Most of the drive routes Ford selected for our press preview to highlight the 2011 Super Duty were on the same roads where many of their early engineering tests took place, in the backcountry of the Arizona desert. From behind the wheel of our test unit (an F-350 SRW King Ranch 4x4), the most obvious difference is inside the gauge cluster, where a four-inch information center delivers instant and long-term fuel economy data, engine temperatures, sensor readouts, four-wheel drive activity, and much more. We also had baseball-glove leather seats that held us tight, plenty of King Ranch logos, and a new center console that stored our entire travel daypack and the laptop computer that was in it, which also included an inverter plug for us to charge our dying cell phone.
The truck itself feels quite stable on the road, especially when you consider how tall the 4x4s stands and how much it weighs (ours tipped the scales at almost 3.5 tons). Much of the truck’s new-found responsiveness has to do with a new, heavier duty steering box, weighing and sizing about double the one it replaced. Although the suspension and frame are slightly modified, the fine-tuning has made a noticeable improvement in ride quality, especially when driving empty. In the old days, and empty heavy duty pickup truck would punish all passengers, but our 2011 Super Duty was not only quiet enough for all four of its occupants to comfortably talk to one another at highway speeds, but when we arrived at our tow-test destination, our backs (and backsides) were quite relaxed.
Making repeated runs up and down the slopes below Yarnell, Arizona, gave us a great chance to test out the Super Duty’s new gas and Power Stroke turbo-diesel engines, as well as a few of their trailer-pulling competitors. The Super Duty F-450 has a segment-leading capability to haul a 24,400-pound trailer, but because the GCWR (trailer plus vehicle weight) is above 26,000 pounds, the government requires a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). We don’t have one of those, so we didn’t get to pull the Big Dog, but we did get enough time up and down the 2000-foot (elevation) hillclimb to know the gas engine was plenty powerful enough to pull a 9500-pound trailer with comfort and authority, and the exhaust makes a wonderfully throaty note when you have to put the hammer down. Still, we have to say the King of Hill was the Super Duty Power Stroke, pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up the 6-percent grade easily to 50 mph with plenty of power left for passing.
Of note, we found out all Super Dutys have an electronically controlled Hill Hold feature that will lock the brakes of the truck on an incline for two full seconds when it detects you might roll backwards. That feature is especially nice for towing enthusiasts that find themselves at a stop sign at the top of a hill. The extra time the brake is electronically held gives the driver time to get his foot onto the throttle without any back-roll.
Our favorite feature on the Super Duty – especially when towing – is the cluster-mounted “productivity screen,” where drivers can look up towing advice according to the type of trailer, get instantaneous fuel economy, program settings for various trailers, retrieve historical fuel usage, calculate trip info, and keep tabs well as maintenance records. The amount of information at your fingertips is likely to make any driver -- whether using a Super Duty for work or play -- smarter, more fuel efficient, and ultimately safer
We also had ourselves an off-roading adventure when we took our Super Duty into a local rock quarry and found a nasty off road trail that Ford had specifically setup for us. The 4x4 screen setting showed us when one wheel was spinning and off the ground, what angles and slopes we were at, as well as offering advice about whether or not to engage the rear electronic-locking differential. Whether the Super Duty FX4 off road package is better than the Dodge Power Wagon remains to be seen; all we know, is that we made it over boulders, through mud ruts, and up rocky goat trails without a scratch to the paint (the skidplates were another matter).
Our test drive ended with an 80-mile competitive fuel economy run back to our hotel, where we drove with several passengers and 1000 pounds of payload in the bed (actually a pallet of sand bags). Although the best hyper-miler was able to squeeze an astounding 34 mpg (of course, he drove considerably slower than most of us), we drove the route normally and averaged a respectable 22 mpg when we pulled in, hearing about others that achieved 24, 25, and even 26 mpg. Much of our route was on lonely highways, but a good stretch was also on the freeway, with a small amount of stop and go rush-hour congestion.
When and How Much 2011 Super Duty trucks are currently being assembled in Louisville, Kentucky, and should be in dealer showrooms by April 1. Additionally, expect configurations to match last year’s model lineup with regular cab, SuperCab, and Crew Cab models (except for F-450 which will be offered in Crew Cab dress only), in XL, XLT, Lariat, and King Ranch packages. Likewise, F-350, F-450, and F-550 Chassis Cabs will be offered across the board as well.
Complete model by model pricing has not been released yet, but we can say there will be no pricing change to the diesel option, Ford’s popular F-250 XLT, while the hardcore F-550 chassis cab will actually go down in price. As a result of having so many different ways to order a Super Duty truck, the range is (again, like the previous model) will range from $25,000 (an F-250 regular cab 4x2 stripper) all the way up to $60,000 (F-450 dually King Ranch 4x4).