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1997 FORD F-150 Review - Base Price $14,430

The new crown prince of pickups.


It could be called reinventing perfection. For 18 years the Ford F-150 has been the best selling pickup in the U.S., and for the past 13 years running it has also been the best selling vehicle in the U.S. Not the Taurus, not the Accord. The F-150.

So what do you do with a vehicle that successful? You change it, of course. Completely.


The interior of the F-150 is far more car-like than before, surprisingly so, in light of the truck's rugged (Ford would never say macho) image. The basic instrument cluster contains gauges for the important functions, but no tachometer. The usual controls are to the right in a soft-cornered rectangle. The radio has a real on/off knob, but tunes with a rocker switch.

Organic shapes abound-door handle, glove box handle, ashtray door, vents. Not your standard truck fare, but Ford feels its traditional buyers will like the looks inside and out, and also feels the new look will attract more of those buyers who want a pickup for non-work driving.

The regular cab has more head room and more seat travel. The standard seat is a 3-person bench with a 40/60 split bench standard on some models. There is increased storage area behind the seat and more clearance for the optional reclining seats.

The SuperCab has more rear-seat leg room than the previous F-150. A split bench rear seat is available. The lower cushion of the rear seat can be folded into a flat floor.

Nice touches include extra-large cupholders, a second power point on the instrument panel for laptop computers and the like, an optional driver's side secondary visor shade, a glove box handle oriented toward the driver, adjustable D-rings for greater ease of shoulder belt adjustment, two large coat hooks and a passenger grab handle.

F-150 models are available in Standard, XL, XLT and Lariat interiors. The XL interior is standard on the Flareside.


The new F-150 has been restyled to give it an aggressive stance and a contemporary aero look. The front end bears little resemblance to previous noses, although the oval Ford logo immediately identifies the truck. The grille opening is changed, the headlights have a new shape, and the lower bumper has been redesigned. Note here that the F-150 comes in so many permutations that what is said about a design specific on one may have little to do with another. The tail features new-look taillights that are inset and wrap around.

Overall, the truck has surprisingly rounded lines. Ford says that vehicle ruggedness traditionally had been characterized by angular forms. But all those sharp edges played havoc with aerodynamics, which meant lower fuel economy and more wind noise. So Ford's designers went for a look that was more aero, but still conveyed ruggedness.They came up with a form that, the designers feel, uses rounded, muscular shapes that say tough without being hard edged.

Part of achieving a successful design, according to Ford research, is in knowing who buys your truck and what they buy. And why they buy it. Ford knows F-150 owners very well indeed, and has broken them down into major groups.

Know anybody who fits one of these categories? The first buyer is the Adventuresome Youth, just out of high school, who needs a truck for work and/or play. He buys a Regular Cab Flareside XL and represents one sale in 10. Next is the Youth in Transition, who is married, with a mortgage, under 30. He needs a truck with simple amenities, so he buys a Styleside Regular Cab XL like our test truck. Also one in 10 sales. Next is Established and Stable with kids in school and wife back to work. He buys a higher-series XLT, maybe a SuperCab. Three of 10 sales, so an important customer. When this guy ages, he enters Free-Spirited Senior land, and he goes for the top of the line XLT or Lariat and maybe SuperCab. He's good for another three in 10 sales. The other sales go to fleet and commercial buyers.

One of the most noticeable design features on extended-cab models is a third door on the passenger side. When Ford was doing its marketing homework in preparation for the new truck, time and time again the researchers heard owners of extended cab trucks plead for -more room behind the seats, and easier access.+ Which is precisely what they'll get in the new truck with the new passenger-side third door option.

Like all pickups, the new F-150 is available in a variety of shapes and sizes. There is a short and long wheelbase Styleside Regular Cab, a short and a long Styleside SuperCab, a short Flareside regular cab and short Flareside SuperCab. The Flaresides have aerodynamic lower moldings, a side step and other cosmetic features.

The standard engine for the new truck is a new 4.2-liter V6 that produces a hefty 205 hp at 4400 rpm, which is a considerable advantage over the competing standard engines. Chevrolet's C/K has 180 hp, the Dodge Ram has 170 hp.

The Ford V6 also produces 255 lb.-ft. of torque, with 92 percent of that available at 1500 rpm. That means low-end acceleration and more trailer-towing capacity. Platinum-tipped spark plugs mean 100,000 miles between tuneups.

Naturally, the F-150 offers V8 power. A 4.6-liter with 210 hp is available now, with a more powerful 5.4-liter V8 due this fall. the smaller V8's advantage over the standard six is more torque: 290 lb.-ft. vs. 255.

All engines come with a 5-speed manual standard, with a 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic optional. All models are available with 4-wheel drive.

After decades of Twin I-Beam, the F-150 finally has a new front suspension, which Ford describes as upper short and long arm (SLA). On 4x2 trucks, the SLA suspension uses coil springs that react against a forged upper arm and a cast spindle, with control arms bolted to the frame. At the rear is a solid axle with a leaf spring on top of the axle.

The 4x4 truck uses a torsion bar front suspension with cast lower arms. There is an optional off-road package. The rear suspension is the solid axle/leaf spring used on the 4x2.


Forget everything you know about the way pickups ride and drive when it comes to experiencing the F-150. Never has a full-size pickup been so refined. Ford has taken the "truckiness" out and given it a car-like feel in this respect, just as the designers did with the interior.

The ride is smooth and motion free. What happened to the constant state of bounce? Gone. In its place, a compliant ride that soaks up road irregularities. For anyone with a lot of truck time, it's almost spooky the way it goes down the road. It's also quiet in there. The new rounded shape did its job in that department--no wind noise.

Typically, a pickup's box and frame are designed separately, then bolted together. This time around, the two systems were designed to work together. The result is an absence of squeaks and rattles, even on rough terrain. The truck has a solid feel that has nothing to do with ruggedness. This one is built to endure.

Both engines are strong, with the increased torque of the V8 obvious in a back-to-back comparison. But without that comparison, no one would likely sell the V6 short. Both are smooth, with the V8 a bit quieter.

The most remarkable thing about these engines is how much power--particularly the kind of power we call torque--Ford has been able to extract from relatively small displacements. Both engines are based on Ford's highly successful 4.6-liter modular V8, used in several passenger cars. For truck use, the 4.6 induction system was retuned for stronger low-end performance. Overhead cam engines aren't part of American truck tradition, but we don't think anyone will have any trouble adapting to this one.


It's obvious the F-150 has been a good truck. People don't buy you into the top spot year after year if you aren't top spot material. But Ford decided keeping its top spot meant making a good thing better, and showed confidence in also making it quite a bit different in the process. There may seem to be a bit of bet-hedging here, since Ford will keep the 1996 model on sale through most of the year, but that's only because of the changeover required at two more plants.

Will Ford's new F-150 encounter resistance? Or will it lure buyers in even greater numbers? Only time will tell. But we're betting on more buyers. The North American Truck of the Year jury gave the F-150 top honors this year, and we think they called it right. This one's a winner.

Find more reviews at New Car Test Drive. The wolrd's leading provider of Automotive Reviews.

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