When you are the Ford F-150, the big fish in the pickup sales pond, it is inevitable at some point you may be challenged. Ford has been wise to plan not for the initial backstep but rather to ensure it does not become a full-blown tumble.
I have been critical in the past of Ford's lack of vision, but never with regard to the F-150 pickup lineup. And it is a lineup to behold. With more than 60 variations between the three (Regular, SuperCab, SuperCrew) trim levels, the three different size beds, and the 2- and 4-wheel drive combinations, there is a custom combo F-150 for anybody's needs. For today's marketplace, that's smart and impressive.
All that choice may be daunting to a consumer who may not know what they want, but for many pickup owners, who know exactly what they want, much of the time they want an F-150. It used to be an easier choice, but with GM and Toyota making big pushes to steal Ford market share, F-150 finds itself in a strange place - trying to compete with increasingly improved pickups that have caught up to F-150's once-dominating package of engineering prowess and reliability.
My Ford F-150 Extended Cab Lariat tester is the luxury version of those aforementioned 60 choices. It is what you might expect: leather comfort, high-tech upgrades and outstanding power pooled into the industry's top-selling pickup shell.
Don't be fooled by the sophisticated interior setting, this is still a rugged pickup with few limitations. Mt tester came with the 5.4-liter V8 (300 hp) mated to a smooth shifting 5-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is what it is, average for this size truck. The city mileage I found to be about 14 mpg, with regular leaded fuel.
The exterior design of the F-150 cannot be overlooked. While it delivers a utilitarian function at its core, my F-150 offered an attractive chrome grille as its focal point, a great-looking front-end light assembly as well as big 20-inch wheels and sporty looking wheel well flares. As has been the case with several new entries into this class, the sidewalls of the pickup bed are raised slightly higher than past models. It gives it a contemporary look, but at the expense of accessibility from the street. I couldn't reach the pickup bed floor reaching over the walls. But I do like the trade off for looks.
What has always impressed me about the F-150 is the quiet cabin. Pickups were made to haul and load and work hard, not to comfort passengers; my Lariat is anything but a raw hauler, the space inside is a respite from the harsh environment. Inside the cabin you have great sightlines and comfortable and supportive leather seating. Adjustable foot pedals make for a perfect fit for every driver.
Rear passengers will find themselves coddled with a DVD entertainment system and reasonable legroom for long rides, though I think the shortened seats might be harder on passengers than the legroom. For the driver, the F-150 receives a standard tire-pressure-monitoring system (not on heavy-duty payload package) for 2007. This may seem rather trite, but fuel economy and ride quality are much more influenced in the pickup platform than a sedan. Keeping good tire pressure is one way to ensure the best in all those areas. When you add the Nav system, with the new standard auxiliary audio input jack, virtually any electronic entertainment is at your fingertips.
One of the things I appreciate most about the Lariat's interior is its homage to its pickup roots. Ford could easily have strayed from the ruggedness of the brand to create more dapper, softer accents inside. I like the minimalist white-faced gauges against black to give the no-frills feel of a pickup's mission. This design is exceptionally easy to read and highly functional. Count me as a growing fan of Ford's Nav System. I found it easy to use and manipulate just a day into the week-long test.
I found the F-150's drivability to be pleasant. I had the extended bed and while there was ample room to haul whatever you may desire, it did not adversely affect the drive quality. Inside the cabin, tire noise is virtually non-existent, shudders and roll minimal and acceleration is fun for a vehicle this big. The brakes deliver outstanding braking power.
Overall, F-150 has been the industry leader for so long for very good reasons. I like to think of the Lariat as the sophisticated option to the no-brainer pickup choice for more Americans than any other. At about $32,500, you will be hard pressed to find a competitive price with Ford's equipment packages.