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Nashville Scene King of Crew

First genuine full-size pickup with four doors finally arrives

By Marc Stengel

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  If I had any doubts whether there was room at all for a humble shaman amongst the bean-counters, tech-gnomes, and market-gurus on automakers' staffs, those doubts are summarily dispelled by the arrival of Ford's F-150 SuperCrew pickup. It was certainly the arrangement of the tea leaves, I'm sure, that dictated the scheduling of SuperCrew's debut just in time for Mardi Gras--and, as destiny would have it, arrayed in 2001 trim to inaugurate the proper start of a new millennium.

Not quite one full year ago in these pages (April '99), there appeared a review of the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, the industry's first compact truck with four full-size, front-hinging doors. Not quite one full season ago (November '99), there appeared a review of the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, the industry's first midsize truck with four full-size, front-hinging doors. Now it must be said that the industry's first genuinely full-size pickup, with four sedan-style doors and seating for up to six adults, has arrived in SuperCrew raiment from Ford. It is the apotheosis of all that is fat and happy in the truck trade of the moment. It is the vehicle that Ford's shaman must certainly have approved with the only suitable blessing: Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Before any dry recital of features, benefits, capacities, or prices, it is worthwhile to note Ford's trump play in releasing the biggest, clearest manifestation of the psychic sea change among American auto buyers. For Ford, the collective grimace on the faces of showroom shoppers agonizing between the choice of a new car or a new truck must simply have been too much to bear. Sedans can't haul stuff; traditional pickups can't haul people. SUVs, bless their hearts, can't haul cow poop or stinky mulch or contaminant waste. Ford, gamely allowing Nissan the first at-bat, then letting Dodge pop-single into its own odd-sized niche, has implicitly endorsed the foresight of its predecessors but done them one better: Take the passenger cab off the Ford Expedition SUV, says the savvy shaman, and alight it onto the frame of a traditional long-bed pickup. The result: room for as many as six adults riding high and mighty inside with all manner of unmentionables safely quarantined outside.

Behold the tea leaves: We are at the dawn of a New Vehicular Age, they say, when cars and trucks have become trautomobiles. Size, not type, is the determinant now, and SuperCrew is the present reigning overlord of this new tribe. But the F-150 SuperCrew isn't just big, it is also manifestly clever--particularly in providing what we think we want in our all-purpose, next-gen vehicles.

My tester was a two-wheel-drive model in upscale Lariat trim for a base price of $27,670. (Downmarket XLT trim costs about $1,600 less; a 4x4 powertrain represents an approximately $3,500 premium.) The full-size rear bench seat, accessible through sedan-like doors on each side, is the most obvious eye-opener. There are 12 extra inches of room in this cabin overall, and Ford has spent them mostly to buy legroom for the backbenchers. A cunning servo-system up front, however, adjusts accelerator and brake pedals to any driver's leg length (or lack thereof); so there's absolutely no reason why front-seat occupants can't rack back and exploit the wide open spaces of the cabin as well.

An optional power moonroof ($810) and premium stereo with six-CD changer ($210) go far to simulate a sedan's interior ambiance. The 60/40 split-fold capability of the rear bench, moreover, invites Rubik-style experimentation for nesting persons and things cheek-by-jowl inside the cab.

Ford has reserved its unkindest cut for the SuperCrew's cargo bed, whose substandard 5.5-ft. length is the direct byproduct of so much extra fidget room inside the cab. Rest assured, however, that the time-honored benchmark of a 4x8 sheet of plywood will still fit amiably between the wheel wells, and with the tailgate down, it will lie flat. Overall payload capacity is unaltered (in comparison with the F-150 SuperCab, for example): 1,750 lbs of mulch, gravel, or manure is still 1,750 lbs. no matter how high the heap is.

What is sure to become the favorite cargo option for the SuperCrew--just as it promises to be with Nissan's Crew Cab and Dodge's Quad Cab--is a flip-flop, tubular "bed extender" ($195) that consorts with the lowered tailgate to simulate a more-or-less standard cargo bed. What's more, the extender's fence-like design provides the aerodynamic advantage of an open tailgate while still corralling potentially wayward cargo. More clever yet, when the tailgate and extender are both folded back to their starting places, the extender confines a handy mini-space measuring about 2 ft. by 4 ft. for trapping the likes of paint cans and basketballs. Or it can simply be extracted from the bed altogether.

Powertrains come in two single-overhead-cam V8 flavors displacing 4.6 liters and 5.4 liters, making 220 and 260 horsepower, respectively. With a four-speed auto tranny, tow ratings for the two-wheel-drive SuperCrews are 6,600 lbs. and 8,000 lbs., according to motor choice. (Four-wheel-drive tow ratings are about 300 lbs. less in either instance.) Mileage figures for the smaller V8 are 15 miles per gallon in the city, 20 on the highway.

SuperCrew's bobtailed styling makes a jaunty addition to the present trafficscape, as indeed the Nissan and Dodge precursors do too. It won't be long, however, before the skewed novelty of these new hybrids becomes commonplace, and instead of family sedans out on a Sunday cruise, there might mostly be Crews.


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