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2004 Ford F-150 Lariat

The Best Gets Even Better

     Alas, our number finally came up for a chance to have a go at the latest edition of Ford’s top seller, the F-150. Upon taking delivery of our well broken in pre-production model Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 we promptly declared that this truck was huge and got the most obvious part of our evaluation done. Greenies, tree huggers, environmental wackos and otherwise small car weenies need not continue reading.
     So how does a company change its perennial sales leader? Very carefully. New from the ground up, the F-150 raises the bar, and then holds it above the others heads in a manner not unlike that of a playground bully. There is nothing about the style of this truck that wasn’t thought through a dozen times. It looks as though the Ford designers mixed Super Duty with Navigator and a Kenworth. There is no mistaking the F-150 for any other truck on the market, inside or out. The lines are simple and straight; appealing to look at but not too busy. The 18” rolling stock fill up the wheel wells and look good doing it. Ford increased the available volume of the cargo bed by adding just over two inches of rail height. That’s a noble cause, but bring a stool because if you are 5’9” or shorter you can forget about reaching over the side to get stuff. The tailgate must have gone on a low-carb diet because even with the extra height it feels surprisingly lightweight. No doubt thanks to the clever spring loaded torsion bar.
     Powering this beast of burden is Ford’s all new 5.4L 24-valve Triton V8. Combine 3-valves per cylinder, variable camshaft timing, repositioned spark plugs, a revised intake track and several other enhancements and you get 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, 80% of which is available at just 1,000 rpm. Fuel mileage was respectable for a truck this large, though the 5.4L will definitely use a healthy amount more of the petrol than the 4.6L. But if you’re buying for power this is the mill of choice. Power application was smooth and strong. Moving power from the engine to the pavement is a revised 4-speed automatic transmission. The tranny shifted smartly, didn’t have to hunt for gears, and returned decent fuel mileage, though we did agree that an extra gear would have been that much better and would have put it even further ahead in the segment. Ride and handling were superb for a pick-up weighing in at 5600+ lbs. The truck just plain felt more stable side to side thanks to outboard mounted shocks in the rear and coil over shocks in the front. Communication between driver and truck is as good as you’ll find in this segment. Steering feel is light years ahead of the previous model. The wheel had good heft to it and I always knew what the front end was doing. Brakes felt strong and stopping was impressively short and linear.
      When it comes to truck interiors Ford has never hit one out of the park, but this is the best to come out of Dearborn yet. The combination of colors, materials and textures is beautifully executed. Hands down this truck has the most appealing interior of any full-sizer currently on the market. The chrome ringed gauges were a delight to look at and switch gear was within decent reach and had a solid feel to it. Steering wheel mounted controls were awkward to use right next to the air bag cover, but otherwise functional. The seats were contoured well, able to accommodate even a large framed person. Although being a light weight myself I felt like I was sitting on the seats rather than in them, but they were comfortable none the less. From those captains chairs there is a commanding view out over the hood looking down on the rest of the traffic. The rear seat was plenty spacious as well, though the seat back angle was plenty upright. Dye also pointed out that there was room for a six footer behind a six footer. He would know. The overhead rail system is a very clever idea as well, though the DVD rear-entertainment system in our truck was MIA. The logbook spoke nothing but praise for the fit and finish of the F-150’s interior. Though we did find some faults. The wood trim is, of course, overly fake and the memory seat controls are positioned on the side of the seat out of sight. Most drivers looking to warm up their seat in the morning instead found themselves being squished up against the steering wheel. Thanks to the shorter staffers who have since been terminated. Grumbling aside, our well worn pre-production Lariat was holding up well with wear, squeaks and rattles surprisingly absent. Even road noise was at a minimum, though a nice growl from the engine bay could be heard under strong acceleration.
     All in all we were very pleased with our F-150 tester. I wouldn’t call it a bargain for $39,000, but you get what you pay for; a lot of all-American stars and stripes pickup.

The Good:
300hp standard, luxurious interior, bold styling, handles well for its size.
The Bad:
Extra weight offsets extra power, could use a five speed transmission.
The Verdict:
Raises the bar for pickups….again.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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