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2011 Ford Super Duty Pickups Review

2011 Ford F-450 SD (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Ford F-450 SD

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

I’ve been in a drag race before, sometimes watching the lights on a pole between the lanes turn from red to green and other times watching a similar sequence above an intersection. I’ve towed heavy things behind my semi’s tractor and in the bed of a pickup truck. However, I have never been in a race dragging over thirty tons of axle-mounted steel behind me. Yet there I was, throttle to the floor of a spanking new 2011 Ford F450 as it bucked and shook its way down hard packed mine debris with a 39-ton, 78,000 pound Caterpillar front end loader hitched to my back end. Though I detest using the word, it was...AWESOME!.

Super Duty trucks, specifically the F-250 and F-350 versions, are a staple of America’s work force. Gas engines power the fleets where low acquisition price and lighter towing needs make the torque and longevity of a diesel an unnecessary luxury. Others find the opposite, they need a diesel’s economy, torque, and longer lifetime more than a lower purchase price. This applies to Ford, GM, and Chrysler alike. Private owners of Super Duty trucks are a passionate group, and if you are a Ford Super Duty customer it is likely that you have an ardent interest in these Ford’s latest Super Duty trucks which are now in showrooms. Ford says that if you compare the traffic in the ten most popular Mustang user groups with the top ten Super Duty groups, Super Duty fanboys (and girls) devour 200% more information.

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In our Super Duty testing—note that I’m not a regular big load tow/haul guy though I once drove Class 5s and semi’s—we pulled 10,000 pounds and hauled a thousand pounds using both gas and diesel power, rode shotgun for an uphill-downhill maxed out 24,400 pound F-350 tow, and slid around and over some gnarly rocks in an F-250. One of the first things learned about the 2010 vehicle is that it is not an clean sheet of paper design. Rather, it is a major freshening of the 2008 chassis and cab. In the engine bay that changes. Both engines, gas and diesel are absolutely new and, Ford says, each is state-of-the-art and protected for further development. Their prediction proved true as shown in the recent software based power upgrade for diesel engines which improved output from 390 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque to 400 horsepower and 800 pound feet of torque, an upgrade also offered to those who have already purchased a Super Duty truck.

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The new Super Duty is built off a chassis which debut in 2008, though now much more rugged with 6.6 mm C-channel rear rails and a fully boxed front chassis. Springs are re-calibrated and dampers re-valved. Exteriors are much bolder, arguably too bold with massive chrome accents in the fascia and huge Ford name plate. Interiors are also upgraded with driver oriented positioning and well integrated controls that will remind you of Lincoln interiors. The most impressive development is a suite of electronics that would be equally suited to an Audi, BMW, or Lincoln sedan. It is, however, the two new engines that are the focus of the new truck. One is an all-new Ford-designed 6.7-liter diesel, the other a 6.2-liter gasoline engine; both use a new 6-speed automatic transmission with clutch packs individualized for the engine type.

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The 6.7 diesel debut with 390 horsepower and 735 pound feet of torque got a bump to 400 hp/800 pounds while to deliver 18-20% better fuel economy than previous Super Duty diesels. Its companion 6.2-liter short stroke gas engine makes 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, 85 hp and 40 lb.-ft. greater than current 5.4-liter engines. It boasts 15% improved fuel economy. The SOHC aluminum-head gasoline engine features roller rockers, variable cam timing, 102 mm bore and 95 mm stroke, twin spark plugs, piston-cooling oil jets, a nock sensor for each cylinder bank, and a cast iron block.

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The diesel, the first Super Duty truck engine built and designed by Ford, uses a Compacted Graphite Iron block for better strength, 30,000 psi third-generation Bosch common rail fuel injection (currently using five of a possible seven injection pulses), and a new Honeywell single shaft turbocharger. That device offers sequential low-speed and high-speed compressor sections on a common shaft to deliver the effects of twin-turbochargers with less cost and complexity.

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The engine, like most new high-tech diesels, uses pre-injection fuel pulses for noise control, a main fuel pulse, and up to two post-ignition fuel injections for emissions related fuel richening. Keeping the engine even more quiet are three resonators designed to quell specific intake noises and a high frequency-absorbing engine cover. The engine uses aqueous urea to generate ammonia in the selective catalytic reduction catalyst to reduce nitrous oxides and meet strict US emissions standards.

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Out in the wild, we approached the first off road test hillside in a Vermillion Red F-250 Crew Cab and electronically shifted into 4-wheel low, then drove slowly up. The chassis made no noise even when embedded boulders twisted a wheel high off the ground. At the top we stopped, pressed a button labeled Hill Descent Control—new for 2010—and idled over the crest. Using the brakes and accelerator we could adjust speed to suit terrain, but did not. Actually, I hung my elbow out the window and just eased on down the hill letting the electronics do the work. It was off roading as uneventful as cruising on a highway! Compared to many other systems, which sound like a garbage can filled with rocks rolling down hill, this was amazing. Ford says the sensors needed for ABS, electronic stability control, electronic roll over mitigation, plus electronic control of the entire powertrain makes HDC possible. They are very proud to mention that all the enabling computer code was created in house.

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Our travel through mine property, now recycling mine tailings into gravel and crushed rock for construction, took us through a pit of mud deep enough to reach the floor pan and viscous like axle grease. With just a bit of power and momentum we traveled through uneventfully. We wanted to stop and get the truck stuck up to the doors to see how easily it could be driven out… they said no almost politely. Then we had a drag race. We have raced between stop lights and counted down the “christmas tree” at drag strips. But never a real “drag” race, as in dragging something heavier than a maxed out trailer, foot-t0-the-floor throttle and connected something really, really heavy.

After hooking up an identical 78,000 pound Caterpillar loader to each hitch of two Ford F-450s we floored the throttle and shook and bucked our way down a compacted dirt drag strip. Each truck performed this abuse over 70 times, pulling more than 300% of its 24,400 pound maximum with no damage.

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Other models have lesser tow capacity. An F-250 single axle can pull 12,500 pounds, an F-350 with single rear wheels pulls 16,000 pounds with a fifth-wheel setup, and F-450 dual wheel models are capable of pulling a 24,400 fifth-wheel trailer. For the first time, Ford offers a factory installed and warranted fifth wheel package that includes an engineered cross member and a pickup bed with installation holes laser cut before e-coating and painting for $400. It accommodates both gooseneck and fifth wheel trailers and leaves a flat load floor when not towing.

Since a majority of Super Duty owners and users tow on a regular basis, it was a design emphasis. Hill Start Assist allows you to drift to a stop and have plenty of time to move your foot between brake and accelerator with a backwards roll, even with a trailer. The integrated trailer brake controller intelligently determines the proper amount of trailer brake and can be programmed for a variety of trailers. Enhanced tow/haul mode, activated on the shifter, lets you select a gear set and is hugely useful when downhilling with a load behind. There’s a potential downside to all this technology, a failure to understand the load behind you. The system is so well integrated, so powerful and successful that it transforms a novice into an expert—at least perceptually. Theoretically, a novice who only knew the 2010 Ford Super Duty and all its enhancements could be swiftly overwhelmed if driving an older truck of any brand, particularly if heavily loaded and downhilling on winding roads. Keep it in mind, even if you are the most experienced driver on the road.

Exterior styling is a modest evolution from last year’s models. XL, XLT, Lariat and King Ranch models feature a new clamshell hood with inverted power dome and a much bolder Super Duty stamped grille that boasts a huge Ford oval. For dually buyers, this is Ford’s first new dual-axle bed design in a decade. In terms of visual distinction and truck spotting, on road trucks have deeper air dams than Off Road, balancing aerodynamics and duty requirements. For heavy duty users a sprayed-in bed liner Ford calls Tough Bed is available. That liner, a polyol-based elastomer, is hardened with isocyanate (super glue). Two wheel and tire packages are available, 17” steel wheels and 20” polished wheels, depending on model.

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Inside there is a new flow-through center console that provides rear passengers with two HVAC outlets and both 12 V and 110VAC power points. With the forward four cupholders removed a deep storage tub is revealed, and with the center console inserts removed, business users can accommodate hanging file folders. All models offer lockable rear underseat storage.

The most expensive King Ranch variations on the Lariat constitute nearly 50% of Super Duty Sales and provide 10-way heated and cooled leather seats and unique exterior trim. Regardless the model, all seats are based on the new F-150 and have more supportive seat foams and frames, plus all seating fabrics and leather have been upgraded and drivers seats all have manual lumbar adjustment.

In some ways the enormously enhanced capability and significantly improved fuel economy are overshadowed by what appears on the dashboard.

The 2011 Super Duty’s in-dash electronics are a subset of the MyFord electronics just becoming available in Ford passenger cars. A 110 mm LCD productivity screen centered in the instrument cluster provides operators with data beyond PRNDL and remaining fuel. It can selectively display average and instant fuel economy information plus two digital odometers as well as recounting recent fuel economy history, compass direction, actual fluid operating temperatures and (diesel) turbocharger boost, or a set of truck-centric applications. These can make off roading safer.

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“Truck Apps” include an off road mode that displays pitch angle, roll angle, and even what direction your wheels point. Information is available on features like the electronic locking differential, hill descent control and traction control, plus the 4x4 system. For anyone who is hauls multiple trailers or a novice trailer user, a towing screen includes a step-by-step trailer hookup checklist that supports trailers from those with no brakes at all to elaborate trailers equipped with electro-hydraulically activated fifth-wheel and gooseneck options. Th system includes an ability to remember individual settings, like trailer brake gain settings, for up to seven trailer trailers. These are selected using a now-standard cellphone five-way controller inset into the left hand side of the steering wheel.

Chief truck engineer Don Ufford says the new Super Duty offers the most enhanced chassis electronics in the industry including Stability Control, Roll Stability Control, Grade Hold, Hill Descent Control, and Trailer Sway Control. Ufford says their center LCD is the only single programmable screen, versus competitors multiple data-only screens.

Oh, that’s just the beginning.

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Centered in the center stack a 6.5” screen displays controls for audio, phone (with Ford’s improved Microsoft-based SYNC, now with traffic, directions, and useful information), backup camera display, and navigation. Beyond those features are work-oriented functions Ford calls Work Solutions, a suite of a’ la carte applications that included Tool Link with an ability to list the tools aboard using RFID tags (lost any? got the right tools for this kind of job?;) Crew Chief’s ability to use a built-in computer system with wireless connections to monitor a small vehicle fleet, or, using the same computer system, remotely access already-purchased computer applications stored on your main computer and wirelessly print documents and invoices.

What we found in several days of pounding, fuel economy competitions, and just driving a couple of tons from one Arizona town to another (no escaped prisoners or illegal cargo!) was that the trucks deliver real fuel economy improvements, are architecturally quiet, and easy on the driver and passengers over long distances. They are, truly, the best Super Duty trucks Ford has built.