Ford's 2005 F-250 and F-350 SuperDuty pickup trucks (which began showing up at dealers last fall) look stronger and are, thanks to bolder front-end styling, new suspensions and more gutsy power trains. Styling includes a higher hood and bigger grill, plus new paint and trim details. More strength means the popular trucks can carry high loads and pull heavy trailers.
This is important because nine out of 10 Ford customers claim to pull trailers at least some of the time. For them, Ford says that an F-250 or F-350 can tow up to 17,000 pounds with a fifth wheel hitch and 15,000 with a 2.5-inch ball hitch. A SuperDuty's carrying capacity is now as much as 5,800 pounds—300 more than before and supposedly the highest in this class.
Engines propel the loads better as they develop power over useful ranges, and each one runs through a 5-speed automatic transmission. The SuperDuty Fords stop well, too, because they can now be ordered with a built-in trailer brake controller. It not only activates a trailer's electric brakes, but also works with the truck's ABS to modulate the amount of force applied.
A controller occupies a nook in the dash and looks like it belongs there, which it does for anyone who regularly tows a heavy trailer. Controllers in several trucks hooked to heavy four- and six-wheel trailers worked very smoothly during a demonstration at Ford's Arizona proving grounds last summer.
In advertised ratings, the 6-liter PowerStroke V-8 diesel engine remains at 325 horsepower but makes an extra 10 pounds-feet of torque, which is now at 570. The torque is spread over a wider operating range, and Ford says the engine can outpull the Cummins "600" diesel offered in Dodge Heavy Duty pickups.
SuperDuty pickups outdragged both Dodge and General Motors pickups at a demonstration at its Arizona proving grounds during the introduction. This occurred in contests using both diesel- and gasoline-powered trucks.
By emphasizing pulling power and declining to trump the over-600 lbs.-ft. now advertised with the Dodge-Cummins Turbodiesel, Ford seems to have called a truce in the diesel horsepower/torque war of the last couple of years. But GM is still participating, as it has upped the output of its 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 diesel to 605 lbs.-ft. of torque, and Dodge has just responded with 610. Still, Ford executives claim to sell more Power Stroke diesels than Dodge and GM combined.
Ford and Dodge both say that two-thirds of their buyers of heavy pickups choose diesels, versus 25 to 30 percent of Chevrolet and GMC customers. GM executives think their diesel market share will grow as the Duramax 6600's stoutness builds its reputation. GM's 6.5-liter diesel, which preceded the Duramax, did not enjoy a great rep, even if it and its predecessor, the 6.2 V-8, power the famous U.S. military Humvees.
Conversely, Ford would like to do better among buyers of gasoline-powered pickups. So its Triton engines, which make more buying sense than premium-priced diesels in lower-mileage trucks, have been upgraded. Both the 5.4-liter V-8 and 6.8-liter V-10 now have three valves per cylinder and other advancements for better breathing, power and economy. The V-8 makes 300 horsepower and 365 lbs.-ft., while the V-10 (essentially an Eight with two more cylinders) produces 355 horsepower and 455 lbs.-ft.
No matter which engine is put into a SuperDuty, it now gets Ford's beefy 5-speed TorqShift automatic or a ZF 6-speed manual transmission. The TorqShift was developed for the latest PowerStroke, but is now applied to both gasoline engines, too.
The TorqShift acts a lot like the Allison 1000 used in big-engined GM pickups. The TorqShift changes gears very smoothly and almost imperceptibly, and always seems to choose the right gear for the situation. It also uses the same P-R-N-3-2-1 selector, which means there's no 4 position to pull the transmission out of 5th-overdrive while climbing or descending long hills on freeways.
However, that can be done indirectly by switching to Tow/Haul Mode, which usually prompts a downshift into 4th. While in Tow/Haul, TorqShift continues downshifting as speed drops, plus stays in each gear longer before upshifting.
Among other SuperDuty improvements are a coil-spring front suspension on 4×4s, which improves both ride and traction over rough terrain. A couple of brisk runs through the proving grounds' off-road course, ranging from rough moguls to long stretches of soft sand, showed an F250 Crew Cab four-by to be a smooth rider.
By the way, I got to the Arizona introduction in an '04 F-250 Crew Cab I borrowed from Ford. Its smooth and powerful PowerStroke diesel delivered 18 miles per gallon on the trip, which included high-speed freeway travel and considerable around-town wandering through places like Flagstaff. And its "King Ranch" leather seats healed a painful back problem I had. Believe it or not!