The 2011 Ford Super Duty's a gamble. Ford's newest heavy hauler abandons the well-known Navistar-supplied Powerstroke diesel for a brand new all-Ford designed powerplant supposedly delivering monstrous power, squeaky-clean emissions, better fuel economy and the same price. Seems suspiciously impressive.
Full disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Super Duty so much they flew me out to Prescott, Arizona where they put me up at a weird hilltop hotel casino, fed me buffet food then sent me to a remote gravel pit to beat the stink out of the truck. Note to self: buy gravel pit, they're really fun.
Let's be frank here, everything outside the engine bay on the new Super Duty truck isn't remarkably different than the outgoing trucks. The styling changes are more or less limited to the big bracketed equal sign grille, and the interior's most significant upgrades are technology related. The big news is the new powertrain. The upgrade from the 5.4-liter gasoline V8 to the new 6.2-liter is worth noting, but the real deal is the all new Powerstroke diesel with 735 lb-ft of torque and 390 HP. Mated to the all new Torqueshift six-speed transmission and a host of towing and control aids the entire setup packs unprecedented power.
But what's the impetus behind all of this? Considering the current truck commands huge segments on both the domestic and commercial side, messing around with the Powerstroke is risky business, but the time was right. When the 2010 diesel emissions regulations were released, there was an "oh shit" moment across the industry. The way things had been done would no longer work and as a result a new engine would be required.
The problem with the emissions requirements was they essentially mandated a massive two-part particulate filter and NOx catalyst: not a cheap prospect, and passing such costs along to consumers would push purchase price way up. Since Ford is the designer and builder for the 6.7, Navistar had been cut out as the middle-man allowing for a lot of wiggle room with the emissions equipment. The 6.7-liter V8 turbodiesel is more powerful, lighter, has better fuel economy and comes in at the same option price as the outgoing engine. It's actually about $500 cheaper on the chassis-cab F-450 trucks. Those aspects are fantastic, but the weirdest parts are the sound and the emissions. Sitting at idle inside the cabin you can barely tell it's even running. Even through about 1500 rpm it's down right quiet; Only when you stomp on it do you hear that diesel rattle, but it's barely even there. Stick your face in the exhaust stream and all you're greeted with is carbon dioxide and hot air, there isn't even a whiff of diesel smell, not even a faint petroleum smell. It's like a 409 cubic inch hair dryer. Freaky.
Just because it's environmentally friendly now certainly doesn't mean the Super Duty's gone soft. Far from it. When you're pulling a ten thousand pound trailer up a four degree switchback grade on the side of mountain in Arizona and accelerating past slower traffic you know this thing means business. Everything about hauling and towing has been improved on the 2011 model. Trailer sway control has been made standard, just as it was in the light duty trucks, along with Selectshift which is manual control of the automatic trans and range selection which allows you to eliminate as many top end gears as you like in order to control downhill speeds. It's all used in conjunction with the integrated turbo brake to make anyone look like a seasoned over-the-road hauler. Towing 23,000 lbs of plate steel with an F450 up that same grade was certainly a chore, but it was handled surprisingly easy. When we drag raced with 85,000 lb front end loaders through dirt, the point was made. (By the way, we drag raced towing front end loaders. Awesome.)
Setting everything up for this towathon was a snap with the new 4.2 inch information center between the gauges. With it you can set up as many as seven trailers for brake gain and miles driven, get constant streams of data about grade (truck pitch), and yaw, coolant and transmission temps, it'll even walk you through all the steps needed to hook up a given trailer, standard tow bar, goose neck or fifth wheel. Speaking of hitches, Ford's gone an eaten the aftermarket lunch by offering a factory installed under-bed cross member designed for quick changing between a goose neck and a fifth wheel hitch. When we say quick we mean the goose neck takes maybe 1 second to drop into place and the Reese fifth wheel hitch takes maybe 30 seconds to install if you're clumsy. The whole system from the factory is about $400 less than a comparable aftermarket.
One thing we didn't expect was the ride. For a knock-down, drag out work truck this thing rides pretty well. Unladen the hind-end tends to skip around a bit over washboards and potholes, but with a thousand pounds in the bed it's smooth going and the fuel economy barely even suffers. We beat on it hard, like twenty miles of gravel pit access road bombing corners with the tail out, dodging open range cattle and throwing 20 ft water wings in the wash outs and in our Powerstroke-equipped F250 with the 3.55 rear gears we got over 20 MPG pretty easy, others with the powerstroke and the fuel-saavy 3.11 rear end saw as high as 29.2 MPG (!) when babying the thing.
Now, admittedly a truck with this kind of wheelbase isn't going to be the rock-crawler's darling, but if you need to get deep, really deep into the back country to, who knows, tow a town closer to a lake, its fairly capable. The FX4 Super Duty's come equipped with four wheel drive including two high, four high and low, and there's an electromagnetic rear end locker. We never managed to get stuck, and we tried, some of the Ford guys on the other hand got hung up on some rocks, catching the low dangly bits, rear differential and transfer case armor. Nothing The Hoss couldn't handle though.
The Super Duty is an exercise in superlatives right now, however the proof will be in the pudding. Ford commands a class dominating 60% of the commercial segment with the Super Duty, but commercial buyers have no appetite for downtime, that's why this is the most tested new powertrain the truck division's ever done. Right now, it's the best full-size pickup on the road; it's powerful, smart, comfortable, clean as a whistle and the same price as the outgoing models, but the Silverado HD is still in GM's quiver. It's got an all-new frame and chassis and fully upgraded Duramax. The final word in the heavy truck battles is still out, but Ford's certainly staked a very powerful claim.