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Complementing the new frame is a rack-and-pinion steering that is responsive and gives the driver an excellent on-center feel. The redesigned rear suspension with outboard shocks gave our STX an overall composed and honest ride. We felt no harsh road shock, and freeway expansion joints were smoothed out better than other 4x4 models that are often too stiff to absorb the imperfections. We took notice of the reduced tailhop over speed bumps, especially with an empty bed. Off road, the STX was too spongy in the deep whoops but very fast over washboards and gravel.

You’ll often hear Ford praise the F-150’s “best in class” features, but in the lower trims the Ford sometimes ranks last. The base V8 in the F-150 lineup is a 4.6-liter, SOHC engine rated at 231 horsepower at 4750 rpm. That’s the smallest engine and the lowest horsepower of base V8 in any fullsize pickup. The torque rating of 293 lb-ft at 3500 rpm is also the lowest. Unfortunately for Ford, the F-150 is the heaviest of all fullsize trucks. Curb weight for our STX SuperCab 4x4 model was 5490 pounds. That’s 750 pounds more than a Toyota AccessCab and 200 pounds more than the gargantuan Nissan and Dodge extended cab pickups. Low power and high mass equals sluggish acceleration and limited the tow and payload ratings on our model to 6000 and 1460 pounds, respectively. Also, we recorded 13.3 mpg on our 302-mile test drive with a good mix of highway and city driving. EPA estimates for this engine are 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway.

Some of the extra weight comes from adding two inches to the bed height, increasing the cargo capacity. But those extra two inches also get in the way when looking behind while backing up and when trying to lift cargo, such as a full jug of gas for the ATV, over the side. On our 4x4, the bed rails were a towering 54 inches above the road. But we do have to praise the new Ford bed for its easy opening/closing tailgate. Lift height over an open tailgate is a more manageable 35 inches.

The STX is designed as a sporty enhancement to the base level and will be marketed to shoppers on a budget and first-time pickup buyers. The STX SuperCab is also available with a shorter 5.5-foot bed, which will make the trim attractive to youthful hot rodders. The monochromatic appearance is more suited to aftermarket enhancements, improving the STX’s potential as a street cruiser.

For 2005, the STX may get a V6 and manual transmission in the equipment mix. Currently the 6-cylinder and stick are available only on the previous generation—now sold as the Heritage F-150. But Ford is wrapping up the conversion on all its F-150 assembly plants, so conventional wisdom says the XL and STX could pick up the slack for basic, low-priced features.

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