It's difficult to imagine any of you Jalops needing to haul 20,000 pounds. We also doubt many of you are in the market for a truck whose price tag easily hits $40,000 to take off-roading. But what if you came across a half-dozen utes sitting in the middle of California's Rubicon Trail, each adorned with a sign reading "Take me"? Sure, that's totally plausible. So, when Ford invited us to put its 2008 Super Duty through some of the more rigorous tasks a vehicle will ever face, we struggled to come up with a reason to turn them down. After all, this thing has wheels (sometimes even six of them!) and we like things with wheels, do we not?
Ford has little competition in the Super Duty realm. Lined up against competing trucks from Dodge and Chevrolet, the Ford's internals are undeniably beefier. With substantially larger water pumps, radiators, engine mounts and bolts, there's no doubt the Ford is tougher. While the metal bits make up the Super Duty's bones and guts, Ford also blasts its largest full-size rig with hardcore development testing on Silver Creek, a quarter-mile straight shot on Ford's proving grounds, meant to simulate a lifetime of hitting giant pot holes, rocks and bumps most drivers hit only once every few thousand miles.
The directions for driving across Silver Creek are simple: hold the wheel with a firm, but relaxed grip and keep the speed at a steady 20 mph. The execution is much more difficult. From the first bump, your right foot is thrown into a struggle to find the gas pedal, while not accidentally smashing it to the floor. The steering wheel is prone to doing whatever the hell it wants, so when we reach the end of the course (rather than allowing the bumps to throw the truck off the road) it's tempting to call it a miracle. Reliving the violence of the drive in your head has shock absorbers busting through their mounts and suspension bits snapping in half, yet the Super Duty doesn't even show signs of a rattle after passing down Silver Creek. In fact the course is so intense Ford test drivers are limited in how often they can drive it due to medical concerns. During development, a single truck must survive the drive across Silver Creek more than 600 times before sign-off.
Off-road, the Super Duty performs well. After several hours of rain that have turned the course into peanut butter, the single-axle F-350 has no problem muscling through mud pits and crater-ridden trails. Its length is certainly a burden, making it far less nimble than any real off-roading machine. Still, it did well approaching steep hills and through short dips, never bottoming out.
We also took an F-450 Super Duty equipped with dualies over a hilly road course pulling a trailer 4,000 pounds shy of its 24,000-pound towing capacity. With Tow/Haul mode engaged, the Ford hangs onto revs longer and downshifts earlier when you put on the brakes to help slow things down. With the 6.4-liter diesel making 650 pound-feet of torque at peak, you're getting serious twist no matter where the tach needle points. Despite the Ford's five-speed Torqshift automatic downshifting at such aggressive points while towing 10 tons, we swear we could hear "Smooth Operator" playing somewhere.
It's a blessing we're not on public roads, since nearly all the journalists in attendance have casually dismissed the lane lines while towing that 40-foot trailer. With the longest Super Duty models stretching nearly 22 feet, you have to start thinking about navigating rather than driving. Turns should be planned well in advance and you'll want to run a few geometry calculations through your head before attempting to park between cars. Ford has made some efforts to make navigating the Super Duty a bit less of a burden. The screen for the optional back-up camera appears in the rearview mirror when you shift into reverse. While the screen is much smaller than the traditional screen in the nav system, Ford's camera includes a dotted line pointing where your truck is headed. Additionally, colored brackets along the edge of the screen help you to gauge how far you are from a wall, your trailer hitch, or Fido. Available power-scoping mirrors slide away from the truck for towing and can be folded in against the truck when pulling into a garage using a simple knob.
On F-350 dualies, buyers can now check a box for the "Fat Boy" option (actually, the sheet will read more like "widetrack monobeam front suspension and extended axle"). The longer front axle cuts the turning radius down from a hulking 56 feet to a slightly-less-hulking and class-leading 50 feet. Step into a Fat Boy-equipped F-350 and crank the wheel as far as it'll go. From the cabin, cones marking the outside of the turning circle disappear from sight in line with the center of the truck, convincing you you're about to send them to a second, flatter life. It's a surprise to get out of the truck and see all of the cones still standing. The Fat Boy option also makes the wheel wells taller and deeper, while adding more dimension to the front fender flares, giving an even tougher look to Ford's ultra-tough truck.
The toughness of the Super Duty is apparent in almost every challenge you can throw at it, from off-roading to towing to car-eating potholes. If you need to haul something or just want a vehicle that you can relentlessly abuse, the Super Duty has your number: $45,000 fully loaded.