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Ford Super Duty vs Chevy Super Duty - Clash Of The Titans

Posted in Features on June 1, 2002 Comment (0)
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Remember the story about the Hatfields and the McCoys - two feuding families that could never seem to see anything good about each other? Long before the phrase, "Can't we all just get along?" entered our national vocabulary, the truck world's version of the Hatfields and McCoys - Chevy and Ford - were building a rivalry that exists to this day. Can't we all just get along? Hell no! Intense competition between the world's No. 1 and No. 2 automakers has ensured the continued development of competitive performing trucks, all to the benefit of off-road enthusiasts.

And lest you think that the General and the Blue Oval have settled their differences, witness the latest bout in a historical slugfest: Ford's Super Duty versus Chevrolet's Heavy Duty. Both trucks were recent clean-sheet designs; that is, the Super Duty and the Heavy Duty use a chassis design and drivetrain unique to their heavy-duty roots.True, both trucks share select components with their lighter-duty brother - Ford's F-150 and Chevy's Silverado - but the Silverado Heavy Duty and the F-250/F-350 Super Duty were intended from the get-go to be muscular trucks, able to tow, haul, and perform all kinds of truck tasks that would cripple a lesser 1/2- or 3/4-ton truck.

And what about 'wheeling? Both of these heavyweight contenders are well-suited to the rigors of off-road use; their strong frames, tough-guy suspension systems, and torquey powerplants are precisely what is required for dirt duty, and aftermarket manufacturers, recognizing the potential of these macho 4x4s, have really stepped up, developing suspension and engine performance accessories that can put a fine edge on either truck's off-road abilities.

Clearly, Ford Motor Company and General Motors expect big things from their bruisers, and each company is clearly intent on building a better, bigger 4x4. For those off-road enthusiasts who intend to 'wheel, tow, and work with their trucks, the Heavy Duty-Super Duty rivalry can only be a good thing, since competition always ensures that the strong survive and the weak are relegated to life on the street. Here's what makes Chevrolet's Silverado Heavy Duty and Ford's F-250 Super Duty such tough competitors.

Suspension:Old School Vs. New SchoolClearly, the major difference between the Super Duty and the Heavy Duty is each truck's front suspension design. Ford has gone the traditional route, equipping the Super Duty with a solid axle located by leaf springs. On the other hand, the General went to a modern upper-and-lower A-arm front suspension (IFS) for the Heavy Duty. Both suspension systems have their merits. IFS is capable of a smooth ride, while a straight axle with leaf springs is known for overall durability. As to rear suspension, both trucks use a solid axle located by a pair of leaf spring packs, so the differences are minor compared to the IFS-versus-straight-axle shootout.

Advantage:Cover your eyes, Chevy/GMC truck enthusiasts; there's little doubt as to the overall superiority of Ford's leaf-sprung solid front axle, especially if the judging includes durability, aftermarket support, and overall off-road worthiness. There's nothing wrong with GM's IFS front suspension, it's just that the Super's front suspension system delivers good wheel travel, is smooth on the street, shows acceptable articulation off-road, and is extremely adaptable to suspension lifts and upgraded steering systems. While the HD's front suspension is catching on with aftermarket manufacturers, the SD is light years ahead with builders of aftermarket suspension systems. If you seek a moderate lift, there are many aftermarket kits to choose from for the Super Duty, and many are reasonably priced. If you want a nosebleed lift to go with tall tires, the Ford's straight axle and leaf spring setup is ideally suited to a tall ride height. Heck, the Super Duty's front suspension is even capable of being set up as a true long-travel suspension. The Chevy's front suspension is limited in several aspects. A true long-travel suspension is a tough build, given the limitations of the HD's front axles and CV joints. A tall lift is possible with the Chevy's IFS system, but it's an expensive and complicated route, requiring that the entire front suspension and differential be spaced down with a large subframe and the upper control arms' pivots be attached with bolt-on drop brackets. While we've seen tall, well-engineered aftermarket lifts for the Heavy Duty, the Ford's solid-axle frontend beats the IFS in every possible way, at least for off-road use and lifted applications.

Engine Power: Talk About TorqueIn a comparison between the available engines for the Super Duty and the Heavy Duty, the contest is tight - a lot depends on what type of power characteristics you prefer in an engine, whether you prefer gas or diesel power, and how much power you can afford.

Chevrolet's Duramax turbodiesel is a torque brute, period. This second-generation 6.6L V-8 is a monster, churning out 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque. And the Duramax isn't old school in anyway; the oil burner is a state-of-the-art V-8 with direct port fuel injection, a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank actuating four valves per cylinder, and breathing intercooled air. Because of its sophisticated design - the turbo is positioned in the engine's V - the Duramax is a quiet and smooth operator.

GM's other impressive HD engine is the latest generation of the big-block V-8. The Rat is more than 80 percent new, is 8.1 liters in displacement, and cranks out 340 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, which is more than Ford's Triton V-10 engine. Even GM's smallest HD engine is a gem - the 6.0L Vortec wears aluminum cylinder heads, uses a performance camshaft, and breathes through low-restriction intake and exhaust systems. The new mouse pumps out 300 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, which means its output is on par with Ford's larger-displacement V-8.

Ford's available engines for the Super Duty keep the Blue Oval in the game: Many enthusiasts choose the 6.8L Triton V-10 option for their SDs. This is a wonderfully smooth Single Overhead Cam engine with 310 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque, although big tires can sap its bottom-end grunt. The Triton 5.4L V-8 is the smallest Super Duty engine, but it's smooth and powerful, nevertheless, making 260 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Also popular is Ford's Power Stroke Diesel V-8, which uses its turbocharged 7.3 liters to maximum effect, generating 250 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque (275 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque with a manual gearbox). While a strong performer in OE trim, the Power Stroke's trump card is the huge amount of aftermarket support it enjoys. Equipped with a collection of aftermarket accessories, the Power Stroke can produce in excess of 325 ponies and 560 lb-ft of torque with a reliable, tractable powerband that's ideal for off-road use.

Advantage:This one's a tough call. The GM Duramax is the winner based on pure output, but it's an expensive option. Also, many enthusiasts prefer the snappy throttle response of Ford's or GM's gas-burning engines to the less-responsive diesel engines. Perhaps the best choice for enthusiasts who like gobs of torque and an excellent throttle feel is GM's big-block V-8. The Rat is a popular option on GM's HD trucks, and its fresh design embraces technology to produce an efficient, strong performer with gobs of power down low, which is just what an off-road machine needs. The projection for aftermarket support of the Rat is strong; when the performance exhaust, intake, and computer chip companies get spooled up with power-enhancing components for the big-block, HD owners can expect another 50 to 100 hp from the Vortec 8100, and that's a good thing.

Gearboxes and Transmission: The Transfer of PowerAs with the engines that power the Super Duty and the Heavy Duty, the transmissions and transfer cases are fairly standard stuff, with one notable exception: GM's five-speed Allison transmission - available on the Duramax diesel and the Vortec big-block - is a standout in every sense of the word. Designed specifically to reliably handle the Duramax's gobs of torque, the Allison also boasts electronic trickery that downshifts to a lower gear when the HD encounters a downhill (Engine Grade Braking), thus saving the brake pads and making the truck controllable, even under slick-road conditions. GM is proud of the Allison 1000, citing that its internal components are designed to be stronger than a comparable 1-ton tranny. Plus, the Allison is equipped with an external, spin-on-style fluid filter.

GM's ZF-S6-650 six-speed manual tranny is the base transmission on the diesel and big-block engines, and it too boasts several nifty features, including full synchronization of all gears and close-ratio gearsets with a "granny gear" First gear. As the ZF manual uses synthetic oil, GM touts it as "lubed for life." For the Vortec 6.0L V-8, the General offers two transmissions: the five-speed manual MW3 and the well-known 4L80-E electronically controlled four-speed automatic with Overdrive.

Transfer case options for the HD include Insta Trac, a shift-on-the-fly T-case, and an electronically controlled transfer case that's teamed with an automatic transmission. Low-range on the New Venture Gear-built T-cases is 2.22.

Ford's available Super Duty transmissions include the wide-ratio five-speed manual, which sports a Power Take Off shaft that is accessible on both sides of the tranny case; a six-speed manual box with an integral fluid cooling pump and a left-side-mounted PTO; and the 4R100 four-speed automatic Overdrive equipped with a standard fluid cooler and automatic tow-haul controller that self-adjusts according to engine output to deliver smooth, useable power. The 4R100 can be equipped with a lefthand-side PTO to power the pumps on lift gates, snowplows, and other accessory applications.

The 4x4 Super Duty can be equipped with either a manual transfer case, an optional shift-on-the-fly, electronically shifted T-case, or a part-time, shift-on-the-fly T-case with either manual or electric shift control. Whichever Super Duty T-case is selected, the Low-range is 2.72.

Advantage:If cost is no object, the Allison five-speed automatic is trick and a heavy-duty piece. However, it's pricey and can't be had with the small-block V-8. Ford's PTO-equipped transmissions are desirable if you use your truck for work as well as play. Ford's six-speed manual gearbox may elicit thoughts of a slick-shifting Corvette trans, but it's a truck transmission and not the slickest-shifting transmission available. Either of the four-speed Overdrive automatic transmissions offers reliable performance, but neither the 4L80-E nor the 4R100 are truly intended for high-torque engines and huge tires. These transmissions are by far the most popular choices for Super Duty and Heavy Duty 4x4s, and either will deliver dependable performance and reliability if operated within their design limits. However, if we had the money, that Allison would find a happy home.

Epilogue: And the Winner Is...When the strong points of each truck are evaluated, there's a lot to be said for the efforts of both Ford and General Motors. While this story was intended to be a comparison with a clear-cut winner, it's a tough call - a lot depends on your preference in trucks, whether you're a Chevy or a Ford enthusiast, and what type of performance you're after. When the facts are taken into consideration, it seems that Chevrolet's Heavy Duty 4x4s have the edge when it comes to engine power and advanced transmission technology. When front suspensions are considered, the Super Duty is the clear choice for enthusiasts who truly 'wheel their trucks as well as for those who like to modify their ride with aftermarket performance suspension systems.

As we stated, it's difficult to choose the better truck, but we're giving the nod to Ford's Super Duty for three reasons: its impressive power, its overall robust design, and because the big Ford is equipped with a traditional front axle and suspension.

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