Driver's Seat: '14 Ford F-150 easy to live with

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2014 Ford F-150 XLT 4WD vs. 2014 Toyota Tundra vs. 2014 Chevrolet Silverado: Putting three trucks to the test. Week two -- Ford's turn.

Price: Around $36,000 as tested, with four-wheel drive and a 5.0 liter engine. (Ford arranged to borrow one through a dealer, so I didn't get a sticker like I normally do.)

Marketer's pitch: "37 years Ford F-Series America's best-selling truck." Spoken with Authoritative Announcer Voice, who cares about grammar and punctuation?

Conventional wisdom: Everyone keeps buying them, so they must be great.

Reality: Easy to live with, despite a few minor drawbacks, and one big one.

Catching up: With the introduction coming late this year of an all-new 2015 F-150 coupled with the continuous snows of the winter of 2013-14, it seemed like a good time to put some big rigs to the test. Last week we checked out the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 Crew. This week's more bare-bones F-150 didn't include full-size rear doors or a full rear seating compartment like the Chevy. How does it stack up?

Up to speed: The 5.0-liter engine motivates the vehicle pretty well, with 360 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. Getting up to speed in a hurry comes without the loss of composure some big vehicles experience under full throttle. The exhaust note matches the Boss Mustang. Sweet.

On the highway: The handling on the highway is superb. Even though it's a giant vehicle, it doesn't feel crowded or boxed in when you're moving around at high speeds, even in narrow construction zones.

On the curves: The handling on winding roads sends one kind of reeling. The first curve really reminded me that it's a big truck. I wonder if this sure-footedness at high speeds is almost too reassuring, and puts people into bad situations on side roads. Still, it sounds like I'm faulting Ford for making its trucks too nice.

Ride: Not terribly bouncy, but the occasional bump reminds you it's a truck.

In and out: Entry-exit presents a challenge, at least with bags. It's a long climb up Mount F-150.

Cheap seats: I tested a budget version of the F-150 and the inexpensive seats provided great comfort. It was my first experience with manual lumber adjustment, and it works.

Friends and stuff: The standard bench hides a cubby under the middle seat, a nice touch. Cup holders spring out in front of it. The rear seat legroom is short, but this was not a full four-door version like comparable models tested; this just had the rear half-door. Width is superb, like all full-size trucks these days.

In control: The knobs in general seem on the cheap side. The stereo and heater control seem made from light plastic.

Design flaws: The small, hard-to-read speedometer is part of an overall poorly designed instrument cluster. The numbers 1 through 6 stand above the PRNDL letters, and they tell you which gear you're in when using manual mode. It seems a waste of space. The cruise control and steering wheel stereo buttons also were not in a pattern I was familiar with and seemed awkward to use.

Turn notification: The turn signal stalk does not have a "catch point" like most, so it can require more than a glance to make sure your turn signal stays on or is not left on too long.

Let there be light: The high beams are on a toggle. I prefer the "forward-on, backward-off" motion most vehicles provide, so you can tell by feel if the bright lights are shining.

Backup: For the love of your rear bumper, and everyone parked around you, spring for the backup camera. It is almost impossible to park the F-150 otherwise. The top of the bed stands just past my chest so it is an enormously tall truck. It almost scraped the ceiling in some parking garages.

Play some tunes: The cheap model did not have a GPS or touch screen, which in a Ford -- with all the Sync issues -- is a good thing. The buttons are numerous but easy to follow for switching the stereo function.

Keeping warm: The heater could be a little easier to follow. A toggle button changes where the blower blows. Dials change the heat on each side.

Fuel economy: Fifteen mpg in the usual mix of country and city. Disappointing.

Where it's built: Kansas City, Mo.

How it's built: Consumer Reports expects its reliability to be about average.

Next week: Will the Toyota Tundra outdo them all?

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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