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NEW TRUCK REVIEW

1996 Ford F150 Regular Cab 4x4 Eddie Bauer Pickup

by Carey Russ

Question: What has been the best-selling vehicle in the country for the past 14 years? Answer: The Ford full-sized F-Series pickup truck. It has been the best-selling truck for even longer.

One reason for the F-truck's popularity is variety. There are three basic model divisions by weight rating - half-ton F150, three- quarter ton F250, and one ton F350. Although the F150 is the most popular model, there are over 75 possible combinations of payload capacity, driven wheels, wheelbase, cab style, engine, and trim level. This is a transitional year for Ford's stalwart pickup. The radically- redesigned 1997 models are slowly being phased in during the 1996 calendar year. The 1996 trucks will continue in production for at least the first half of the year, and offer models not yet available in the 1997 line.

What's offered? Everything from a regular-cab F150 powered by a 4.9-liter inline six-cylinder to crew cab F350s with 7.3-liter turbo-diesel or 7.4-liter gasoline V8s. Most versions are offered with two- or four-wheel drive. Why so many choices? Because there are so many different uses for pickup trucks. Personal use is growing quickly, and modern pickups are as comfortable and easy to drive as a car. With the downsizing of the American passenger car, trailer towing choices are limited to trucks and sport-utility vehicles. With a basic camper shell installed, cargo-area security is increased. With a more elaborate camper installed, a pickup can approach motor home luxury. And pickups are still a necessity for work. Contractors, ranchers, utility companies, and many others appreciate the usefulness and versatility of a pickup truck.

I recently spent a week with a 1996 short-box 4-wheel-drive Eddie Bauer F150. It epitomizes the modern personal-use pickup and is a great vehicle for anyone who needs power, cargo and towing capacity, plus all of the creature comforts of a near-luxury car.

APPEARANCE: The word "traditional" comes to mind when looking at the '96 F-truck. It is a basic, functional pickup with a boxy cab and good old-fashioned rain gutters and wind wings. The styling dates back to the days when a pickup was a tool for work, not a lifestyle accessory, and is as American as apple pie, with seemingly acres of chrome. Starting with the egg-crate grille and bumper in front and continuing to the rear bumper with window trim, mirrors, wheels, and wheel well accents on the way, chrome plating dominates. The running boards are the only parts that show any Ford oval styling.

COMFORT: This is not the pickup I drove for work twenty years ago. It's quiet, has a good climate control system, and a "split bench" seat that really is three contoured, velour-covered buckets. The back of the middle seat folds down to provide a combination armrest and console. The F150 Eddie Bauer trim level is the top of the line and has all of the amenities of a good family sedan and even some woodgrain interior trim. Thanks to a steering-column-mounted shift lever, push-button 4-wheel drive controls, and low transmission tunnel, the cabin floor is flat and three full-sized people can easily be accommodated. A remote keyless entry and power windows, door locks, and mirrors add convenience, and the AM/FM/CD sound system provides information and entertainment. Those old- fashioned rain gutters sure are good when it rains, too.

SAFETY: The F150 has a driver's-side air bag, automatically- locking retractor seatbelts, and antilock rear brakes.

ROADABILITY: Pickups have improved greatly in ride and handling over the years. The F150 is no exception. There is no harshness in the suspension, and only a little bounciness with no load. The ride is very good, and the truck handles quite well under most conditions. The huge 265/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness radials and weight of the truck work in its favor. Power steering and brakes make it easy to drive. The push-button-controlled Touch Drive 4- wheel drive system can be used to shift into 4-high range at any speed under 55 mph, and automatic locking front hubs add to convenience. Since most of the cabin is glass, visibility is excellent.

PERFORMANCE: The 351 cubic inch V8 in my test truck had plenty of power and torque, making merging and passing operations a snap. Cargo carrying and trailer or boat towing should present no problems, and 4-wheel drive is almost a necessity for tricky towing situations like boat ramps. The electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford F150 Eddie Bauer Edition demonstrates many of the reasons for the increasing popularity of full-sized pickups for personal use. It combines all of the comforts of a car with the toughness, power, and tradition of a truck.

SPECIFICATIONS
1996 Ford F150 Regular Cab 4x4 Eddie Bauer
Base Price                         $ 17,320
Price As Tested                    $ 24,365
Engine Type                        V8, pushrod ohv
Engine Size                        351 cu. in. , 5.8 liters
Horsepower                         205 @ 3800
Torque (lb-ft)                     328 @ 2200
Transmission                       4-speed
                                   electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length                 116.8 in. / 197.1 in.
Curb Weight                        4000 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower              19.5
Fuel Capacity                      18.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement                   unleaded regular
Tires                              P235/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness
Brakes, front/rear                 disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear             independent with torsion bars
                                   / solid axle with leaf springs

Drivetrain                         front engine, rear-wheel drive
                                   with on-demand 4-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed      12/16/12
0 to 60 mph                    9.1 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                17.2 sec

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