Ford F-150 SuperCrew and Keystone Bullet

May 1, 2009
Filed under Trucks For Towing

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2131111_keystone_bullet_first.jpgThere are times when a pickup is so dressed to kill that it’s more like a luxury tourer in disguise. Ford’s F-150 SuperCrew 4WD Lariat is one such vehicle. It boasts total-truck towing prowess wrapped in an occupant-friendly package that does a good job with the RV task at hand.

 

In its Lariat trim, not the highest rung on the F-150 ladder (but you wouldn’t know that by its plentiful appointments), the SuperCrew four-door model leaves very little off the amenities list. Safety and fun features abound in this tow rig that’s a great compromise if you don’t quite need the rugged aspects of the F-250 or higher-rated pickups.

 

RV manufacturers are also making their mark in the industry with new innovations for today’s lightweight trailers. Keystone‘s new Bullet series offers two distinct exterior design elements, an extra-aerodynamic front cap and side walls that taper in 5 inches from bottom to top, and these features both contribute toward the trailer’s towability.

 

Our test unit was a model 282BHS which, at 31 feet 4 inches long, weighs just 5,408 pounds wet but empty – pretty good for a trailer this size. It features a forward island bed, a mid-trailer streetside slideout with a forward sofa and aft kitchen opposing a curbside U-shaped dinette/bed. Out back there’s a curbside corner bath, and streetside, the corner is filled with a pair of bunks the size of double beds. It’s a fine family floorplan with extra elbowroom and features that make it a good choice for camping comfort.

 

One for the Long Haul

 

The F-150 SuperCrew offers a variety of desirable features in one package: Roomy seating for four or five, a rugged truck chassis, a compact but useful bed and all the comforts of home. From its chrome bumpers and grille – part of the Lariat package – to its optional plush leather-trimmed bucket seats ($895) the F-150 is all truck in a refined setting.

 

The F-150 capability starts with its solid truck chassis with coil springs up front and new rear-leaf springs that are 6 inches longer and 3 inches wider for extra lateral support and a better ride over previous models. Power disc brakes all around are tied to the ABS as well as Roll Stability Control (RSC) and Trailer Sway Control, which uses yaw sensors to detect the effects of sway and apply selectable wheel braking and/or engine power reduction to reduce the effects of sway. The electrically activated shift-on-the-fly 4WD system is handy to have available for times when the traction situation gets dicey.

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That suspension does a great job of handling the bumps and keeping a towed load in line. It’s firm and controlled yet civilized, and little highway noise penetrates the interior while on the road.

 

The standard 5.4-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic keep the power cranking and deliver confidence in the hills and while fighting headwinds. Solo, the truck sprints and gallops. With the trailer aboard the Ford has to work a bit and feels the load, but handles it with authority.

 

A 6-percent grade was topped at 60 mph in third gear at 3,500 rpm, and descending the same hill resulted in a 52 mph trip at 3,000 rpm in third gear under engine-compression restraint.

 

New on the F-150 is the integrated trailer-brake controller ($230) that was previously available on the heavier trucks. This option is a no-brainer. I absolutely love how it works – smooth, precisely modulated trailer braking that’s widely adjustable to suit each load.

 

Alas, the V-8 is fairly thirsty, as we achieved 17.2 mpg overall running solo and 10.1 mpg towing. On level freeway the truck could best 20 mpg solo and towing brought in about 11.2 mpg. Face it, you don’t buy a vehicle like this to save fuel; it’s a truck to do a job, but it would still be nice to burn a little less gas during day-to-day or recreational driving time.

 

Occupant comfort seems to be high on Ford’s priority list, and the well-shaped buckets contained us and kept us happy during the longer hauls. Of note for tall drivers, the driver’s position has so much seat travel that this 6-foot 6-inch-tall operator had to slide the seat forward a bit for the best comfort and pedal/wheel access position, a personal first-time ever for a factory-built vehicle from any manufacturer.

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The dash and interior are all business with crisp, no-nonsense styling; semi-industrial design; practical, effective control placement; and an attractive wood finish on some bits for a pleasant visual touch. Easily visible white-face gauges are a welcome sight, and the optional Sony navigation screen/radio ($2,430) has a big readout that’s informative and versatile.

 

Front and seat-side airbags plus safety-canopy bags cover the safety side of operating the F-150.

 

Users also don’t lack for automatic gadgets with heated or cooled power memory seats, Sirius satellite radio, a power moon roof and Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment systems.

 

Part of the Lariat Plus Package ($795) is a rearview camera that’s tied to the in-dash navigation screen. The camera is mounted in the tailgate, centered right to left and just below the lockable tailgate latch. Not only is the camera bright and sharp and a great safety feature, its location means it’s a huge help when hitching to a travel trailer and, with practice, makes it an easy one-person job.

 

A terrific sound system, cupholders, a variety of cubbyholes for glasses and small electronic devices and storage pockets galore further help enhance the travel experience and, in general, living with this truck.

 

Two for the Long Stay

 

It could well have been the Bullet‘s angled side walls or swoopy front end, but whatever the cause, this was truly a smooth, stable-towing setup. As mentioned by a delivery driver who brought us the trailer and verified during our freeway drive time, passing trucks had very little of the push-pull effect on the trailer. Whatever the reason, this 31-footer would be a no-stress tow for long distances.

 

With my bride keeping an eye open out back and relaying clearance information via FMRS radio, we carefully backed into our spot at Honeyman State Park south of Florence, Oregon. It’s a low-slung trailer but the dump tube and rear jacks cleared the concrete parking barrier just fine.

 

Standard corner jacks keep the trailer stable and a pair of large exterior storage compartments meant we had more than enough room to stash our chairs, firewood and other things.

 

Cool, moist weather deterred us from lingering outside, but we were glad to hole up inside after our campfire had died back.

 

Aluminum framing, polystyrene insulation and laminated construction throughout form a sturdy structure, although a few spots felt a bit springy underfoot when treading on them. The insulation likely helped the furnace keep up against the cold and ensured we were as toasty as need be.

 

Our family cook was delighted with the extra-large sink in the kitchen because it was seriously functional. There’s not much chance of spillage or overflowing from this fixture.

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The woodwork in the Bullet is tastefully trimmed, and the fasteners and hinges appear well-installed. There are enough storage cabinets adjacent to the kitchen, but the only drawers are inside one of the cabinets below the counter. Those accustomed to ready-access drawer-type storage may find this inconvenient. Also the drawers had a rough, unfinished feel about them that could be improved.

 

The manufacturer-described U-dinette is more of an L-shape because there are backrests on just two of the three sides. Forward, there’s a backless ottoman-style cushion at one end of the table, but sitting there would get old really quick. The rest of the dinette worked fine for us and served well for our modest camping meals.

 

There’s plenty of overhead lighting with the dual-bulb incandescent fixtures throughout. However, we prefer the fixtures that allow us to choose one bulb rather than two, so there’s no need to switch on both bulbs every time. We look forward to the day when LED lights and their significantly reduced power drain are available in trailers such as this one.

 

We found the loveseat-sized sofa very accommodating after an active day. This unit also offers up roomy beds with more than enough space for kids or average-size adults.

 

I like that bunkbed-equipped trailers are popular today. The bunks in the Bullet share a bulkhead wall with the bath, which offers a surprising amount of floor space, a good-size shower/tub and access doors from the exterior and the living area. We tend to expect less elbowroom compromise in a larger trailer, and this one does not disappoint.

 

At the foot of the bed, which is also the forward end of the lounge area, there’s a floor-to-ceiling divider called a convenience center that incorporates storage cubbyholes, the CD/DVD/AM/FM player with iPod hookup and a 19-inch LCD TV up top. The TV can cleverly be unlatched and spun around 180 degrees so it can be watched from the lounge or the main bed, which was one of the more comfortable RV beds we’ve slept on in a while. Curtains at either side of the divider provide a degree of main-bed-area privacy.

 

As Good As It Gets

 

2131111_keystone_bullet_fp.jpgEngineering a successful matchup between a tow rig and a trailer is a lot easier when you start with well-built, suitably matched components. The F-150 has long been a staple of Ford’s light truck/towing fleet, and its features and capabilities make it a great choice as a practical, albeit somewhat thirsty, hauler. Likewise, the Keystone Bullet is a welcome addition to the lightweight trailer market. It’s fully featured for a family and makes for easy towing. The pairing of these elements is as good as it gets.

 

Ford Motor Company, (800) 392-3673, www.fordvehicles.com.

Keystone RV Company, (574) 535-2100, www.keystonerv.com.

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