This winter's ice storms seriously disrupted life in some of the nation's central states, and one white beast hit as far south as San Antonio, Tex. The locals say this happens here only once every decade, so naturally it occurred the week Ford Motor Co. scheduled a media ride-and-drive for its redesigned SuperDuty pickups.
Slick highways greatly limited many writers' driving time because road departments this far south don't store salt for such rare eventualities. But those of us in the third wave of press arrivals got to town just as the ice was melting, allowing us to sample the trucks on freeways and two-lane roads, as well as a muddy off-road course northwest of San Antonio. There were around 40 writers sharing about 15 trucks and time in each was rather limited. Still, I came away with a good feel for the F-250s, 350s and 450s.
As we explained in an article in February HDT, the 2008 SuperDuties have bolder exterior styling, nicer interiors and a completely reworked diesel engine. The clean-burning EPA '07-spec Power Stroke V-8 now displaces 6.4 liters (versus 6 liters for the previous version), inhales with help from two turbochargers (a commercial version used by International, which builds the diesel, uses one turbo), and exhales through an oxidation catalyst and particulate filter. It makes 350 horsepower and 650 pounds-feet – the same as diesels used by Dodge and General Motors in their heavy pickups, and like them, emits no smoke or odor. Also available are less costly Triton gasoline engines – the 5.4-liter V-8 or 6.8-liter V-10 – and all engines get the TorqShift 5-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual.
Our group started out in Corpus Christi, where Ford had temporarily moved the event to escape the ice. We swarmed out of the airport terminal and piled into a small fleet of freshly washed SuperDuties, then motored up to San Antonio, the intended starting point. The trip was an easy 160 or so miles via now-dry freeways and frontage roads. Two of us had an F-250 Crew Cab whose bed was empty, yet the truck rode comfortably, confirming what Ford people called a "car-like ride." There was a hint of firmness that you'd expect in a 3/4-ton pickup, but improved suspensions did their work of filtering out what little harshness there was on Interstate 37.
This truck had the plush King Ranch interior, with thick leather coverings on seats, steering wheel and arm rests. Equipment included an automatic dual-mode climate control, which allows driver and front-seat passenger to set individual temperatures. But there's only one fan switch, and a microchip pretty much decides how air is distributed; a human can intervene by pushing a button that combines dash and floor vents with the windshield defrost function. This know-it-all system is also available in the Lariat package, but a manual HVAC system with good ol' rotary switches and you-choose push buttons is used in the other trim levels.
Also in this truck was an optional combination stereo audio and navigation system, with a big color screen and a bunch of buttons. Some writers later complained that the screen was too bright, but it didn't bother me.
The SuperDuties' other available trim packages are XL, XLT, XLT Sport and FX4. With those, you get either painted or chromed noses and increasingly higher levels of trim and equipment. There was nary a base-level XL to be seen at the event, and only a few of the new F-450 pickups were present. I did drive one 450 that was hitched to a heavy trailer, but I can't say for certain if it was more capable than the lighter-rated F-350s or 250s at towing. My guess is, it must be.
Trailer towing came early the next morning at a dude ranch about an hour northwest of our hotel via two-lane state and county roads. Two types of trailers – box-type utilities weighing about 10,000 pounds each and house-type RVs weighing 20,000 – were hooked to about a dozen SuperDuties. Engines in all the trucks were idling, warm and ready to go. With three times as many drivers as trucks, we had to take turns at the wheel. We pulled the trailers up and down a short stretch of highway outside the ranch, where the trucks were stable, but the drag of the trailers was evident.
The diesels were strong if busy, revving to 3,000 rpm or more while accelerating and as the 5-speed automatics downshifted to 4th or 3rd on any sort of hill. Combustion sounds were audible though not loud, but the sheer amount of revving surprised me. The two turbos neither whistled nor whined, and during each climb the instrument panels' boost gauges registered about 32 psi. The exception was one truck where the needle said 38 – or just 2 psi short of the maximum of 40. So the turbos were working.
Back on the ranch, the 4x4 SuperDuties pulled the trailers over slick mud with little or no wheel spin. Traction was even more impressive on an off-road course set up nearby. Melting ice had soaked the ground and numerous passes by enthusiastic drivers had dug deep ruts in the gooey mud. Sometimes it would grab the tires and snatch us off to the side, like deep snow pulling a car into a ditch. When that happened, all we'd have to do was stop, back up, aim the front wheels down a pathway and get on the gas again.
I say "gas" because the 4x4 F-250 I drove off road had the gasoline V-10, a smooth and fairly quiet engine even under these conditions.
While my fun with these great trucks had to come to an end, the fun should be continuous for customers who buy any of these smooth, quiet and comfortable SuperDuty pickups, and they'll probably be impressed with the trucks' appetite for work, too.