Walkaround and Interior

By March 10, 2012

Walkaround

The angular lines of the Ford F-150 mean it's easier to clean, easier to park, and gives maximum inside volume for outside space. Some bulge to the hood and large grille openings imply power, as does the higher altitude of 4WD models; many models have big graphics to ensure everyone knows what it is. The F-150 is easily recognized by substantial blue ovals, stepped front window ledge, and the tall bed.

The front door edge that allows a lower glass line at the front is stylish but also very useful; it allows a better view of front quarters near the truck and means you can have a good-sized mirror that doesn't limit forward vision because you look over it rather than around it. The view rearward can be aided by extendable towing mirrors, a rear camera, and a power sliding rear window. We found the towing mirrors work very well.

Pillars between the doors (called B-pillars) and the rear hand-hold on the pillar may yield an awkward blind spot for some drivers, but everyone should appreciate the windshield pillars (A-pillars) shaped to help preserve forward vision. Relatively square shoulders on the hood make it easy to see the edges of the truck, a bonus for tight parking lots, plow operators, and squeezing between trees or rocks en route to outdoor recreation.

With all beds you can get a locking tailgate and tie-down points. On many models you also get a bed extender and tailgate step (rated 300 pounds); the tailgate step makes stepping into the bed easier but it makes the tailgate feel heavier than some petite drivers will want to open or close. Some models offer a box-side step rated at 500 pounds; a pop-out, under-bed step behind the cab, but we needed considerable effort to return it and wonder how it will work after grounding on a rocky trail, having mud or snow thrown at it, or in freezing weather. Refueling is done with Ford's capless filler system so you will never lose another gas cap.

Most F-150 models have Ford's family-face horizontal three-bar aspect to the grille and the tailgate styling; the larger grille, squared headlights and more heavily contoured hood all add to the imposing size, though it isn't as imposing as Dodge's forward-leaning grille setup. On higher-level models the chrome is considerable, and extends to the front tow loops on 4WD.

The FX model has a multi-ribbed grille, blacked-out trim, plenty of decals and real truck tires if you choose the 17-inch off-road tire option. The chassis on 4WD models doesn't have anything mounted much lower than the frame rails, but if you intend to use four-wheel drive for anything more than snow or muddy roads the skid plate package should be considered. The FX appearance package's flat-black 20-inch wheels have contemporary style, but we find them far more apropos the FX2 than the FX4.

Models with the heavy-duty payload package come with 17-inch wheels with seven bolts holding each on. More attachment points are frequently used as truck weight increases but 7 bolts is an uncommon pattern and may limit your choice in aftermarket or replacement wheels.

Interior Features

Ford has all bases covered inside the F-150, with plenty of patterns, textures and finishes, and the choice of a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat or captain's chairs in many models. On those trucks with a bench seat, the middle passenger should be of a smaller size for both knee clearance and the narrow space between seat and belt brackets.

Mindful that you can't have everything for $23,000, the basic XL is quite respectable and a good value given a single option tab on a bigger pickup can be nearly half the XL's purchase price. Fleet drivers will appreciate that air conditioning is standard and the truck is quieter and more refined, in part due to a smoother 60-degree V6 and not one derived from a 90-degree V8.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Platinum is like a Lincoln Navigator with a pickup bed. The King Ranch chairs may look like a fine saddle (and require the same maintenance in some climes), but you'll want to ensure the jeans are clean and spurs off before you climb into this cowboy clubhouse.

Virtually everything you might need is either standard or available, and much the same degree of luxury in a more subdued style can be found in Lariats, which follow a more eclectic approach to decor and make one wonder if seven colors and surface textures on a rear door alone might be one or two too many. The speaker grilles on high-line models that look like metal really are (with the three horizontal bar theme molded in), and in some cases the trim is real brushed aluminum. The wood is faux but well done, perhaps to save trees.

The front bench is still split three ways: The center section flips down to reveal a console with storage and cup holders. The console is flat, so you can put a clipboard on top of it and it won't slide off until you stop, start or change direction quickly. Captain's chairs on FX and Lariat models, especially with power adjustment and the optional adjustable pedals (the switch is often hidden on the steering column), provide good driver positioning for virtually everyone. We found the seats didn't suffer from our earlier criticisms of lacking thigh support and aggressively tilted headrests.

Front and rear-seat room is very good; the SuperCrew's rear is a vast, spacious area for three adults with a flat floor all the way across and full roll-down windows. On the down side, it could take a while to heat up or cool off in climate extremes, and the floor mats cover only a third of the carpet by our tape measure.

The rear seat cushions lift up to stow vertically, with four grocery bag hooks on the underside of the wider driver-side seat and, if equipped, the subwoofer for the Sony sound system under the right rear seat; rear cabin storage seats-up amounts to nearly 58 cubic feet. With captain's chairs up front there are vents in the back of the center console. There are three tethers and two anchor sets for baby seats, outboard rear headrests raise enough to protect tall passengers, and a smaller center rear headrest to preserve vision for those who use the window; you can also get a power sliding window with defrost.

We sampled a couple of trims, one with bucket seats and white-stitched black leather, the other a 40/20/40 bench in tan leather; the lighter color interior looked richer, but also busier since it had dual colors for the dashboard where the black truck didn't. Either seat is comfortable, the advantage of the bucket being goodies like heating/cooling on higher trim models. Most of the touch points on Lariat felt good, with a sort of rubberized texture to the door armrests, but there is still plenty of hard plastic in pillar covers and lower doors to ease cleaning.

The cloth upholstery in the STX feels comfortable and durable; in temperature extremes we'd prefer it to the leather on upper trims. Apart from seat coverings and the steering wheel, the STX doesn't feel budget conscious.

All models use the same basic dash layout, with tachometer to left (no marked redline), speedometer to right, and oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel and transmission fluid temperature lined up between. On lower-level models the gauges are more traditional white-on-black and, on higher-line models, silver faces with dark numbers that light up green and are often easier to read at night than in daylight. The ancillary gauges are quite lethargic so you need to heed warning lights even if a gauge doesn't quite agree.

The new central screen provides a wider array of information called up by a thumb-switch on the steering wheel, including but not limited to transmission fluid temperature, fuel economy/range, gear selected, trailer profiles, and tire pressures.

Trucks with the Sony navigation/audio system have arguably simpler controls than those without it by virtue of the voice command, logical operation and system integration. Trucks without that option aren't bad, but even on some lesser trims we found plenty of white-on-black buttons on the center panel which could require some familiarization. Window switches are all lift-to-close but the power door lock bar is horizontal so if Rover puts his paw on the right part of the switch you could get locked out.

Bench seat models use a column-mounted shift lever, while most bucket seat models use a bigger console shift lever, both with a Tow/Haul mode. The floor-shift requires a button-push from D to N as you might at a long light or rail crossing, and the column-shift has a light detent so it's easy to go one-to-two gears too far. Manual gear selection requires engaging the M position and using a +/- thumb toggle to change, like GM's approach, but Dodge's layout is simpler and just as effective. Liberal chrome on the console can produce some distracting glare.

Headlights are to the left, four-wheel drive and the integrated trailer brake controller are to the right; the power adjustable pedal switch on the left side of the steering column is harder to find than dash switches but does keep you from leaning forward while trying to adjust your driving position. Four round omni-directional vents ensure airflow where you want it, front seatbelt anchors are height-adjustable, and our only ergonomic complaint was the lack of a sun visor that covered the length of the side glass.

The Sony navigation/sound system and Ford's SYNC system bring infotainment to a new level, integrating Bluetooth-enabled devices, 911 Assist, Vehicle Health report, Sirius travel link with real-time traffic, weather, 4500 movie theater listings and show times and 120 gas stations with fuel prices. Power points, a USB port and MP3 input jack are in the lower center dash. The Sony 700-watt 5.1 channel sound system provides very good sonic quality, even if the impact didn't feel like 700 watts. It has the usual assortment of graphics nonsense like the oxymoronic-titled audio visualizer, which we could live without.

Pickups without space are pointless and the F-150 won't disappoint. The Regular Cab is roomy enough to fit three adults across and has plenty of space for the miscellaneous debris and detritus that tends to accumulate in trucks. SuperCabs have a full-width back seat best-suited to kids and short rides for bigger adults since legroom is the squeeze point; it's similar in size and intent to the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra extended cab or the Titan King Cab. For larger families or routine four-passenger service, the SuperCrew's room and regular back doors will be welcome, with as many as 30 different places to put things.