The Super Duty Ford F-250, F-350 and F-450 pickups are for pulling big boats, horses and construction equipment. Heavy work. A large diesel engine makes that possible, and now a gleaming array of driver-assistance technology makes it easy. Heck, it’s even fun.
(Full disclosure: Ford flew me to Colorado and provided extremely courteous hospitality to me for about 36 hours so I’d have the opportunity to experience their products.)
The whole Super Duty truck line—Ford’s “three-quarter ton” F-250, “one-ton” F-350 and I don’t even know what we’re calling the the F-450 and F-550 these days—now receive their first major redesign in 18 years. The last time these trucks were new, Lou Bega still had a viable music career.
The “ton” nomenclature is archaic anyway, and explained in greater depth in our handy truck classification guide. You can just think of each “F-X50" as an incremental increase in general cargo capability from the F-150.
The 2017 model year brings new supposedly stronger frames and fresh sheetmetal, which is now aluminum. Trailering, in-bed hauling and engine output numbers are all up. Interior noise is down. The King Ranch and Platinum trims are luxurious enough to make your father’s office jealous, and the price range is as wide as the draft these rigs make down a highway lane.
The basic single-cab F-250 XLT with 4WD, the diesel engine and just enough options to appreciate the new features was $53,905 as I drove it. The Brobdingnagian F-450 King Ranch dually diesel four-door, with a 176.0-inch wheelbase, 30,100 pound towing capacity, panoramic moonroof and ass-massaging seats, listed at $81,920. That’s a huge price range.
Considering you could go a little cheaper with a gas-powered 2WD and even more expensive with a Platinum, I’d say the Super Duty lineup looks something like $30,000+ to just a few dealer-added accessories shy of $100,000.
From a design perspective the most important Super Duty change is the adoption of the smaller F-150's cab. The F-150, F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 are now architecturally identical from the windshield to the back of the rear door.
The similarities continue inside since all the same trim levels (except ultra-lux Limited, for now) available on F-150 are now in the catalog for the Super Duty. That means the big trucks get the flat rear floor, storage cubbies for days, and optional panoramic sunroof we liked so much in the new-for-2015 F-150.
The Super Duty designation adds a lockable under-seat rear storage box, more “lids” on storage compartments and a much more useful center console thanks to having a column shifter like the gods intended.
Fords says all that aluminum translates to a weight savings of as much as 350 pounds on the biggest trucks. The frame underneath all of them has been muscled up with fully-boxed construction (the last truck’s was made of C-shaped channels of steel) and more cross-members for stiffness.
The company claims the new frame is 80 percent “high strength steel,” capable of withstanding 50,000 to 80,000 psi of pain while the old one was “only” good for 30,000 psi. I don’t really know what the significance of those quantities is, but it translates to higher tow and payload capacities in the new truck.
The Super Duty engines aren’t new this year, but the diesel’s output has been dialed up and transmissions adjusted. The short story about power is that there’s plenty of it to propel the truck between work sites and fuel stations. The immense pulling capacity and freakish acceleration under boost are nice bonuses, though. This time the most interesting truck toys are a lot smaller.
There are two major new driver-aid enhancements that significantly set the Ford Super Duty apart in the segment: a suite of cameras that provide a 360 degree top-down view of the truck and guidance for trailer-connecting, and an augmented steering system that exaggerates or suppresses wheel input based on conditions.
The power-dropping tailgate, blind-spot warnings (which extends to the trailer!), adaptive cruiser control, LED lighting and comprehensive digital gauge set are lovely, but not quite as life-changing as towing-assistance software.
You may have seen the “miniature steering wheel” Ford put in the F-150 to make backing up with a trailer a little easier; it basically flips steering input so you can “drive” through the backup camera. But “Super Duty customers would find that insulting,” one of Ford’s engineers told us. Apparently “95 percent” of people who buy F-250-and-up tow trailers “regularly,” according to wherever Ford collects data on usage.
So the heavy truck system is a little different. Instead of a small physical steering wheel, there are two trailer-assist features involving the truck’s large array of cameras.
The first is for gooseneck trailer connection. A camera in the upper taillight above the rear glass points at the bed, and overlays a little dotted line that bends predictively with the angle of the steering wheel. Simply put the line between the hitch and the trailer and you’ll be lined up in no time.
Once you’re connected and actually pushing the trailer backwards, the side-mirror cameras work in conjunction with another remote camera you can slap on the back of the trailer itself as part of the truck’s towing package. This give you a complete view of not only where the trailer is, but where it’s going with an alert to warn you before you get too far off course. It literally puts an illustration of your steering wheel on the screen for you to match.
A Ford dealership in Canada has already put together a walkthrough to help you understand what I mean:
None of these toys are standard equipment of course, which is why we couldn’t find a test-truck priced below $50,000.
We’ll get to what it’s like to use them soon.
The smallest 2017 Super Duty is 231.8 inches long and 80 inches wide, without its mirrors, effectively making it as fat as a Hummer H1 and as long as nice bowrider power boat.
The largest version, with four full doors and four rear wheels, stretches to 266.2 inches in length and 96 inches in girth. It would require 52.5 feet to turn around in one move without hitting anything. (Good thing you’ve got that backup camera!)
Super Duty has two cargo box options– a 6.75-foot bed and an 8-footer, which have volumes of 65.4 and 78.5 square feet, respectively. Lights, a retractable step and cargo anchor points are back there too.
There’s a lot of variation in what a Super Duty weighs since there are so many configurations, but the lightest F-250 is 5,683 pounds ready to drive and the biggest curb weight I could find on the spec sheet was 8,590 pounds. This is excluding chassis cabs, of course.
The big daddy F-450 King Ranch I rode in had a GVWR (max rated weight plus cargo) of 14,000 pounds and a payload rating (max cargo) of 4,749 pounds.
The single-cab F-250 XLT 4WD diesel I drove was rated to tow 15,000 pounds or put 2,787 pounds in the bed (payload.) Then we stepped it up to an F-350 with a gooseneck trailer hitch, the kind that links up to a frame crossmember in the middle of the bed (MSRP: $62,935) and the tow rating moved up to 20,400 pounds. That truck’s payload rating was 3,529 pounds.
My F-450 King Ranch dually test vehicle went all the way up to 30,100 pounds of pulling power and could carry 4,749 pounds in the bed—more than two 2016 Mazda Miatas. That’s right: holy shit.
The 2017 Super Duty trucks are available with three engine options. Base option is the 6.2-liter gasoline V8, which you might remember from the last-gen Raptor and Super Duty, putting down 385 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque.
Of course the engine you want is the 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel, a $8,600 option, which Ford claims cranks out 440 horsepower at 2,800 RPM and a staggering, almost unholy 925 lb-ft from just 1,800 RPM to 2,000 RPM. Legally, that much torque qualifies it as a weapon of mass destruction in several European countries.
That output is electronically restricted in first, second and third gears because it’s more than the human body (or your tires) can handle, but it still feels very swift when the turbo’s spinning.
Ford’s Power Stroke engines used to be made by Navistar (aka International), but the company has cut ties and this generation of the engine was developed completely in-house. The old 6.8-liter gasoline V10 is still available too, in the chassis cab, but the only reason to buy it is if you’re renting a fleet of trucks to people you’re afraid won’t be able to find diesel pumps.
COMPLETE SIZE AND SCALE BREAKDOWN
Every Ford rep I talked to agreed that the F-250 Lariat SuperCrew (four-door) 4x4 diesel single rear-wheel was far and away the most commonly sold variant of Super Duty. But there are more configurations of these trucks than we could drive in half a day, so here’s the whole breakdown of sizes and weight capacities in case you really want to get deep on the specs:
Ford says the new Super Duty has a higher towing capacity than any other pickup truck: 32,500 pounds. This is achieved with an F-450 SuperCrew (four door) DRW (dually) 4x4 with a gooseneck trailer hitch. Actually, an even more specific configuration than that is required to hit this number, since the $81,920 demonstration truck we used to pull 30,000 pounds only had a maximum tow rating of 30,100 pounds.
The other most mind-blowing capacity claim is Ford Super Duty’s best in class payload capacity: 7,630 pounds. This is achieved with a single-cab F-350 dually.
Hypothetically, you could put the weight of another truck on top of the damn truck and carry on with your day. But again, only in this one specific configuration you probably won’t buy.
The F-350 I drove had a payload max of 3,529 pounds. The F-250 I tested was could carry 2,787 pounds and even our F-450 dually topped out at 4,749 pounds.
As for power, 925 lb-ft of torque is certainly a higher number than 900, which is what the rival Ram Cummins 6.7 puts down. But I wouldn’t call that factor significant on its own, especially since the Cummins is only electronically limited in first and second gear as opposed to first through third.
Look, the new Ford Super Duty’s abilities are undoubtedly tremendous. But as far as practical relevance to the specific truck you’re going to buy, “Best In Class” claims from any manufacturer are rarely worth the pixels they’re posted on. Just make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you cross-shop.
You had to scroll this far down to get to driving impressions because the equipment itself is actually a lot more interesting than what I learned in a handful of 20 mile laps around the Denver suburbs.
Nevertheless, the truck’s acceleration under boost really impressed me. As for towing, a 10,000 pound trailer behind an F-350 rated to about pull about 20,000 pounds felt decidedly present, but not overbearing. Side-to-side stability was solid but forward-and-backward bump feedback was impossible to ignore.
Since the interiors are effectively lifted off the new F-150, my impressions of the ergonomic experience in the lighter truck apply again: storage is excellent and abundant. Visibility is good. Build quality seems solid with the exception of the lower-trim steering wheels, which I still think feels like it was pulled from a piece of farming equipment. It’s too thin and light.
The Super Duty’s ride height is immense; the sensation of tallness felt much more pronounced than it does in the F-150. Same goes for the weight of the steering itself, which is very substantial especially at low speed. But that doesn’t mean the truck is hard to turn. On the contrary, Ford’s new optional electronic Adaptive Steering means you’re turning the wheel a lot less.
When you’re driving slow, the system “boosts” your wheel input. Turning the wheel “a little” to the left actually moves the truck “a little more.” At higher speed and in trailer-tow mode the system does the opposite– sort of sanding down your wheel input to soften the steering. If you buy this option, the system is completely passive. You cannot disable it.
Unless you bring a Ford engineer along for a ride like we did, who had a development computer hooked up to one of the trucks and toggled the system on and off as we went up and down a curvy mountain road. Yes, the difference in wheel input is perceptible. The idea is to reduce driver fatigue by reducing wheel motion.
The tradeoff is a more nebulous steering experience. It’s a cool concept, but I didn’t completely fall in love with it myself. If you’re seriously considering buying a new Ford Super Duty, make sure you try trucks with and without this system before you leave the lot.
On-road ride is extremely compliant, even with a 2,000+ pound payload rating and nothing in the bed. It’s nothing short of miraculous how comfortable we can make a truck while hitting higher cargo capacity numbers than my grandpa would have ever dreamed of. His mid-1990s F-250 was about as smooth as Ballaban doing “Suffragette City” at karaoke and it only softened up enough to make mom quit complaining with a half a bedload of mulch.
The 2017 truck is nice enough to snooze in. Just don’t do it while you’re driving, the adaptive cruise control isn’t Autopilot. (Technically, Autopilot isn’t even Autopilot.)
It is pretty impressive to see a truck pulling 30,000 pounds and slowing down, speeding up, or matching speed to keep from crushing whatever’s ahead of it in a lane. The system works above 30 mph. I found it a little too disconcerting to trust, but it’s probably the best way to squeeze everything you can out of the truck’s massive optional 48 gallon fuel tank.
The off-road experience is miserable. The FX4's “Off-Road” Rancho shocks are too stiff for fast cycles and the body’s cumbersome no matter how many cameras it’s wearing. I can’t tell you about traction because the Ford employee holding our hands around the off-road course insisted on “a lot of momentum” in the mud pits. (Whatever, better pictures that way!)
But the cameras do come in handy when the Super Duty’s being used the way it’s meant to: hooking up and moving an enormous trailer. In fact, I’d say the digital visibility is the most appreciably experience-improving feature for 2017.
The Super Duty shines where it counts in this segment: compliance and capability.
Do not be distracted by the outrageous payload and trailer maximums Ford has set on a few specific configurations of Super Duty to secure “best in class” claims. The “925 lb-ft of torque” figure sounds badass but the driver-assistance options are the new Super Duty’s real value proposition.
I personally still prefer the guttural clatter of Ram’s Cummins diesel, and the general aesthetic of a GMC Sierra. But the heavy duty Ford-unique options for 2017; namely trailer guidance, truck-and-trailer blind-spot watchers, adaptive cruise control and panoramic sunroof, are so significant and well-executed that they might be worth abandoning other brand loyalties for.