Road Test
2009 is shaping up to be a freaking fantastic year for Sport Truck fans. Just a few months ago, Dodge introduced its all-new 2009 Ram 1500. Damn nice truck. Now, it's Ford's turn. While we still want you to finish reading the story, the new F-150 is also a damn nice truck.

For you F-Series fans, the following intro won't be necessary, but for everybody else, here's a little history: Ford introduced an all-new F-150 in 2004. It was a huge hit in a market that was crazy about fullsize trucks. Gas was still cheap back then, remember? The next big F-Series happening was the introduction of the all-new 2007 Super Duty. These medium-duty trucks foreshadowed styling cues and key features that would eventually make their way downstream to their light-duty brethren.

Now, with gas prices going up and down like a spastic model rocket, today doesn't seem like the best time to introduce a new truck. But, Ford couldn't hold off because it had some ground to make up. GM and Toyota introduced new trucks for the 2007 model year, and with Dodge's new 2009 model, Ford's F-150 was the oldest player in the market.

Ford had us out to its Romeo, Michigan, proving grounds to drive the new truck. In addition to experiencing several hundred miles of on-road driving, we put the new F-150 through a brutal set of tests at FoMoCo's 4,000-acre test facility. Here's what we can report:

Refined Super Duty Style
Outside, the new F-150 borrows heavily from the Super Duty. The family resemblance shows up most in the front end, where the upright and chunky grill gives the truck a strong face. Ford did not simply downsize the Super Duty's style for the F-150. Along the sides, a classy looking undercut defines the wheelwells. At the rear, the more aerodynamic tailgate features an integrated spoiler along its top edge, plus a series of three horizontal character lines. The tailgate on the 2006 Super Chief show concept showed off a similar tailgate treatment that F-150 designers brought to production. These add visual interest to what would otherwise be a dull expanse of metal (and is on most other trucks).

More Models
Ford now offers seven trim levels for the F-150. If you're a Ford man, you'll recognize nearly every one. Moving up through the line, the walk-up goes like this: XL, STX, FX4, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and the all-new Platinum edition.

The XL is the pure work truck. The sportier STX is two-wheel-drive, while the FX4 goes after the four-wheeling crowd. The XLT is an everyman's truck, while the Lariat and King Ranch deliver much more luxury. While the leather-lined King Ranch has a style that appeals to those living large outside of the city limits, the new Platinum edition is for urbanites. The boldest cues from the Super Duty have been toned down and refined for the Platinum's city life. The grille is different as are the seats, which are top-grain leather that feature tuxedo stitching. The interior also features genuine ash wood accents. The standard wheel is a 20-incher with 16 spokes. When you combine these trim levels with three cab choices and three bed lengths, Ford offers 35 different possible configurations. In other words, if you can't find what you want in this model line, you're not really trying.

Framed Up
Every new F-150 rides on a stronger ladder frame that uses more high-strength steel and more hydroformed sections than the previous F-150. If you're not a manufacturing guru, a hydroformed framerail takes its shape when a raw section of steel is put into a mold. High-pressure water injected into the mold expands the steel, literally forcing it into the desired shape. Hydroformed sections are lighter and often stronger than those created by traditional welding techniques.

According to Ford, the new frame is 10-percent stiffer torsionally and 15 pounds lighter than the frames under 2008-and-earlier models. Engineers at Ford's Romeo, Michigan, test facility proved the strength of its new frame using a simple test. On three bare frames (one Ford, one GM, and one Toyota), they affixed 135 pounds of lead to the end of a lever attached crossways on the frame. The demonstration began with the weight supported off to the side of the frame by a floor jack. A gauge measuring frame deflection recorded the amount of twist when the floor jack was removed. The Ford recorded hardly any deflection and proved marginally better than the GM, but much stronger than the Toyota. It twisted noticeably. We would experience an on-road test that would confirm the Ford's strength and the Toyota's weakness later in our experience at the test track.

Ford also added more high-strength steel to the cab's structure. This change adds safety for the occupants while helping engineers tune in more refinement. Any engineer will tell you that if the foundation of your truck is strong, then it's easier to make quiet. Ford also used more of a material it calls Quiet Steel. This is actually a sandwich of sound- and vibration-absorbing rubber between layers of steel, and it's used in the floor and firewall of the new F-150.

Gearing Up The Power
For 2009, the F-Series has gone to an all V-8 engine lineup. You'll probably find the engines familiar: the two-valve 4.6-liter, the three-valve 4.6-liter, and the three-valve 5.4-liter. Horsepower ratings for the engines build from 248 to 292 to 320. GM and Dodge fans will note that the Ford is down on power compared to the top competitors, as versions of GM's 6.0- and 6.2-liter V-8s produce more power than the Triton, as does the Dodge's Hemi. Ford guys will just have to suck it up, as plans for a high-performance 6.2-liter engine have been put on indefinite hold.

While every Ford engine was tuned to be more efficient to improve fuel economy, the biggest mpg improvements come from the six-speed automatic transmission that's standard on the top two motors. The base 4.6-liter makes do with the aging four-speed automatic. When it comes to fuel economy, more gears are better than fewer. The economy figures across the F-150 range bear this out, as there's not another fullsize truck out there that gets better mileage than the F-150.

To make its point, Ford now offers a SFE (Superior Fuel Efficiency) option on XL and XLT models. The SFE is a two-wheel-drive Super Crew that achieves 15/21 city/highway mpg. This is unsurpassed in the realm of fullsize trucks, matched only GM's new XFE trucks. The Ford's advantage in this comparison is that it maintains a higher payload capacity and the ability to tow 7,500 pounds--500 pounds more than the GM brethren.

For those looking for a light-duty diesel engine, Ford had expected to introduce one for the 2010 F-150, but that has been delayed until 2011. In response to the market's demand for more mpg, Ford put the priority on making the more fuel-efficient turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 available in the F-150. It will outpower the base 4.6-liter engine while achieving better economy (the base 4.6-liter currently achieves 14/19 city/highway mpg). Based on what we've heard, we're expecting the V-6 to produce around 275 horsepower.

Shut The Door
Inside the new F-150, Ford improved its best-selling truck's interior. If you own a 2004-2008 F-Series, the design will look familiar. The cabin's strong vertical theme is punctuated with round climate control vents. Larger circular outlets improve the airflow in the cabin. The new front seat design dramatically enhances comfort as you now sit "in" the seats as opposed to "on" them. In addition to providing better side support, the seats also provide good long-term comfort.

For those considering the four-door Super Crew, Ford extended the truck's cab 6 inches. Nearly all of the room went into the rear seating area. Drivers will appreciate that the B-pillar has been moved back, providing better rearward visibility. Additionally, the floor of the rear seating area is now completely flat, and when the rear seats fold up (they nest effortlessly into a compact package against the rear cab wall), a huge parcel can be accommodated behind the front seats. Ford showed us how a 52-inch flat screen TV in its box can slide easily into the rear of the cab. The cab floors of competitive trucks are not flat (GM and Dodge) or can't be accessed at all (Toyota), so Ford has a solid advantage here.

The Good Stuff
As for new features, popular items from the Super Duty have migrated to its little brother. For the first time, the integrated tailgate ladder and box side-step are options on the F-150. Inside, premium Sony sound systems are available, as are SYNC (Ford's voice-activated media and phone interface) and Sirius Travel Link, which provides navigation plus real-time traffic, weather, and fuel prices among other features. You can even get a fully-functional in-dash computer system complete with a wireless keyboard, mouse, and printer. For safety's sake, the computer functions won't work if the truck is moving.

In the bed, Ford offers cargo management systems from the factory, plus the tailgate ladder and the bed divider. While these options are useful, Ford doesn't have anything to match Dodge's Ram Box. Ford took significant steps to keep the F-150 up-to-date regarding safety features. Six airbags are standard (four in front with side-curtain airbags that extend to the second row). Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and ride stability control are also all standard. Important to those who tow, trailer sway control is also standard.

On The Road
During our extensive time with the 2009 Ford F-150, engineers exposed us to one of their most devastating test routes at their Romeo, Michigan, proving grounds. This engineer-designed road surface brutally twisted the truck front to rear with such force that the cargo boxes of some competitive models looked as if they would shake themselves free of their frames. The F-150 tackled the road surface with little distress. After driving on the route just a few times, it amazed our shaken (not stirred) skulls that the design for the new F-150 successfully completed this durability circuit 600 times before it was approved for production.

Because of tests like these when on normal roads, the F-150 drives tighter and with greater response than it ever has. The improved aerodynamics of the new body design reduces wind noise, which helps the truck feel nearly luxury-car quiet. When we reviewed the 2009 Dodge Ram (Nov. '08 Sport Truck), we liked its on-road handling (a benefit of a link-coil rear suspension). The F-150 comes close to matching the Dodge's on-road ride but delivers greater payload and towing capabilities, plus more steering feel--something we felt the Dodge could have used more of.

Ford did change up its rear suspension for 2009. The leaves are now 6 inches longer and slightly wider. These changes help improve load carrying and simultaneously deliver a smoother ride. Ford chassis engineers also kept body roll in check so the truck doesn't flop around when you shoot through an exit ramp.

For most drivers, Ford's three engines deliver ample power. However, Ford can't claim any bragging rights for being the most powerful or quickest. The Hemi-powered Ram will dust a 5.4-liter F-150 without breaking a sweat.

At The Finish
It's important to note that the current crop of fullsize trucks were designed and developed when manufacturers thought that trucks would be selling in huge volumes forever. This means that GM, Toyota, Dodge, and Ford spent huge amounts on the development of their trucks. It shows. This author predicts that we'll never see such refinement in fullsize trucks again, as these vehicles return to their more humble station in life as working vehicles for working people. My point: Get 'em while they're hot, because these are the best fullsize trucks the world may ever see. You probably don't have to hurry, as GM, Ford, and Chrysler will likely extend their product cycles so these trucks will be around in their present form for quite some time. The 2009 Ford F-150 is easily better than the 2008. Ford guys can walk tall again, as the F-Series is back in the game.

The 411

POWERTRAIN 4.6L 2V V-8 4.6L 3V EFI V-8 5.4L 3V Triton V-8
ENGINE TYPE V-8 iron block, aluminum heads V-8 iron block, aluminum heads V-8 iron block, aluminum heads
BORE/STROKE 3.55 x 3.54 in 3.55 x 3.55 in 3.55 x 4.16 in
DISPLACEMENT 281 cu in, 4,606 cc 281 cu in, 4,606 cc 330 cu in, 5,400 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.4:1 9.8:1 9.8:1
FUEL INJECTION Sequential multiport electronic Sequential multiport electronic Sequential multiport electronic
VALVETRAIN SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder, Variable Camshaft Timing
POWER 248 hp @ 4,750 rpm 292 hp @ 5,700 rpm 320 hp @ 5,000 rpm / 310 hp @ 5,000 rpm
TORQUE 294 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm 320 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm 390 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm / 365 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm