1997 Ford F150 SuperCab

Ford is selling its most expensive pickup truck, the F150 SuperCab in Lariat luxo trim, as fast as the plant can turn them out.

Company spokesperson Chris Banks speculates that some of these customers are choosing the plush extended cab instead of a sport-utility.

According to Banks, the choice is made practical by the easier rear-seat access provided by the third door, which is standard equipment.

Could be. There is no question that the leather-swathed Lariat, replete with all the power-operated conveniences, is fair competition for the truck wagons.

Our fully optioned tester bottomlined at $37,223. And, that's for a shiftonthefly 4×4 with the long box.

I guess if you actually have something to haul, you might as well do it in style.

Personally, I'll pass on leather pickup upholstery; too swell for this trucker.

Leather is a lovely material, but it has none of the stain-resistance and easy-cleaning properties of modern upholstery fabric.

Life presents me enough anxieties without having to fret about my work vehicle's seat covers.

The cowhide is also too slippery. Ford's 6040 split bucket bench isn't contoured for much lateral support anyway, and I found that anything on the seat, myself included, would constantly slide around.

There are some other nice touches unseen on earlier Fords, like the easily operated swing-out rear side glass, the CD changer tucked down in a pocket next to the back seat and the flip-down cup holder/storage console centred in the front seat.

Although not designed for long trips, the new SuperCab provides reasonable accommodations for backseat riders.

Knee room is as minimal as we've come to expect, but the seat base is wide enough and the back is downright comfy.

I did find that the second pew experience was enhanced by the extra head and shoulder room opened up by the novel rearward extension of the back window.

But we know that extended cabs are primarily for carrying stuff inside, dry and secure.

I guess Ford knows, too, because the SuperCab's seat base folds out to create a truly nifty steel load floor.

The base is split about 7525 with the wider section on the curb side, so room remains for a single passenger alongside the precious cargo.

Of course, none of this would make as much sense without the access provided by the new rear door on the passenger side. I've already given General Motors credit for being first with this innovation, but Ford has done it better.

My only criticism of the GM door is the inconvenient absence of an interior handle for the backseaters.

The F150 has one, integrated into the armrest/door pull where we would expect to find it.

As on GM's C/K ExtendedCab, there is no outside handle, but there is a latch handle in the edge of the rear door's frame to be operated from outside once the front door is opened.

After living with the Ford, I recognized another concern with the C/K's arrangement.

GM bolts the entire front passenger shoulder harness to the rear door. Elegant, but it requires the belt to be unlatched in order for the door to be operated.

In contrast, the Ford restraint is anchored to the roof of the truck, independent of the door.

It's slightly in the way, but definitely the lesser of two evils.

Where Ford wins in design, however, GM scores in execution.

The GM's door is so tidy and the seams are so tight that when closed it is next to invisible inside and out.

The rim around the exterior of the SuperCab's portal is okay, but the interior shows wide gaps and unacceptably crude moulding.

Although the F150 cab structure seems every bit as rigid as GM's three door ExtendedCab, Ford has opted to use a lot more space between the door and the frame and then filled it with rubber gasket.

Until a four-door crew cab model comes on stream, the long wheelbase (399 cm/157 inches), long box SuperCab is the largest available '97 Ford F150; and our tester was a raisedup 4×4 to boot.

It's a big truck and possesses markedly different ride and handling characteristics in comparison to the '97 F 150s we've tested previously.

That distance between the front and rear wheels induces a lot more understeer or frontend "push" in a corner.

It's a situation in which the F150's quick and sensitive steering, so wonderful on the other models, can be a bit of a hindrance.

I found that it took some practice to slow down my response and let the tires do their work.

Fortunately, the independent front suspension does the best it can in the situation, accurately following the contours of the pavement. (Occasionally hanging on for dear life!)

The old twin I-beam suspenders would have given up, choked actually, much earlier in the game.

I also think I've figured out how the new F-truck does so well on washboard surfaces.

Typically, an unladen pickup will stutter its back wheels sideways when confronted by a serious of small bumps.

The '97 does very little of this, less than any of the competition, and I was ready to give the credit to the rear spring and shock design and layout.

Indeed, the supple back end does deserve a lot of credit.

But after repeated runs across my favorite set of potholes in a Dodge Ram, a GMC and this Ford, it became obvious that the front suspension's initial reaction is also critical.

If the front soaks up the series of shocks, transmitting a minimum of the action to the chassis and, in turn, to the back wheels, then that end of the truck has a much easier time negotiating the obstacle.

The tradeoff is in ride quality.

Whereas the C/K, for example, has a crisp feel, the F150 is more willowy.

This was noticeable on our previous Ford testers, but the long and heavy 4×4 was capable of producing some swimming hippo motions of which I'm none too fond.

What the research does tell me is that the process of creating a civilized, carlike suspension for our beloved pickup truck has come a long way but we still have a lot to learn.

Speaking of civilizing, if we are going to substitute lush pickups for sport utes we also better learn something about step-in height.

And, I direct this to all of the manufacturers, not just Ford.

Climbing into the Lariat was like trying to get a leg up on the Niagara Escarpment.

I didn't even bother measuring the floor-to-pavement distance. Too high is too high.

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