2008 Ford F250 Road Trip - Wild West Road Test
2,000 Miles in an '08 Super Duty
It all seemed so simple. Fly into San Antonio, attend the Ford Motor Co. media launch of the '08 Super Duty, learn every technical detail about the new 6.4L Power Stroke diesel and updated chassis, then drive Super Duty No. 370 (as in the 370th truck off the assembly line in Kentucky) back to Los Angles to test out the powertrain, interior, and handling. Well, that was the plan anyway.
The average temperature in San Antonio for January is 62 degrees F with an average rainfall that typically measures in the 1.5-inch range. And snowfall? Nope, it's not supposed to snow in San Antonio. Of course, seeing as this was a Super Duty launch, Mother Nature had a different plan in store for us.
Day 1: Ice Storm
We arrived in Texas on a Wednesday morning to witness the tail end of a devastating winter storm that shut down airports, highways, and businesses all over central Texas. Ford rerouted us south to Corpus Christi, where the roads were still sort of open, so we could get some seat time in the company's newest creation.
When we got off the plane just after sunset, we were greeted by 45 Super Dutys with their parking lights glowing, 6.4L diesels idling, and all the transfer cases shifted into four-wheel drive. What an amazing sight.
We hopped into a black King Ranch F-350 for the ride north on Interstate 37 into the storm. We were immediately impressed with the smooth torque of the new Power Stroke and how quiet the interior of the crew cab was. As we roared through the night, we thanked the Ford designers for the new navigation system that showed us the way through the dark and freezing rain. We made it to the hotel in time to catch a late dinner and talk a few engineers' ears off. We even got a few hours of sleep before our 6 a.m. meeting.
Day 2: On The Ranch
We were up before sunrise and put on boots that Ford provided so we could play in the mud all morning. We drove from the hotel over to the Oak Tree Ranch, with the Diesel Power crew leading a Super Duty fleet to an icicle's paradise. At the ranch, everything was covered in an inch of the frozen stuff from the previous day's storm. We ate breakfast as we inspected the Super Duty displays and cutaways before heading over to do some tow-testing with 16,000-pound trailers.
The big hit of the day was definitely the off-road-driving course. Two Super Dutys were hot-lapped through a soon-to-be housing development where the roads were more mud than pavement. And the mud pits? Well, all the sleet that had fallen the day before was thawing and quickly turned the terrain into terra firma soup. The Power Stoke-equipped trucks throttled through everything with ease. It's amazing what ground clearance, good tires, a limited-slip differential, and enough torque to keep the wheels spinning will do. We drove through the loop twice and rode through it once more just to get our fill.
Around lunch time, the event was wrapping up, and most of the media were shuttled back to the airport and flown home. We, on the other hand, were handed the keys to Super Duty No. 370, a diesel F-250 crew cab with the FX4 trim package, and told there would be a tank full of diesel waiting for us at Ford's Arizona Proving Grounds (1,160 miles away) if we could get there Saturday morning before noon.
We stuck around the ranch to help tow some of the displays out of the muddy field, got our truck washed off, and hit the road around 3:45 p.m. Our plan was to run up to I-10 and then head west to El Paso, Texas, where we'd rendezvous with the other half of Diesel Power's staff the following morning. From there, we'd run through New Mexico, Arizona, and on to Nevada for a SCORE desert race on Sunday morning.
The Super Duty proved perfect for devouring hundreds of miles of interstate with 650 lb-ft of torque and a cruise control that blends throttle and transmission gear selection seamlessly. We rolled into El Paso and checked into an $80 hotel room in time to catch the 11 p.m. news and confirm our fears that southern New Mexico was bracing for the winter storm of the decade.
Day 3: New Mexico Closes Down
We woke up on Friday morning expecting to dig our F-250 out of a snow bank and go searching for some tire chains for our 20-inch Goodyears. Turns out the snow hadn't shown up yet, but the threat of it was enough to cancel the flight that was going to bring the rest of our staff out from Los Angeles. So from here on out, we were driving solo.
With a fresh 526 miles on the odometer from our trip across Texas, we decided to avoid the eye of the storm and head north through New Mexico to get above the blizzard. Since we'd be within 30 miles of White Sands Missile Base, we thought a tour of its museum would be in order. That plan was nixed when White Sands sent all nonessential employees home for the day to keep them out of the snow. Man, were we being dumb trying to drive across New Mexico when everything was shutting down left and right.
The CNN channel on Sirius Satellite Radio was predicting 10-24 inches of snowfall in the mountains west of I-25, but the radar showed we just might be ahead of the storm enough to get up to Albuquerque, New Mexico, before the heavy stuff hit. We locked the Dana 60 front hubs just to be safe and set the cruise control at 65 mph for our 270-mile morning drive.
Near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the snow really started coming down. The two lanes going north pinched down to one sort-of-plowed lane that made passing slower traffic impossible, even with our 8,000-pound, four-wheel-drive, diesel truck. We finally broke out of the storm near Socorro, New Mexico, so we stopped for lunch and checked out the quaint town that's about 75 miles south of I-40.
At this point, our F-250 had gathered quite a bit of attention. The most impressive spectators were Tadd Layton and Robert Cook. The two, who after making an impressive showing at last year's Diesel Power Challenge West with their 700hp, 6.0L Super Dutys, had gone on to form their own diesel company based out of Pueblo, Colorado. Tadd and Robert decided it would be well worth the 330-mile drive to meet us in Los Alamos, New Mexico, if they could check out the new 6.4L, dual-turbo engine. Tadd and Robert both drove the truck and bought us a late, late dinner at Denny's (or would that have been breakfast?) before heading back up to Colorado around 3 a.m.
Day 4: I-40 Across Arizona
There was no way we were going to make it to Ford's facility in Yucca, Arizona, by noon, so we decided to take a lazy route back out of New Mexico and ease our way across the I-40. The threat of snow was still ever present, but the worst part was the ice on the highway in areas people wouldn't suspect. We counted five cars that had been tossed off the road and wondered, "Why aren't we sliding all over the place?" The farther west we went, snow turned into plain rain and we were able to make some time. As we climbed up in elevation toward Flagstaff, Arizona, we found the snow one final time and paid $1 more per gallon for diesel than we did in Texas.
Day 5: Route 66 Into California
We've never had the pleasure of driving the entire length of Route 66, but I-40 parallels much of the Mother Road. We like to pop off onto Route 66 as much as we can to taste some of the old, famous flavor, but clearly, a dedicated Route 66 diesel road trip is in order.
Crossing into California brought us back into reality and the stresses of the huge metropolis that are so easy to let go of when you're on the road. We did manage to get stopped at an agriculture checkpoint where they check for anything that might harm California's precious produce crops. The officer on duty was thrown off because we had Michigan plates on the truck and we told him we were from Texas after handing him a California driver's license. It all worked out fine. He was a Super Duty owner and just wanted to check out the truck before he traded in his '99 for this model.
As the sun set on us, we somehow managed to slip through the Los Angeles traffic jams in that sacred window of time when it's too early for Californians coming from Las Vegas to be on the road but late enough to have people staying in for their Sunday dinners. Since we began our trip on the coast in Corpus Christi, we thought we'd drive the F-250 all the way to the Pacific Ocean and dip a tire in the sand.