Getting ready for the drive to Los Angeles from Phoenix after Ford's introduction of the new Super Duty, we saw a running 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty sitting out front of the hotel where we had been staying for the event. As the hotel's main doors slid open, we could hear a loud clackety-clack, the sound you would associate with a truck's diesel engine. For a moment, we wondered if Ford's claims of a quieter engine been false. However, the Super Duty was blocking the view of the courtesy van that was actually making all of that noise, and when it pulled out of the parking lot, there sat the Super Duty, quietly purring away.

We had just spent a couple of days behind the wheel of the new Super Duty, and were about to take it on a road trip home. Our Ford was a diesel four-wheel-drive single-rear-wheel short bed F-250 Crew Cab Lariat, also equipped with the topline King Ranch package.

Ford's brawny pickup looks similar to the 2010 model, except for a few noticeable differences. For example, the new grille uses two thick, solid horizontal bars (not unlike those seen on the F-250 Super Chief concept) in black or chrome with a huge 13-inch-wide Ford blue oval dead center. In addition, the hood now has a power dome, allowing more clearance to accommodate the new diesel engine. The fuel door is now wider, making room for the filler spot for the Diesel Exhaust Fluid, said to need refilling every 7500 miles, depending on the demands put on the truck. Wheels come in 17- to 20-inch sizes.

There are two engines available in the new Ford, neither of which is carryover. The base engine, a 6.2-liter V-8, replaces the three-valve 5.4-liter V-8 offered through 2010. The new engine puts out 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, up 85 and 40 respectively, while it's said to improve fuel economy by 15 percent. This size/weight category isn't rated by the EPA for fuel economy, so those numbers are based on Ford's estimates. We spent a short stretch on the road with the 6.2-powered Super Duty, and you can definitely feel the increase in power with the new engine. Response off the line is much quicker, the engine's growl much more menacing, and the excellent new 6R140 six-speed automatic works well with this V-8. However, the Super Duty feels like it's gained some weight, so the difference isn't as huge as 85 more horsepower would suggest.

Where we spent most of our time was trying out the new diesel. The previous Power Strokes had been built by Navistar International for Ford, but after several disputes and lawsuits, that relationship soured. The diesel in the 2011 Super Duty represents years of work in-house, using some technology from Ford Europe but designed with heavy-duty work in mind. The new diesel offers 390 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque -- both best in class-improvements of 40 horsepower and 85 pound-feet. Ford also reduced engine weight with the use of a compact graphite iron block, but made the block stronger in the process: CGI is said to have twice the strength of gray iron, which is typically used in iron blocks. The engine also uses aluminum heads.

Power Stroke's engineers designed the layout to make it easier to manage noise and vibration, and the end result of their work is a modern diesel you can't hear from a distance and that doesn't fill the cabin with noise. Yet it's also much more powerful than before -- pulling away from traffic lights almost like a heavy-duty hot rod. And the new, B20 biodiesel compatible engine comes with an exhaust brake.

Federal regulations for 2010 create a new, significantly stricter requirement for diesel emissions, so it's no coincidence that the new 6.7-liter Power Stroke is dramatically cleaner -- producing less NOx-than before. This engine uses multiple technologies to reduce emissions, starting with exhaust gas recirculation. Some of the exhaust gases are cooled by engine water at about 90 degrees Celsius, and then routed into a low-temperature loop, a second cooling system in the engine that operates at about 50 degrees C (and also serves as added transmission cooling). The cooler inert gases displace oxygen and lower combustion temperatures, which together reduces the amount of NOx that's produced in the cylinder. This EGR system uses a hot-side valve, before the cooler, to reduce the amount of deposits that can get into poppets and seals, improving durability and reducing possible warranty issues.

The rest of the emissions work takes place after the fact, in the exhaust system. At the diesel oxidation catalyst, hydrocarbons are heated and converted into water and CO2. The heat created helps make the rest of the system's emissions reduction process more efficient. In the next phase, selective catalytic reduction, diesel exhaust fluid, a mix of urea and water, becomes CO2 and ammonia when heated. When the ammonia mixes with the exhaust gases and is exposed to the catalyst in the SCR system, what NOx was produced during combustion is converted into nitrogen and water. The diesel particulate filter traps any soot that was produced, and burns it away (called regeneration), when the soot trap is full.

Behind the high-tech, efficient, and much more powerful diesel is the same six-speed automatic as the one that is used with the gas engine. While a manual transmission is no longer available, the automatic provides several ways to control what gear the truck is in, making it easy to manage while towing and when off-road. You can put it in Drive and shift up or down with the +/- buttons along the collar of the steering-column-mounted shifter stalk. This also defines what the truck's top gear is at the time-if you are in sixth and push "-" until you're in fourth, that becomes the highest gear the truck will use until you tell it otherwise (or until potential damage could be done by keeping in that gear). If you want to get back into fifth or sixth, push "+." This is called Progressive Range Select. Want more control than that? There is a manual mode, labeled M, which you can shift to in the PRNDM21 layout. It also uses the plus/minus buttons. And there's a tow/haul mode, which assists with braking and transmission shift points. The new six-speed worked very well behind both engines with consistently smooth and timely shifts. Plus, the +/- buttons are in a great, easy-to-reach spot on the stalk. Our only gripe, and it's a minor one, is that we noticed in our preproduction test truck that there were a few abrupt downshifts at low speed.

Capability is key in the heavy-duty pickup truck segment, and the new Super Duty does not disappoint. Maximum towing capacity is 24,400 pounds (F-450) and maximum payload capacity is 6520 pounds. Those numbers are best in class-Chevrolet just released its 2011 Silverado HD's specs, which are 20,000 and 6335. Even if you remove the F-450 from the equation, the F-350's 21,600-pound towing capacity is still better than that of the Silverado 3500HD. For those who are going to use their truck for fifth-wheel or gooseneck towing, Ford now offers a $400 prep package for longbed trucks that adds a frame-mounted crossmember, five laser-cut holes in the bed including covers, and seven-pin connector integrated into the inner wall of the bed on the driver's side.

Other new features for the Super Duty include trailer sway control, trailer brake, hill descent control, tire-pressure monitoring, and a new 4.2-inch LCD screen. Located between the gauges, this screen allows you to control what is on the display and tracks things such as fuel economy, oil and transmission temperature, turbo boost, trip time, gallons of fuel used, truck angles when off-road, and you can store information about trailers you tow with the truck. There's even a checklist included for novice towers. The hill-start assist feature applies brakes when at a stop, preventing the truck (and trailer) from rolling back. To fill the gap from when you take your foot off the brake pedal to when you put it on the gas pedal, the system holds the brakes for two seconds before gradually reducing the amount of brake assist. If a trailer is connected to the truck, and you're stopped for longer than six seconds, the trailer brake will also be used. This system provides a lot of confidence while towing and can keep a trailer from rolling back into the vehicle behind you. And for those who want to go off-road, there are two options: an electronic locking diff, controlled by a pull-out knob on the dash, or, on XL- and XLT-equipped trucks, a floor-mounted shift lever and manual locking hubs. Ford also offers a military-grade spray-in bedliner, and a power takeoff that can be used when the vehicle is in motion. Ford's Work Solutions, which allows you to track where your tools are, keep tabs on other vehicles in the fleet, and access the Internet and download and print forms, is optional.

The suspension uses an independent twin I-beam with coil springs in front for the 2WD F-250 and F-350, mono-beam front for the F-450 and 4WD 250/350. In back, they all use a live axle with leaf springs. Steering geometry has been revised for 2011. What we noticed compared with previous models is the 2011's steering has a slightly slower response to driver input. This would be a disadvantage in a sport sedan, but in a vehicle that's going to be used for towing heavy trailers, it makes it easier to smoothly make minor corrections while on the road. The trucks use four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and side and side-curtain airbags are available.

Dimensions are close to the 2010 model's; wheelbase is identical, length is up by about 0.6 inch, width and height are within half an inch. Bed dimensions are also the same as before. In the cab, headroom is down about 0.7 inch in front, 0.3-0.6 inch in the second row, legroom is unchanged in front and down slightly in the rear, and hip- and shoulder room remain the same. In addition to the new screen and updated interior, there's also a new flow-through center console, with plenty of large storage spaces and a 110-volt inverter on the back. Also available for the cabin is a set of four auxiliary switches to control miscellaneous trucker accessories.

On the 400-mile drive, we found the King Ranch F-250 to be comfortable and remarkably quiet. Power delivery is fantastic, with 735 pound-feet of torque available at 1600 rpm and a terrific six-speed. Brakes are firm, but not twitchy. The ride feels better than in the last Super Duty, but still rides like a truck. Inside, the seats provide plenty of soft leather and cushioning, but won't lull you to sleep on a long drive. The driver information screen was intimidating at first, but toggling through the options and selecting the display you want is actually very easy-just push the directional keys on the steering wheel and select "OK." The order the information is listed in makes logical sense, too (the trip computer screen is just before the fuel economy screen, for example), so it wouldn't take long to learn the order and toggle through without having to take your eyes off the road. As it is, you won't have to give it more than a glance to see what's going on. And, going 75 mph for most of the drive-or at least where the speed limit allowed for that-the truck loped along at 1750 rpm and provided 18 mpg fuel economy, all on a single tank with plenty to fuel to spare.

Official pricing has not yet been released, but Ford did say that for some models there will be no increase in price from 2010, and in the case of the regular cab two-wheel-drive chassis-cab F-550, the price actually goes down $530. This means that the added cost of the new emissions system won't be passed along to the buyer. If pricing is as competitive as Ford says, you get best-in-class capability and a faster truck, with improved fuel economy and more cool options. That makes this truck a great value, and should prove a tough one to beat.


2011 Ford F-250 King Ranch 4x4 Crew Cab
Base price$48,000 (est)
Vehicle layoutFront engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
Engine6.7L/390-hp/735-lb-ft OHV 32-valve V-8
Transmission6-speed automatic
Curb weight7000 lb (est)
Wheelbase156.2 in
Length x width x height246.8 x 79.9 x 79.7 in
0-60 mph9.2 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econNot rated
On sale in U.S.Spring 2010

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