Tow Vehicle Review: Ford Super Duty Pickup
Texas Ice Storm vs. Real-Life Tough Truck. Ford Wins.
By Dan Prescott
RVers have vehicular needs beyond those of average drivers. Especially if their needs include towing a hefty travel trailer, toy hauler or fifth-wheel. For those RV motorists, Ford claims to have the right trucks for the job, properly equipped to tow straight from the factory. If an RVer wants to tow a 24,500-lb fifth-wheel trailer, the 2008 Ford F450 Super Duty can handle it, boasting the best tow rating ever for a non-commercial-grade pickup truck. If it’s a conventional-hitch travel trailer to haul, the same truck can pull up to 16,000 lbs., again the best in its class.
From the lighter-duty F-150 to the new Super Duty F-250/350/450, Ford’s best-selling F-Series line-up has a dizzying array of body styles, bed lengths, trim levels, drivetrain options, axle ratios and available equipment. This year, Ford has completely redesigned their popular F-Series Super Duty, the first overhaul since 1998. Representing 40% of Ford F-Series sales, the Super Duty is a vital part of the Ford truck line-up, which now includes the heavy-duty truck segment’s first Class 4 pickup, the F-450. The new 2008 Super Duty trucks began shipping out of the Louisville, Kentucky, factory in early February, 2007.
To share the news of this significant new vehicle with automotive journalists, Ford carefully planned an elaborate media-only ride-and-drive event in mid-January. Ford chose Texas hill country near San Antonio to show off the new Super Duty because, 1. Texas is truck country, and 2. the weather should be pleasantly mild, even in January. Just as dozens of journalists were arriving for a bit of balmy Texas hospitality, so did a record-breaking blast of Arctic air. Combined with rain. The San Antonio Airport closed. Actually, the city of San Antonio virtually closed, under a thick layer of ice.
The group of journalists who had arrived in Dallas were looking forward to taking the Ford corporate jet to San Antonio the next morning for a full day of truck activities at a scenic ranch about 30 miles from the airport. Instead, we awoke to snow in Dallas and a long day of delays, finally getting the jet de-iced and into the air in late afternoon. But instead of San Antonio, where the airport was still closed, we flew further south and arrived in Corpus Christi at about 5 pm, where the fleet of new trucks had been moved to greet us. We then hit the interstate for a three-hour cruise to San Antonio.
For the drive, I chose an F-450 Crew Cab 4x4 duallie with the new 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel engine and exclusive, top-of-the-line King Ranch package. My traveling companions and I first marveled about the gorgeous, butter-smooth Chaparral leather, in a rich burgundy color, embossed with the King Ranch logo. We then settled into the power captain’s seats, moved the power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, positioned the power telescoping side mirrors and started our cruise. As we drove at speeds between 70 and 80 mph, what became immediately apparent as we chatted about the truck’s new features was the ease at which we could, well, chat. We had a Ford engineer in the back seat who was a wealth of information, and we could all converse at a completely natural level. The diesel engine was remarkably quiet, even under heavy throttle. The large side mirrors produced no noticeable wind noise. Tires and road were as muted in the cabin as we’d expect in a luxury car. Our on-board engineer credited a host of improvements to the truck’s body structure, including extra sound deadening, thicker side glass, better body sealing, selected use of a composite laminated steel sheet called Quiet Steel, and extensive chassis, exhaust and engine acoustical tuning.
We couldn’t resist stopping on the side of the lightly-traveled road, and stomping the gas pedal from a dead stop all the way to 70 mph. The 8,687-lb. truck took off with urgent authority, without even a trace of visible diesel exhaust in the rearview mirror. It helps us forget those older diesel trucks – from Ford and other makes – that would clatter at an offensive level and leave a smokescreen in their wake under such acceleration. In satisfying contrast, the new truck powers smartly up to speed without drama, and the Torqshift five-speed automatic transmission, with new three-plate torque converter, shifts with impressive fluidity.
Thanks to new Ultra-Low-Sulfur-Diesel fuel and the new engine’s diesel oxidation catalyst and diesel particulate filter, the new 32-valve, 6.4-liter V8 Power Stroke turbodiesel engine is the company's cleanest, quietest pickup diesel ever, with particulate (soot) emissions equivalent to a gasoline engine. The powerplant delivers 350 horsepower and a whopping 650 lb.-ft. of torque, with excellent low-end torque – including peak torque at only 2,000 rpm – thanks to dual sequential turbochargers. A high-pressure Electronic Variable Response Turbo spools up first to provide quick, lag-free response, followed by a larger low-pressure turbo that provides added airflow at peak power and torque. The effect is seamless power all through the rev range. It's also the first pickup engine in North America to use a high-precision, common-rail fuel injection system featuring piezo-electric injectors.
During our drive, we made good use of the trucks’ navigation system, especially as we neared San Antonio, where many Interstate overpasses were still closed because of ice. Although most surface roads had dried and were no longer treacherous, we engaged four-wheel drive – simply by turning a dial – for the occasional patch of ice we encountered as the nav system guided us as directly as possible to the hotel.
Ford announced during dinner that it had reorganized its program, again, and that we would still be going to the ranch – at 6:15 am the following morning. Groggy, but adhering to the new schedule, we drove to the hill-country ranch just in time for sunrise. Rather than the BBQ lunch planned for the previous day, the crew of chuck-wagon cooks whipped up a hearty breakfast, accompanied by a lively five-member Texas country band – probably their first 6:45 am gig. The surrounding landscape was absolutely stunning, still covered in ice. The sun rose and the world glistened. Thickly frozen grass crunched underfoot. Everything that had been left at the ranch overnight, such as cutaway chassis and parked trucks on display, had become surreal ice sculptures.
A small fleet of trailers for towing demonstrations had settled into deep, thick mud. But the show must go on, and so it did. We were all surprised at the ease in which the 4x4 Super Duty trucks simply pulled the heavy trailers directly out of the goo. Freeing the trailers gave us a chance to test-drive a hilly paved-road route towing a variety of different weights, ranging from a 10,000-lb. box trailer to an 18,000-lb. fifth-wheel RV.
The Power Stroke's abundant torque became our best friend once again as acceleration from a standstill and full-throttle passing power were smooth and reassuringly easy, regardless of which trailer we were towing. Sure, we could tell there were a few extra tons of weight behind us, but the truck’s response and ease of driving were exactly what we would want for a relaxed, long-distance journey. At the end of the shift lever, the selectable tow-haul mode adjusts transmission to match towing and driving conditions. When descending hills, the TowCommand system helps to maintain speed by engaging engine braking or downshifting as necessary. Unlike some “Tow” systems that just seem to lock the transmission out of top gear, the Ford TowCommand actively seemed to anticipate what we needed, helping to improve throttle response, reduce gear hunting and utilizing each of the five gears appropriately.
In addition, each test truck was equipped with a redesigned integrated Trailer Brake Controller (TBC). Ford has engineered their new factory-installed TBC to be part of the truck’s own computer network, using braking input, vehicle speed and ABS logic to balance the performance of the truck brakes and electric trailer brakes. The driver can adjust the truck/trailer brake balance and sensitivity, shown in a gain/output digital display.
Through the Mud
The Ford team borrowed a nearby construction site to create an off-road torture course, which became a slimy, muddy bog. We drove an F-250 with FX4 Off-Road package and venerable 362-hp 6.8-liter V-10 Triton gas engine through the deep water, thick mud and over rocky mounds and failed to get it stuck. The FX4 Off-Road package includes such items as limited-slip rear axle, specially tuned shocks, skid plates, wheel upgrades, body-colored grille and more.
In addition to the V-10 engine, a base 300-hp 5.4-liter V8 gas engine is also available. Both are essentially carryover from last year. But neither provides the satisfying performance, efficiency and durability of the new Power Stroke diesel. Truck buyers agree: After the first month of sales, the new ultra-clean diesel engine was the run-away favorite, accounting for 75% of Super Duty sales.
During our testing, we tried out an assortment of Super Duty trucks in a variety of situations, and came away most impressed with these features:
Powerscope Mirrors: The industry’s best trailer tow mirrors are sufficiently large, and they telescope up to 2.75 inches further away from the body at the touch of a button. Another button folds them in, tight against the cab. They also include heated glass, a convex spotter mirror, integrated turn signals and clearance lamps. Simply brilliant.
Integrated Trailer Brake Control: Described above, almost all Super Duty trucks are ordered with this optional feature, located on the lower dashboard panel. Also available on the same panel are four prewired auxiliary Upfitter Switches, ready to operate heavy-duty accessories.
TailGate Step: Fully integrated and virtually invisible when not in use – the exclusive TailGate Step slides out of the lowered tailgate and flips down to make it easy to climb into or down out of the bed to load or unload cargo. A grab handle folds up for extra ease. The step holds up to 1,000 lbs., and the grab handle can support up to 300 lbs. Strong, simple and clever.
Stowable Bed Extender: With the tailgate down, this strong, lightweight polypropylene gate swings to the end of the bed to extend storage space. Or it can be used to section off part of the bed. But what makes it unique and extra-practical, is that it separates into two pieces that fold and snap securely to the sides of the bed when not in use.
Entertainment Features: An auxiliary input jack for MP3 players is standard. A wide variety of optional equipment includes a DVD-based navigation system, Audiophile premium sound system, Sirius Satellite Radio, in-dash 6-disc CD changer and rear-seat DVD system with two sets of wireless headphones and remote control.
Rapid-Heat: We know from experience how long it takes a typical diesel engine to warm up and finally provide heat to the cabin. The new Power Stroke diesel overcomes excessive shivering with its optional Rapid Heat supplemental cab heater that provides quick warm-up on cold mornings.
Interior Storage: Pockets, trays, cubbyholes, cupholders, storage bins and thoughtfully organized compartments are everywhere, just where we like.
Interior Design: The quality of materials, stylish luxury details and bold style project a well-crafted, high-end ambiance that Ford likes to call “Tough Luxury.” Super Duty chief designer Pat Schiavone explains: “Think of it like a modern kitchen, in a way. A kitchen can be very stylish and look very expensive, but it also must be very functional. It was that kind of thinking that drove tough luxury.”
More content and greater capability naturally translates to a higher price, right? Amazingly, Ford went the other way, and actually lowered the base price. The base MSRPs (including destination and delivery) for the 2008 F-250 Super Duty range from $23,305 for a Regular Cab XL 4x2 model to $38,425 for a high-line F-250 Crew Cab Lariat 4x4. The same configurations for the 2007 model year were priced at $23,455 and $38,670, respectively.
Since its debut in 1948, Ford has sold more than 32 million F-Series trucks around the world. It has also been the best-selling truck in America for 30 consecutive years and the best-selling vehicle for 25 years in a row. The well-engineered Super Duty will certainly contribute to Ford keeping its top truck title. We came away from icy Texas with a new respect for nature, and appreciation for the Ford Super Duty’s capability to handle it.