Car reviews - Ford - F-Series - F250 XLT Crew Cab utility
Styling, comfortable and spacious interior, powerful V8 engine, smooth transmission, huge payload and carrying capacity, good brakes with ABS
Room for improvement
No central locking from driver's door key, poor air-conditioning control options, no rear cabin window demister, no head restraints on rear bench seat
6 Jun 2002
BACK in America's pioneering days, big wagons and lots of horsepower were pre-requisites for anyone looking to move in and stake a claim.
Little has changed. Big wagons with lots of horsepower remain a must-have item in the US. Ford US claims the F-Series is that country's best selling full-size truck for the past 25 years. And Ford should know - it has been building the F-Series for over 50 years.
Australian's have missed out on the evolution of the famed F-Series for almost a decade, since Ford Australia stopped importing the vehicles in 1992, leaving only private importers to fill the gap.
In July, 2001, Ford Australia launched the F250 and F350, in limited format, back on the Australian market to a warm welcome. In a short space of time it achieved number two in Australian vehicle sales of this market segment.
Sadly, the F150 remains a US-only product, as Ford appears reluctant to risk Australian-built Falcon ute sales through the introduction of its own imported competitor.
Australia is a niche market for the F-Series, as its direct competitors are all stuck on the other side of the globe in left-hand drive configuration.
Second time around, Ford has an impressive line-up of engines and more body shapes than ever before.
One of the jewels in Ford Australia's heavy-duty vehicle crown is the down-spec Aussie version of the US Lariat, the F250 XLT 4x2 dual-cab with Triton 5.4-litre SOHC petrol V8 engine and four-speed intelligent auto.
The Triton is purpose built for the job of moving the dual-cab's 2612kg bulk and 1380kg payload with ease, producing 194kW of power at 4500rpm and 475Nm of torque at 2500rpm.
On Australian roads the F250 stands out like an AFL club jumper at a rugby match.
Measuring more than six metres in length, more than two metres in width and reaching almost two metres in height, the dual-cab dwarfs its Japanese counterparts.
In the US the F-Series competes for road space with the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram and GMC Sierra.
To ensure you don't fall for one of those vehicles from a private importer, Ford has dropped into the F250 and F350 vehicles a class leading 7.3-litre, turbocharged V8 diesel with a no-fuss 175kW of power and 684Nm of torque - available in selected vehicles only.
For those on a more restrictive budget, there is the 4.2-litre, turbo-diesel, inline six-cylinder with an unashamed 132kW of power and 500Nm of torque, which dusts off the Aussie crowd favourite - the turbo-diesel LandCruiser 78 - by a whopping 120Nm.
The F250 XLT 4x2 dual-cab is a big, big vehicle, as utilities go.
Ford US has stayed true to the fundamentals of the F-Series styling and this release will not disappoint those that liked the chrome and squared-off shape of previous models.
The front end remains blunt and tall, and the bonnet rises up across the centre where it mates with the grille, which in turn mates with the sweeping chrome bumper - all flowing and curved where required but maintaining that chunky, substantial form.
The front quarter panels and the rear ute body side panels have pressed flared guards that turn down to meet the lower door area of the cabin, which is pressed to protrude out to form a skirt around the vehicle, extending all the way to the tailgate.
The F250 does not fit in the average suburban garage and certainly does not fit in any marked parking space.
But this is soon overlooked as a handicap once you climb inside and realise how comfortable all that cabin space can be.
The front bucket seats are broad, high backed and comfortable, though noticeably lacking in lumbar support. The centre armrest console and storage compartment are generous, as too are the integrated dual cupholders - built to take a workman-size, insulated coffee mug - American style.
The rear bench is also broad and flat. It's a three-seater with an upright angle on the back support. But no head restraints are offered, making head and neck injuries a risk for rear seat passengers that sit only centimetres from the rear window.
The floor area on the XLT is covered in thick grey vinyl to match the rest of the interior trim and dash, while the floor itself is designed for an easy sweep out of dirt and dust.
The cabin has a high roofline and large doors, making entry and exit easy.
The dash is wide and uncluttered with a surface area big enough to sleep a kelpie on. All instruments are basic by design - easy to use and read - with XL and XLT models featuring standard air-conditioning, power mirrors and power steering.
Central locking on the dual-cab is confusing with the driver's door key only controlling the driver's door and the door locking switch on both front-door armrests only controlling the front doors - making entry and locking up a real mission.
Ford claims to have built this vehicle from the ground up as a right-hand drive but stopped short of placing the column shift transmission selector arm on the left side of the steering wheel - as we have become accustomed to, since all Australian-built Ford and Holden utes have always had it on the left.
But this minor issue, along with the indicator stalk positioned on the left of the steering wheel, will not detract from the overall feeling this vehicle belongs on the left-hand side of the road.
Driving the F250 for the first time produces a sudden heightening of the senses, as you adjust to the size of the vehicle - at first afraid to make a lane change or take a corner, for fear you will misjudge it.
You soon realise that even though it is a big vehicle, it fits easily into the average traffic space - and if not you can make one just as easily.
Once you get the proportions set in your mind's eye, you relax and enjoy the smooth rumble of the Triton V8 and the strange sensation of driving comfort that comes from a well-powered, heavy machine.
The 5.4-litre petrol engine produces the right amount of power and torque for all occasions and when pushed will respond with a surprisingly quick take-off, despite its bulk.
The cabin is quiet and the exhaust note pleasant yet imposing enough to turn heads in appreciation as it hums a nostalgic tune not heard from many of today's vehicles.
Ford's four-speed automatic has some intelligent features such as a tow-haul computer module that continuously monitors sensors located in the engine and adjusts powertrain parameters to deliver smooth, predictable power.
There is also a standard auxiliary transmission cooler for heavy-duty use and an overdrive "off" button on the stalk that allows lockout of overdrive fourth gear for pulling loads or engine braking on downgrades.
Kick down and up-change is smooth considering the weight of the vehicle and the high torque characteristics of the engine.
The transmission has a solid feel and provides manual selection of lower gears on the move. At 80km/h with overdrive selected, the engine revs at 1500rpm while with overdrive off it revs at 2200rpm.
Suspension on all F250 4x2 models is twin cast I-beam with coil springs and gas dampers on the front and a Hotchkiss live axle with "Quadrashock" at the rear to manage axle hop - only the spring rates and axle loadings change.
The ride is firm but not overly hard or harsh, with the six heavy-duty gas dampers keeping the vehicle stable and connected on rough, corrugated roads.
The chassis, although large, does flex as the vehicle moves over uneven surfaces, causing door seals to squeak and groan.
A limited-slip differential is standard on both XL and XLT F250 and F350 models.
Stopping is as nice in this big bus as any heavy vehicle we have driven, with the brakes never grabbing, squealing or running out of pedal power.
The XLT model comes standard with four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), though the lesser XL model has rear ABS only.
The payload is enormous, measuring 2052mm in length, 1292mm in width between the wheel arches and 1642mm wide at the rear opening.
Carrying capacity for the Ford F-Series vehicles differs from vehicle to vehicle, with body shape the major decider in the total payload figure.
The F250 XLT dual-cab 4x2 has the smallest payload at 1380kg but it can still tow 3500kg trailer braked, and has a GVM of 3992kg. The F350 XL single-cab 4x2 tops the range with a 2328kg payload figure and a GVM of 5080kg.
Ford says it has targeted the F-Series at dual-purpose buyers looking for a vehicle to take onto the worksite during the week and to tow a boat or a horse-float on the weekend.
But with 2002 F-Series prices starting at $53,400 and running to $81,700, there may still be those who choose price over style and comfort and opt for the class sales leader, the Isuzu N-Series, which retails at between $34,327 and $57,566 - even though it may not look as good on the boat ramp or at the children's gymkhana.
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