The Ford F-150 pickup truck stood out in two important categories. First was its carrying capacity, which came in handy for moving our son back to university. We loaded the F-150 with three giant chairs, a set of shelves, a desk, several crates of books and dishes, a box of computer equipment - and there was room for more. So for load carrying, it rated a 10 out of 10.
But then came the next significant performance category – the gas tank fill-up. I inserted the hose, pulled the handle, and waited. The meter hit $50, then $75. The $100 mark blew by with no end in sight - the numbers kept whizzing upwards, as if the gas pump had turned into a demonic slot machine. Finally, with $150 looming, the pump clicked off. Now I knew why they called it the F-150.
The fill up hurt. But blaming the F-150 for its prodigious consumption is like blaming the Bengal tiger for liking the taste of livestock - sucking down fuel is just the nature of the beast. The F-150 is a large, heavy vehicle designed for the express purpose of carrying tools and supplies. It has a massive steel frame, crude but durable suspension, and a tailgate the size of an apartment balcony.
If you're a cattle rancher or a building contractor (like the friend I borrowed the F-150 from) a pickup truck like this one makes all the sense in the world – you can throw in a few heifers, stacks of plywood, or a portable concrete mixer.
But as I cruised through Toronto and headed west in the F-150, I noticed that only a small percentage of the trucks like it appeared to be used by building contractors or cattle ranchers. Instead, the vast majority of the 150's on the road appeared to be lifestyle props, giving their drivers the appearance of building contractors or cattle ranchers – in their F-150's, you could imagine them heading off to brand a steer or knock down a wall. Or at least that's the theory.
The urban pickup truck is a curious machine. It has bad weight distribution and low interior volume for its size. The body-on-frame construction make it twist and groan over bumps like a Spanish galleon in heavy seas. It's essentially a four-wheeled, motorized wheelbarrow. Loaded with cinder blocks or bags of cement, it's in its element.
But if you don't have anything to carry, there are few worse vehicles than the oversized pickup (no matter who makes it.) Using an F-150 for commuting and grocery hauling is like choosing an aircraft carrier as the boat for the family cottage.
But that doesn't stop people from choosing them. I'm not surprised. Back in the age of chivalry, knights tended to go for tallest horse, so they'd cut a more imposing figure. An unladen F-150 is the modern equivalent. In the Ford's lofty cab I felt like the king of the road, looking down on all others. And I might not be a cattle rancher, but in the F-150, I could pretend.
Then came the $150 fill up – and this with a tank that was still part full. (According to my friend who owns the F-150, a complete fill can run to $175 or so.) The F-150 had done its job of carrying my son's furniture to his new house at university, and for that I was appreciative. But the price of being a fake cattle rancher was too high for me. (Nice truck, though.)
For more from Peter Cheney, go to facebook.com/cheneydrive (No login required!)
Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/