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Ford's F series trucks have been the number one selling vehicle in America since 1982. Ford trucks set the precedent by which other trucks eventually follow. Ford raises the bar, once again,, by completely redesigning it's half-ton hero for 2004. Sitting a top Ford's F-150 food chain is the Lariat. A truck which packs luxury around utility, aimed at a very specific buyer profile. Ford's media literature describes the Lariat this way: "The ultimate in truck refinement, the F-150 Lariat combines truck toughness and comfort, geared to buyers who view their trucks as a reward for achievement." However it's not only the truck that is refined, but the owner as well. We see the Lariat driver as one who wants a truck for work, rather than one who needs a work truck. The Lariat reflects his interests, his tastes, and his desire not to compromise. The Lariat is about taking clients to the new property on Monday, dinner in the city on Friday, and towing the race car on Sunday.

We recently tested the 2004 Lariat SuperCrew 4x4 as if we had this level of refinement in our lives. For one week we lived in the lap of Lariat owner luxury. We towed around the winningest car in American Iron series history (see side bar) at Infineon Raceway. We reclined in the comfort of the Lariats leather seats and wood grain dash while a dirty project motor sat in the bed on it's way to the machine shop. We straightened out the crookedest road in America using a leather wrapped steering wheel behind 5000-plus pounds of American engineering.

With it's broad stance, four full doors, and tall ride height the 2004 Lariat is manly, like Rodin's Thinker, appearing to be chiseled from the most solid of rock. The departure from the rounded edges of yesteryear F-150's scores high marks in our books. The heavy emphasis in the mid 90's to create aerodynamically appearing vehicles resulted in rounded hood lines which dropped quickly off the vehicles horizon. Drivers of large trucks
had poor ability to discern the boundaries of the front of their trucks and SUV's. The return to squared-off front ends reestablishes where the front begins and ends, and certainly makes it easier to navigate through tight areas.

We're impressed by the quality and detail inside the Lariat. The selection and combination of interior materials, the use of metals where one normally finds plastic, are qualities to be expected if Ford's Lincoln or Jag line introduced a truck. Buttons, dials and stalks are all sturdy and offer up proper tactility. Nothing seems prone to breakage if used in late-to-work heavy handedness. The Lariat's sporty gauge cluster inspires by day and mesmerizes by night.

Driving the new F-150 is noticeably different than F-150's of the past. This is indeed due to Ford's complete redesign of the F-150 for 2004. The truck is tighter, more stable, and car like in it's quietness and smoothness. The F-150 frame received major enhancements in design. Load bearing sections of the frame are now hydroformed, a process which does not weaken the steel as does pressing and bending. The entire length of the frame is now boxed and not "C" channel, resulting in a platform 50% stronger than the preceding design. The body itself received similar strengthening enhancements. A special adhesive now fills the gaps between spot welds, forming a continuos seam. The increased body stiffness (75% over the last F-150 model) not only reduces cabin shakes and rattles but interior sound levels are now better than many high-end passenger cars. In our testing we measured less than 80 decibels cruising at 70 mph. This sort of quiet is unheard of for a truck.

The front and rear suspensions have also received ground-up redesign. Up front, coil-over-shock assemblies replace the antiquated MacPhereson

Backseat Driver
"Resolve the front wheel caster shimmy which occurs at speed over ruts and Ford will have closed the gap between car and truck steering and handling. "
Chirag Asaravala, Editor
"Flaws are hard to find in the '04 Lariat, however one which you'll be reminded of constantly is the reverse obstacle sensor. Apparantly not a single engineer realized when a trailer is hitched this audible feature becomes an annoyance."
Jon Mikelonis, Editor

strut setup. An aluminum lower front control arm helps reduce unsprung weight. Much of the car-like precision is attributed to the trucks new rack and pinion steering system rather than the previous recirculating ball mechanism. At the back Ford now mounts the shock absorbers outboard of the frame rails and larger, 3-" wide, leaf springs combine to increase lateral stability and reduce lean upon turning. Front track are rear wheel track has been widened by 1.5". We like what the wider stance does for the F-150's handling but perhaps more so for it's looks. The F-150 is no longer dwarfed when standing shoulder to shoulder with Dodge Rams and Chevy Silvarados.

The Lariat gets its drive from Ford's new 5.4L Triton V8. The iron block and three-valve, single overhead cam, aluminum cylinder heads are controlled via the fifth gen EEC processor. It's the first modular V-8 Ford engine to use variable-cam timing to optimize intake and exhaust valve operation across the rpm range. The result is both lower-speed torque and high-speed horsepower while minimizing exhaust emissions. The 5.4L produces a mighty 300 HP at 5000 rpm. Torque is hearty at 365 lb-ft, of which 80% is achieved at 1000 rpms through the new charge-motion control valves in the intake runners. The valves enhance air-fuel mixing at low rpm improving low-end torque. However even with low transmission and axle ratios barely serve to mask the Lariats portly 2.75 ton curb weight. It's the slowest amongst other four-door boxes in its class, running the quarter mile at around 17 seconds flat. Fuel economy from our 20,000 Lariat averaged a respectable 16 mpg in split highway and city usage.

Ford NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) engineers did not spare the Triton engine design from their overall goals to reduce sound levels in the new F-150 cabin. The composite intake manifold has ribbing and optimized shape to reduce air flow noise. The pistons have longer side skirts than in the past, which helps to control piston slap. Solid metal is used at the points where the front cover bolts to the engine block, but a rubber gasket damps vibrations between mounting points. This refinement alone is responsible for a one-decibel reduction in overall sound levels.

The new Triton motors are not connected to the right foot via mechanical throttle linkage or cable. We were apprehensive about these new throttle-by-wire
systems, however the advantages became apparent upon pulling into a tight parking spot, or during low speed and rough terrain 4x4 driving. The computer senses accelerator position and factors in vehicle speed, engine operating conditions, and other variables to optimize throttle tip-in response. The result is very smooth low speed driving. While we loved to chalk up smooth and consistent driving under these conditions as "driver skill", the real credit goes to Ford's electronic throttle control.

The combination of newly designed suspension, frame and engine for the 2004 F-150 yields a completely new towing experience as well. The truck is overall stiffer and handles better when pulling heavy loads. Class IV towing capacity is now over 9000 lbs. for the Lariat SuperCrew. If it weren't for the rear view mirror we'd have forgot we were towing a Mustang race car around the rolling hills of Sonoma's Infineon Raceway.

In one short week the Lariat erased for us the line between what is work and what is play. The Lariat didn't care what we hauling or pulling and neither did we. Its cabin treated us just as comfortably taking the family to the mountains as it did with a crew of six on its way to the job site. This is quite possibly the perfect blend of recreational and functional vehicles. Ford aims to sell a record one-million trucks this year, and judging by the quality of the new design we don't see them missing this target. We wonder just how many individuals will see themselves as deserving of such a reward as the Lariat.




 
 

The Lariat is luxurious and functional. Towing around the Griggs GR40 Mustang racer was effortless.
 

With a wider wheel base and track, as well as increased height, the 2004 F-150 stance commands respect on and off road.






New frame and body designs combined with an all new front suspension results in sedan-like agility from a one-ton pickup.
 
The 2" deeper cargo box for 2004 makes it easier to load and haul heavy items such as our big block 460 Ford project motor.

 

 

 

2004 F-150
Lariat SuperCrew 4x4
Base Price: $35,570
Price as tested:
$39,905
Exterior Colors: Aspen Green/Arizona Beige
Interior: Pebble Leather Bench
 
Engine  
Type 5.4L Triton V8
Configuration
V-8 iron block, aluminum heads
Electronics Electronic Distributorless Ignition System controlled by EEC-V computer
Bore x Stroke
3.55 in x 4.17 in
Displacement
330 cu in, 5409 cc
Compression
9.8:1
Horsepower
300 @ 5000 rpm
Torque
365 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm
Valvetrain
SOHC, 3 valves (2 intake, one exhaust) per cylinder. Variable Valve Timing.
Fuel Delivery Sequential multi-port electronic (SEFI)
 
Drivetrain  
Transmission 4-speed automatic overdrive (4R70W)
Ratios I: 2.84, II: 1.55, III: 1.00, IV: 0.70
Axle Ratio 3.55:1 (3.73:1 optional)
 
Suspension  
Front Coil-on-shock, long-spindle double wishbone independent, cast aluminum lower control arm
Rear Hotchkiss-type non-independent live, leaf springs and outboard shock absorbers
 
Brakes Power assist, ABS
Front Rotors 13.0-in vented disc
Rear Rotors 13.7-in vented disc
   
Wheels/Tires 18" Alum. with P275/65R18 All-Terrain
 
F-150 Lariat Supercrew 4x4
Weight and Towing (pounds)
Base Curb Weight 5606
Payload Capacity
1550
GVWR 7200
Max Towing Capacity
9200 (3.73 axle ratio)
8200 (3.55 axle ratio)
Max GCWR 15000 (3.73 axle ratio)
14000 (3.55 axle ratio)
 
 


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