The all-new '08 Ford F-450 Lariat Super Duty with the 6.4-liter Power Stroke is more tool than toy, making it an irresistible choice for anyone looking for the ultimate tow vehicle.
At 21.9 feet (262.4 inches) from bumper to bumper and 7.9 feet wide (95.5 inches), the F-450 SD Lariat 4x4 is a sizeable truck - more at home on a ranch than in the heart of the city.
Unlike the F-350, in which you have more body options, the '08 F-450 is only available as an 8-foot bed with a 172-inch wheelbase and crew-cab design.
With a list of practical features for added power and performance, the '08 F-450 is poised to dominate other tow vehicles in the RV trailer market as toy haulers become more elaborately outfitted.
Inside its leather-clad cabin, this 4-ton truck is as spacious, rugged, luxurious, and ergonomically built as any high-end automobile we've tested. The F-450's combination of large physical size and sophisticated electronics makes for a driving experience that can be an entertaining, educational, and frustrating all at once.
With a gross combined vehicle weight (GCVW) of 33,000 pounds, the F-450 Lariat automatic (4.88 limited-slip rear axle ratio) has an incredible 24,000-pound tow capacity and 6,000-pound payload capacity. Add to that an impressive 16,000-pound tow rating on a conventional hitch, and you'll quickly see the benefits of owning such a powerful truck.
As mentioned, the release of Ford's stout F-450 SD is timely now that the RV industry is seeing increasing sales of its bigger trailers with heavy granite kitchen countertops and large slide-out living spaces on the rise.
Owning an F-450 is a big commitment: At $56,255 dollars, it isn't cheap. If you tow frequently and tend to keep your vehicles for several years, investing in an F-450 might pay off in the long run. Unfortunately, all heavy-duty pickups seem to be pricing themselves out of the market.
We mapped out a route through California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah in varying temperatures and terrains. From low-slung motel entrances to tiny convenience store parking lots and off-road campsites, we put the new F-450 4x4 in as many real-world situations as possible during our initial drive. It's tall and takes up most of a highway lane from wheel to wheel, so you have to learn the exterior parameters and turning radius of the F-450 with and without a trailer in tow.
Leaving California, we hitched up a dual-axle trailer loaded down with several Yamaha ATVs to the 8,687-pound truck for 1,200 miles. Total trailer weight was about 7,500 pounds - well below the trailer tongue-load weight threshold of the F-450. This gave us a sense of what it could do but by no means pushed it to its limit.
Keeping a mostly constant speed between 65 and 70 mph, the truck averaged 7.5 to 9.5 mpg with the trailer at the bumper. The variance in fuel mileage was probably due to a combination of traffic, wind, and hills. More importantly, the truck steadily maintained speed and performance without so much as an engine stumble or erratic transmission gear change.
We weren't gentle on the F-450 as we powered up steep mountain grades with the outside temperature nearing 100 degrees F. We did this in cruise control and still clocked a steady speed of 65 mph. With the much improved A/C system keeping the cab a cool 68 degrees, the F-450 didn't lack for power. We could hardy tell the trailer was behind us.
With improved features like large engine cooling fans, a 33-percent-larger radiator, and a water pump that doubles the flow rate from 75 to 140 gallons per minute, engine temperatures remained normal.
Because you won't always be towing a trailer, we unhitched the load and continued our drive with three passengers and a sizeable amount of gear taking up all the bed and most of the fold-down rear seating.
Sailing north on Interstate 15 near Las Vegas on the way to Utah, the mileage improved, averaging 10.5 to 11.5 mpg. Both the in-cab read out and our hand-calculated math confirmed the mpg. The good news is that the F-450 has a 38-gallon fuel tank, so you can cover a lot of distance without fear of running empty.
The ride of a dualie is better loaded down with a trailer than empty, and the F-450 is no exception. At times it was jarring - maybe due to the F-450's commercial-grade front suspension and stiff 80-psi 225/70R19.5F Continental tires.
On smoother roads, the ride naturally improved. This is the varying degree of comfort or discomfort you get with a large truck, and it is certainly not a dig to Ford engineering. Tow vehicles need to be firm, predictable, and stable.
The new '08 Ford F-450 was built in house, with final assembly at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant. Ford uses a new wider and stronger monobeam framerail with riveted and welded crossmembers. Large, square axletubes as well as features like e-coated corrosion protection and noise isolation are now all part of the new custom-tailored package for the F-450. As an added bonus, the huge 27mm enclosed towhooks will support up to 33,000 pounds.
In the end, these are reasons why the new F-450 is such a win for buyers looking for commercial-grade strengths in a noncommercial truck.
The F-450's front axle is wider than that found on the F-250 and F-350. The wider front axle gives greater turning clearance between the wheels and the frame. This means the big-boy F-450 can actually turn inside of its smaller brothers.
Rear suspension consists of a pair of progressive multileaf spring packs. The front end is suspended via coil springs and held in place via radius arms.
We were skeptical about the real-world function of what Ford dubs TowCommand and TorqShift, but we found out that these two systems are more than mere buzzwords. They really do enhance towing prowess.
TowCommand includes a factory-installed and fully warranted electronic trailer-brake controller that automatically modulates the braking prowess of your trailer when it detects loss of traction at the truck's antilock brakes. TorqShift changes shift points under acceleration and deceleration in tow-haul mode. This convenience prevents the transmission from upshifting as the truck climbs a hill while assisting with downhill braking duties through downshifting and engine compression. We noticed the benefits immediately.
In the handling department, the F-450 uses engine torque to manage wheelspin. Ford's system calculates wheel speed from the differential and reduces torque to match the best traction for the terrain. This form of traction control only operates in 4x2 mode and can be shut off when it's not required.
On a side note, the new F-450 uses a bellows-type center support bearing on a two-piece driveshaft to reduce vibration and improve shift quality.
Everything about the Ford F-450 begins with the 6.4-liter dual-turbo diesel engine - a sophisticated and powerful addition to Ford's lineup. The Power Stroke ramps up the performance with an impressive 350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm. The engine features a high-pressure, common-rail fuel system and piezo-type injectors to increase long-term durability and to better control emissions.
In keeping with the availability of ultralow-sulfur diesel, Ford instituted Clean Diesel Technology with all '08 Super Duty trucks to meet the most "stringent emissions standards" in the world. One aspect of this is the advanced diesel particulate filter system at the exhaust, designed to retain performance while reducing particulate output by more than 90 percent.
Power for the 6.4-liter diesel is assisted by twin sequential turbochargers with 42 pounds of boost. Like a multistage rocket, the smaller turbo comes on immediately at takeoff through lower rpm. As the rpm increase, the larger turbo boosts the power through the middle of the torque curve and beyond.
Transmission choices include a six-speed manual with overdrive or a five-speed automatic. Our test truck was equipped with the automatic transmission and 4.88:1 rearend ratio, but we can see a lot of practical applications for the six-speed manual.
Inside the cab, the 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel is really quiet. Under throttle with the sequential turbos spooling up power, you'd expect diesel clatter to be annoying and loud. It's not.
Ford engineers did some redesigning of the valve covers and piston rings to reduce noise and looked at ways to tune the new air-induction system and exhaust for a more refined note. There was engine cooling fan hum at 80 to 85 mph that was unsettling, but only at that speed.
The F-450's interior comfort is part of Ford's Quiet Steel technology that was introduced with the F-150. Quiet Steel is a laminated steel sheet fitted around the dash and flooring that works with additional sound padding. Thicker side glass, a revamped steering-column boot, and foam-filled A-pillars and C-pillars are designed to further reduce unwanted interior sounds in all Super Duty pickups
To make driver and passenger more comfortable, there's the dual-zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control (EATC). It's standard on the Lariat for '08 and allows the driver and front passenger to set individual temperatures. There's also an optional RapidHeat system available for warming up on cold mornings.
Another small but much appreciated feature is the F-450's audio system with MP3 input. You can take all your favorite music with you wherever you travel. A DVD-based navigation system takes the guesswork out of getting to the jobsite on time.
There were a few other things that really made the F-450 stand out. Ford's innovative power-fold and power-telescoping mirrors took the fumbling out of mirror positioning to see around your trailer. They extend outward up to 2.75 inches and have a functional spotter mirror that is double the size of the previous generation. A heated glass feature for the cold mornings, clearance lamps, and integrated turn signals are pluses.
Then there's the optional tailgate step that is made of high-strength steel and is MIG-welded for added strength. A grab-handle folds up and out of the tailgate to provide extra support when using the tailgate step, which can handle up to 300 pounds.
Finally, Ford included a 24K Reese fifth-wheel hitch as a factory option on our '08 Lariat. It just doesn't get any better than that.
After we returned from our road trip, we realized that we had just scratched the surface of the new F-450 Super Duty, and we're certain we'll test it again to see how it tows a heavy fifth-wheel trailer. But for now, we have a good first impression of what it's like to drive.
Although the 4x4 Lariat can easily handle the occasional loose dirt trail or mud and water obstacle, don't expect it to do the Rubicon. That's unrealistic for a truck of this size.
Time will certainly tell, but we think the F-450 will prove every bit the reliable, luxuriously appointed workhorse Ford designed it to be.