For Ford, there's good news and bad news. First, the bad news: The company's restructuring (layoffs, early retirements, plant closures) and steep dropoffs in full-size pickup and SUV sales have made 2006 the worst financial period in the company's 103-year history. As the Blue Oval struggled to stay ahead of Toyota in total market share, its F-Series pickups retained their 30-year title as the best-selling trucks in America, but there's no getting around the fact that Ford is a troubled giant.

The good news comes with the introduction of the redesigned Super Duty line of Ford pickups, including the F-250, F-350, and the all-new F-450. Truck Trend offered an exclusive preview of the 450 late last year ("2008 Ford Super Duty," November/December 2006), and now we've had some seat time in an F-350 4x4 Crew Cab equipped with the innovative sequentially turbocharged diesel V-8 (see sidebar). Even better for us, our companion for a 3-hour drive--through rain and snow flurries over icy roads--from Corpus Christi to San Antonio, Texas, was Pete Reyes, the 2008 Super Duty line's chief engineer.

Unlike many previous diesel-equipped vehicles we've driven, the F-350's new Power Stroke spurred rather than hindered conversation. It was amazingly quiet while delivering smooth, even power and had a significant improvement in throttle response compared with previous versions. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a 3.11:1 first gear and a transfer case with a 2.42:1 low range, the powertrain is undoubtedly capable over most terrain.

The increase in power and torque, plus new U.S. emissions standards, require 50 percent more cooling. For that, the engineers upsized the radiator and the air cooler, which in turn demanded a taller front end. The headlamps and bumper were lowered, and the grille is now attached to the hood and lifts away with it to reveal the entire radiator. The hood and grille hang on a steel front-end cage that ties to C-channel frame rails, and the components are more easily accessed for maintenance or replacement.

Within the cab, the dash and the floor are all new, though the roof, windshield, and doors have stayed the same. The interior structure is mainly Ford's patented laminated Quiet Steel and is designed to accommodate higher-quality features while reducing unwanted noise. The carpets are thicker than in previous iterations, and there are drapes and more sound pack behind the instrument panel. An all-new climate-control system vents discharge air that's 10 degrees colder, resulting in improved cooling for the A/C, and a ceramic heater--an option available only with the diesel--also improves warming time. Dual-zone controls allow the driver and front passenger to set the automatic temperature control in the center stack independently. Our test vehicle featured a high-end audio system that included a subwoofer, an eight-speaker system tuned specifically for the cab, and an input for an iPod or other MP3 player.

In this model, the steering wheel's climate controls were on the left spoke, stereo controls on the right, and the airbag was in the central hub. The instrument cluster also is all new, featuring a white-face speedometer and tachometer flanking a digital trip and systems computer with turbo boost, engine temperature, transmission temperature, and fuel gauges arrayed in a line above.

Ford optioned this truck with an array of towing accessories, not the least of which are an integrated trailer brake controller and the TorqShift automatic transmission with tow/haul mode. The brake-controller switches are now housed in the center stack on the dash (they no longer hang below). The controller interfaces with the truck's antilock braking system and the trailer's electric brakes for better stopping power. Its control panel--including output, gain, and connection-status indicators--resides just below the audio system and also includes four toggle switches that can be wired to operate accessories such as auxiliary lights or a winch. The TorqShift transmission optimizes shift points in tow mode and uses a beefier torque converter, reducing gear hunting and incorporating engine braking during deceleration.

Another towing aid is the set of industry-first power-fold, power-telescoping sideview mirrors. The large "elephant ear" housings mount a regular mirror plus a large wide-angle spotter mirror, and the pod telescopes out 2-inches to provide better rear visibility when a wide load is in tow. In narrow passages, both mirrors can be folded parallel to the cab's sides, and all mirror functions can be controlled from inside.

Outside, the long and short pickup boxes remain the same size as the previous versions, but now have three outstanding features. The first is a step built into the top of the tailgate that can be pulled out and down when the gate is lowered. The second is an associated grab handle that folds out of the inner tailgate wall, providing a handhold as you climb up the step into the bed. The third, a foldaway bed extender, stows flat against the bed sides when not in use. It can be opened to hold cargo in place all the way to the edge of the lowered tailgate or, folded the opposite way, creates a smaller stowage area at the rear of the bed.

The chassis includes an all-new frame with a stiffer front end and bigger crossmembers that allow better mounts for the transmission and the engine, isolating the powertrain from the frame. Those improvements revealed themselves in handling that was a lot less busy than in other pickups in this weight class. Reyes told us that eliminating frame shake caused by the 1200-pound powertrain had a lot to do with the enhanced control, but the ride also benefits from rear suspension changes.

The front 4x4 suspension is the carryover twin-coil monobeam setup (twin I-beam on two-wheel-drives), but the rear has been revamped with eight-inch-longer multiple leafs. The spring pack becomes progressively stiffer as the bed load increases, so the ride with an empty bed remains even. We noticed a particular improvement through tight corners where large unladen trucks tend to hop over uneven surfaces.

As with the other models in the Super Duty class, the F-250 is available in Regular Cab, SuperCab, and Crew Cab versions and short and long beds. The models range from the lowest level XL to the high-line Lariat, with escalating levels of comfort and convenience. New this year is a King Ranch version of the Lariat Crew Cab, which is upfitted with exclusive leather appointments and other luxury items, and Ford now offers a range of styled wheels that include everything from 17-inch painted steel to 20-inch forged aluminum.

Taken as a whole, the new F-Series Super Duty is a strong evolution for Ford. Whether it'll be enough to maintain the company's leadership position in a changing market driven by fuel constraints, pricing, and increasing competition remains to be seen, but for now the F-truck is still a mighty force on the road.

Clean, Strong, and Quiet
In the last few years, every domestic pickup manufacturer has upped its V-8 diesel displacement, and Ford's entry is now competitive with its brethren. At 6.4 liters (390.5 cubic inches), the new Power Stroke engine that replaces the previous 6.0-liter offering is smaller than the new Dodge Cummins 6.7- and GM Duramax 6.6-liters, but they're all within similar horsepower and torque ranges. The GM diesel has a marginal lead at 360 horsepower, but the Dodge and Ford are right there at 350. All three offer 650 pound-feet of torque.

The 6.4-liter Ford diesel's iron block is capped with cast-iron heads that breathe through four valves per cylinder. A high-pressure common-rail injection system delivers fuel to piezo-electric injectors, which offer larger volumes of fuel quicker than with solenoid injectors. That system, along with laminated steel valve covers that muffle much of the pinging and raspiness typical of diesels, also makes Ford's most powerful pickup diesel its quietest. A pair of turbochargers provide boost at different rpm ranges--a smaller one spools up quickly to offer boost from off-idle for near-immediate response and reduced lag, and the larger one follows with a lower-pressure charge to carry the V-8 through its horsepower and torque peaks.

This powerplant generates a lot of heat, so the engineers compensated with a cooling system originally designed for F-550 chassis-cab trucks. The largest of the six radiators, which offers nearly 20 percent more frontal surface area than the previous F-Series radiator, is fed by a water pump that puts out 50-percent-greater flow. In addition, the pistons are sprayed with jets of cooling oil through special galleries to reduce combustion temperatures as part of the emissions system, which also includes an oxidation catalyst and a particulate filter in the exhaust sequence. Together with the use of ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel and exhaust-gas recirculation, which puts burned gases through additional cooling before they're put back into the air system, the engine burns as cleanly as a gas V-8 and is almost totally devoid of soot. The gas 5.4-liter V-8 and 6.8-liter V-10, which were new in 2005, remain unchanged for 2008.--S.C.

Tow Rating Details
The lowest factory tow rating for any new Super Duty is 8100 pounds, for a single-rear-wheel 4WD Crew Cab with the 5.4-liter V-8, 3.73:1 gears, and a manual transmission; the automatic version ups that number to 9100. The numbers in the chart are maximums and assume a low-option truck with driver, otherwise GCWR will likely be exceeded.

For conventional trailers, any 2WD or 4WD single-rear-wheel truck can pull 12,500 pounds with the V-10 or diesel regardless of axle ratio or transmission. A dualie F-350 rates up to 15,000 for most applications, with the diesel or a V-10 running 4.30:1 gears, and the F-450 (only available as a diesel Crew Cab) rates at 16,000 pounds.

Fifth-wheel/gooseneck ratings vary substantially, so only the maximum is given in the chart. Note that it may be possible to exceed a single-rear-wheel truck's GVWR or rear-axle rating without exceeding GCWR because of high hitch-pin weight. Ratings generally dip 200-300 pounds per step up in cab size, and the highest ratings are all with automatic transmissions.--G.R. Whale

Maximum Tow Rating by Model
MODEL2WD FIFTH-WHEEL, LB4WD FIFTH-WHEEL, LBREQUIREMENTS
F-25016,100 15,700 Reg cab, diesel, 3.73:1 axle
F-350 SRW16,800 16,300 Reg cab, V-10, automatic, 4.30:1 axle
F-350 DRW18,700 18,200 Reg cab, diesel, auto, 4.30:1 axle, Tow Boss pkg
F-45024,500 24,000 Automatic, 4.88:1 axle, Hi-capacity trailer pkg
MaxIMUM Tow Rating @ GVWR*
MODEL MAX GCWR, LBMAX GVWR, LB ALLOWABLE TRAILER, MAX GVWR, LB
F-25023,000 8800-10,000 13,000
F-350 SRW23,000 10,100-11,500 11,800 (2WD only)
F-350 DRW26,000 11,800-13,000 13,000
F-45033,000 14,500 18,500
*passengers, cargo and pin weight

2008 Ford Super Duty F-350 SRW 4X4 Lariat
General
Location of final assembly Louisville, Kentucky
Body style Crew cab shortbed pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front
Powertrain
Engine type Dual-turbo diesel 90&geg; V-8, iron block/heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.86 x 4.13
Displacement, ci/L 390.5/6.4
Compression ratio 17.2:1
Valve gear OHV, four valves per cylinder
Fuel induction High-pressure, common rail, piezo-electric injectors
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 350 @ 3000
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 650 @ 2000
Transmission TorqShift five-speed automatic
1st 3.11:1
2nd 2.22:1
3rd 1.55:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.71:1
Reverse v2.88:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.65:1
RPM @ 60 mph 1600
Transfer-case model New Venture Gear
Low-range ratio 2.42:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 29.1:1
Recommended fuel Ultralow-sulfur diesel
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 156.2
Length, in 246.2
Width, in 79.9 (99.6 w/standard mirrors)
Height, in 80.9
Headroom, f/r, in 41.4/41.4
Legroom, f/r, in 41.0/41.8
Shoulder room, f/r, in 68.0/68.0
Ground clearance, in 7.8
Approach/departure angle, deg 29.8/20.2
Load lift height, in 37.2
Bed size, LxWxD, in 81.8 x 50.9 x 20.1
Base curb weight, lb 6523
Payload capacity, lb 2850
GVWR, lb 10,000
Towing capacity, lb 12,500 (15,200 gooseneck)
Fuel capacity, gal 38.0
Chassis
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Twin coil monobeam/live axle, leaf spring
Steering type Power recirculating ball
Ratio 19.8:1
Turning circle, ft 47.5
Brakes, f/r 13.7-in disc/13.4-in disc
Wheels 20-in aluminum
Tires LT275/65R20E Goodyear Wrangler AT/S
Load/speed rating 126/123S
Performance - Acceleration, sec
0-30 2.7
0-40 4.4
0-50 6.4
0-60 8.9
0-70 11.9
0-80 15.4
0-90 20.5
Quarter mile, sec @ mph 16.7 @ 83.4
Braking, 60-0, ft 164
Price
Base price $37,305
Price as tested $52,295

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