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First Drive: 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty [Review]

by Mark Elias

Join us for a look at Ford\'s latest Super Duty pickups.

If you name your star vehicle, and perhaps your biggest profit maker, a Super Duty truck, you'd better be able to "bring it" when the chips are down. With a renewed vigor in the Dodge Ram stables, and continued pressure in the Chevrolet and GMC camps, it hasn't exactly been a cakewalk for the venerable Dearborn, Michigan, concern.

So Ford found a venue that was able to show off the 2011 Super Duty to full capability by planning an event between Prescott and Phoenix, Arizona, that practically required planes, trains and automobiles to pull off.

Stylin' As with Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" album, the looks here pretty much carry forward from the previous generation with one notable difference. Hello chrome. The preponderance of chrome on the grille, which has two bars similar to the three-bar array seen in the rest of the Ford lineup, screams "belt buckle" like we've never seen before. Across the top of the grille piece is the stamping of "Super Duty" and one of the largest Ford Blue Ovals ever to grace the front of a Dearborn-birthed vehicle (something we said the last time Ford revamped the Super Duty!).

Body color and black grilles are also available depending upon the series of Super Duty selected. Other styling cues for the new Super Duty vehicles include a "clamshell" hood, and added side crests heralding the use of the new 6.7-liter Power Stroke B20 V8 engine.

The power to match The new Super Duty trucks feature an all-new series of powerplants starting with that Ford-built 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 turbocharged diesel engine. Designed and built in-house, it features a class-leading 390-horsepower and 735 lb-ft. of torque. For those keeping track, that's a net gain of 40-ponies, and 85 lb-ft. of twist, but those aren't the only important numbers. With new-for-2010 federal emission standards for diesels, Ford has chosen to use Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF), basically a urea-based agent, which is user-serviceable by a filler nozzle located next to the fuel receptacle. The end result is best-in-class fuel economy and biodiesel compatibility up to B20 (20-percent bio-diesel). The system, in theory, isn't much different than what ze Germans have been offering on luxury sedans and SUVs.

The second available engine option is a new 6.2-liter gas engine that borrows from Ford's racing heritage. Replacing the outgoing 5.4-liter gas engine, Ford claims a similar power and torque improvement to the gains seen on the diesel engine, with power now at 385 horsepower, and 405 lb-ft. of torque.

In the case of either engine, they are mated to a new 6R140 heavy-duty TorqShift six-speed automatic transmission with Selectshift capability via a toggle switch mounted on the column mounted gear selector. Ford has added an available Live Drive power take off option with in-cab switches pre-installed to operate snow plows, dump hydraulics, wrecker booms and other add-on attachments that Super Duty owners may need during an average work day.

Dirty job-ready Ford claims up to 97 percent of Super Duty owners tow or haul something, and with those numbers in mind, they decided to bolster the technologies that make such jobs easier.

Among the features available are a 4.2-inch LCD screen with menus and a towing checklist. How much can it tow you ask? For the F450 Dually, up to 24,400 lbs. in towing mode using either a goose-neck or fifth wheel arrangement with factory-installed frame-mounted structure that adds approximately $400 to the bottom line, versus nearly $1,000 on the aftermarket. In bed-equipped models, electrical hookups are pre-wired through the side of the bed wall for a cleaner installation. During our day with the Super Duty in Arizona, we were able to participate in a tow competition to pull a Caterpillar articulated front-loader weighing nearly 95,000 lbs. more than 25-feet. If it's impressive to read, it's even more impressive to see.

Typical payload Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR) for the F250 4x4 with top gear package is 10,000 lbs., while the F350 slots in at 11,400 lbs. The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) for the F250 4x4 is 23,500 lbs., while the F350 numbers in at 29,000 lbs. This is a serious hauler.

Enhanced Tow Haul mode with integrated Engine Exhaust Braking allows the transmission to downshift based on pressure applied to a brake pressure transducer. With brake pressure applied, the Power Stroke uses back pressure in a seamless operation to help slow down the vehicle and trailer automatically. Another towing tool was the addition of a standard Progressive Range Select mode which allows the driver the ability to lock out certain gears for optimal towing.

No sway Ford's Trailer Sway Control system, in conjunction with AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, uses software to control the trucks motion with a trailer hung on the back. By checking the truck's yaw motion, it can know whether the trailer is swaying and then apply braking or reducing engine torque to bring it back under control. An optional Trailer Brake Control is available from Ford with a limited warranty.

To help out drivers who don't live in the Great Plains, Ford offers Hill Start Assist, which applies brakes to hold you on the line briefly while switching from the brake to the gas while on a hill. On the other side of the equation, Hill Descent Control allows the accelerator and brake to control a smooth "creep"� down the hill. These are tricks learned from off roaders, but they work well here.

Big brother is watching Ford's Work Solutions, including its Tool Link and Crew Chief telematics function is back. First seen in the F-150 and later in the Transit Connect, it allows for tool and job inventory, as well as computer functions using the in-dash navigation screen and a wireless keyboard for full functionality. Crew Chief allows fleet managers to monitor a vehicle's location and its maintenance condition""as well as its employee's location. All in the name of productivity. Numerous powerports, a lockable center bin, and an in-cab 110-volt outlet round out the features and allow for the use of laptop power supplies, printers, chargers and the like.

We sampled several versions of the Super Duty ranging from the standard model to the top of the line King Ranch with its wood-trimmed saddle-leather interior. Start with mildly bolstered front seats for easy entry and egress, a fully functional steering wheel with TV remote-like touch pad controls, and traditional gauges within the dash. Surround it with the latest in Navigation and Satellite radio functionality and a smaller (4.2-inch) LCD screen between the main gauges to allow the driver to monitor vehicle condition, gear selection, mileage, trip counter, and finally, add a center console that is nearly desk-size in width. Eventually, you're talking about a mobile mission control.

Back seat drivers will find car-like comfort in a limo-sized seating area that can accommodate three adults. The surprising thing is the ride is not that harsh, what with twin I-beams with coil overs and a stabilizer bar on the 4x2 model F250 and F350, and a mono-beam with coil overs and stabilizer bar for the 4x4 versions of the same. On the rear side of the equation, both 4x2 and 4x4 get a live axle, of course, with leaf springs, staggered shocks and stabilizer bars. Not cutting edge, mind you, but definitely tuned for a comfortable ride. Owing to the fact this is a truck, after all, expect that the ride is not going to be sports car firm or luxury car controlled, but it works exceedingly well here.

Hypermiling in a Super Duty While Ford didn't announce mileage ratings, we were game for a case of hypermiling our King Ranch Super Duty F250 on an 80 mile jaunt from Yarnell, Arizona to Phoenix. Loaded with three people and 1000 lbs of building material in the bed, we were on our way. Starting at a rock quarry in the Arizona mountains, we tucked in our elephant-sized side mirrors, and coasted wherever able downhill, along 17 miles of dirt roads, making sure to stay on the smoothest part of the path. Applying fuel only where necessary and laying on the horn a half mile up the road from cattle that were lingering in the middle of the same, we were able to keep the engine at or near idle until we were back on pavement. At that point, treating stop signs as mere suggestions, we kept in as high a gear as possible without engaging more than 10 lbs. of turbo boost. That kept our speed at about 54 mph. Clicking on the cruise control, we soon found ourselves on the interstate, sucking onto the rear bumpers of several eighteen-wheelers that kept the wind out of our grille. With Howard Stern yammering away on Sirius, we were in good humor. That is until one of those freeway traffic cameras snapped a picture of us (we think it was someone in front of us, really) actually doing the speed limit. Or was it the fact we um, forgot to put the mirrors out again?

An hour and a half later, we pulled into the hotel parking lot. The 4.2-inch in-dash monitor had been watching our mileage and reported 26.8 miles per gallon during the 80 mile run.

Which just so happened to be good enough for first place in Ford's mock competition. And it's about the same economy we would expect out of a non-hypermiled V6 family sedan. Not bad.

Leftlane's bottom line It seems these days, that at Ford, good enough really isn't. Not content to leave well enough alone, they have offered up a round of improvements on their already well-received line of Super Duty trucks that makes them more than ever a necessary piece of equipment. The end result is one that has fleet and general customers already clamoring for the latest and greatest.

2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty price TBA.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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