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2011 Ford F-250/350 Super Duty - First Drive

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on July 1, 2010 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Courtesy Ford Motor Company

We just returned from testdriving Ford's newest incarnation of the Super Duty pickup, and we have to admit, we're still trying to make sense of it. Not that we sensed anything wrong with the vehicle-far from it: Its on-road ride is far more compliant and forgiving than any previous version of this truck, and it's surprisingly wheelable in the dirt, given its size and girth. There's simply so much that's new and utterly mind-boggling about the new Super Duty from a technology standpoint, we barely know where to start to describe all of its many useful and functional features.

But we'll start with the engine, the direct-injection 6.7L Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8, rated at 390 hp and 735 lb-ft (yeah, that's no typo) of torque at 1,600 rpm. The new engine uses a composite graphite-iron block, which is stronger (and weighs less) than the cast-iron block it replaces. For 2011, the turbocharger has been relocated directly atop the block, which along with two-stage injection helps to reduce a great deal of underhood noise and clatter. Backing the B20-compatible diesel (a 395hp 6.2L gas engine is also available) is the brand-new six-speed "TorqShift" automatic transmission. Both components were designed, engineered, and built in-house by Ford and work almost seamlessly together to provide brisk acceleration (for an HD truck) and exceptional mileage. In our brief testdrive, we logged a combined 22 mpg (highway, street, towing, and trail), which marks a quantum leap over the old 6.4L engine, which was literally choking to death on its own EGR componentry.

The Sterling 10.5 rearend can be ordered with a factory dog-clutch E-locker-though no ring-and-pinion gears lower than 3.55:1 are available from the factory unless you spring for the dually version, which can be outfitted with 3.73:1s. Even so, the locker should be considered a must-have on the trail for a 6,400-pound pickup truck with street-biased rubber. The Super Duty also comes from the factory with transfer-case and fuel-tank skidplates, which both come in handy when the road gets rocky.

Now, some folks have taken Ford to task for not offering the new SD with an old-school grindbox (with the kind of schoolbus-length shift throws that manly men prefer), but the way we see it, it would be a largely superfluous option. See, the new six-speed has a manual-shift ("M") detent that allows you to hold any gear as long as you like, and shift up or down at will via a toggle on the stalk. In addition, there's also a "Select Shift" function that allows you to essentially "lock out" any combination of gears on demand-say, when towing, when you don't want to engage Overdrive and would prefer to stay in lower gears.

The new SD is still plenty "old-school" underneath, however, where solid axles-a Dana 60 front and a Sterling 101/2-inch rear-are located by coil springs up front and leaves out back. The NVG 271 transfer case is back as well, though the case housing was narrowed to accommodate the extra length of the new transmission. Standard ring and pinion gearing is 3.31:1, with 3.55:1s an option. (You can get 3.73:1s on a dually version, but nothing numerically higher unless you buy an F-450/550.) You can also order a rear E-locker from the factory, and for what it's worth, it really helps the massive SD on loose and slippery surfaces without being overly intrusive.

Other good stuff for 2011? There's Hill Start Assist (i.e., hill hold), which works very well, even with a 20,000-pound trailer behind it, and Hill Descent Control, which is a great deal more sophisticated and unobtrusive than some similar systems we've tested recently in other vehicles. (And if that's not enough, the SD's integrated engine exhaust braking adjusts backpressure automatically to provide additional compression on long grades.) Side airbags and air curtains are now available as an option, Trailer Sway Control is now standard, and a tailgate-mounted backup camera displays on the Nav screen automatically in Reverse, with "track lighting" to assist with trailer hitch-ups. The onboard integrated trailer brake controller, telescoping side mirrors, and tranny-actuated "Tow-Haul" mode are still available, and you can now monitor all manner of vehicle functions with the new 4.2-inch LCD "productivity screen" located directly in front of you beneath the gauge cluster.

This cutaway shows the internals and gear layout of the new 6R140 "TorqShift" six-speed automatic. Also designed in Dearborn, the new transmission features two overdrive gears, and a high-capacity trans fluid filter that extends fluid-change intervals to 150,000 miles. For those of you've who gotta have a stick transmission, you can "lock in" any individual gear you want using the manual ("M") shift detent, and the six-speed's very effective Tow/Haul mode uses electronics to anticipate downshifts more quickly when descending long inclines under load.

Built in-house by Ford engineers, the new 6.7L graphite-iron turbodiesel V-8 utilizes eight-hole piezo injectors to spray fuel directly into the piston bowls at a rate of five events per cylinder per cycle, at line pressures exceeding 29,000 psi. The turbocharger is a single-sequential design using a double-sided compressor mounted on a single shaft, which aids in NVH reduction and allows the benefits of a twin-turbo design in more compact package. Also check out the "flipped" exhaust manifold layout, which relocates the pipes inside the valley of the V-8 while the intake resides outboard. Why? Better underhood heat management, for one, and quicker delivery of exhaust gases to the turbo, resulting in quicker spool-up and reduced lag times. Peak torque is a mind-boggling 735 lb-ft at a tow-friendly 1,600 rpm, and while EPA mileage figures weren't available at press time, our combined test mileage for a day spent blazing on interstates, towing on backcountry roads, and whompin' in the dirt was a hair over 22 mpg. Impressive.

But that's only the beginning. Ford knows that a big chunk of SD buyers intend to subject their trucks to some serious work, so they've rolled out the newest model with plenty of job-related factory options. Want a diamond-plate toolbox for your truck bed? Ford's got one ready to install at the dealership. Want a gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitch installed? Ford can prep your truck at the factory with an additional frame-mounted crossmember, seven-pin connector, and five laser-cut holes in the bed for attachment points for a fifth-wheel hitch, and a 25/16-inch gooseneck ball is available as a ready-to-install option. Both hitches are rated to pull 25,000 pounds of gross trailer weight. This option will only set you back about $400, and if we were buying one, it would be one of the first things we'd check off at the dealership.

Also a new option for 2011 is Live Drive PTO, a power take-off feature for diesel-equipped Super-Dutys. The PTO uses an output gear that runs off the crankshaft to power auxiliary devices such as a dump bed, or a snow plow, or (what a concept!) a winch. The awesome thing about a PTO function is that it'll power your ancillaries for as long as the engine is running-no need to worry about draining the electrical system. If you hydrolock the engine-well heck, nothing's perfect, but we're delighted to see this time-tested example of old-school 4x4 tech returning to OE production models. For a vehicle as work-oriented as the Super Duty, it makes perfect sense.

Ford also offers a "Work Solutions" option that can turn your Super Duty's Nav system into an onboard workstation, with high-speed wireless Internet access and printer compatibility. There's a programmable "Tool Link" tracking system that uses radio-frequency identification to tell you whether you've accidentally left behind any tools at the jobsite, or any other gear you wish to catalog. There's a "Crew Chief" option, which employs onboard telematics to relay information regarding location, mileage, maintenance requirements, and other needed data to a fleet manager or other remote location. Back in the bed, you can get a MasterLock cable lock to help you secure valuable gear such as compressors or generators. Oh, and did we mention that you can order the six-speed with a power take-off (PTO) option, too?

The Super Duty's new-for-2011 "Productivity Screen" is a scroll-up, scroll-down information center that monitors all type of data, both in and out of the truck. Fuel consumption and mpg, engine oil and transmission temperatures, engine idle hours, off-road sidehill angles, brake-controller settings, and even trailer mileage are only some of the vitals that are available at the touch of a button on the steering wheel. Owners can also compose and save their own "checklists" (e.g., for different trailers) using Ford-supplied templates.

Suffice to say that Ford hasn't rested on its laurels, and only three years after significantly redesigning the Super-Duty for 2008, they've upped the ante with an all-new version that's more sophisticated and refined than any other HD pickup truck that's come before it. It's available in regular-cab, Super Cab or Crew Cab configurations, in five different wheelbases, and with tow ratings ranging up to 20,300 pounds. Pricing wasn't available at press time, but we'd guess you can expect to spend anywhere from the mid-$40s to the mid-$50s for a nicely appointed F-250 4x4. Even at a rarified price point, it's an amazing amount of truck for the buck, and we can hardly wait to get behind the wheel of one again at our 2011 Pickup Truck of the Year test, coming up a few months from now.

We still vividly recall the bladder-busting ride quality of previous-generation Super Dutys, so we're happy to report that the 2011 model is light-years more forgiving when driven over rough stretches of pavement and highway expansion joints. For 2011, the truck's rear spring rates were recalibrated and shock valving re-tuned in order to maximize towing and payload capabilities. They must have also softened the front coil rates, too, for while the truck's a bit more wallowy in corners now, it also delivers a much softer and smoother overall ride when unladen. The power steering gear is all-new, too, and while steering feel seemed a tad feathery to us initially, we were appreciative of the extra assist later on, with a few tons of towed load to haul around.

What's Hot:
Fuel-efficient powertrain, 735 lb-ft (!), rear locking diff, 20,300-lb max towing, can be factory-prepped for a fifth wheel/gooseneck, PTO an available option.

What's Not:
Barrage of electronics could pose steep learning curve to new buyers, 3.73:1 gears only available on dually version, all that technological wizardry won't come cheap.

Our Take:
Long the HD segment leader, Ford again ups the ante and sets the standard for other HD trucks to emulate.

Quick Specs
Vehicle/model: 2011 Ford Super Duty
Base price: N/A
Engine tested: 6.7L Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8
Max hp & torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 390 @ 2,800/735 @ 1,600
Transmission: 6R140 6-spd automatic double-OD
Transfer case: NVG271 part-time 2-spd.
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: 35-spline Dana 60, coil springs, stabilizer bar/Sterling 10.5-in, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Max crawl ratio: 35.74:1 (w/ 3.31:1 gears)
Steering: Power assist, recirculating ball
Brakes, f/r: 13.66-in vented discs/13.39-in solid discs
Wheels (tested): 18x8 steel
Tires (tested): 265/70R18 OWL
Wheelbase (in.): 137.0-172.4
Length (in): 227.6-263.0
Height (in): 80.8
Base curb weight (lb): 6,460 (F-250 4x4 SRW)
Max approach/departure angles (deg.): 23.6/21.0
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.5GVWR (lb): 9,400-13,000
Max payload (lb): 2,540-5,060
Max towing capacity (lb): 15,700-20,300
Observed mileage, city/hwy/trail (mpg): 22.1
Fuel capacity (gal): 37.5

During our day-long testdrive, we hitched up an F-250 Super Duty to a loaded twin-axle trailer (combined weight: 10,000 pounds) for a leisurely towing exercise through some twisty two-lanes around the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona. The Super Duty didn't seem to notice the extra weight at all, and its slightly-overboosted-with-no-load steering delivered a pleasantly on-center feel in corners under the modest load. A bit later in the day, the Ford engineering folks gave us the chance to hook up to an 85,000-pound wheel loader at a nearby gravel quarry to test the Super Duty beyond its intended limits. Lamely attempting a hole-shot throttle-punch maneuver, we didn't get very far before our tester's rearend and springs began chattering, then barking, in protest. Take it slow and steady off idle, though, and you can literally move mountains with this truck.

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