This truck is a good "little" truck. Although these little things listed above have failed, the truck is, after all, well over a decade old and these are normal wear and tear items. Incidentally, after the a/c was rebuilt, it now blows colder than any a/c system I have ever experienced. Mechanically, it has been rock solid reliable, needing only gas and oil to keep on chugging. In fact, only 2 weeks after purchase it made a 1900 mile trip with absolutely no hiccups.
The exterior is one of my favorites. As modern trucks go, this is in my humble opinion the best design I have seen. It is at the same time handsomely approachable yet rugged, with a "ready for anything" look. Kudos to Ford here.
Driving the truck is relatively sedate. I will admit that not being a fan of electronic fuel injection and other computer controls on vehicles, I was dubious about the drivetrain; luckily, it has proven me wrong so far. The 302 ci or 5.0 liter V8 is at the same time smooth and silent yet sufficiently quick to give this truck surprising punch. On the aforementioned trip, even traveling up hills with a 1000lb load in the back, temperatures pushing 100* outside and the a/c blasting, it had no trouble pulling the grade over the Sierras and then again over the Rockies. The downside of this is the gas mileage which averages 13.5-14mpg with the hardtop in place, and 12.7-13mpg with the hardtop removed. For reference, this is 85% in town driving, judiciously using cruise control and driving for mileage. Out on the open road, 18mpg is not unheard of. The other problem is that all the emissions equipment plumbing makes maintenance more difficult, although it is still relatively simple compared to most more modern vehicles.
Handling is better than I had expected; the truck is top heavy, but it is still very stable. Steering is light by today's standards, but heavy by mine, and strikes a nice balance, though it may be a little lacking in feedback for some. Throttle steer isn't forthcoming, but neither is a huge amount of understeer. The short wheelbase gives it an amazingly small turning radius (smaller than some economy cars), yet maintains stability even at high speeds. However, the ride is middling to poor, due to the 4x4 suspension tuning and short wheelbase. Its relatively short length (about the same as most midsize sedans, ie Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, etc), combined with the absolutely superlative turning radius also make it easy to park once you learn the boundaries of the bumper.
The interior is well-designed, roomy, and attractive, but is middlingly constructed out of embarrassingly cheap plastic - obviously the bean counters got their way in here. Still, it is exceptionally straightforward and includes full instrumentation, which is a big plus. The only other niggling feature here is the wiper control stalk which takes some time to get used to; I preferred the dash mounted switch as I had previously on my '68 Mustang. One nice touch is the Eddie Bauer logo emblazoned on the seatbacks - it is done subtly, but gives a classy air to a pair of extremely comfortable seats, especially with the power adjustible lumbar support courtesy of an air pump and a small air bladder in the lower seatback. Cargo room is abundant despite its lack of length; when we were moving, I fit about 1000lbs of stuff without even having to fold up the rear seat for more room, and the truck handled it almost like it wasn't there.
Off-road, it is sufficiently capable of handling just about anything that most owners are apt to throw at them. From experience, the suspension can take quite a licking without even looking back. I suggest looking for a model with manual shift transfer case and manual locking hubs, like mine, for the best reliability; the automatic 4x4 system was somewhat rushed and was accordingly under-engineered and unreliable.
One neat thing about it is that the rear roof section is removable, but get a friend to help lift it off - it weighs about 120lbs. Store it on 2x4's. With the top off, it's actually very pleasing; the remaining roof over the front seats protects you from direct sun, but you still get a nice little fresh air draft, and the look of the vehicle sans top attracts a fair amount of attention.
Other things I wish Ford had done:
- I wish the fuel filler were on the passenger side - less chance of dinging a door.
- Eliminate the annoying door beeper that beeps even when there is no key in the ignition and the headlights are off. I fixed this myself in about 5 minutes, however.
- Easier top system, perhaps even a soft top. Also eliminate the Torx bolts that hold the roof on. 8mm x 1.25 bolts in two sizes can be substituted for easier removal / installation of the top.
- Made the roller cam setup available sooner; better gas mileage and torque are available with this system.
Overall, though, this is a nice, versatile, even fun to drive truck that represents a great value if you can live with the gas mileage.