From construction workers to urban cowboys to traveling families, pickup trucks continue to be a staple of American roadways. Record gasoline prices last year and rising gas prices now have done little slow Ford's success in the full-size pickup truck market thanks to the fully redesigned, twelfth-generation Ford F-150. Although sales in 2008 were a little more than half of what the F-150 sold in its peak year (2004), the Ford F-150 continues to be the best selling vehicle in the United States for the 27th straight year. That may seem like a big accomplishment in itself, but considering the Ford F-150 has been able to hold off not only other full-size truck competitors such as the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, but it also battled for market supremacy against midsize sedans, fuel prices and the economy.
With a full redesign from the ground up for 2009, Ford's F-150 seems very capable of continuing its dominating run by offering a design that is as rugged as it is comfortable. One of the main reasons the F-150 continues to dominate annual sales is the fact that it comes highly personalized with a total of seven trim levels, four cargo bed configurations, three cab configurations, three engine choices and of course the option between two- and four-wheel drive. Just to show the variations available for 2009, the base F-150 XL starts at $20,815 while the luxurious F-150 Platinum almost doubles that price starting at $40,910. We tested a 2009 Ford F-150 Lariat 4x2 SuperCrew that had a starting MSRP of $34,845, but quickly jumped to an as-tested price of $42,605 thanks to plenty of luxury and cabin technology goodies.
2009 Ford F-150 Exterior
One area in which the previous F-150s were being outperformed was the overall design, but the 2009 model replaced the conservative look of past models with a more noticeable, in-your-face styling. The 2009 F-150 keeps the same basic shape as the previous (2004-2008) body style, but the truck gets much needed improvements to the front and rear view. Up front, the shape of the F-150's headlamps gives it a familiar look to the Expedition, but the new face of the F-150 is highlighted by a distinguishable chrome grille (each 2009 F-150 trim level gets a specific grille treatment). Speaking of chrome, the optional ($1,295) Lariat Chrome Package added sufficient amounts to the exterior without looking excessive or gaudy. Even the two piece bumper (the lower part is chrome and the upper part is plastic) helped reduce the visual impact of the front end especially compared to the Chevy Silverado's massive chrome front bumper. The truck's hard lines and chrome trim may add a touch of elegance to the design, but the flared wheel arches and stepped beltline help add a rugged look too. The business side of our F-150 was a 5.5-foot cargo box capped off with chrome trimmed taillights reminiscent of the Ford Flex crossover.
Ford introduced a handful of ingenious ideas on the F-150 to make using a pickup truck much easier. Although some models get retractable running boards and hideaway cargo side steps, our test model only came with the innovative tailgate step - a $350 option. Howie Long may have got a few chuckles with his 'Man Step' commercial, but since pickup trucks are designed to get work done, Ford engineers managed to make the work a little bit easier. A foot step hides in the tailgate housing itself while a sturdy vertical pole locks in place to offer stability when climbing the step. Not only is the step easy to set up, but it also makes getting into cargo area a much easier task. The only problem we had with the step is that the support rod adds an oddly shaped tailgate bedliner material which made sitting on the tailgate rather uncomfortable.
2009 Ford F-150 Interior
On our Lariat SuperCrew test model, the 2009 F-150 provides spacious and luxurious accommodations for five passengers with a rugged styling shared with the F-Series Super Duty trucks. Not all the materials feel like as good as the Ford Flex we test drove recently, but the instrument panel is equipped with a leather-stitched instrument gauge hood, chrome-trimmed gauge cluster and accent trim including light satin and light-colored wood grain. Ford's highly acclaimed SYNCÂ® system comes standard on the F-150 Lariat, and our test model included additional features such as Sony Navigation radio ($2,430), a power moonroof ($995) and leather-trimmed front captain with heating and cooling ($895).
Almost every aspect of the new F-150 shows just how in tune Ford is with hard-working pickup truck owners, but perhaps the one most thoughtful designs incorporated into it is the flat load floor in the rear passenger area. With the seats folded up out of the way, the F-150 can hold tall, bulky cargo without any interference from the drivetrain hump that is usually present on all vehicles. The folding seats also lock in the up position and are released by handles to prevent them from accidentally falling onto the cargo. With all the storage compartments and cargo-friendly spaces, we were surprised at how small the glove box was. Thankfully, the center console not only provided a cavernous storage area, but it was also lockable.
2009 Ford F-150 Performance & Handling
The new F-150 offers a choice of three V-8 engines, but the Lariat model is only available with the largest option - the 5.4-liter Triton V-8 producing 320 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Paired with the six-speed automatic transmission, the 2009 F-150 musters fuel economy expected from such a large vehicle with EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. For those scoffing at the fuel economy of the new F-150, you can either buy another vehicle (since you're probably not truly in the market for a pickup truck anyway) or you can just wait a year. Pickup trucks and fuel economy may not go hand in hand, but Ford plans to change that thinking when it makes the twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 available for use in the 2010 F-150 which will deliver the power and performance of a V-8 and the fuel efficiency of a V-6.
When it comes time to tow, the 2009 Ford F-150 is always ready to get to work. In its toughest configuration the F-150 can tow up to 11,300 pounds, but our Lariat with the optional ($300) 3.55 rear axle ratio is only rated for a 9,700-pound towing capacity and a 1,730-pound payload capacity. Still no slouch, but this goes to show how axle ratios can affect vehicle performance and capabilities. Drivers who need to tow heavier trailers that require trailer brakes will be pleased that the F-150 is also available with a trailer brake controller for an additional $230. Even the wiring harness offered both four- and seven-pin connectors to ensure the F-150 can tackle just about any job. Finally, the rear view camera and reverse sensing system that were part of the optional ($795) Lariat Plus Package made hooking up to the trailer much easier especially when alone. The camera alone is worth it during trailer hookups by providing a great view of the trailer hitch and trailer tongue helping to prevent damage to the rear bumper and/or tailgate.
2009 Ford F-150 Safety
Not only a leader in pickup truck sales, the 2009 Ford F-150 is also a leader in pickup truck safety receiving the highest marks possibly from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Although both the F-150 and the Toyota Tundra share the honor of being an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2009, only the F-150 received five-star ratings in frontal- and side-impact protection from the NHTSA. Like all large vehicles, no pickup truck on the market scores a five-star rating for rollover avoidance, but the F-150 4x2 we tested does manage a four-star rating compared to the three stars that the two-wheel drive Tundra received for the same test.
The days of casual pickup truck ownership may have ended the first time gasoline priced topped $3.00 a gallon, but the Ford F-150 continues to be a class leader when it comes to capabilities, safety and innovation. Whether you're in the market for a rugged work truck or a luxurious hauler for a boat or camper, the 2009 Ford F-150 is just as versatile as its lineup variety suggests.