2009 F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 Review
By Chris Haak
Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the sales results, we are really in a golden age of full size pickup trucks. The full-size trucks sold today by Ford, GM, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota are the most capable, most comfortable, most powerful, most efficient full-size pickup trucks ever sold. Until a couple of years ago, pickup trucks were setting sales records too, but then gas prices more than doubled, many casual/personal-use buyers abandoned the market for smaller, more-efficient vehicles, and sales are down significantly from their peak of a few years ago. That being said, however, full-size pickups are still the best-selling vehicles sold by most automakers who sell them by far.
Although two decades ago, trucks were used mostly as work vehicles and pickups saw new generations extremely infrequently (think of the GM C/K trucks of 1973-1987, with some models continuing to 1991 – that’s 19 model years, or the Ford F-Series of 1980-1996 – that’s 17 model years). Today, trucks are nearly on the same update schedule as cars are. The Ford F-150 was most recently all-new for the 2004 model year, which lasted just five years.
Although the truck is touted as “all new,” it doesn’t look entirely different from the 2004-2008 models. The cab design appears to be more or less carried over intact (with the exception of a six-inch stretch in the SuperCrew’s cab, which is very much like Ford’s approach to the 1987 and 1992 refreshes of the 1980 original. However, the 2009 model has wholesale changes under the skin. The new truck has an all-new frame that manages to be both stronger and lighter than the old truck’s frame, new six-speed automatics, an all-new interior with better materials, an improved design, and more storage, and some handy cargo-management features in the bed.
Although the F-150’s design could charitably be described as evolutionary relative to the previous generation, it’s a handsome truck. Personally, I find the slightly de-butched 2009 Dodge Ram to be a more attractive pickup, but the Ford’s design is clean and straightforward, without being overly simplified as the design of GM’s pickups seems to be. Ford did an interesting job of illustrating fender bulges without widening the truck, and with each successive generation, the F-150 looks more and more like a Ford Super Duty truck, with ever larger grille openings and headlights. Ford did something interesting with the grilles available in the various trim levels of the 2009 F-150; literally every single model has a different variant of the front grille, but the common theme is a gigantic Ford blue oval front-and-center. My three-and-a-half year old son now is able to recognize Fords he sees on the road thanks to seeing the F-150’s eight inch wide memory aid in the driveway every day, so it’s clearly reinforcing the brand (he also knows the Toyota logo from the Sienna my wife drives, but says that he likes Nissans).
The F-150 and Dodge Ram both have round wheel openings that match the shape of, well, the tires. It sounds like a simple thing, but the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra both have squared-off wheel openings that have never looked right to me. The Lariat has little chrome except for the top of the mirrors, the gi-normous grille, front tow hooks, 18 inch wheels, and the optional tubular step bars, but does have an attractive two-tone look (with a nice metallic dark blue on top and metallic gold on the bottom), yet manages to keep an upscale look. Since I find the Ram and F-150 to be the two best-looking full-size trucks, and both are available withi two-tone paint in some models, perhaps both companies are onto something in the looks department (at the very least, they know which of my buttons to push). Twenty-inch wheels are available on the Lariat and standard on the high-end Platinum model.
Inside, Ford stepped up its game in a big way. The 2004 F-150 was probably tops in its class, but the 2007 Chevy and GMC moved the bar even higher. The Lariat’s interior was extremely pleasant, with an attractive design (though Ford can’t seem to embrace curved interior surfaces in a big way with its trucks, it’s a softer shape than some prior efforts). Like the GM and Toyota competition, most of the dash – in fact, most of the interior surfaces – are formed in hard plastic. Making things a little worse, the plastic has fairly rough graining throughout, but at least there were no visible mold lines and all plastics were low-gloss. I’ve always been fond of a tan/grey interior color combination, and all upper surfaces were finished in grey with tan on the lower dash and seats. Fake aluminum trim covers a good deal of the dash, with fake (yet mostly convincing) wood covering the upper door panels, center stack, center console, and shift knob.
The center stack in my navigation-equipped tester was a little too button-heavy, yet it was pretty easy to get used to their functions. Still, having larger buttons would have been a better choice. (The buttons on the steering wheel to control the cruise control and some audio functions were even smaller.) Ford’s latest-generation navigation system, which I previously sampled in a Ford Flex, is excellent. The screen is large and has a very clear resolution and easy-to-read text. Operation is very intuitive (I didn’t touch the manual the entire time I had the truck), and it has some neat features like the ability to navigate to a gas station with a particular fuel price, display sports scores, weather (including a map), traffic, movie times, and more. The navigation display itself allowed both 2D and 3D map display (I prefer 3D, which showed a blue sky with cumulus clouds over the horizon during the day and a starry dark sky at night) and provided clearly-displayed road names thanks to the screens great resolution. I honestly feel that Ford’s navigation system is one of the best on the market, if not the best on the market. My test pickup also had Ford’s SYNC system, which now includes a built-in hard disc for storing music files. SYNC’s voice recognition works better than most, and it’s very easy to pair a phone with SYNC using Bluetooth. I appreciated that the vehicle allowed keypad dialing on the navigation screen even while in motion; let’s face it, without that feature, you’d be dialing on the keypad on your phone handset anyway. Sony provided the audio system and 11-speakers, and while it sounded good for the first half of the volume range, when I dared venture beyond that (only for a brief moment, since I’m already losing my hearing in my early 30s), the system seemed to lose much of its guts. Stay below the halfway point, though, and it sounds fine.
The F-150 SuperCrew is a big vehicle. It has a curb weight of over 5,500 pounds and a length of over 19 feet, 3 inches (even with the shorter 5.5-foot bed that my test vehicle had). It’s more than 6 1/2 feet wide (excluding mirrors) and is more than 6’4″ tall. These dimensions pay big dividends in the interior room, with plenty of room in all directions, and rear seat legroom that’s nearly five inches greater than in a GMC Sierra Denali Crew Cab. While six-plus footers can’t sit comfortably in the back seat of the Sierra Denali without the front seat passengers compromising on their legroom, no compromises are necessary in the F-150. In fact, there was so much room in the back seat for the twin (and very large) Britax Marathon car seats that my sons prefer that they couldn’t even kick the back of the front seats. Funny enough, although I was able to figure out SYNC and the navigation system without using the manual, I had no such luck with the memory seat (and mirrors). Every time I unlocked the doors, the driver’s mirror moved to point too far from the side of the truck and the driver’s seat moved back and reclined, so I found myself in the unusual position (for me) of having to move my seat forward by several inches each time I drove the truck (I’m 6’4″ tall). The only problem with the size, aside from the obvious weight problems, is that the F-150 was somewhat hard to park. It was nearly too large for my parking garage (I had literally six inches of clearance above the roof, and for the first day or two, I found myself ducking when I drove through the garage). Parking spaces that a “normal” vehicle could fit into required careful gauging of clearances on both sides – with the mission occasionally aborted, followed by a quick jaunt to a larger space), and backing up was a challenge that was made somewhat easier with the backup camera hidden in the tailgate’s Ford logo.
I found the seats to be comfortable; the leather was somewhat industrial-quality (I believe that both the King Ranch and Platinum F-150s, which are more expensive than the Lariat, have better-quality – meaning softer – leather), and four hours in the truck one day (split into two two-hour drives) didn’t harm my derriere. I was somewhat impressed that the front seats were both heated and cooled, and although it seemed at times that they could have used a little more padding, the fact that I jumped out of the truck after two hours and felt fine tells me that the seats’ design was successful.
I expected the F-150’s Achilles heel to be its 5.4 liter, 320-horsepower V8, since all of the F-150’s competitors offer engines with more power and torque. Although the engine didn’t provide accelerative entertainment as do the big V8s in the Toyota Tundra and GMC Sierra Denali, the combination of a 3.55 rear axle ratio and six-speed automatic combined to move the truck reasonably swiftly. I never felt like I was so much down on power that I would have trouble getting up to speed on a highway entrance, but I also was driving a mostly unloaded truck, so performance would surely suffer with the bed full of something heavy, or a trailer attached to the back. The engine still sounded pretty good when whipped; it seemed based on conversations that I was having at the time that the Bluetooth handsfree microphone transmitted a lot of the V8’s sound effects to the callers on the other end of my conversations. “Can you hear me? What was that? How fast are you going?” were a few comments I got.
The upside of this lack of entertaining acceleration is that I actually kept my foot out of the accelerator more, knowing that it wouldn’t be throwing me into my seatback. Observed fuel economy, including a 200-mile highway trip, was 15.4 miles per gallon, or almost between the 14 city/18 highway on the window sticker. Right after the highway jaunt, the average economy was as high as 17.2 mpg, but that eventually fell as I spent more time in city driving. This fuel economy compares favorably to both the Sierra Denali that I drove in January (16.9 mpg observed, 100% highway) and the Toyota Tundra CrewMax that I drove a year earlier (12.3 mpg observed, 40% highway and 100% lead foot), but the truck felt significantly slower than both of those. At least help is on the way in the powertrain department for the 2010 model year; the F-150 is expected to get a 350+ horsepower EcoBoost twin turbo, direct injection V6 as well as a light-duty diesel option. One area in which the F-150 absolutely killed the Sierra was in driving range; the Sierra had a 26-gallon fuel tank, while the F-150 has a 36-gallon tank. While I was more or less expecting about 200-250 miles on a tank at 15+ miles per gallon, I couldn’t believe how slowly the gauge moved toward empty. The downside of that is that it would take forever to fill that tank, and cost $72 for a complete fill-up at $2 per gallon. Last summer, it would have cost $144 at $4 per gallon. At even a paltry 15 miles per gallon, those extra 10 gallons mean another 150 miles of range; 36 gallons at 15 miles per gallon means a 540-mile range; theoretically, at the EPA’s 18 mpg highway figure, the truck could go 648 miles on a single tank.
I haven’t driven a new Ford truck in a while, but I was impressed by the F-150’s steering. The ratio was fairly quick for a truck, and it offered good on-center feel (again, for a truck). I believe that Ford also got the ride/handling balance right, which is tricky to do in a truck that for most buyers will spend a majority of its time running around with an empty cargo bed, yet haul 1,510 pounds of payload on a moment’s notice or tow a 9,800 pound trailer (my tester’s 3.55 axle ratio dictated the 9,800 pound limit; with the 3.73 axle ratio, the F-150 can tow a staggering 11,300 pounds). Over rough payment, I didn’t detect any squeaks or rattles in my 5,500-mile tester, and the same giant bed bolts that Ford used to show in its commercials seem to continue to hold the bed to the frame, since railroad tracks couldn’t upset the bed’s stability relative to the rest of the truck (I could not say the same for the Tundra). Braking felt adequate, with large disc brake rotors on each corner. My test vehicle also had the optional ($230) trailer brake controller, which allows for on-the-fly electronic adjustments to the trailer brakes’ gain, as well as a sliding application of trailer brakes only. I don’t really know much at all about towing, but it seems as if the F-150’s impressive towing capacity, plus features like the trailer brake controller would make it a pretty good towing vehicle.
F-150s, as do all full-line pickup truck lineup, have an enormous price spread from the base model to the – in Ford’s case – Platinum model. A regular cab 4×2 XL starts at $21,920 (before rebates and including destination) while a Platinum 4×4 SuperCrew tops out at around $50,000 (before rebates and including destination). My test vehicle’s base price was $38,965 and final price was $45,405. Looking at some photos of the Platinum, it’s clearly nicer (with better seats and improved door panel materials, plus more glitz on the outside), but honestly, the Lariat was nicer than the best that GMC has to offer. Ford is offering rebates of up to $3,000, plus dealers are willing to deal, if you’re inclined to buy a new F-150. Since GM and Chrysler are more desperate right now, you might be able to score a better deal on the also-very-good 2009 Ram or Silverado.
So, did Ford hit a much-needed home run with its new 2009 F-150? I’d say it’s at least a stand-up double, possibly a triple. The only demerits are engine power and fuel economy, both of which will be improved with the EcoBoost V6 and/or the small diesel V8, and the excess amount of hard plastic in the interior. The truck was comfortable, capable, and good-looking. While I found myself feeling self-conscious about driving a Tundra to work for a week last year, I actually thought it was kind of cool to drive an F-150 for a week. That being said, I was happy to return to the world of cars and minivans after Ford picked up the truck.
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