Betting the Ranch
First Drive: 2004 Ford F-Series

By: Larry Edsall Posted: 07-01-03 00:00
© 2003

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Knowing that its F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the country for 21 years in a row, you might understand if Ford became complacent in the design, engineering and development of the newest generation of the F-Series, the 2004 model. After all, if people are buying more than 800,000 of these trucks each year, is there really much motivation for making significant changes?

Yes, there is, says Frank Davis, chief engineer of the 2004 F-Series development program. “The F-Series has always stood for tough, capable and dependable,” Davis explains. “The goal for the program was unquestioned leadership.”

The F-150 already had unquestioned leadership in sales. To put annual sales in perspective, consider that this single pickup truck model outsells every other automotive brand in the country except for Chevrolet, Toyota, Dodge, Honda and Ford itself, or that F-150 sales in a single state – truck-crazy Texas -- total more than Audi, Infiniti or Jaguar’s annual sales in the entire United States.

But Davis and his team want their vehicle to do more than just to maintain sales leadership. They want it to be the unquestioned leader in power, in presence and in package. They want to redefine the pickup truck, and to meet needs that customers may not even know they have.

Thus the 2004 F-150 is built on a frame that’s nine times torsionally stiffer than Ford’s own 2003 model, that comes in five series and 26 configurations, that features an engine -- the 5.4-liter Triton V8 now with three-valve heads -- that provides 80 percent more torque at 1000 rpm, just where you need it for towing, that uses outboard rear springs to enhance handling in seemingly every situation, that offers more responsive steering and braking, that has a larger and much more luxuriously appointed passenger compartment as well as a deeper cargo bed with a tailgate that’s easier to open or close.

Our first drive of the new 2004 Ford F-150 involves highways, paved and unpaved hill country byways, an off-road course on the Lightning Ranch and even some 7000-pound trailer towing and an autocross course in San Antonio, the heart of Texas truck country. In addition to offering seat time in its new truck, Ford has rented comparably powered Chevy, Dodge and Toyota pickups. It doesn’t have access to a Nissan Titan, but we recently drove the Titan test mule at Nissan’s desert proving grounds south of Phoenix, so we’re in a position to draw some conclusions about where the new F-150 fits in the pecking order.

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