Review
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1998 Ford F-250

  • Driver

Attention Ford fans. If you were alarmed by my previous reports on the automatic transmission attached to the new Triton truck V8s, you can now relax.

What I discovered while driving the Lincoln Navigator has been confirmed in a recent test of the F250 pickup. Ford's driveline team has obviously been burning the midnight oil. These people have made sufficient mods and adjustments to move the Blue Oval's truck-tough overdrive automatic to the front of the class.

That's where I expected it to be in the first place. The 5.4 litre Ford's direct competition, General Motors' Vortec 5700 backed by the 4L60E transmission, is widely accepted as the smoothest, slickest-shifting powertrain in truckdom. The GM package has been around for a while, so Ford had to know what was expected.

Instead, in the first few examples I tested (two pickups, one van), the Ford tranny seemed confused, often hanging in a gear or hunting for the right one. A request for acceleration from a low speed was often met with an unnecessarily harsh and abrupt downshift.

None of this was serious enough to suggest concerns for safety or to suspect that the hardware was being abused. But it did not make for pleasant driveability. Plus, I suspect that if the vehicle were driven with any kind of brio, fuel economy would suffer.

ell, based on my experiences in our 5.4 Triton-powered F250 Lariat short-box Supercab 4×4 tester, all is forgiven.

Softly and unobtrusively shifting as required, the transmission now tracks the engine's output with the uncanny sensitivity we've come to expect from contemporary automatics,

keeping the V8 humming in the midrange where it does its best work.

Gee, what a swell truck.

With an interior swathed in Lariat leather, the requisite power windows, seats and mirrors, a remote CD changer and a price tag of forty grand, this is not your ordinary heavy-duty pickup.

Heavy-duty it is. The 250 designation, along with optional 3.73:1 axle gears arrives with a 1,258 kg payload capacity, a GVWR of 3,492 kg and a tow rating of 3,765 kg. I call this sort of pickup the "boss' truck." It's handsome, comfortable and classy enough to carry the company's logo and its president to any meeting or job site. The F250 can also

pitch in to load or tow whenever it's required.

To that end, our electronic-shift 4×4 came equipped with the 3.73 limited slip rear axle, skid plates, a trailer towing package, impressive LT245/75 16 tires and Ford's unique

Load-levelling suspension. (All of the options, including the Lariat package, totaled $7,925. On a base price of $34,595, plus $920 "destination and delivery," the truck should have priced out at 43,440. But Ford has seen fit to offer "special added reductions" to the tune of $2,518. Bottom line: $40,992.)

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to load or tow much of anything with the Lariat, but Diana and I did have a lot of truckin' about to do during the time the pickup was with us.

Given that a boss' truck is primarily personal transport, a commuter car and a highway companion, we did plenty of that, including a cross-province run from Waterloo County to Keswick and back.

We headed up to Lake Simcoe to fulfill our responsibilities as part of the on-water test crew for Today's Boating magazine, with the truck's extended cab filled with luggage, PFDs, wet-weather gear, test equipment and so on.

The truck is a dream on the wide open two-laners that remind you what driving is all about. It handles easily, rides smoothly and brakes confidently. Not at all what we might have expected from a heavy-duty Ford from years past.

Only when contending with deep undulations does the suspension lose its composure, galumphing with less shock absorber control than I'd like.

We had a lot to talk about on those trips. It was a pleasure not to be harassed by a truck that needed too much attention. We just cruised along, chatting away, gobbling up the miles in comfort and in style, as I mentioned earlier.

Recently, I've heard some horror stories about excessive fuel consumption with the 5.4 L Triton. Numbers like 22 L/100 km have been mentioned. I haven't encountered anything near that in previous tests, including that with the heavy Lincoln Navigator (Wheels, A new king of the road, August 16, 1997).

Nevertheless, I kept meticulous records during our time with the F250 and measured a best of 15.3L/100 km and a worst of 16.8. That's a lot, but not out of line with earlier tests, and not atypical for the size of engine and truck.

When I report fuel use in these reviews, it is a global figure, averaged across all the klicks whether city, highway or during handling and acceleration tests. My results often bear little resemblance to those published by Transport Canada. The Feds' figures are based on a (ahem) conservative driving style and speeds that don't quite relate to what we witness on the QEW.

The number of litres I burn in 100 kilometres is probably more representative of the amount of fuel that would be used by a hard drivin' member of the public. (You, perhaps?)

For a 5.4litre V8 4×4 like our tester, the Transport Canada numbers are 12.5L/100 km on the highway, 18.2L/100 km in the city. To put that into perspective, the government says that a similar GM K1500 4×4 with the Vortec 5700 requires 12.9 and 17.9. Virtually identical.

I have to end our brief visit with the F250 with a public confession that is as funny as it is embarrassing. While at the lake, Diana and I used the Lariat as our base of operations, slugging stuff in and out of the rear seat area as required. We hauled it over the backs of the front seats. I had utterly forgotten about the standard third door featured on the SuperCab. Life sure could have been a lot more convenient.

Freelance journalist Cam McRae, who writes on light trucks and vans, prepared his assessment based on a weeklong driving experience in an F250 supplied by Ford of Canada.



1998 Ford F250 4X4 SuperCab*

* Bodystyle Regular cab/Extended cab

* Drivetrain 4×2/4×4

* Engines 220hp 4.6L SOHC

V8/t+0

235hp 5.4L SOHC V8

* Transmission 4speed automatic

* Exterior mm (in.)

* Length 5646 (222.3)

* Wheelbase 3526 (138.8)

* Width 2019 (79.5)

* Front seat mm (in.)

* Legroom 1039 (40.9)

* Headroom 1036 (40.8)

* Std. GVWR (5.4L V8) 3493 kg (7700 lb.)

* These specifications are supplied by the manufacturer and can

change at any time.

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