Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Most Perfect Vehicle I Have Ever Driven

The title says it all.  Earlier this week, I rented a U-haul to go pick up my new Raleigh and some other bikes to flip.  My weapon of choice was a 2014 Ford F-150 with a single cab, 8-foot box, and a 5-liter V8.

Despite my love for them, I had never driven a pickup truck before and was extra cautious about letting the rear end swing out since it had snowed the previous night.  Soon, my confidence increased.  It was so much easier to control than the Chevy Volt I'd driven at work a couple times.  I have no better way to say why than to make a list.  Keep in mind that these are my opinions and nobody is paying me to write these things.

  • Most new cars are extremely isolating.  This is very uncomfortable for me and this is why I prefer old cars; I like to know what's going on around me and under me at all times.  Old cars communicate road feel, wind noise, and everything so the driver can be more aware of their environment.  The Chevy Volt was strange in that it made me feel very isolated, yet shock absorbing wasn't great.  The F-150 was comfortably quiet at highway speeds and didn't jostle me on bumpier roads despite the unloaded bed. At the same time, there was enough of the road coming through the vehicle to communicate to my hands and feet.  This made it very easy to control and know what was going on.  I felt comfortable but not sealed-in.  Perfect.  
  • Most new cars are impossible to see out of, partly due to safety regulations (ironic, right?), partly because of styling trends.  More electronics and airbags are being stuffed into the roof pillars.  The Volt that I drove had A-pillars at least 6 inches wide, enough for two pedestrians to hide behind at an intersection.  I had to bend my neck around like a giraffe to know what was going on around me.  On top of that, the high belt lines and skinny windows of new cars make it exceedingly hard to see out of the back and the side windows.  In contrast, my old Sable wagon is like a greenhouse: it's larger, but the tall windows and thin pillars make it very easy to parallel park.  Even thinner were the pillars of the Ford E-450 step van I drove for work - I could even parallel park that beast.  Not the Volt.  The height of the windows also made a huge difference.  Because of the things here, I always drove the truck at work and dared not touch the Volts with a ten foot pole.  Anyway, visibility out of the F-150 was not a problem and I was even able to back into a space with the big bed. I can only imagine that an older model with a lower bed and taller windows would be even easier to see around.  
Old Taurus vs. new Taurus.  (New one image credit Kelley Blue Book)
The old one has a low door line and tall windows and the new one has thin windows and a door line that gets higher toward the back.  Check out the super thick C-pillars as well.  
  • I'm pretty sure almost all new cars have electronic power steering.  This means there is no mechanical linkage between the steering wheel and front wheels.  This translates to zero road feel.  On top of that, older hydraulic systems require to turn the wheel to build up hydraulic pressure so you have a sense of how far the wheels have turned.  This also creates a sort of zero-pressure neutral zone where you can turn the wheel back and forth an inch or so without steering much, good for highway control.  The Volt was very twitchy because of the absence of the dead zone and any sort of steering feel.  The F-150, while it did communicate adequate road feel to my hands, also didn't have much of a dead zone.  This required more precise adjustments on the highway and it got bit tiring.  It is my only complaint.  
  • Most new cars have horrible brake feel.  The system is so over-boosted that you can accidentally push the pedal to the floor and give your passenger a nosebleed with minimal effort from the foot.  In older cars that I'm familiar with, braking strength is controlled by pressure, not pedal travel.  It's like you can push the pedal down an inch and feel the pads touch, then control the braking easily by pushing harder but not much further.  Kind of like bike brakes.  On newer cars, if you want to brake harder, you push further down.  This is harder to modulate and often results in people braking too hard.  That's why we need traction control to prevent accidents in snow.  On the F-150, the brakes were very aggressive so that it could safely stop with a 10,000 pound trailer; however, it was still controlled by pressure and not travel.  The distance to engagement was just very short, that's all; pressure was very easy to control.  It took no time to get used to.  
  • The 5.0 V8 puts out 360 hp and 380 ft-lbs of torque.  It is the fastest, most powerful vehicle I have ever driven (this isn't saying much).  I never found the need to spin the engine above 3000 rpm during the trip, a mark that I need to be careful not to exceed on my old wagon.  Even once when I had to stop at the side of the highway to adjust my cargo, it effortlessly got back up to 70 mph in no time.  This isn't one of the big reasons why I think the truck is such a perfect driver, but it's good to have extra power on tap.  

As if I wasn't already convinced, I need a Ford truck in my life.  In my opinion, nothing beats the value and I knew this from other people even before I experienced myself how well they drove.  The driving experience was so natural that it actually took me a while to notice how amazing it was.  I went in expecting the usual new-car horridness, but it was absent.  There's no question why it has been the best-selling vehicle in America for 38 years in a row now: it's not only a great work truck, but an amazing all-around vehicle in general.

Photo from craigslist.  
$1000, 6-cylinder, 5-speed, 300,000 miles, some new parts, 
drives well, minimal rust.  I wanted it so badly.  

Of course, I'll be looking for an older one with the bulletproof 4.9 liter straight-six and a manual transmission.  It won't be fast, but it'll have the all of the good attributes of an older vehicle and a lower, more usable bed.  The 300 six engines pretty much run forever.  Plus, you can fix an old truck with a rock and a twig.  There's only one problem: Now that I know that the new one is so good, I'm torn between picking up an old one for cheap or slowly paying off a brand new model and being the one and only proud owner for life.  These things sure aren't cheap anymore ...