Ford's New F-650 Breeds Familiarity

May 23, 2016

How new is Ford’s “all-new” medium-duty series? Maybe more than its components indicate. The F-650/750 series has a new, stiffer frame; a freshly styled hood assembly; and, for those who choose diesel, an advanced 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 linked to a TorqShift 6-speed automatic transmission. And it’s made in the USA, at the Avon Lake, Ohio, factory formerly used to assemble the discontinued E-series van, instead of by Navistar in Mexico. That production transition was a big deal, economically and politically. So from Ford’s perspective, there really is a lot new in the trucks.

Ford F-650 Test Set

Truck: 2016 Ford F-650 Crew Cab XLT, w/ C-channel high-strength steel rails, GVWR 26,000 lb.

Engine: Ford Triton V-10, 6.8 liters (415.5 cubic inches), 320 hp @ 3,900 rpm, 460 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission: Ford TorqShift HD torque-converter automatic, 6-speed double-overdrive

Front axle: 8,500-lb. Dana D-850F on 8,500-lb. parabolic taperleafs

Rear axle: 17,500-lb. Dana S17-140 w/ 6.50 ratio, on 19,000-lb. multileafs

Wheelbase: 194 inches

Brakes: Bosch HydroMax w/ 4-channel ABS

Tires & wheels: Goodyear G661-HSA 11R22.5G front, Goodyear G182-RSD 11R22.5G rear, on 22.5x7.5 steel discs

Fuel tank: 60-gal. steel

Body: Truck-Tech Engineers 10-ft. steel dump

Cabs and interiors, however, are carried over from the previous generation. And the 6.8-liter Triton V-10 gasoline engine in our F-650 test vehicle, which was mated to the TorqShift automatic, are likewise existing components. Because the driver is closest to them, the truck feels familiar, and that’s a good thing for anyone who found the previous generation useful, comfortable and easy to drive. For me, it was a lot like the F-650 dump truck I drove and wrote about two years ago.

That white truck had arrived in my driveway in central Ohio on a cold February morning in 2014. In the following week I found that, except for the large cabinet that housed compressed natural gas cylinders, it ran like a gasoline-engine truck and my only concern was where to refuel it (I went online and quickly found a filling station). I used the dump bed to haul 20 tons of crushed rock for a new carport and a driveway leading to it, and the truck sure came in handy.

Three months ago, a bright-orange F-650 dump showed up. It also had a Triton V-10; it burned gasoline and ran like that CNG-powered engine, but didn’t have the tank cabinet and the other expensive equipment needed for CNG. Ford also offers this engine in the F-750, which is the only Class 7 with gasoline power. (With heavier-rated axles and suspensions, the F-750 crosses over into Class 8.) A gasoline-powered F-650 lists at about $15,000 less than one with Ford’s Power Stroke diesel. The previous generation’s Cummins ISB6.7 diesel and Allison automatic have been dropped; so if you buy a Ford, you get a Ford power train.

Regarding styling, the new-series F-650/750 has attractive creases in its hood and a sleeker look to its grille. Headlamps are projector-beam halogens that light the way quite well. The hood-and-fender assembly opens fairly easily, revealing the shrouded engine and all the plumbing and wiring associated with it. A tilting hood would sure be a nice feature on lighter-weight SuperDuty trucks that have top-opening alligator hoods, but they sell very well as they are.

Because of the carried-over cabs and interiors, from behind the wheel almost everything looked the same. The gauges, controls and overall dash design were much like those from the older series. It appears that HVAC controls have become consumer-oriented push buttons instead of the traditional, easy-to-use three rotary knobs found on most medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks. Push buttons are there because Ford’s medium-duty trucks borrow their cabs from the mass-market SuperDuty pickups, though the lighter trucks’ cabs are aluminum while the F-760/750s’ are steel. This affords economies of scale that are reflected in pricing; also, the midrange trucks can be had with three cab styles—2-door Regular, and 4-door Super and Crew—while most competitors offer just one or two.

This truck had the Crew Cab that, with the orange paint, suggested it was a municipal truck, except you won’t find many muni vehicles with a chromed nose, or the XLT cloth-trimmed seats and decent-looking plastic paneling over walls and doors inside. The front “captain’s” seats were buckets contoured for good support. The driver’s seat was an air-ride powered by an electric pump underneath; move one of the two adjustment switches and the pump whirs if more compressed air is needed. The rear seat was a bench. There was decent head and legroom front and rear, and power windows and door locks. So whoever ends up owning this truck will send out a crew in comfort and modest style.

The driving experience is much like the older series: an easy climb up, good visibility all around, and good ride. To my eyes, the steeply sloped windshield looks out of place on a larger truck, and it’ll allow dust and ice to settle overnight. But again, this is part of the SuperDuty cab style that would be far too costly to change for the low-volume midrange trucks. Springs are said to be longer, so the ride may be smoother, though I couldn’t say unless I had driven the two trucks in quick succession instead of two years apart. A tight front-wheel cut made up for the longish wheelbase, and maneuverability was outstanding. Several times I was surprised and pleased at how easily I could jockey the truck through right-angle turns. 

The V-10 engine seemed to run at slightly lower revs than previous V-10s I’ve driven. Instead of regularly spinning to 3,300 and 3,500 rpm, this one upshifted at about 3,000 unless I put my foot into it, which I seldom did (a light foot is a habit I’ve picked up from driving big rigs). The engine’s cruising speed also seemed a bit slower at given road speeds. The big V-10 ran well through the smooth TorqShift automatic, which is the only one you can get from Ford. Manual transmissions haven’t been available for years because there’s no call from them, product planners say.

This time I didn’t need to haul anything for my own yard, but a friend who lives out in the boonies needed some gravel for his driveway, and I gladly obliged. We picked up 2 tons of the stuff at a quarry, and I observed that the chassis settled down a bit and the ride was smoother than when empty. We drove a few miles to his house, and I delivered the gravel where he wanted it, in a pile up near the house. I told him I couldn’t spread it because the dump bed’s electric-over-hydraulic hoist would only operate with the parking brake set. That’s what the instructions said, but not so; I later found that the bed would raise and lower with the brake and ignition key off or on, and the hoist operated while rolling, too, so it’s a pretty useful setup.

To sum up: From a driver’s perspective, the new Ford mediums are familiar vehicles. Use of volume-produced cabs and powertrain components helps keep costs and prices down, and chassis options will make a truck suitable for many applications. Specifications say the Ford-designed frame is 50 percent stiffer than on the previous series, which should make it tougher and longer-lived, especially if it goes off-road onto rough terrain where twisting occurs. Domestic production benefits Americans and might give Ford more entree into contracts with municipalities and companies that demand it. Unlike pickups and lighter cab-chassis products where Ford has historically led the sales derbies, its midrange products have been slow sellers. Maybe the new F-650/750 will change that.