Special Report

By: Bruce W. Smith

When Ford Motor Company introduced the first F-Series pickup back in 1948 they knew it was a winner. But no one could have predicted that 55 years later it would still be the most popular pickup in the world—and the best selling vehicle in America for the last 20 years.

Ford says that since its debut more than 27.5 million F-Series trucks have been sold; an incredible number by anyone’s standards.

That love affair with the Blue Oval pickup is likely to continue. Ford just unveiled the latest iteration of the most popular F-Series, the venerable F-150, and, from what we see, the 2004 model is another winner.

(We were not given an opportunity to test drive the new F-150, but we will have a full test later this Spring.)

The 2004 F-150 blends design elements from the current F-250/350 Super Duty, the Expedition, and the Tonka concept pickup into a very pleasing, package that oozes with machoness and sophistication.

“Last year alone, Ford sold more than 900,000 F-Series pickups,” says Bill Ford, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company. “That makes it the best selling vehicle in the world, with a higher sales volume than many [automotive] companies have for their entire lineup. In the last 50 years, nothing has been more central to the success of Ford than the F-Series.

“Because of this great heritage of leadership, and the increasing competition in this important segment, the development team decided early on that half-measures and incremental steps were unacceptable,” Ford continues.

“There could be ‘No Boundaries’ to what they demanded of this new truck. To continue truck leadership, it had to set new standards of excellence in every ware that was important to customers.”

WHAT’S NEW

There’s very little in common between the 2004 F-150 and the model it will replace when dealers begin taking delivery early this Fall. Ford designers were given a blank screen to start and they took advantage of the opportunity with a frame-up redesign.

The result is a pickup design where the cabs are bigger, the bed box deeper, the suspension more sophisticated, the chassis stronger, the engine more powerful, the stance wider, the ride softer, cargo capacity higher, the styling aggressive, and the interior layouts and model variations unique.

In short, the 2004 F-150 is a brand new pickup that, as Bill Ford said, is more than an “incremental step” beyond what F-150 owners are driving toady.

For example, the 2004 F-150 will be the first pickup to have “four-doors” standard in every cab configuration—including the Regular Cab. The new pickup’s cabs are six inches longer than the 2003 models, giving the base model a full 13 inches of cargo space behind the seat.

Add in the rearward-swinging “access” doors on each side and the ease of which one can get to that cargo is dramatically improved. In the SuperCab models, which also feature rearward-swinging access doors, that extra length provides the second seat passengers with that much more legroom and additional cargo storage area when the rear seat is folded down.

Ford designers have also made the interiors of the five different trim levels – XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat – as distinctive as the models themselves. (This is another first in the pickup market.)

“Truck owners spend more time than ever before in their vehicles, both for work and personal use” says  Jim Smithbauer, F-150 Design Manager. “We designed the new F-150 interior to give them the comfort, craftsmanship, versatility and features they want and deserve.”

The designers utilize a modular-type look in two-tone instrument panel, and utilize three different instrument cluster designs as the major element in giving each trim level its distinctive look. Seats, tire/wheel packages, front grilles, and other trim items also make each model different.

Those buying the FX4, which is the four-wheel-drive-only model aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, get the option of having the automatic’s shifter floor-mounted in the center console—a first for F-150.

All of the seats have been redesigned, too. The cushioning material is firmer and deeper for prolonged comfort and durability over the life of the truck. The rear seatbacks are angled 21-degrees (current model is only 19-degrees) for better passenger comfort.

Passenger safety is also of concern and the Ford engineers took great pains in making sure the 20024 F-150 provided the best possible. The new truck uses “smart” seatbelts and airbags to provide greater protection, and the fully boxed frame has special crumple zones incorporated into the front section to significantly reduce frontal impact forces to the occupants.

NEW DRIVETRAIN TECHNOLOGY

Although the 231hp 4.6L V8 is the base engine for the 2004 F-150s, the most popular engine will be the optional 300hp 5.4L.

The new engine utilizes a three-valve aluminum-head design that gives a 15-percent improvement in power over the current 2-valve design and as much as a 10-percent improvement in fuel economy (no EPA numbers released to date).  

Variable cam timing allows the onboard computer to adjust the operation of the three-valves so that the combustion cycle is optimized for the driving conditions and engine speed. Ford claims the result is maximized efficiency and smooth power deliver.

The use of three-valves, variable cam timing, and a new cam profile allows the 5.4L to deliver more torque at lower rpm than the current engine. Ford engineers claim the new 5.4L’s 365 lb/ft is more torque than the competitor’s non-heavy-duty V8s, making it a terrific performer.

“We make more than 80-percent of peak torque starting at 1,000rpm,” says Pete Dowding, Modular Engines Manager. “And the torque increases at a relatively steady rate throughout the rev band.”

Torque is great, but if the driver isn’t able to drive smoothly, then problems can arise. Ford has that handled, too. Ford is the first truck manufacturer to use “torque-based electronic throttle control.”

The system is a true throttle-by-wire system that uses the onboard computer to replace cable-controlled throttle. The computer senses the foot-throttle’s position and then adjusts the engine and transmission operating parameters according to current weather conditions, vehicle speed, altitude, and numerous other conditions, to best deliver the output requested by the driver.

Four-wheel-drive F-150s get an added feature of a special computer mapping while in “low-range” that allows better throttle modulation in conditions such as rock-crawling where throttle control is essential. This is the first use of such technology outside of Range Rover and the Hummer.

Another improvement in the drivetrain is the use of the new 4R75E 4-speed automatic.  The 4R75E is an evolution of the 4R70E that is used in the current F-150. The biggest changes are a faster computer, redesigned toque converter, addition of a turbine-speed sensor, “smart” shift control unit, and a fully sealed case filled with lifetime transmission fluid.

SUSPENSION UPGRADES

Ford engineers also changed the new truck’s underpinnings. The fully boxed frame is more than nine times stiffer in torsional rigidity, and the rear suspension has had the rear shocks moved outboard of the frame to provide better axle control.

The rear leaf springs are wider and thicker, yet the ride is softer. Both front and rear tack are wider by more than 1.5 inches, the four-wheel disc brakes larger and more powerful, and the steering changed to rack-and-pinion.

Ford engineers have also redesigned the front steeeirng and suspension geometry to reduce the truck’s tendancy for the truck to nose-dive and the front wheels to “toe-out” during hard braking. This change is said to significantly reduce front brake wear while maximizing rear wheel braking under such situations.

All in all, we can’t wait to get behind the wheel of Ford’s newest F-Series. If what we have seen translates equally well to a real-world ride-and-drive, this is going to be a class leader. – Bruce W. Smith

Basic Specifications

2004 Ford F-150

Models: Regular Cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew

Trim Levels: XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat

Engines: 231hp 4.6L Triton V8 (Std.); 300hp 5.4L Triton V8 (opt.)

Transmissions: 4-speed automatic (4R70E / 4.6L; 4R75E / 5.4L)

Frame: welded/fully boxed

Suspension: Front: IFS; Rear: solid axle w/ leafs

Steering: rack-and-pinion

Wheels: 17” std; 18” optional

Bed Length: 5 ½’; 6 ½’; 8’

Standard Tow Rating:

4.6L: 6,500 lbs

5.4L: 8,300 lbs

Max Payload: 2,000 pounds

Axle Ratios:

 (4.6L): 3.31 / 3.55 / 3.73

(5.4L): 3.31 / 3.55 / 3.73 / 4.10

Brakes: 4-wheel disc w/ ABS

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