We tested the all-new 2009 Ford F-150 pickup equipped with a three-valve 5.4L V-8 and six-speed auto transmission in Trailer Boats’ March 2009 issue (“Power Packed”), and it was impressive. We found it to offer abundant power, outstanding drivability and firmly planted handling. Months later, however, we got to thinking that it might be interesting to see what this truck could do if it was packing one of the two available smaller 4.6L V-8 engines under its hood. To take the question a step farther, we went “old school” and had one delivered with the two-valve 4.6. Would it perform up to our expectations? Would it burn significantly less fuel? We had a lot of questions. Here’s what we discovered.
MUCH OF THE SAME
For all intents and purposes, you get the same truck when you order it with one of the smaller V-8 engines. It’s based on a fully boxed, hydro formed steel ladder-style frame, a double wishbone short- and long-arm independent front suspension with coil-over shocks with redesigned double ball-joint links for improved handling, and a leaf-spring suspended live rear axle with outboard-mounted shocks for improved roll stability. AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) systems are integrated into the four-channel, four-wheel ABS brakes to help keep the vehicle under control in skid or body roll scenarios. All 2009 F-150s also come with the new Trailer Sway Control system, which is especially sensitive to yaw-type motions in the truck’s chassis, and can signal sway-dampening measures to the engine and brake system to help bring trailer sway under control. The interior is the same basic design, although the 4×2 STX SuperCab model was far less dressed up than the 5.4-equipped SuperCrew we had before. And certainly the rear seat passengers in the SuperCab will be less comfortable than those who ride in the SuperCrew’s second row of seats. All of the controls, dials and switches are easy to reach and manipulate. In general, visibility around the truck from the driver’s seat is good, although the large headrests on the front seats block the driver’s over-the-left-shoulder view through the driver-side rear passenger door window on the SuperCab model.
As far as capability goes, the 4.6-powered F-150 doesn’t give up too much compared to the 5.4 when it comes to payload and GVWR. With the 4.6, the payload drops only 150 pounds to 1580, and the GVWR goes down just 300 pounds to 6700. The GCWR and tow rating take a pretty good hit, though. The GCWR drops 6000 pounds to 11,100; the maximum trailer weight rating loses 5400 points for a 5800-pound tow rating. Let’s look at this with some perspective, however. How many of you actually tow a trailer boat that weighs 10,000 pounds? Not that many it seems. In fact, our reader survey shows that about 75 percent of Trailer Boats readers tow less than 7000 pounds, and around 55 percent tow less than 5000 pounds. That means the 4.6-powered F-150 we tested is capable of towing the boats owned by more than half of the readers of Trailer Boats. With the 4.6, you don’t get Ford’s new high-tech six-speed transmission. Our tester came with a four-speed OD automatic transmission. Quite frankly, it worked perfectly fine, with crisp, clean shifts and no noticeable gear hunting. You don’t get the higher price, either. The 5.4-equipped F-150 4×4 SuperCrew we tested had a base MSRP of $37,990 and a price as tested of $46,495 (loaded to the gills with extras). The 4.6-equipped and modestly optioned 4×2 SuperCab carried a price as tested of $30,990. Its base MSRP was $26,495. Take the difference and stick it in the bank.
The numbers tell much of the story. The boats towed during our testing of the two trucks were within 700 pounds of each other. In both towing and non-towing situations, the two-valve 4.6 showed moderate fuel savings in comparison to the 5.4. On flat highway stretches and city driving with the boat in tow, the 4.6 never broke a sweat. It pulled the load from a standing stop with relative ease, and cruised the highway with very little pedal pressure. Only when we hit the hills did the truck begin to show its Achilles’ heel. On mild uphill grades, we shifted down into third gear (turned OD off) and had no trouble. But when the climb got steeper, the transmission had to be dropped down into second gear, and we made the top of the 6 percent Cajon Grade at a 50 mph pace with the engine revving at about 3500 rpm. Overall, the Ford we tested with the 4.6 is a solid performer capable of towing the 5250-pound boat. It has its shortcomings when compared to the 5.4, but this test confirmed what we had already theorized — the 2009 Ford F-150 4×2 powered by the two-valve 4.6L V-8 is a good option to consider when looking for a new tow vehicle. It can handle the trailer boats that most of you have parked in your driveways.
— Stuart Bourdon