2015 Ford Super Duty Driving Impressions

Ford will tell gearheads about new hardware under the F-450 but those are small potatoes next to 860 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 860 lb-ft of torque is more than two Toyota 5.7-, GM 5.3- or Ford 6.2-liter gas truck engines put together. Double the torque and typically 30- to 60-percent better mileage make the cost of most diesel engine options, including this one, easy to justify if you’re going to work the truck and cover many miles. For urban use with minimal towing and miles, the 6.2-liter gas engine makes more sense.

Any negatives associated with diesel engines don’t apply any more. The 6.7-liter Power Stroke makes no smoke, no nasty smells and no more in-cab noise 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.

The diesel becomes background noise at level cruising speeds. The gas engine generates a more authoritative hum. Road noise is reasonably controlled since the nearest wheel is not right under your feet. Unless the road surface is bad, conversation volume will be determined more by what you’re towing or throttle setting than anything coming from beneath.

Power levels such as these scoot a four-ton pickup along the road quite well, and the Power Stroke will still be pulling hard when common sense prevails or you hit a tire-imposed speed limiter. Five-ton trailers are mere child’s play.

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 power but will get the job done. It won’t get the fuel mileage but will be less expensive to service (among other things it requires half the oil of the diesel). The lighter weight of the 6.2-liter V8 (especially off the front axle) means more payload capacity or a bigger plow. And gasoline engines are quicker to start and warm-up for very cold plowing operations.

The 6-speed automatic, the only transmission offered, is an ideal mate to either engine and offers good control. 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 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. However, if you just put it in Drive and go, then all of this is irrelevant. It works quite well when you do that, by the way.

The diesel gets a manually activated exhaust brake for 2015. In cruise control the truck does all it can to maintain speed up hill or down automatically and tapping the brakes engages more downshifting, making higher revs and braking action, best at more than 2500 rpm. Although the diesel makes peak power at 2800 rpm and has redline marked at 4000 rpm, anything beyond 3800 rpm is overspeed and service 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, this PTO works with the transmission in any gear.

The steering system provides relatively light effort and feels consistent and we never beat the pump (momentarily run short of steering assist) maneuvering. In short, it works.

No heavy-duty pickup rides like a car, however, and the Super Duty is no different.

While 20-inch wheels may look better, but ride comfort is poorer on poor roads than with the standard size wheels. That said, we towed various trailers on 20-inch wheels and they function just fine.

There are a few instances in which a competitor might hold an advantage. GM full-size 4WD steering precision is better, a tradeoff many Super Duty owners happily accept to get Ford’s solid front axle design often considered superior in durability and articulation. The GM’s independent front suspension has a softer ride, but that makes the back (especially empty) kick more for no real net gain. The Ram and GM HD pickups use sophisticated body mounts on all but regular cab models and clearly have 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 hood’s smooth edges and corners make it more difficult to judge close-in distances but with a hood that big you’ll be climbing out to scout 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 exhaust brake keep things in check.

Differences between the F-250 and F-350 SRW are essentially limited to the F-350 capable of carrying or towing more weight. Best-case payload ranges from 3040-4240 pounds on F-250, 3100-4930 pounds on F-350 SRW, and 5520-7260 pounds on F-350 DRW.

The F-350 dual-rear-wheel goes a much larger step further in payload and trailer towing (or camper carrying) stability. The max tow rating on an F-350 DRW is 26,700 pounds fifth-wheel/gooseneck, 19,000 pounds conventional trailer, but remember those ratings are given with a nearly empty, low-optioned truck. (Any trailer more than 8500 pounds requires weight-distribution on any F-250/F-350.) A model specified for a maximum payload of 3190 pounds, then equipped with the diesel engine and five (U.S.-standard 150-pound) passengers added, has a camper load rating of 1732 pounds. Less any options and accessories you add.

Often the choice comes down to an F-250 mid-wheelbase SRW model vs. an F-350 (or F-450) long-wheelbase DRW model. It’s not just the dual rear wheels that make parking an F-350 more difficult; the long wheelbase makes negotiating tight parking lots more challenging. The long-wheelbase, dual rear wheel trucks are better while pulling a big, heavy trailer on the open highway. But we’ve found the F-250 mid-wheelbase truck (e.g., Crew Cab short bed) to be a superb tow vehicle and quite stable: If you’re running more than 850 pounds tongue weight, you should use a weight-distribution hitch.

The F-450 model is a 4WD crew-cab, long-box-only truck and for 2015 returns to the 19.5-inch tires and heavy hardware of the 2008-2010; the tire-imposed electronic limiter is about 87 mph to account for Texas speed limits. Brakes, steering and axles parallel the F-450 chassis cab models; combined with the 19.5-inch tires the ride quality isn’t as good as an F-350 or Ram’s most-similar 3500 Crew Cab 4WD that tows about one ton less. Since F-450 weighs more than 9000 pounds empty, it’s maximum payload rating is 5450 pounds; top conventional tow is 19,000 and top fifth-wheel/gooseneck is 31,200. Just make sure your driver’s license is approved for that load.

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