2008 Finalist: Ford F-Series Super Duty
Slow Train Coming--Still Tearing Up the Tracks
By Frank Markus

"Mine's Bigger" moves the metal in the heavy-duty pickup world, so every detail of the restyled and revamped 2008 Ford Super Duty trucks has been tailored to enhance the impression of size. The Super Chief concept vehicle that presaged it was inspired by and named after a locomotive, and the hardware backs the image. An all-new F-450 model--the industry's first factory-available Class-4 pickup--boasts class-leading payload and towing capacities of three and 12 tons, respectively.

The F-450 rides atop a completely unique frame with special rear leaf springs and a wide-track, coil-sprung, leading-arm beam or live front axle that boasts the tightest turning radius in its class. The rest of the Super Duty lineup also gets major frame revisions like front rails that dip seven inches in front to meet the bumper height of other lighter-duty vehicles, and eight-inch-longer rear leaf springs designed to improve handling balance. Other innovations aimed at achieving tow-vehicle superiority include TowCommand, an integrated electronic trailer-brake controller that increases trailer-braking intensity when the truck's antilock brakes engage, and PowerScope sideview mirrors that motor out to see around wide trailers.

Of course, the F-SD's biggest trailering enabler is its new 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel option, which features high-tech piezo-electric injectors (instead of mechanical unit injectors), which can deliver up to five separate spritzes of fuel at up to 26,000 psi to reduce noise and particulate emissions and enable cold starting at -20 degrees F. Sequential twin turbochargers broaden the torque curve and pressurize the intake at up to 42 psi to deliver 350 peak horsepower and 650 pound-feet--impressive figures, except by comparison with GM's 6.6-liter Duramax (365/660).

Other highlights of the 2008 Super Duty include an optional tailgate step and a collapsible bed extender that stows up against the sides of the pickup box. The new interior based on the light-duty F-Series features a more efficient air distribution system and myriad noise abatement countermeasures. There's also a new FX4 series available on extended and crew-cab 4x4 models, featuring skidplates, Rancho shocks, and a body-color grille.

Much of the rest of the 2008 Super Duty's hardware carries over, including the two Triton SOHC three-valve gasoline engines--a 5.4-liter V-8 good for 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet, and a 6.8-liter V-10 worth 362 horses and 457 pound-feet (the segment's most powerful gas engine)--and the six-speed manual and five-speed Torqshift automatic transmissions.

To shake down the Super Duty lineup we borrowed a V-10-powered F-250 SuperCab FX4 and an F-450 4x4 dually turned out in King Ranch finery. We started by measuring acceleration performance, with and without a trailer, and braking performance sans trailer. Not surprisingly, the gigundous 8974-pound F-450 was the slowest drag racer, needing 10.5 seconds to reach 60 mph. But with 10,000 pounds hitched to its rear, that figure only doubled--all other contenders suffered considerably greater degradation in performance. The F-450 was the hardest worker, accelerating more mass almost as quickly as the other duallys. The F-250 V-10 needed 8.3 seconds for the 60-mph dash, trailing the rest of the gassers. Both Fords recorded impressive stops from 60 mph in just 144 and 145 feet (F-250/F-450). Only the hot-rod Tundra 5.7 bested those figures.

Next we took the trucks off-roading, where the six-wheel-drive dually F-450 had ample flotation to plow through the deepest sand washes with ease. On the downside, the electric transfer-case shifter sometimes refused to engage 4L without moving the truck slightly and trying again--not easy if you're stuck when trying to engage 4L.

We ended our evaluation with a road loop on which both trucks felt bulkier, heavier, and more ponderous than their closest GM rivals. Without a 12-ton gooseneck hitched up, the F-450's ride is brutally firm and the King Ranch interior trim struck most editors as gauche and excessively busy by comparison with the high-end GM cabins.

When it came time to vote, the high sales volumes and breadth of model offerings earned Ford big points in significance. Value also rated highly--the F-450 is the bargain in terms of dollars/pound of towing capacity. But the closely competing Chevy and GMC trucks ride, handle, and perform better than the Fords, if you can get by with towing six to eight tons. As a result, the Fords finished at the back of this tight pack.

What They Did Right
Quiet Steel firewall and back panel combine with structural enhancements to make the new Super Duty cabin quiet and rattle-free, so occupants can converse easily and/or enjoy the Panasonic Audiophile stereo and DVD video.

Room for Improvement
Heavy is as heavy does, and these trucks boast mighty impressive towing and payload capacities, but both feel enormous and ponderous on the road. A little too much like a medium-duty commercial rig.


2008 Ford Super Duty
Base price range $23,315-$56,410
Model Tested F-250 4x4 FX4 F-450 4x4 King Ranch
Price as tested $45,805 $62,165
Vehicle layout Rear engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 2+2-door pickup Front engine, 4WD, 4-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine 6.8L/362-hp/457-lb-ft SOHC 30-valve V-10 6.4L/350-hp/650-lb-ft twin-turbodiesel OHV 32-valve V-8
Transmission 5-speed automatic 5-speed automatic
Curb weight, lb (f/r dist, %) 7023 (57/43) 8974 (58/42)
Wheelbase, in 158 172.4
Length x width x height, in 248.0 x 79.9 x 82.0 262.4 x 95.5 x 79.0
Actual payload capacity, lb 2977 5526
Max towing capacity, lb 5000/12,500/-- * 6000/16,000/24,500 *
0-60 mph, sec 8.3/19.5** 10.5/21.1**
Quarter mile, sec @ mph 16.4 @ 83.1/22.0 @ 62.3 ** 17.8 @ 77.4/21.9 @ 61.1 **
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft 156 145
EPA city/hwy fuel econ, mp N/A N/A
CO2 emissions, lb/mile N/A N/A
Ratings
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN ***
INTERIOR ***
PERFORMANCE ***
HAULING **
SAFETY ***
VALUE ***
SUM UP Loads of great innovations advance the state of the heavy-hauling art, but Ford heavies lack the nimble demeanor of GM competitors.
* SAE certified
** Conventional hitch/weight distributing hitch/fifth-wheel
*** Towing 7500-pound (F-250) or 10,000-pound (F-450) trailer