Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
The more extreme a vehicle is, the more likely there is to be a Battle of the Specs, in which each manufacturer does its best to outdo the others with vehicles that are larger, faster, and more loaded with options.
This applies to pickups too, especially in the heavy duty market, where buyers typically ask a truck to do more than carry loads of wood or power tools in the bed. Instead, they’re towing fifth-wheel trailers and loading the bed with a couple tons of gravel – things that many regular grade trucks aren’t cut out for.
Ford’s entry in this group of über-pickups is the Super Duty. The truck has been completely revamped for 2011, but the highlight of the redesign is a brand-new 6.7-litre Power Stroke V8 diesel engine, conceived and designed in-house to replace the old diesel, which was built by Navistar (International Harvester) for Ford.
Diesels are popular among heavy duty truck users because of the amount of torque they can be tuned to produce, and this one produces a lot of torque. Initially, this engine’s torque rating was 735 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm, but that was bumped up in a game of “mine’s bigger than yours!” to 800 lb-ft after GM’s 2011 Heavy Duty pickups came out with its new diesel engine, with 765 lb-ft. Ford began a “customer loyalty” program this month to upgrade early trucks with new engine control software that would unleash the extra power.
The engine is quiet for a diesel, producing about half the noise at idle as the motor in my neighbour’s 1992 Ford E-350 cargo van. It starts to sound more like a typical diesel when the truck gets moving, but in the cabin, the noise is never intrusive.
The transmission, built to handle the task of towing up to 11,068 kilograms (24,400 pounds), isn’t good at subtlety. Where many car automatics shift nearly imperceptibly, the Super Duty’s six-speed is often less than smooth in normal driving, especially at low speeds.
Natural Resources Canada doesn’t conduct fuel consumption tests on trucks this large, but Ford claims the new diesel is 18 per cent more efficient than last year’s motor in pickup models, and 25 per cent better in chassis-cab trucks. My tester averaged 16.2 L/100 km in mostly city driving.
Single-rear wheel models (as opposed to dual rear wheel trucks, or “duallies”) can be optioned for a maximum payload of 2,957 kg (6,520 lb) and towing capacity of up to 7,257 kg (16,000 lb); the base model’s figures are 1,660 kg (3,652 lb) payload and 5,625 kg (12,375 lb) towing capacity. In the interest of research, I loaded 390 kg (858 lb) worth of what used to be my cousin’s backyard deck for a trip to the landfill; such are this truck’s capabilities that the extra weight was hardly noticeable in how the truck rode. My tester had the shorter of two box lengths – six feet, eight inches; the longer option is eight feet, two inches – and this proved to be the truck’s only limitation for my purpose: we had to cut most of the old deck boards to fit in the bed with the tailgate closed (to be fair, though, many of the boards were in their original 12-foot-long form).
The four-wheel drive system is fully automatic and electronically controlled via a knob on the dash. The choices are the usual: two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive high, and four-wheel drive low. That trip to the dump gave me a chance to try the truck out in the four-wheeler mode; not surprisingly, the truck didn’t flinch when asked to plough through a rutted, garbage-strewn surface to get to where I’d been instructed to ditch the load of rotted two-by-fours.
The things that make the Super Duty so good at being a truck also make it a handful in daily driving. The ride is very harsh, as the solid front and rear axles crash and bang over large bumps and send shivers through the structure as they do so. This is business-as-usual for a heavy duty truck, whose suspension is designed for heavy loads, not a comfortable ride when the truck is empty. Then there’s the disconcertingly hard brake pedal; the Super Duty will stop quickly when asked to, but the amount of pedal effort required just for normal stopping is well above just about anything else you can drive with a standard license. The light steering is about the only thing that doesn’t feel foreign compared to that in cars and crossovers.
The truck’s sheer size can be an impediment. In the suburbs of Ottawa’s near west end, where I live, it’s not a serious issue, but get anywhere close to more densely built-up areas and you become instantly aware of how much real estate the F-350 takes up. Its hood stands taller than some car’s roofs, and in the driver’s seat, you’ll find yourself eye-to-eye with drivers of medium-sized courier trucks. On a couple of occasions, I actually left the F-350 at the local park-and-ride lot and took the bus downtown rather than worry about where I’d park this beast; many of the parking garages in downtown Ottawa simply aren’t big enough to accommodate a truck that stands 2,024 mm, or six-and-a-half feet(!) tall. And many parking spots, indoors or not, are too short for a truck that measures 6,269 mm (about 20 and a half feet) from tip to tail. The Super Duty makes the late 1990s pickup that another neighbour drives look like a toy. A backup camera is a $400 extra; on a vehicle this large, it should be standard.
My main question, I suppose, is whether a truck really needs to be this much bigger than a regular-duty truck in order to carry or tow this much more weight. From the massive chrome grille and front bumper on my uplevel tester (only the basic XL model gets a plain, black front end) to the outrageous step-in height, this truck is simply huge, and conspicuously so, too. Judging from the looks I got from other drivers and pedestrians, without the name of a construction or landscaping company screened onto the doors, anyone driving one of these simply looks like that guy who had to have the biggest, baddest vehicle he could get his hands on.
In spite of the Super Duty’s extreme abilities, the interior is actually quite inviting, at least in my optioned-up tester, from the air-conditioned front seats to the spacious rear quarters. The dash will be familiar to recent owners of F-series trucks and is easy to figure out.
If there’s anything that will keep many drivers from buying a Super Duty just to show off, it’s the price. The basic F-350 regular cab with the eight-foot bed starts at $32,979. The four-door Crew Cab model, like my tester, opens at $36,677 (minus any “price adjustments” that Ford might offer at purchase time), but option up to the Lariat trim that my tester wore, and the MSRP jumps to $57,899 (according to the window sticker supplied with my truck; Ford’s web site quoted $50,953 for the same model at the time of this writing). After that, it takes no time for the extras to add up. The 6.7-litre diesel is $9,950 on its own; the rest of the list on my truck included $300 for White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat paint; 20-inch wheels ($1,390) and tires to fit ($150); all-weather floor mats ($40); the $450 FX4 off-road package of hill descent control, skid plates, Rancho shocks and box decals; supplemental cab heater ($350); navigation ($3,020); a transmission power take-off provision ($330); upfitter switches on the dash ($100); a heavy-duty alternator ($100); rear-view camera ($400); stowable bed extender ($300); Stepgate tailgate ($300); front captain’s seats ($460) and bodyside protection mouldings ($170). Add in $1,400 for freight, and right before your calculator implodes, you’ll notice an as-tested price of $77,209.
With the diesel engine as the single most expensive piece of the puzzle (after the base price, of course), the obvious question is whether its extra torque and lower fuel consumption are worth nearly $10,000. That, of course, depends on what you’re using it for and how much you plan to drive it. It’s a great engine, but the majority of buyers would probably be better off saving the 10 grand for a really nice vacation and opting for the basic, 6.2-litre gasoline V8 – also new for 2011 – which makes a respectable 385 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque.
These days, many pickups do double duty as work vehicles and daily drivers. While the Super Duty is a super truck in many ways, it’s not a commuter-friendly vehicle, so I’d think hard about whether you actually need a heavy-duty truck, or could make do with a properly-equipped half-ton. The price of the diesel upgrade is also worth a second (and possibly a third) think-through, especially since you could buy a very nice used car for the same money.
In any event, for the moment, the F-350’s new diesel, with the torque upgrade, is the most powerful one in the heavy duty truck class (after being briefly outdone by GM; Ford, Dodge and General Motors are the only players), but expect someone to top it in the next round of Battle of the Specs – just because they can.
Pricing: 2011 Ford F-350 Super Duty
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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