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Ford F-150 revolutionizes truck design with new materials and powerplants

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Sometimes, a crown looks a lot like a target.

Ford’s F-150 has been the country’s best-selling vehicle for 32 years in a row. It’s been the best-selling pickup for 43 years.

Pickups represent a big piece of the new-car market. They are also more profitable than cars. Ipso facto, every maker in the segment wants a bigger slice of Ford’s market share. 

No product dominates the way the F-150 does without innovating. This year, Ford innovates in a big way, replacing steel body and bed panels with aluminum. The move cuts curb weight by as much as 700 pounds. 

Lighter trucks are more efficient and, since cargo and tow limits include the truck’s weight, they can handle greater loads proportionate to overall poundage. 

Ford leverages the F-150’s weight advantage by offering a new six-cylinder engine that tows like an eight. The 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine makes 325 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque and can tow up to 8,500 pounds. 

Acceleration and efficiency gains are impressive. The 0-60 sprint happens in shade over 6 seconds, and estimated mileage for 2WD trims is 19 mpg combined/22 mpg city/26 mpg highway. Four-by's are rated at 18/20/23.

Other engine options include a 3.5-liter V-6 (7,600-lb. tow capacity) that makes 283 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. A 5.0-liter V-8 engine (11,000 lb.) is rated at 385 hp/387 lb-ft and a turbocharged 3.5-liter six (12,200 lb.) makes 365 hp/420 lb-ft.

Standard equipment on the base XL ($27,285, including destination) includes air, cloth upholstery, a 40/20/40-split front bench, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, manual mirrors and windows, manual locks and a four-speaker sound system with 4.2-inch display.

A top-line Platinum trim 4x4 stickers at $55,000 and options can add another 10 Grand.

At $44,460, with options, my 4x4 XLT tester split the difference. Key options included the 2.7-liter engine and an XLT appearance package with 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels.  

Cabins are finished in high-quality materials. Muscular-looking dash and door panels feel solidly built. Seats are large and comfortable and the MyFord Touch infotainment system grows more user friendly, with the addition of redundant buttons and knobs for oft-used functions. 

The standard six-speed automatic transmission makes smooth, unobtrusive shifts. In certain conditions, power delivery can have an on/off quality as the transmission and turbocharger negotiate roles to maximize pulling power (critical, when towing) <em>and</em> efficiency.  

Built to handle heavy loads, trucks ride best carrying ballast. Loaded, the F-150 rides and handles like a smaller truck. Unloaded, it feels light on its feet, a sensation amplified by a steering system calibrated to present a light feel. My empty Supercab 4x4 jittered on choppy surfaces at speed, but settled in nicely on the freeway. 

The F-150 can’t be expected to ride as smoothly as a sedan on city streets, a complaint easily offset by its overall high levels of comfort and quality.

Good as it is, the 2015 F-150 won’t be less of a target to its rivals. And that augurs well for all truck buyers.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2015 Ford F-150 4X4 Supercab
Vehicle base price: $26,030
Trim level base price: $37,005
As tested: $43,460
Options included 2.7L EcoBoost engine; satellite radio; rearview camera; remote start; LED side-mirror spotlights; tailgate step; integrated trailer brake wiring; LED box lighting; XLT Sport Appearance package; 110V/400W outlet; spray-in bed liner.
Maximum tow rating: 8,500 lbs
EPA ratings: 20 combined/18 city/23 highway
Unleaded regular fuel specified

Honda Ridgeline: Right-sized trucklet

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Just as the first robin announces spring, the arrival of a Special Edition Honda foreshadows the arrival of an all-new model.

Honda’s short-bed Ridgeline pickup ($30,405, including destination) is due for its first full makeover since debuting in 2006. 

To sweeten the pot until the 2015 Ridgeline arrives, Honda gives us the new, top-of-the-line Special Edition (SE) trim ($38,335). The SE incorporates the stepped upgrades built into the Ridgeline’s five-trim strategy and adds navigation with voice recognition; Bluetooth phone connectivity; and a handful of cosmetic upgrades.

The SE is the full-meal deal, with 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, sunroof, leather upholstery, ambient console lighting, heated front seats and side mirrors, a 115-volt AC power outlet and satellite radio.

Unibody construction provides car-like ride and handling and the Ridgeline cabin is as quiet and comfortable as any crossover’s. Honda’s latest infotainment and telematics systems aren’t here, though; they won’t be available until the new model arrives.

There’s no such thing as an under-equipped Ridgeline. All trims get a power-sliding rear window, air-conditioning, a 60/40-split lift-up rear seat (with under-seat storage), a rearview camera, full power accessories, cruise control, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with CD player.

The Ridgeline is available in a single four-door, five-passenger body style. It’s powered by an all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. All Ridgelines are equipped with an integrated trailer hitch, oil and transmission coolers, heavy-duty brakes, dual radiator fans and the necessary prewiring for a 7-pin trailer hookup. Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

All-wheel-drive is standard. The system can be locked in AWD mode at speeds of up to 18 mph.

The five-speed automatic transmission makes good, sure shifts and Grade Logic Control minimizes gear-hunting in hilly country. Its powertrain is dated, though, and produces anemic EPA numbers: 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined.

The Ridgeline’s broad seats provide abundant thigh and lumbar support and the rear bench accommodates two adults. Large knobs and buttons are easy to reach and to use. There’s plenty of storage for CDs and enough power sources to keep phones and tablets charged. 

One rides high in the Ridgeline cab and sight lines are ideal. The cabin is quiet at speed, body lean is minimal in turns and the unibody rides lightly over broken surfaces. 

The Ridgeline’s footprint is smaller than that of a conventional pickup, so it’s lighter on its feet and less of a handful in a parking lot.

For all its strengths, though, I hadn’t fully grasped the Ridgeline’s appeal until now. Its 5-foot bed seemed too short to be of real value.

But this time around, I piled my black Ridgeline tester full of pine branches and serviceberry limbs and carted them in the snow to the burn pile. I fetched firewood from the barn. I carted my bike to Portland for a grandson weekend. 

Neither fully fish nor fowl, car nor truck, the Ridgeline occupies a middle ground where comfort and versatility meet. Suburban ranchers, boaters and light-duty haulers can all find something here to like.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Honda Ridgeline SE
Vehicle base price: $29,575
Trim level base price: $37,505
As tested: $38,335
Optional equipment: The Ridgeline SE is a fully equipped trim level; our test vehicle included no options.
EPA ratings: 15 city/21 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Toyota Tundra: Work ready. Or not.

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Toyota’s redesigned 2014 Tundra pickup family adds a premium trim called the 1794 Edition.

It is, says Toyota, a “tribute to the ranch, founded in 1794, on which the Tundra plant is located in San Antonio.”

With its embossed “saddle-brown” leather upholstery, ultra-suede cabin trim and JBL audio system, the 1794 is a refuge of glitz in a world of straw bales and horse poo. It reminds us that not everyone thinks of “work” and “truck” in the same context.

Unless you consider towing a fifth-wheel or horse trailer work.

The 1794’s lesser siblings are better suited to the workaday world. Five trims include SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and the 1794. Each gets its own interior design theme and all but the 1794 and Platinum are available in two-door regular cab, extended four-door double cab or four-door crew cab body styles. The 1794 and the similarly equipped Platinum are available only in the crew cab format.

The entire family is redesigned this year, with bolder styling and a more refined and user-friendly cabin.

Responding to complaints that the previous-generation Tundra looked like a “bubble truck,” Toyota squared off its rounded edges, elevated its hood line and fitted a larger, brighter grille. The tailgate is stamped with a big, bold “TUNDRA.”

Inside, a panel of easy-to-read gauges replaces last year's deep binnacles. The center stack moves 2.6 inches leftward, easing the reach required to access the HVAC controls. Knobs are large enough to be operated with gloved hands. Seats are redesigned for increased comfort. Interior materials have a higher-quality look and feel and Toyota has upgraded the quality of the leather used in upper trims.

A touchscreen display is now standard, and most Tundras can be had with the Entune suite of smartphone-based services, including the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio, real-time traffic and sports and stock information.

A rearview camera is now standard across the line, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are newly available.

New noise-reduction measures reduce the amount of engine and transmission noise that reach the cabin.

But for a few suspension tweaks meant to improve ride quality over harsh road surfaces, mechanicals are essentially unchanged. The three engines — a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6; a 310-hp 4.6-liter V-8; and a 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8 — carry over. The six is mated with a five-speed automatic, the eights with a six-speed. Its engine choices are varied and, though none is especially fuel-efficient, all are strong enough to get the job done.

Toyota is the only manufacturer to employ the industry’s agreed-upon but seldom-used SAE J2807 tow-rating procedure. Ratings produced by J2807 appear lower than those resulting from other makers’ methods but are more realistic. Properly equipped, the Tundra can tow up to 10,400 pounds.

Tundra remains steadfastly a truck. Its ride is smooth and stable under normal conditions but grows bouncy and irregular when the road surface deteriorates. Its hydraulically assisted steering system is accurate during turn-in and in the corners but is not particularly responsive.

In all the ways that matter, the Tundra is all truck and ready for work. Or not. It’s your choice.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 4x4
Vehicle base price: $26,200
Trim level base price: $47,320 \
Optional equipment included blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; 20-inch chrome-clad wheels; running boards; bed liner.
EPA rating: 13 city/17 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Kevin: Luna, Et Al, Hold Your Horses

Let’s start where we can agree. Slashing tires and spray painting a pickup truck are flat out wrong. That also goes for planning to confront the elderly mother of an elected official. Here’s where you might not agree with me. I’m not prepared to conclude that these unacceptable acts of vandalism and goonery are all related to politics. And I’m dismayed at those who have rushed to that judgment, for political gain. Amidst a bitter fight over his education reform plan, state schools superintendent Tom Luna has reported both of the above incidents to Nampa police. Now, let’s let the police do their jobs. Meanwhile, I’m going to be sympathetic, but open-minded. Luna is right. Family and personal property should be off-limits, even in heated debate. If these incidents were motivated by politics, then it embodies politics at its ugliest. But we’re still in “if-then” mode/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you agree with Kevin that Luna, Gov. Butch Otter, and other education "reform" allies should let the cops do their work in this vandalism case before blaming the IEA for inciting the act?

Semanko Joins Luna Blame Game

Idaho Republican Party State Chairman Norm Semanko, pictured, issued the following statement in response to the recent incidents of harassment toward Superintendent Luna: “This is what happens when you step out and fight against the status quo.  As Idahoans we cannot let these scare tactics win,” said Semanko.   “The Students Come First plan has obviously touched a nerve and rightly so. We know the opposition’s rhetoric and misinformation has gotten us to this point today, and we cannot let these hostile tactics win in the end.  We must do what’s right for Idaho students”/AP, via Betsy Russell's Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Is it just me or is Luna, with gale wind help from Gov. Butch Otter and GOP chairman Norm Semanko, trying to make himself out to be the victim here? Gracious, I once had all four tires of my car slashed at Flathead High in Kalispell, Mont., during a barbershop quartet concert. Now I wonder if you the school union thugs from the Flathead Valley were mad at something I'd written.

Luna Claims Vandalism IEA ‘Thuggery’

A pick-up truck that belongs to to Idaho Department of Education Superintendent Tom Luna is shown outside his Nampa home Tuesday. Vandals slashed two tires and spray-painted the truck of Luna, as the furor over his proposed education reforms appeared to grow uglier. Hearings on the education reforms were expected to continue Tuesday in the Idaho Senate, where the legislation was introduced earlier this month and is now being reworked amid opposition from teachers, parents and some lawmakers. Story by Patrick Orr/Statesman here. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Greg Kreller)

Question: Luna blames the attack on "union thuggery" (Idaho Education Association), despite the clear condemnation of this event by IEA representatives. Should he have made that claim without evidence?

Shea: So Long, Pick-Em-Up Henry

On his Facebook wall, Shea Andersen, former spokesman for gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred, laments that he sold the pickup that he'd owned since he bought it new in 1994. Writes Shea: "Hard to get my head around all the things that truk and I have been through together. It must be a uniquely American experience, to become verklempt over a car. Henry, you were my great ole pick-em-up truck. I will miss you." How about you?

Question: Have you ever had to sell or dump a vehicle that had become more than a means of transportation?