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Tested: 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty


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Car & Driver  /  August 2016

The smartest, most capable leviathan. For now.

First Drive Review

The Ford GT’s golden-anniversary class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race may be Dearborn’s highlight in 2016, but an arguably bigger effort has been brewing as Ford prepares to release the 2017 F-series Super Duty later this year. Heavy-duty trucks are big business, like supercars, and trade on equally big numbers. Witness the latest Super Duty’s 925 lb-ft of torque from its optional diesel engine and a maximum towing capacity of 32,500 pounds, both of which currently backstop the all-important “class-leading” title. While the segment’s continual one-upmanship among Ford, General Motors, and Ram usually ensures that no player can claim that mantle for long, the first all-new Super Duty in 18 years also is one smart and impressive beast.

Lighter, Stronger, Better

The buildup to the 2017 Super Duty started nearly a year ago with Ford’s release of preliminary details, followed by trickles of pricing and equipment info for F-250 and F-350 models, along with their immense towing and hauling ratings. Our first real-world experience, however, took us to Denver, Colorado, where Ford schooled us in the tech that went into updating virtually every facet of its big rigs, including a stronger frame, new aluminum bodywork, and a bevy of clever, real-world engineering solutions. These commanding vehicles tower over most humans—and lesser pickups—with fortified underpinnings that wouldn’t look out of place on a Peterbilt. Depending on the model, overall dimensions remain much as before, save for a few extra inches of wheelbase and overall length.

The Super Duty’s bold and purposeful design more closely resembles the latest F-150 than did last year’s model. For the first time, the big trucks offer regular, extended, and full crew cabs comparable to their light-duty brethren, which translates to about 4.0, 6.0, and 3.0 inches of additional length, respectively, versus the already cavernous cabs of the outgoing trucks. Most of the Super Duty’s stretch job translates into increased storage space and generous amounts of rear legroom on four-door trucks. The biggest adjustment for traditionalists may be the fender badges, which now render model designations vertically instead of horizontally. All of the primary body panels are now made of high-strength aluminum yet are more robust than those on the F-150. Although the switch to aluminum from steel reduces mass by as much as 350 pounds, some of the weight saved has been offset by a stiffer frame, stronger axles and suspension components, added features, and bigger fuel tanks—now as large as 48 gallons on some versions. We’ll have to wait to get a new Super Duty on our scales to confirm the true extent of Ford’s diet.

The Powerhouse

Our first drive on the open road in a near-$80,000 F-250 Platinum crew cab was somewhat surreal, so refined was the truck’s behavior. The Super Duty’s optional, turbocharged 6.7-liter PowerStroke diesel V-8 ($8595) makes up 60 percent of sales and is even more eerily quiet than before. Revised with fresh control software, a new fuel-injection pump and injectors, and a larger turbo, it now produces 440 horsepower at 2800 rpm and 925 lb-ft of torque at 1800 rpm; Ford’s TorqShift six-speed automatic with updated tuning is the only transmission choice. Some compression-ignition clatter remains, but it stays in the background, and you can carry on a casual conversation without shouting while standing next to the engine bay with the truck running. Those harboring 18-wheeler fantasies with old-school diesel-engine growls should visit a Ram dealer.

The PowerStroke’s power builds lazily before coming on in a hearty surge of thrust. (Ford electronically limits the torque in first, second, and third gears to prevent overloading the traction-control system.) Shifts from the automatic gearbox are appropriately firm yet nicely modulated to keep the boost flowing and the engine pulling. Along with the engine brake (which now has automatic and full-on settings), activating the tow/haul function on the column shifter sharpens the transmission’s programming to maximize towing power, as well as downshifting and holding gears longer to better manage loads while descending hills. A diesel F-350 4x4 crew-cab dualie we drove felt only slightly taxed by a 10,000-pound horse trailer, and even a similar F-450 dragging a 15-ton gooseneck flatbed could accelerate up a decent grade with ease.

Unburdened, the F-250 Platinum felt as swift as some family sedans but with the bonus of a seemingly endless amount of grunt available at any speed. A truck like the one we drove should be just as quick at the test track as the current hot rods in the diesel heavy-duty class: the smaller, lighter Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD and GMC Sierra 2500 HD, which sprint to 60 mph in just over seven seconds. While we had minimal exposure to Ford’s standard 6.2-liter V-8, it’s a capable engine with 385 ponies and 430 lb-ft, well suited to the lighter—and off-road—side of the big truck’s duty cycle. General fuel economy should improve slightly for both engines, but the EPA doesn’t require fuel-economy testing for vehicles with a GVWR over 8500 pounds, and real-world returns vary widely depending on a truck’s configuration and usage. Regardless, these are still thirsty rigs.

Polish My Wagon

Along with its mile-high seating position and copious amounts of sound insulation, the F-250’s on-road ambiance is surprisingly serene, which allowed us to better focus on the optional massage feature from the Platinum’s plush leather seats. Ride quality on smooth mountain roads was quite good for a truck sporting live axles, one that can haul literal tons in its pickup bed (certain F-350s have a max payload of 7630 pounds). There’s some bounciness and head toss over bumps, but the revised coil-spring front and leaf-spring rear suspensions quickly smooth out jolts from uneven surfaces. Load a long-wheelbase F-250’s bed with a few hundred pounds and it does an admirable impression of a really tall SUV. Along with beefier axles and linkages, the new Super Duty’s massive, fully boxed frame—95 percent of which is made of high-strength steel—provides the structural integrity of a bridge abutment, even when bounding over off-road obstacles and crossing frame-twisting ditches.

The Super Duty’s sheer size and overall refinement diminish its sensation of speed, often resulting in velocities much greater than expected. Fortunately, a firm brake pedal and massive vented disc brakes (14.3 inches in diameter both front and rear) shed even loaded-down momentum with confidence. Simple physics plays a major role when placing a truck this large on the road and in curves, but the stiffer frame permits a greater sense of composure and stability in turns. And any advantage in front-end feel attributable to GM’s exclusive independent front suspension on four-wheel-drive trucks is greatly diminished by Ford’s new variable-ratio setup for the hydraulically assisted steering system, which was fitted to every Super Duty we drove on the street (it’s a $685 option on XLT trims and above, standard on the Platinum). Steering responses felt precise and direct, with some actual road feel transmitted through the steering wheel. More important, low-speed maneuverability is greatly improved, requiring fewer twirls of the wheel to position the truck on a tight trail, wind through a narrow parking lot, or reverse a 30-foot enclosed trailer. The system increases the steering ratio at higher speeds for greater stability, and it does so even further when the tow/haul mode is activated so as not to upset a heavy load.

Back Me Up

A host of available safety and convenience features includes full LED lighting, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control that can automatically brake to maintain following distance with traffic ahead even when the truck is fully loaded. Blind-spot monitoring also is offered and doesn’t activate erroneously when towing trailers up to 33 feet long. Because towing is of such importance, at least to marketing claims, Ford redesigned the Super Duty’s conventional hitch to handle its maximum of 21,000 pounds without needing a fussy, weight-distributing attachment. What’s more, its Russian-nesting-doll setup of sleeves allows it to receive 2.0-, 2.5-, and 3.0-inch ball mounts, making virtually any receiver hitch a plug-and-play job.

Other smart touches include available LED spotlights in the mirrors, bed, and tailgate, as well as up to six cameras scattered about the exterior—seven if you include the optional rearview trailer-camera module. In trucks so equipped, the Super Duty driver can scan the exterior from almost every angle via the 8.0-inch central touchscreen, which—along with the remote tailgate release and highly adjustable exterior mirrors—allows for solo hookups to most trailers. While the Super Duty’s hydraulic-assist steering isn’t compatible with the F-150’s secondary trailer-reversing knob, the big trucks do feature a clever guidance system that overlays a virtual steering wheel on the rearview-camera image and recommends inputs for dead-straight backing of the trailer.

The Mobile Office

The Super Duty’s updated interior is functional above all else, with lots of storage options, simple ergonomics, and large buttons and knobs easily operated while wearing gloves. All of the trucks we drove were higher-trim models, topped by the Platinum and its faux metallic and wood accents, plentiful soft-touch surfaces, and leather upholstery. You definitely won’t mistake it for the cabin of an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz, but the execution is attractive, comfortable, and feels solidly made. A newly optional 8.0-inch color display in the instrument cluster provides a plethora of gauge options and information readouts within a simplified menu layout. We particularly like the addition of Ford’s Sync 3 interface; the convertible two-into-four cupholders in the center console; multiple 110-volt power outlets with up to 400 watts of juice; and a central storage compartment large enough for laptops or a full case of refreshing beverages. For those whose work takes them into sloppy environs, Ford also now offers on all trims a premium rubber floor covering for easy cleanup. As in the F-150, the crew cab brings ample rear-seat space and a completely flat floor, which can be optioned with a full-width, locking storage compartment that collapses when not needed.

The Super Duty’s plethora of options and configurations means there is a setup for just about any need, with prices increasing slightly across the board. Basic, rear-wheel drive, regular-cab gasoline F-250s and F-350s start at $33,730 and $34,900, respectively, with the big-dog F-450 (diesel, crew cab, and 4x4 only) opening at $55,140. Plan on spending about $50K for a mid-level crew-cab four-by-four, but go crazy with the extras and an F-450 can approach $90,000.

Ford says it put more development into the 2017 F-series Super Duty—more than 12 million test miles—than any other vehicle it’s ever created, which may give the new truck an edge over its crosstown rivals in pretty much every way. Of course, only a comparison test can verify such claims, and those accolades mean little to GM and Ram loyalists who simply don’t want a Super Duty no matter how sophisticated it is. Ram’s heavy-duty trucks are currently closest to Ford’s in terms of ratings (900 lb-ft of torque, 31,210 pounds of towing), and GM has yet to release details on its updated 2017 models with their ram-air hoods. But for now, Ford’s new Super Duty is the ultimate workhorse.

Photo gallery - http://www.caranddriver.com/photo-gallery/2017-ford-f-series-super-duty-first-drive-review

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