no, I won’t help you move.
Despite its Herculean proportions, this jumbo drives like a charm, accelerating briskly and handling with surprising agility, especially considering the extra weight and complexity of its four-wheel-drive system. Other than the commanding view from the driver’s seat, and some bulkiness in the corners, the F-150 feels not too different from a passenger car.
Not bad for a massive workhorse. No wonder trucks have been stealing the turf from cars in recent years.
The only time this wide, long, tall behemoth gets in its own way is in crowded parking lots. But this is a big truck for a big country. It’s not some decked-out sport-utility vehicle, and it needs plenty of space.
If anything, the F-150 looks sharper in the longer SuperCab version, which nicely balances out its sloping noise and provides it with a commanding presence.
The SuperCab provides the F-150 with much more flexibility than the standard version, with places to stow gear, kids or whatever inside the cab. There’s extra room to stretch out, too.
These big cabs have become major sales boosters for all pickup manufacturers, and the recent third-door designs from Ford and Chevrolet/GMC make them even easier to justify. Industry observers say the next step are full-on four-door pickups with bigger back seats, furthering the trend of trucks as family vehicles.
The Ford’s third door, which is on the passenger side, eases entry into the rear seat. And unlike GM’s version, which forces exiting passengers to put their fingers in harm’s way to open the third door, Ford provides an inside handle.
The F-series re-skin, with its rounded shapes that sparked some controversy early on, looks nothing but good after being out for nearly a year. It’s greeted with nearly universal approval by truck folk, and makes the former look seem drab in comparison.
Of course, the competitors haven’t been standing still. The Chevy/GMC is pretty sharp-looking these days, and the Dodge Ram and it baby brother, the Dakota, have made tremendous sales gains, no doubt partially attributable to their mighty big-rig styling.
Under its bulbous hood, our tester was supplied with an optional 4.6-liter engine, one of Ford’s new generation of overhead-cam V-8s. While missing some of the initial grunt of the old push rod models, the overhead-cam engine quickly picks up its skirts and hauls its heavy load up to highway speed with remarkable agility.
The standard 4.2-liter V-6 is pretty beefy, too, and a bit lighter on the gas consumption. Or, if you have some stumps that need pulling (or heavy trailers), you could opt for the 5.4-liter V-8, another overhead-cam design, that produces 235 horsepower at 4,250 rpm or, more significantly, 330 pound-feet of torque at a low down 3,000 rpm.
Most impressive about the big pickup is its overall driveability. The power steering has excellent control and feedback, weighted just about right for real-world driving. The quick reactions of the steering is well-matched by the overall cornering balance and stability.
With the off-road package in our test truck, the overall bigness also means a serious climb into the cab. Running boards should be standard.
Still ahead of the pack, Ford’s big pickup seems destined to maintain its place as national best seller. Way to go, big guy.
1997 Ford F -150
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, three-door pickup truck, Rear/four- wheel-drive. Base price: $24,190. Price as tested: $28,805. Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 220 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, 290 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 4,500 pounds (approx). Payload: 1,520 pounds. Length: 226 inches. Wheelbase: 138.8 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway. Highs: Head-turning styling. Excellent driveability. Well-executed third door. Lows: High step up with no running board. Mediocre gas mileage.