Vehicle Overview
The best-selling model in the country has been redesigned for 2009 and now comes in seven trim levels with the addition of a new top luxury level, the Platinum. There are three cab styles: regular, extended and crew cab, with the crew now boasting an enormous backseat. Other changes include the exterior styling, truly helpful bed accessories and even a 1 mpg improvement in gas mileage for the model line as a whole.

Trim levels include the workhorse XL, sport-oriented STX, offroad-optimized FX4 and mid-range XLT. Above those are the upscale variants, the Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum.

The front end now emulates Ford's F-250 Super Duty trucks, with a squared-off nose, giant grille and a domed hood that adds 2 inches in height. Believing that almost all pickup trucks look the same from behind, Ford reproduced the grille's pattern, graphically, on the tailgate.

Each trim level gets its own grille treatment, starting with a simple one on the base XL and topping out with mesh grille inserts for the highest trim levels. The Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum each gets their own finish. The Platinum's is called satin chrome and is repeated on a metal panel on the tailgate. The Platinum also has chrome-capped side mirrors and 20-inch, 16-spoke aluminum wheels. The rest of the lineup offers 12 wheel options, starting with 17 inches and ranging to 20 inches in diameter.

The most unique features are options offered for the cargo box. Also borrowed from the Super Duty, a step pulls out of the open tailgate and hinges down to ease climbing into the bed. A post on the tailgate swings to vertical and locks, forming a handle to help step up. The last option handed down from the F-250 is the split bed extender. Where the solid U-shaped types rest either on the open tailgate or 180 degrees forward on the bed floor — and are always there — the F-150's U shape detaches in the center, allowing either side to stow against the bed wall and free up the cargo floor for full use.

Another option that's been too long in coming is a side step that you pop out of the rocker panel in front of the rear wheel by kicking a button. It allows you to reach over the side of the cargo box — all the better to operate Ford's take on C-channel rails that let you position tie-down cleats anywhere along the box's length. They're a spring-loaded pin design like GM uses, so they can be repositioned in seconds without unscrewing anything. Other features that utilize these rails are heavy-duty partitions, crossbars and a Ford-branded tool box that hangs on the inner side of the box wall.

The interior overhaul includes enlarged buttons and controls and less intrusive door panels with larger map pockets in the SuperCab and SuperCrew styles. Taking a cue from Toyota this time, Ford enlarged the lockable center storage console to accommodate "two or more" laptop computers and added ridges compatible with hanging file folders.

Ford says the new seats use upgraded materials and are available in some trim levels with powered adjustments, including lumbar, as well as heating and cooling. The new materials are easier to clean, Ford says, and the higher trim levels use real woods and metals and metal speaker covers. Cabin noise has been lowered dramatically, Ford says, and the Platinum trim level boasts additional noise abatement.

The SuperCrew's cab has been stretched 6 inches, providing a backseat to rival the Dodge Ram Mega Cab and Toyota Tundra Crew Max. The backseat flips up to reveal a flat floor and 57.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, according to Ford. The space is 47.9 inches high, floor to ceiling.

Despite questionable success with its Lincoln division's luxury pickups, Ford has decided to give the concept a try in the mother brand with the Platinum, which includes powered fine-leather seats with accent stitching and embroidered logos. A USB port and MP3 player input for the stereo are standard, and the power-retracting running boards seen on the Expedition are optional here now, too.

Other goodies include an optional backup camera (a stand-alone option) that helps line up a trailer hitch, and the first Integrated Trailer Brake Controller to be offered in a light-duty pickup. Sync voice-activation is available with 911 Assist, a new service similar to GM's OnStar. An optional navigation system uses an 8-inch touch-screen that can show real-time traffic and gas prices for nearby stations when teamed with Sirius Travel Link, a service of Sirius Satellite Radio.

Under the Hood
The mechanical changes started at the foundation with a new, fully-boxed frame. Power plants start with an entry-level 4.6-liter V-8 that's more powerful than the previous generation's base V-6 but is also more fuel efficient, despite using a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine is known as the two-valve to distinguish it from the more powerful new three-valve version of the 4.6-liter V-8. The top choice is the previous generation's 5.4-liter V-8 — tweaked for more output and capable of running on E85 ethanol fuel as well as gasoline. Both of these engines mate to a six-speed automatic. Come 2010, Ford says, a clean diesel and a turbocharged direct-injection gas engine will be added.

Four-by-four versions come with a choice of manual or electronically actuated 4WD systems. The FX4 adds a locking rear differential and optional 17-inch wheels with offroad tires.

Standard features, along with the required front airbags, include side curtain airbags to protect front and backseat occupants, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control and Roll Stability Control, which uses a sensor to detect the start of a rollover and attempts to forestall it.