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2020 Ford Super Duty First Drive Review: Drive Big, Do Work

It won’t razzle-dazzle like the Ram, but the F-250/F-350 Super Duty gets s--t done.

Aaron GoldWriterThe ManufacturerPhotographer

In his book Getting the Bugs Out, author David Kiley wrote that, done properly, cars are sold on emotion and trucks are sold on fact. (At least we think that's what he wrote. It's been a few years since we read the book.) Automobile has always been about emotion, while the extensive updates to the 2020 Ford Super Duty F-250 and F-350 pickups are all about the facts.

We fear that a rote litany of those facts, inevitable in any properly-done F-Series Super Duty review, will bore the average Automobile reader stiff, so here's the bottom line: If you're buying a giant truck to bolster your manly image, get an air-sprung Ram, which rides more comfortably and has a nicer cabin with better tech. If you're buying a giant truck to actually get things done, you'll definitely want to check out the Ford.

Ford has a long list of improvements to the 2020 Super Duty, and we'll endeavor to highlight the most important ones. One thing that didn't make our best-of list was styling: There are new grilles, rear fascia details and interior trims, and the changes are so slight that only a die-hard Ford fan will notice. As we wheeled our pre-production test truck around the southern extremities of Phoenix, we were pretty sure we could roll right into a Ford dealership and not attract any attention.

First among the things that actually are worthy of attention is the Super Duty's new gasoline engine, a 7.3 liter (445 cid) monster that delivers 430 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque. (For those who like a good bit of pub trivia, that's 50 more lb-ft than Ford's old 7.3 liter turbodiesel when it first got the Power Stroke treatment in 1994.) Like GM's truck engines, the new 7.3 gets its power the old fashioned way, with a single camshaft in the block driving two valves per cylinder via pushrods. Compression is high—10.5:1—but it still runs on 87-octane gasoline, and it comes paired with a newly-developed version of Ford's 10-speed automatic.

We spent quite a bit of time in an F-350 with the new big gasser and were duly impressed. Running light, it develops impressive power and a nice, muted muscle-car roar. With a 9,000-lb trailer on the fifth wheel, it bogs down more than the diesel does, which is what we expect from a gasoline engine. All one needs to do is prod the accelerator more deliberately, and the 7.3 will maintain highway speeds on steep hills, just like the diesel.

Fuel economy for the new engine is as appalling as you would expect. Ford is spared the ignominy of publishing EPA estimates given the Super Duty's weight, but from our limited experience we'd say you'll be lucky to see 14 mpg on the highway, 12 in town and 10 when towing a heavy trailer in the hills. Given a lack of hard numbers, we'd expect the diesel to go half again as far on a gallon of fuel. But the diesel is a $10,495 (!!!) option over the base (6.2 liter gas) engine, compared to a premium of $2,045 for the 7.3 gas engine. That $8,045 gap buys a lot of gasoline, and given the complexity of modern diesels and the skills required to repair them, the 7.3 should be cheaper to maintain as well.

If you must have the diesel, as do roughly 60 percent of Super Duty buyers (70 percent on the retail side; fleets favor gas), you'll be happy to know that it, too, gains the 10-speed automatic, and its output is now a brag-worthy best-in-class 475 hp and 1,050 lb-ft of torque—that's standard output, by the way, with no need to pay even more for a high-po version as on the Ram. Properly equipped—F-450, single cab, dual rear wheels, towing package—the diesel Super Duty will out-tow its competitors, rated up to 37,000 pounds on a gooseneck hitch. The standard-equipment engine brake has an automatic mode that does a great job keeping your speed where you want it on steep downgrades.

The base engine remains the gasoline 385-hp/430-lb-ft SOHC 6.2-liter V-8, which retains last year's six-speed automatic. As the lightest engine in the Super Duty stable, it can brag a best-in-class 7,850-lb payload capacity if you configure it right. With Super Duty engines, just like kindergarten, everyone gets a prize.

Next on our list of Greatest Hits is the $3,975 Tremor off-road package, which includes progressive-rate springs and twin-tube shocks, a Dana limited-slip front axle, locking rear differential, and 18-inch wheels with 35-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires. It also adds Trail Control, which, when engaged, will try to maintain a set speed over off-road obstacles, be they uphill, downhill or (relatively) level. The Tremor features special body trim (including rocker-hugging running boards) that increases ground clearance to 10.8 inches, with power-retracting running boards on higher trims. For three grand or so you can add a dealer-installed 12,000-pound Warn winch that is covered by the factory warranty.

Ford brought us to an active quarry where they'd dug out an off-road course designed to show us what the Tremor could do. We were impressed: The Trail Control system works nicely, with speed options from 1 to 20 mph, and hill descent control, when engaged, will automatically maintain the speed you set with the brakes. We climbed and descended the steepest obstacles without needing to engage low range. Note, however, that the course was designed by Ford, and therefore side-stepped the Super Duty's sole off-road limitation: Its massive size, which isn't compatible with tight trails. On the plus side, the Tremor's suspension and tire upgrades soften the already-tolerable ride of the F-350, and that alone makes it a sensible option.

Third on our list of highlights is Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist system, currently available on the F-150 and Expedition. For those unfamiliar, this nifty gizmo allows you to steer the trailer in reverse using a dial on the dash. On smaller trucks, PTBA employs the electric power steering system. Since the Super Duty retains its hydraulic power steering, it employs a motor on the input shaft to turn the steering wheel. Bumper-tow trailers use a sticker on the trailer that is spotted by the camera, while fifth wheels and goosenecks require a small yaw sensor to be installed on the trailer. With a remote camera mounted on the back of the trailer—Ford offers a wiring socket to accommodate that, as well as trailer TPMS—the Super Duty driver is a one-person reversing tour-de-force. Yes, yes, we know how to back up a trailer, but Ford's system makes it simpler and far more accurate even for the skilled.

There are more bits that are new or notable in the 2020 Super Duty, including adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, a built-in 4G Wi-Fi hot spot, and impressive interior trim in the high-end models. We'll defer the laundry list to our corporate cousins at TruckTrend; suffice it to say that Ford's truck tagline, "We own work," is largely based in fact.

We still think that the heavy-duty Ram is the most posh truck in the biz, and it's no slouch when it comes to getting the job done. But we think Ford has an edge (heh)—its new big gas engine can out-tow the gas Ram, 21,000 pounds to 18,150, and nothing can beat the convenience of Ford's trailer-reversing tech. The Ram may appeal to our emotions, but if one deals in the facts that matter, the 2020 F-Series Super Duty is a very impressive pickup truck.

Ford F-350 Super Duty 4x4 Crew Cab Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $36,815/$75,630 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 7.3L OHV 16-valve V-8; 430 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 475 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 250.0 x 80.0 x 81.3 in
WHEELBASE 159.8 in
WEIGHT 6,798 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A