Article

Driving A Basic F-350 Super Duty

It's Plain Jane but very comfortable, and as capable as you'd expect a Ford to be.

February 2006, TruckingInfo.com - Test Drives

by Tom Berg, Senior Equipment Editor

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Remember the term, "hose-out interior?" It meant a vehicle that had bare metal doors and walls, and its floor coverings – if it even had floor coverings – were basic rubber. You could literally clean out the interior with a garden hose.

You could even squirt off the seats, because they were covered in plastic or vinyl. And if a little water hit the dash, so what? There wasn't much on the dash anyway.

It's been a long time since trucks have met that definition. Most are built with highly civilized interior trim packages, some of them rivaling the finest limousines. So when I find a truck set up for work and not for pleasure, I think of a hose, even if the electronics in the instrument panel and maybe under the floor mats would forbid the water-spray treatment.

This F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab was such a truck. Its XL trim is Ford's base level, and it came with the standard vinyl seats and rubber floor covering. It was a work truck and didn't pretend to be anything fancy, and that's why I was drawn to it. It sat in a row of other F series trucks on display at a dealership in San Antonio, Texas, on an oppressively hot and humid day last summer.

Inside a nearby air-conditioned tent, Ford marketing executives were remarking on the success of the F series since that designation first appeared in 1948. Ford and its dealers have sold more than 28 million Fs in the past 57 years, they said. The series now ranges from F-150 to F-750 in nomenclature and 6,500 to 33,000 pounds in GVW ratings. The execs, jubilant from record sales through July '05, were gunning for more. But the hurricanes of late summer and spiking fuel prices in early autumn seriously slammed sales, and '05 numbers closed at 901,463 – still the third best year in the history of the product line.

This F-350 was a cab-and-chassis model with some hefty chassis parts, including dual wheels at each end of the rear axle and a GVW rating of 13,000 pounds. I pictured this vehicle going to work for a construction contractor who'd send it and its crew to hot, dusty sites with supplies tied onto the front of its steel flatbed body. It would have a big equipment-hauling gooseneck trailer, hooked to the hitch in the bed's floor, maybe toting a backhoe or small excavator, tagging along behind. That loaded trailer could weigh as much as 16,700 pounds and still be within the truck's towing capacity, according to Ford specs.

The truck was about as plain as they come. Its paint was the staid "colonial white" you see on a big majority of Ford trucks, there was no chrome exterior trim, and the nose's dull, dark gray plastic grille and bumper covering almost snarled, "Yeah, I'm homely. You got a problem with that?"

Silver would look nicer and the chrome-plated noses on fancier models make them smile, but for sure this one will never rust. Vinyl covers on the two bench seats were a nice match for the nose. Vinyl is tough and easy to wash, though a lot of buyers might never bother with that. At any rate, six burly guys could seat themselves comfortably in the four-door cab, and they'd ride in reasonable style.

Another writer and I took the F-350 out for a short spin and found it to be amazingly comfortable. Its air conditioning was powerful, and the truck rode well, was quiet, and handled easily. The seats looked simple but were rather supportive, and a fold-down armrest in the front had a storage compartment and even a pair of cup holders. The rear seat folds to make room to stow tools and other stuff best kept locked up. That vinyl might get hot and sticky on one's buns and back, but it wouldn't be bad with the air on.

The dashboard and instrument panel were as nicely styled and well-equipped as any SuperDuty truck. The rotary HVAC switch knobs are big and their functions easy to understand. I find that high-end models feature push-button controls that you have to study to use, so fancy doesn't always make sense.

I always frown when I look at F series' engine-condition gauges because they're not numbered, and needles swing into "normal" ranges that you hope are OK. Then again, Ford's F gauges have been this way forever and the trucks still get down the road. Dodge recently dropped the numbers from engine-condition gauges on gasoline-powered Rams, but General Motors still uses numbered instruments on its Sierra/Silverado pickups, and heavy-duty models also get an engine-hour meter.

Speaking of engines, gasoline Triton V-8 and V-10 engines are standard in F-250 and F-350 Super Duties. They were recently updated with three-valve-per-cylinder heads and other advances and paired with a smooth TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission. But this F-350 had the International-built Power Stroke diesel and the TorqShift. The 6-liter (363-cubic-inch) V-8 diesel makes as much as 325 horsepower and 570 pounds-feet, so the truck really scooted along.

Comparable diesels from GM and Dodge are stronger, but Ford says its Power Stroke is tuned to deliver more usable power and torque at low and midrange revs where most engines spend most of their working lives. It's quiet and almost smoke-free, too.

I doubt that anybody driving this Ford will ever complain about lack of power, or much of anything. It's a nice truck just as it sits, and your dealer will happily sell you a more nicely trimmed XLT or Lariat version.

They might be fancier, but they wouldn't work any harder than this Plain Jane truck.

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