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2004 Ford F-150 Best Pickup of the Year
New Ford pickup struts away a winner

By Bill Roebuck

The Best New Pickup Truck for 2004 is Ford's F-150. That's according to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) 2004 Canadian Car of the Year Awards. The competition compares vehicles that are new for the current model year in a variety of categories.

The F-150 competed against the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Dodge RAM 2500 and 3500, and the Nissan Titan  in four days of road and track testing in and around Belleville, Ont., and at the Shannonville race track at AJAC's Test Fest in October, 2003. Highlights
2004 Ford F-150
Category: Pickup Truck
Seats: 6
Engines: 4.6-litre, 231-hp V8 ; 5.4-litre, 300-hp V8
Fuel Econ.-Cdn:  Litres per 100 km, city/hwy: n/a
Price (Cdn): XL Regular Cab 2WD with 8 ft box $27,485; Lariat 4X4 SuperCab with 6.5 ft box $43,225. As tested (XLT 4X4 SuperCrew with 5.5 ft box) $49,870. Freight $1,085.
Pros: Very clean lines, nice interior, powerful, quiet, class leader.
Cons: Too nice for a work truck?
The F-150 is significantly new for 2004 and is now more like its bigger brethren, the F-250 and F-350 models, because it appears to be so much larger than the previous F-150. Ford is hoping that's what consumers want, because the F-150 has been Canada's best-selling pickup for the past 37 years. It's a record they wouldn't want to screw up.

It seems that the company has done all the right things, though. The interior is more luxurious and comfortable than ever, which Ford has found to be an important asset in today's pickup market. For the traditional pickup buyers, it also has lots more cargo space, a higher maximum payload and more towing capacity.

The base engine is a 4.6-litre V8 producing 231 hp and 293 ft-lb of torque. It's mated to an upgraded standard four-speed automatic transmission. Ford has dropped the optional five-speed manual transmission it used to offer, and no diesel engine is available either. Nor is a V6 engine. There's a choice of either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive with low-range gearing.

The important news is in the new 5.4-litre Triton V8, which generates 300 hp and a maximum torque of 365 ft-lb. It's mated to a heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission. With this engine and an optional heavy-duty payload package, the truck can handle payloads of up to 1,360 kg (3,000 lb) and tow up to 4,309 kg (9,500 lb). Also, this engine delivers over 80% of its peak torque at just 1,000 rpm.

With all that grunt to get you going, Ford needed better brakes, so the new F-150 has bigger disc brakes, now on all four wheels, with four-wheel ABS and electronic brake force distribution. It's standard on all its models. As a result, Ford took top marks in braking distance among six contenders in the pickup category at the 2004 Test Fest. (It was in the middle of the pack in acceleration tests.)

The F-150 comes in five distinct versions: XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat; each with somewhat unique interior styling.

Plus there are eight available cab and pickup box combinations. Cab configurations include Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew. All cab configurations now have four doors. However, you have to open the front doors first to release the rear-hinged rear doors in all but the SuperCrew, which has front-hinged rear doors that are a lot more convenient.
Also new is a SuperCab model with a 5.5-ft box. Ford says it's the first extended cab pickup that will fit into a typical home garage.

The new F-150 is certainly comfortable enough to be brought home to the family. It has a new, clean-lined cab design. Inside, both the Regular cab and SuperCab models are 150 mm (6 in.) longer than the previous model.

Interiors can be selected from among four iterations. If you want luxury -- as more pickup purchasers seem to -- Ford is offering plenty of options. You can get the pickup in XLT trim with an audiophile-quality sound system, a power moonroof, power sliding rear window, heated leather seats and automatic temperature control. Sounds more like a description of a luxury sedan, doesn't it?

On the road, the F-150 tracks straight and, in fact, drives like a car. The ride is smoother and steering is more precise than the previous model. The new rack-and-pinion steering certainly helps.

The industry has come a long way from the days when a pickup was the cheapest new vehicle you could buy. Now the prices are in the luxury vehicle stratosphere. The 4x4 Crew Cab XLT we tested had a base price of $45,360. The options listed above, along with a reverse sensing system, pickup box extender, trailer towing package, platform running boards and upgraded transmission brought the total to $49,870.

Guys, just don't tell your macho friends your truck has the heated seats, power rear window and reverse sensing, or they might laugh you off the farm.

All these toys made our test F-150 the most luxurious and comfortable pickup we've ever driven. If you closed your eyes and someone sat you in this truck, you might guess you were in a top-line Lincoln Navigator.

We haven't even listed all the options you can get. There's a rear set entertainment DVD system and power adjustable pedals. Yes, in a pickup truck. It makes you wonder if anybody's building a real pickup any more. You know, the tough ones designed for the contractors and plumbers who wheel around with supplies and tools jostling about in the cargo bed, and a crew of muddy-footed workers in the back seats.

It seems that's not where the market is anymore. Ford's research shows that the majority of F-150s are personal-use vehicles, with a cargo mainly of passengers and groceries. For that audience, they've made it nice. But is it too nice for the farmer with bales of hay or the contractor and his messy gear?

Clearly, the new F-150 caters to the upscale driver.

The interior is sleek and handsome. The seats are large and supportive. There's room for six in the SuperCrew model, and all positions have excellent head and leg room.

Gauges and controls are simply designed and well placed for visibility and reach. An optional overhead console slides on tracks and will accept different modules, from cell-phone holders to flat-screen TVs.

If all these changes aren't for you, the predecessor continues to be built in the doomed Oakville Truck Plant-- at least for a few more weeks. It's being sold as the 2004 Heritage F-150.

The new Ford has lots of competition. But if the F-150 has the right balance of design, comfort and capabilities, it just may have the formula to continue its bestseller tradition.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2005.

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