2009 Ford F-250 Super Duty Tow Test

Big Lug: Stout, gentle, willing to pull, this truck takes your big problem and makes it go away

John StewartMay 7, 2009
The truck you see here has 350 horsepower, but it's not a racehorse. And though it is a 4x4, with straight axles and low-range gearing, it's not a mountain goat, either. A Super Duty is more like a Clydesdale - stout, gentle, and enormously willing to pull. This pickup was made to haul something that probably already burned down a lesser truck. Chances are, you wouldn't buy a Super Duty unless you had a problem load. This is the kind of truck that takes your big problem and makes it go away.
You can get Ford Super Duty pickups with Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings all the way up to 16,500 pounds on the F-450 or, for that matter, 19,500 on the F-550. With one of those and a fifth-wheel hitch, you can tow up to a 24,000-pound trailer, making a rig that could weigh up to 33,000 pounds and still be within the recommended capacity.
As Super Duty pickups go, our test unit is one of the lightest-duty configurations, a 10,000 GVWR model, with single rear wheels, 6.5-foot box, four-wheel drive, and 3.73 axle gears. It's rated to tow up to 12,500 pounds with a weight-distributing hitch. With a conventional weight-carrying hitch, the max towing recommendation is 6000 pounds and, according to the tire label, the front axle can handle 5600 pounds and the rear 6100 pounds of load. The third critical factor is that the Gross Combined Weight can't exceed 23,500.
Photo 2/9
That sounds like a lot of weight, but actually staying within these requirements can be problematic for any trailer owner.
The Load
Our load in this case was a 21-foot Skipjack, a rugged older boat loaded with fuel and camping gear. It's not a huge boat by any means, but it is a whole lot heavier than a modern ski or bass boat. Mounted on an older trailer equipped with surge brakes, this kind of load presents a challenge because the tow vehicle isn't given the advantage of a weight-distributing hitch or electric brakes. Like most people, we had no idea what our boat really weighed, so we made a trip to a certified truck scales and got in line with a bunch of big-rigs.
Turns out our combination weighed 13,700 pounds with load, hitch, and driver. Subtracting the curb weight of the vehicle, measured at 7405 pounds, means our boat and trailer weighed 5295 pounds, comfortably under the 6000-pound margin. Likewise, our GCWR was well under the 23,500-pound spec. So we could've loaded up another 600 pounds of gear and people and dogs, and if we were heading for the river, we probably would have.
However, we also took the trouble to weigh the truck alone "with all four tires on the scale" but with the boat still hooked up. The idea was to approximate the tongue load, which should be 10 to 15 percent of the total weight of the trailer, or in this case, no more than 779 pounds. With the boat still resting off the scales, the truck and driver weighed 8820. That suggested the tongue load could be as high as 1115 pounds, which would be excessive by about 335 pounds, if our method is correct and the scales are right on.
The better way to judge tongue weight is to unhitch the trailer, position it with just the hitch end parked on the scales, and weigh just the hitch end. It's not a practical process when you're holding up a line of big-rigs 10 trucks long, but it would be more accurate. Should there be more weight on the front of the hitch than you expect to see, you'd be well advised to rearrange the gear in your trailer to put more weight toward the rear of the trailer. Visually, our truck and trailer looked about level, but we still took some time to shift what had to be at least 150 pounds of tools, spare batteries, and emergency equipment to the rear. In the end, it's likely our setup was slightly heavy on the rear axle. That axle, rated to carry 6100 pounds, was probably not in jeopardy, but we'd be driving with a chassis that had less-than-ideal front-to-rear weight distribution. That could affect steering and braking, giving the front axle less braking and steering power than normal, and putting the braking burden more on the rear axle alone.
Photo 3/9
Photo 4/9
Towing Impressions
Actually, for the most part, the F-250 handled this load like it wasn't there. Clearly, there was plenty of power. Our test route took us up the 4190-foot Cajon Pass, a section of Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas known for wind and heat. It's a long pass, with heavily trafficked truck lanes. We towed at a steady 60-65 mph into oehigh-profile truck wind warnings. On those occasions when we had to make way for a big-rig to pass a slow-moving trailer, the 6.4 still had enough guts to regain speed, just by feeding in some throttle. The temp gauges never budged, with outside temperatures over 82 degrees. The Super Duty has no fewer than five coolers stacked in front of the engine, so we suspect the engine and trans could be worked hard in far hotter conditions without undue concern. The owner's manual recommends going to a 15-40 oil if you'll be towing a lot in very hot conditions. This seems a rational precaution.
It was only when towing down the Cajon Pass that we realized medium to hard braking required a little more effort than what we expected. It wasn't enough to make us uneasy, but it was noticeable, something we might connect with the heavier tongue load. Steering remained within the expectations of a big truck with a straight front axle. It's easy enough to keep truck and trailer within a lane without undue correction, even in the wind. But it's not rack-and-pinion, like an F-150, and you'll know it when you try to drift around a corner.
Photo 5/9
One of the big selling points of the Super Duty 4x4 has been that the straight axle is easy to lift, making it easier to improve ground clearance by installing oversize tires. Ford's warranty specifically does not cover any damage caused by altering the suspension. Even replacing the wheels with something more stylish, or adding bigger tires with a specialized tread, can compromise the load ratings. When it comes time for new tires, it would be wise to pay attention to replacement tire choices, especially if you plan to tow near the limit.
The transmission is strong, set for smooth shifts rather than direct, hard shifts. It works best when feeding throttle in gradually, where the engine responds"the torque converter stays locked and road speed accumulates gradually. Ask it for instant power, and there's a moment of hesitation before it finds the right gear and hooks up. It's nothing like the quarter-horse F-150 with a quick-shifting six-speed, which is quicker to react and downshifts every time you drop a hint. The Super Duty responds more to a calm, steady hand.
Photo 6/9
Driving Impressions
Our sense is that the empty F-250 probably rides a little better than an empty Tundra. Even with nothing in the bed, the ride is far from punishing. You'll know it has two straight axles more by the steering than the ride quality, which is surprisingly good even with 20-inch wheels and rock-hard E-rated tires at 60 psi. We'd expect harsher ride quality as GVWR increases, so our test unit represents the most refined of the breed, but that tells us it's possible to have a decently smooth ride in a Super Duty.
When the F-250 is driven empty, the brakes are remarkably progressive, with an unusual amount of control for a vehicle of this size. Engagement at the top of the pedal is very gradual; there's no squish/grab sequence, just a steady, progressive gain in clamping force and control. Around town, it's possible to make a full stop with no grab or jerk at the end. Still, there could be a little more grip at the end of the braking action, a reminder that long, slow gradual inputs of the brake and throttle are what this truck is about. Our test driver noted the same thing during 60-to-0 panic stops at the track, where it took 161 feet to bring the Super Duty to a full stop. The brakes have great feel and provide a solid sense of control, but when you put your foot all the way into the stop pedal, there's just a little less there.
Photo 7/9
Photo 8/9
Photo 9/9
Features and Equipment
The cabin of the Super Duty is consistent with what you should expect in a $60,000 truck designed to keep people comfortable on long Interstate tours. Ford has recently done interiors well, in terms of design and use of materials, and this Super Duty cockpit is no exception.
The Cabela's package features aniline leather trim, which is truly flawless, and the seats are nicely stitched. Wood-trim dash pieces work well with textured plastic dash surrounds. The driver's seat is well shaped and supportive, firm but not hard. It's so generously wide it actually restricts access to the door map pockets. The seats have adjustable lumbar support and provide a good amount of front legroom. Perhaps more important, the driver's seat can be moved up very close to the wheel. That, coupled with adjustable brake and throttle pedals, allows this country rig to be operated comfortably by the shortest of cowgirls. There are two memory switches that can recall seat and mirror settings. The four-spoke steering wheel has embedded cruise control buttons on the left hand, and audio controls on the right. We like the round, swiveling A/C vents, which are easy to adjust and highly directional - you can put warm or cool air wherever you want it.
With the Crew Cab, the back row actually offers more legroom than in front. The rear seats share the same gorgeous leather trim and offer adult legroom and adult headroom, though they do not recline or adjust. There is no center headrest, but there is a fixture for a car seat, and a 12-volt power plug - one of three in the cabin. We didn't ride in the back, but it would be a space two adults could occupy without feeling penalized.
The instruments consist of a large tach (5000 rpm, no redline) and speedometer (to 100 mph). Four one-inch gauges for boost, water temp, trans temp, and fuel are arrayed across the cluster. They're small, rather vaguely numbered, but they do keep tabs on critical functions. We'd love to see an EGT gauge, but for whatever reason, no OEM has ever seen fit to offer one. Also in the cluster is an info center that displays average mileage, miles to empty, the odometer, and two trip odometers. There are a total of eight cupholders, counting the two in the flip-down console in the back seat.
The built-in brake controller is a nice feature, as long as your trailer has a compatible brake system, and it's standard on the Super Duty. Another much-appreciated feature is the power towing-mirror system, which extend mirrors outward for good viewing around long trailers, offering normal and wide-angle views. Having come from a background where adjusting towing mirrors involved wrenches, we particularly appreciate the ease of this arrangement. Our test unit also had a rearview camera, mounted in the tailgate, which displays on the nav screen. The rear backup cam actually allowed us to get ball and hitch properly aligned solo. It took a few practice tries to get the hang of it, but it's a great advantage and good reason to pop for the $1875 nav system, which also includes satellite radio capability.
The Cabela's package consists of rubber floormats, painted tubular cab steps, power-sliding rear window, dual-zone auto temp control, memory group, adjustable gas/brake pedals, reverse vehicle aid sensor, heated seats, Sync media gateway module, unique two-tone exterior paint, and 10,000-pound GVWR package. Of those, we'd say the sliding rear window, reverse sensor, heated seats, media plug, and 10,000-pound GVWR are desirable options we'd pay for. If they're available for less than the $5390 the Cabela's package runs, we'd order them separately. We're not sunroof guys, so we'd save another $995, given the choice. The other options, nav/satellite radio system, $130 for traction control, and $470 for the rearview camera - seem like equipment we'd want on any truck we'd be likely to spend so much time in. The nav screen is small and distant, a little hard to reach from the driver's seat, and a little hard to see without our reading glasses. We've never been big fans of in-dash nav, but it seems the screen has become the gateway to audio and information functions, so you've got to have it. The Cabela's package adds logos on the seats and floormats and provides for lockable storage under the rear seats and center console. The underseat storage would be attractive to anyone who wants to secure firearms or fishing tackle.
Diesel versus Gas
Everything about the 6.4 screams durability and long life. It's a long-stroke, narrow-bore V-8 that makes peak torque at 2000 rpm. There's no indicated redline on the tach, but peak horsepower comes at 3000 rpm, and the owner's manual recommends shifting before 3750, with an operating maximum at 4000 rpm. The crankcase holds 15 quarts of oil. The powertrain warranty is five years or 60,000 miles.
The 6.4 is a heavily boosted diesel, with twin turbos operating in sequence. First the smaller turbo gets things going, then the bigger turbo kicks in and provides big-boost power. Because of this, there are no gaps in the torque curve, just a steady buildup of power as you feed in throttle. To prolong engine life, it is recommended that the hot engine be idled three to five minutes to allow the turbos to cool down. Like a lot of diesels, an engine-block heater is recommended when temp is -10 degrees F, which is more a precaution against fuel waxing than for engine protection.
Trucks of this GVWR are not EPA rated for mileage or carbon emissions. Therefore, we're not sure what the ballpark is supposed to be, but we got an average of 12.7 mpg driving the truck empty. That's not bad for a truck that weighs 7500 pounds with driver, especially when the testing included so much high-traffic, around-town driving, and some track flogging as well. Our engine, with just 530 miles on it when we started, is far from broken in. Still, for a diesel, the mileage number is not spectacular. We noticed that, because of the sequential turbo arrangement, the engine is almost always operating under some boost, however gentle you might be on the throttle pedal. When you have boost, you burn fuel, so that may be part of the reason. Another thought is that Ford's DPF system requires a fair amount of fuel to burn clean, and that it regenerates more frequently with more around-town driving. We're told those regenerations might burn a liter of fuel at a time, so they can affect average mileage more or less, depending on how quickly the particulate filter clogs up. At times on the highway, average mileage climbed close to 14 mpg, so we think it would be reasonable to expect that much and a little better on the highway once the engine is broken in. We did record mileage on a 155-mile towing loop and saw 11.7 mpg overall while towing, maintaining speeds between 60 and 65 mph. Based on those results, we'd say the 6.4 is a more efficient long-term investment than the big block V-10 gas motor, which might offer fuel economy from eight to 11 mpg. The diesel is probably about 20-percent-more fuel efficient (maybe 25), but then the cost of diesel fuel has been as much as 20 or 25 percent higher, so it's a wash. The difference, then, is that diesel torque is a huge advantage when you're towing a load, and especially a big one. Both engines supply plenty of power, but when you're towing something heavy, the torque characteristics of a diesel allow for less effort and theoretically, longer engine life. That's why the more you tow, the more you want diesel.
Otherwise, living with a diesel has become remarkably simple. The engine fires up without pausing for glow plugs, and there's zero diesel smell and hardly any diesel noise. The 6.4 is designed to burn biodiesel fuel at mixtures up to B5 without voiding the warranty.
The 4WD version of the F-250 Super Duty has a higher tow rating than the 2WD, and offers the added advantage of traction in snow or loose dirt. The 4x4 system is actuated by an on-dash switch that makes it easy to slip in and out of 4WD. Low range, at 2.64:1, is sufficient to provide good mechanical leverage against rugged terrain, and the crawl ratio ends up at over 30 to 1 with the five-speed automatic. We could envision the Super Duty pulling stumps or hauling firewood out on a logging trail, but it's not a rock crawler. It's too big, and with ground clearance at about eight inches, not especially well suited to severe terrain.

2009 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4x4
GENERAL
Location of final assembly Louisville, Kentucky
Body style Four-door crew cab pickup
EPA size class Full-size domestic
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front
POWERTRAIN
Engine type 90-degree twin-turbo diesel V-8, iron block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.86 x 4.13 in
Displacement 391cu in/6.4L
Compression ratio 17.1:1
Valve gear OHV, 4 valves per cyl
SAE horsepower 350 hp @ 3000 rpm
SAE torque 650 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission type TorqShift 5-speed automatic
1st 3.11:1
2nd 2.11:1
3rd 1.55:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.71:1
Reverse 2.88:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.65:1
Indicated revs @ 60 mph 1650 rpm
Transfer-case model New Venture 273
Low-range ratio 2.72:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 31.55:1
Recommended fuel ULSD
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Wheelbase 156.2 in
Length 246.2 in
Width 79.9 in
Height 79.4 in
Track, f/r 78.5/78.5 in
Headroom, f/r 41.4/41.4 in
Legroom, f/r 41.0/41.8 in
Shoulder room, f/r 68.0/68.0 in
Bed volume 64.4 cu ft
Bed LxWxH 81.8 x 65.2 x 20.1 in
Width bet wheelhousings 50.9 in
Ground clearance 7.8 in
Approach/departure angle 30.3/17.4 deg
Tailgate lift height 35.9 in
Curb weight 7405 lb
Max payload capacity 2595 lb
GVWR 10,000 lb
GCWR 23,500 lb
Max towing capacity 12,500 lb w/weight-distributing hitch
Fuel capacity 30.5 gal
CHASSIS
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar/ live axle, leaf springs, anti-roll bar
Steering type Power
Ratio 20.4:1
Turning circle 51.8 ft
Brakes, f/r 13.7-in vented disc/13.4-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 20-in alloy
Tires LT275/65R20 Goodyear Wrangler AT/S
Load/speed rating 126/S
PERFORMANCE
Acceleration
0-30 2.8 sec
0-40 4.6
0-50 6.8
0-60 9.4
0-70 12.5
0-80 16.1
Quarter mile 17.0 sec @ 82.20 mph
Braking, 60-0 161 ft
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy Not rated
As-tested fuel economy 12.7 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.75 lb/mile
PRICE
Base price $38,510
Price as tested $60,03

MOST POPULAR

Truck Trend Network

TRUCK RESEARCH SNAPSHOT

Ford F 250

Fair Market Price
$29,960
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $31,810
Mileage: N/A
Engine: 6.2L V8
get a free quote

Subscribe Today and Save up to 83%!

Subscribe Truck Trend Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truck Trend
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Diesel Power Magazine

Subscribe to:

Diesel Power
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Truckin Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truckin
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
SUBSCRIBE TO A MAGAZINE
TO TOP