2011 Ford Super Duty Driving Impressions

Ford will tell gearheads about new stability control, trailer sway control, revised steering gear here and differential changes there but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to 735 lb-ft of torque. Torque is the twist that gets loads moving and is the primary propellant of any motor vehicle up to the 40-45 mph range. In trucks, especially those pulling weight and climbing hills, it is even more important.

The 6.7-liter Power Stroke's 735 lb-ft of torque is more than two Toyota 4.6 or GM 5.3-liter truck engines put together and not far off the combined output of two Ram Hemis or Ford's standard Super Duty 6.2-liter gas engines. Nearly double the torque and 50- to 100-percent better mileage make the cost of most diesel engine options, including this one, easy to justify, assuming you are going to work the truck.

Any negative you stubbornly continue to associate with diesel has been banished, the 6.7-liter Power Stroke making no smoke, no nasty smell and less noise in the cab than the gasoline engine. Yes, it does have its own diesel aural characteristics just as the gas engine does but no one will complain about it. Smoggy city dwellers could be reminded the air coming out the exhaust is frequently cleaner than the air going in.

Power levels such as these scoot a four-ton pickup along the road quite well, and it will still be pulling hard when you run into a tire (and common sense) imposed speed limiter. Five-ton trailers are child's play, as many container and trailer-switching trucks use smaller, lower-output engines.

Of course if you haven't more than a ton or two of building materials and tools to move around locally the 6.2-liter gas engine is down on torque but has the same horsepower and will get the job done. It won't get the fuel mileage but will be cheaper to service (it takes about half the oil of the diesel) so the payoff point will be out past 100,000 miles, and the lighter weight means more payload.

The new six-speed automatic, the only transmission offered, is an ideal mate to either engine and offers the best control of any pickup automatic. It can be shifted manually by pulling the lever to M and pushing an up/down rocker switch with your right thumb, just as GM's automatic. Like GM, Ford offers a dedicated 1 shift position, although Ford offers a dedicated 2 as well. We can understand multiple shifting options at different locations (such as steering wheel paddles and a console lever) but prefer the simplicity of the Dodge shifter which doesn't require moving the lever to M.

An exhaust brake function has been built into the diesel/automatic combination and it is fully automatic. It also comes on gently and silently, though to maintain descent speed on a grade when not towing you will still have to downshift manually; in cruise control the truck does all it can to maintain speed up hill or down automatically. Although the diesel makes peak power at 2800 rpm and has redline marked at 4000 rpm, anything beyond 3800 rpm is overspeed and brakes should be used.

For buyers who operate snow plows, towing services or anything else with powered equipment on the truck, Ford offers a PTO option, and unlike most of them this PTO works with the transmission in any gear.

The steering system has been revised this year for lighter effort we noticed and more directness that isn't so apparent unless you just got out of an old one. The steering does feel more consistent and it takes more maneuvering to beat the pump and momentarily run short of steering assist.

While 20-inch wheels may look better, they tend to degrade ride comfort so if your driving involves marginal roads, or no roads at all, better to stick with the standard size wheels; they're usually lighter and easier on fuel too. Regardless of hype, no heavy-duty pickup rides like a car, and the Super Duty is no different.

There are a few instances in which a competitor might hold an advantage. GM full-size 4WD steering precision is better, a tradeoff many happily accept to get the Ford's solid front axle design often considered superior in durability and articulation. The GM's independent front suspension has a slightly softer ride, but that makes the back (especially empty) kick more for no real net gain. The Ram HD uses sophisticated body mounts on all but regular cab models and clearly has less noise and vibration than the Super Duty.

A Super Duty has no obvious drawbacks in maneuverability for such a behemoth, and the cut-down front windows and large mirrors give a good view. The new hood's smoother edges and corners make it more difficult to judge close-in distances but with a hood that big you'll be out looking to see what the trail has in store frequently anyway.

The word handling isn't ascribed to HD pickups as much as control is, and the Super Duty feels comfortable even with heavy loads. Brakes don't stand out as good or bad, and four-ton trucks never stop like cars, but the Tow Command system and cruise-integrated exhaust brake keep things in check.

Changes between the F-250 and F-350 SRW are essentially limited to the 350 capable of carrying or towing more weight. The F-350 DRW goes a much larger step further in payload and frequently more important, trailer towing (or camper carrying) stability. The max tow rating on some F-350 DRW is more than 21,000 pounds, but remember those ratings are given with a nearly empty, low-optioned truck.

The F-450 model is a crew-cab, long-box-only truck that has bucked trends and downsized slightly. The 10-bolt, 19.5-inch tires of the old model required a speed-limiter of just more than Texas' posted limits and a lot of customers complained. So the F-450 is now closer in concept to an F-350 DRW with roughly the same load capacity (4920 pounds) but a tow rating of 24,400 pounds. Just make sure your driver's license can handle that load, too.

Whatever you are towing, the revised mirrors are better and in some cases the wide-angle element is heated and the housing extends and/or folds electrically.

Also new for 2011 is the integrated towing hardware. The brake controller is now compatible with electric-over-hydraulic trailer brakes. You can order a fifth-wheel/gooseneck hitch platform which rides directly under the box and includes a box-mounted 7-pin plug; Ford worked with suppliers such as Reese, Draw-Tite and B&W to ensure the platform is compatible with a wide range of hitches.

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