Ford hasn’t just improved its pickup’s offroad capabilities, it’s also improved the F-150’s on-road performance. Across all F-150 models, Ford has updated its electronic stability system, called Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, for improved crash avoidance and sudden-maneuvering safety.
To test out the stability system, we autocrossed three F-150 models: an FX4 with 20-inch wheels and Scorpion ATR P275/55/R20 tires, a Lariat with 18-inch wheels and Goodyear Wrangler PP275/65/R18 rubber, and an XLT optioned with a heavy-duty payload package that included 17-inch seven-lug steel wheels and LT245/75Rx17E BSW all-terrain rolling stock. All of the trucks were loaded with 1,000 pounds of hay in the cargo box.
We thought the XLT heavy-duty F-150 performed best. Its beefed up suspension package – including heavy-duty shocks and new leaf springs that are 6 inches longer and 3 inches wide – minimized body roll in 90-degree turns and through simulated lane changes and cone slaloms. The FX4’s stiff suspension closely followed the handling characteristics of the HD F-150, but its maneuvering envelope was relatively limited by its large 20-inch wheels.
All the trucks exhibited near-linear ride and handling feel up to the point where the electronic nannies kicked in to help prevent the truck from breaking the laws of physics. Intrusioneering was most apparent in the Lariat and FX4 pickups; we couldn’t push the HD F-150 hard enough in the tight course to prompt the system to reduce throttle or noticeably apply the brakes.
Another safety feature for frequent towers is Ford’s trailer-sway control. It’s built into the F-150’s optional integrated trailer-brake controller. Trailer-sway control senses unsafe yaw from a trailer and activates both the truck’s and the trailer’s brake systems – if the trailer has electric brakes – to stop the sway before it pitches the entire rig off the road. Due to the extreme nature of such an event, Ford wouldn’t let us test this capability, but the company says it definitely works. Stay tuned for more information on this unique feature in the future.
The 2009 Dodge Ram also offers trailer-sway control, but it only brakes the Ram’s front wheels when it senses dangerous yaw input from the trailer.
We’ve been big fans of the F-150’s interior since it was totally revised in 2004. The 2009 model refines the earlier styling and provides drivers with more information about their truck’s status. A new information display is available on every model except the work-grade XL version. Our favorite feature is the all-new navigation and infotainment system. It provides real-time traffic, local fuel prices and incredibly useful radar maps of the weather. It’s a must-have for any F-150 buyer purchasing a truck for frequent towing over long distances; the system will help those drivers save time, purchase fuel at relatively low prices and arrive at their destination safely and on time.
Ford has extended the SuperCrew’s length by 6 inches, an unexpected benefit of trying to reduce manufacturing complexity and expense by deleting the vestigial side-access door the F-150 used to have on its regular cab. Removing the small doors meant Ford had to lengthen the driver and passenger doors by 6 inches. The benefits: This pushes the B-pillar back in the SuperCrew so you no longer risk banging your head on rough offroad terrain and also give the second row additional legroom. The drawback: The extra cab length contributes most of the 8 inches the SuperCrew grows in overall length from the 2004-08 model, making the F-150 difficult to garage with the 6.5-foot bed option.