The following review is for a 2012 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.
Big power, big capability.
The Ford Super Duty pickups offer a pair of superb engines and can tow bumper-pull trailers that weigh up to 17,500 pounds or 24,500 with a fifth-wheel setup. Their bold, handsome exteriors are backed up by cabs that are attractive, functional and comfortable. Lariat and King Ranch models are downright luxurious. The F-450 pickup that shares cab and wheel sizes with the F-250 and F-350 remains atop the towing ratings for pickups.
The Ford Super Duty got a major overhaul for 2011 with all-new diesel and gasoline engines, a new 6-speed automatic transmission, and new front styling. Changes for the 2012 model year are minor.
The 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine that comes standard is rated at 385 hp in F-250 models and 316 hp on the majority of F-350 versions. Those ratings are similar to GM's 6-liter and the Ram's 5.7-liter Hemi.
The 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8 was bumped up mid-year 2011 to 400 horsepower and 800 lb-ft of torque, an update offered at no charge to early 6.7-liter buyers. Both engines come with a 6-speed automatic transmission; no manual is offered.
For 2012, the gas engine may be ordered with a CNG/propane prep option. Also, short-bed models (6.75-foot) offer a factory gooseneck hitch package previously reserved for long beds.
There is nothing small about a Super Duty and even the shortest, plainest version represents three tons of mass. While the snout is mildly curved and aerodynamics have improved, the Super Duty is about as sleek as a concrete block, with in-your-face attitude and enough chrome to shave in front of it.
Super Duty trim ranges from basic commercial grade to luxurious Lariat and King Ranch models. Buyers can revel in heated-and-cooled Chaparral leather seats with driver memory, moonroof, a choice of two rearview cameras, SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment, navigation, and remote start. The new diesel is quiet by heavy-duty truck standards.
Super Duty XL and XLT are designed for the cost/benefit analysis small businesses and independents use: a simple, fast trailer hookup, 4WD to get in/out of the job site, and a warm cab they can be blown clean with compressed air. For fleet and owner-operator buyers, Ford's Work Solutions system provides facilities for GPS linking, computer access to your office (with cell signal), 110-volt power in-cab, and RFID tags for your tools so you never leave any on the job site. Crew Chief allows a dispatcher real-time truck location, speed, and fuel economy, potentially useful for the Friday-night parent as well.
As usual the top tow and payload ratings are up from mid-year 2011 models, often to numbers that require a commercial driver's license. Best-in-class numbers for heavy-duty pickups sometimes change several times in a year, but they typically apply to just one model. The bottom line is that the Ford Super Duty, Ram 2500/3500, Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD are all highly capable trucks and none of them has a clear capability advantage over the other.
The 2012 Ford Super Duty comes in four trim levels, three cab sizes and two box sizes. Most variants are available with a choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Super Duty XL, XLT and Lariat trims extend to most models. Only on Crew Cabs can you get the King Ranch interior, however. Also, there is no short-box dual-rear wheel model, and the FX4 package is offered only on SuperCab and Crew Cab 4WD F-250 and F-350.
A 6.2-liter V8 with 385 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 405 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm is standard on all F-250 and some single-rear wheel F-350 models; all other F-350 get a lower revving 6.2-liter V8 of 316 hp and 397 lb-ft of torque, both at 4179 rpm.
The 6.7-liter turbodiesel rated at 400 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque is optional on all other Super Duty. The Super Duty F-450 pickup, in long-bed, Crew Cab 4WD comes standard with the diesel.
Pricing for heavy-duty pickups takes megabytes given all the possible permutations. The least expensive Super Duty, a regular cab, long box two-wheel drive XL is $30,000 with shipping and the most expensive is the F-450 King Ranch Crew Cab long box diesel, about twice that.
In general terms, four-wheel drive adds $2500-$3500, a long box adds $200-$300, and dual rear wheels $1000-$1200. A step up in trim level may add a different cab, box length, or engine, which is why a SuperCab is $3500-$4700 more than a regular cab, and a Crew Cab is $5000-$6750 beyond a regular cab. Buying up from XL to XLT trim typically adds $2500-$3500, from XLT to Lariat $4000-$7500, and Lariat to King Ranch $3000-$6500.
The Super Duty XL is work-truck, low-budget in nature, with vinyl seats and flooring, black painted grille and bumpers, plain trim, and AM/FM stereo, but it does include air conditioning, towing mirrors, trip computer, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a weight-appropriate receiver hitch. Options are primarily mechanical in nature: diesel, locking differential, larger tires and wheels, snow plow prep, integrated fifth-wheel/gooseneck hitch prep package ($380), camper package, off-road package for 4WD, tow command ($230), auxiliary switches, dual or larger single alternators, reverse sensors, tailgate step, Work Solutions in-dash computer ($1395) and Tool Link ($1120). SuperCabs also include flip-out rear side windows, Super and Crew get an overhead console, and the F-450 has forged aluminum wheels.
Super Duty XLT adds chrome trim, aluminum wheels, 40/20/40 cloth front seat with under-seat lockable compartment, carpet, CD player, power windows/locks/mirrors, power-adjusted and heated towing mirrors, privacy glass, the integrated brake controller for single-rear wheel trucks, remote keyless entry, MyKey, and cruise control. Options include captain's chairs w/power and heat, Audiophile sound system, adjustable pedals, moonroof, and rear-seat DVD entertainment.
Super Duty Lariat adds polished aluminum 17-inch wheels for F-350 dually and bright 18-inch aluminum wheels for single-rear-wheel trucks, heated leather power front seats, dual-zone climate control, power-adjust pedals, backup camera, SYNC, redundant sound/climate controls on wheel, woodgrain trim, power fold-and-telescoping tow mirrors, illuminated visor mirrors, privacy glass, keypad door entry, 110-volt outlet and a powered sliding rear window with defrost. Options include those offered on most Super Duty models plus captain's chairs and universal door opener.
Super Duty King Ranch adds two-tone paint including most trim pieces, driver memory package, heated/cooled power front seats, unique forged alloy wheels, rearview camera, and Chaparral-leather for the steering wheel, four captain's chairs and both center consoles.
Safety equipment includes electronic stability control, trailer sway control, and hill-descent control, antilock brakes, SOS post-crash alert, dual front airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, adjustable height outboard belt anchors, child-seat LATCH anchors, three rear seat headrests on Crew Cab and a passenger airbag deactivation switch on regular and SuperCabs.
Already the biggest pickup in town, the Ford Super Duty appears imposing because of bigger horizontal bars in the grille, deep airdam and bumper with big cooling air openings, and stacked lamps with the headlights on the bottom. Dimensions are easily given in yards rather than inches. The sheer vastness of the sheetmetal may overwhelm your car wash guy. The Power Stroke badges have been given a hybrid-like green leaf with B20 in reference to the ability to burn biodiesel fuel, but only compared to other huge trucks might a Super Duty be considered green.
Regardless of bulging flares or flared nostrils no Super Duty would be mistaken for anything less than a full-size pickup even with nothing scalable within sight. The clamshell hood essentially shrink-wraps the diesel engine underneath, and the rounded edges and deeper air dam have improved the coefficient of aero drag from about 0.45 to 0.425 Cd. By comparison, an aerodynamic sedan has a drag coefficient closer to 0.27.
Super Duty box sides have a large fuel door, which allows room for the additional diesel exhaust fluid fill for diesel versions. Reverse lights are at the top of the tail-lamp assembly, so far off the ground they are really nothing more than signaling devices that the truck is in reverse. The available rearview camera works well at night, however. Wheels range from 17 to 20 inches in diameter, all of aluminum except the base 17-inch steel wheels.
Towing mirrors that come optional work very well. They telescope and fold (manual or powered), and include two large convex mirror elements for safe rear vision with the widest street-legal trailers. The towing mirrors include signal repeaters that won't distract the driver. A camera mounted in the tailgate center latch housing linked to a display on the navigation screen or inside the rearview mirror gives the driver a good review of what's behind.
An optional tailgate step is available that pops out of the tailgate for an easier step up to the bed; the step is rated at 1000 pounds. A grab handle flips up like a walking stick to further aid stepping up to the bed; the grab handle is rated at 300 pounds. We've found this setup handy at times and it doesn't usually get in the way. Once up in the bed, you need to remember the step is deployed so you don't forget and get tangled up in it, and you'll want to take care stepping back down. The tailgate also includes an assist so the very heavy tailgate feels less heavy. Unlike the Toyota Tundra, however, the assist doesn't do much to slow the tailgate when lowering it so be careful not to let it slam down. Removing the tailgate is a job due to its weight.
Short boxes have four tie-down cleats a few inches off the floor, long boxes get six. Cargo can be secured with a hefty cable lock, and the box can be protected with a sprayed-in liner.
An integrated fifth-wheel/gooseneck hitch prep option is available for both long-box and short-box trucks. This assembly is securely mounted to the frame at the factory (and warranted by Ford) and leaves a flat floor with guidelines marked to cut out four fifth-wheel mounting holes or the center gooseneck; major hitch suppliers were consulted for compatibility and the final hitch hardware choice is left to the consumer. The Super Duty also has an inside box-wall mounted 7-pin trailer plug that's handy for gooseneck and fifth-wheel setups.
The Ford Super Duty cab is massive, measuring nearly six feet from side to side. Materials appear well assembled and mission-appropriate. The King Ranch version makes for a better luxury pickup than the what Lincoln has to offer, while the base XL model could be cleaned out with a bucket of warm water. On upper-end models, the gear-cog-like chrome surrounds for vents and gauges can create some unwelcome reflections, and the number of textures and colors (we counted up to eight) may be too much for design minimalists. Overall, it's a great cab.
Front seats are available as a bench for three-passenger seating with a flip-down center console or as bucket seats for two with a very nice center console package. Be careful making this choice to avoid being surprised when the truck arrives. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The bucket seats are more luxurious. However, having the solid wall between the front and rear seats is handy for corralling a dog or lots of cargo in the cab. The front bench seat is split 40-20-40. While the driver's and front passenger's seats adjust fore and aft, the center seat is fixed in place and, of course, comes with a center seatbelt. The center seatback flips down to present a pair of cupholders and a shallow storage console. The center seat is quite cramped, with little room for knees and feet, but it's a good choice if you periodically need that center seat. The other choice for front seating is the 40-console-40 bucket seats, which most people prefer for the storage options. Lariat and King Ranch come with a big center console when ordered with the buckets, while the XL is available with a mini console.
The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, memory system and adjustable pedals allow great flexibility for his-and-hers operation. The dash is segmented in three smaller parts. The instrument pod provides engine and road speed through larger dials with four smaller gauges lined up between; diesel models include a boost gauge and gas engines substitute oil pressure. Instrument needles are now blue on many models but illuminate as white at night.
The center stack houses a pair of large vents, radio and navigation located top center where easily viewed, climate control, and most switchgear, including optional auxiliary equipment fitter switches, tow command, SYNC inputs and one of up to five 12-volt power points. The far side houses the passenger airbag and a sizable glovebox; where so equipped, the reconfigurable center console is similarly large and the huge door pockets (two on each front door) could hold the contents of a small tool chest.
The climb into the Super Duty cab is mitigated by a deep door-opening cut and well-placed assist handles; multiple choices in side steps are available.
Adults can fit in the rear of the SuperCab but if you intend to make a habit of carrying adults in the back seats then go for the Crew Cab.
The Crew Cab is very comfortable for four adults, with roomy, comfortable back seats. The Crew Cab center rear seat has a headrest. It also offers lockable storage under the seat with a power point, and grocery bag hooks under the short cushion passenger side. Remove the rear seats and you have a massive interior area for dogs or cargo.
An electronic switch handles turn signals and high beams now; with a momentary lift the signal blinks three times automatically; unlike some competitors it does not add blinks with tow/haul mode engaged. The signal lever may feel some distance away from the wheel but high-beams are switched both on and off by pulling toward you. Primary controls are all easy to find and use, with few tiny buttons to complicate driving with gloves. The reverse parking sensor can be defeated for hooking up a trailer. The daytime running lights can be turned off for good neighborly night-time entries to campgrounds or drive-ins.
The ventilation system is capable of cooling or heating the cavernous volume and keeping forward windows and mirrors clear, and seat heaters are very effective; a supplemental cab heater is available for diesel models. On many models, all outside mirror elements are heatable as well.
Upper trim levels include a productivity screen in the center of the instrument panel. In addition to odometer, outside temperature, compass and gear indications this offers six other menus. The gauge mode gives more detailed readings for oil and transmission fluid temperatures, and diesel boost pressure. A/B trip computers offer time/miles/gallons used/relative instant fuel economy (a bar graph); curiously the fuel economy history, range remaining and instant fuel economy in mpg is under another menu titled Fuel Economy.
The Truck Apps display includes an off-road screen with lateral and vertical angle indicators (no redline marked where the truck might/will fall over) and turning radius; it also provides information about the locking differential, plus 4WD, hill descent and traction control systems. The trailer submenu can store brake settings and name for two trailers and show checklists where you have to, for example, push OK when it asks if the tongue jack is raised, lights functioning, etc., for different types of trailers. These checklists can be helpful in reminding you to do things you know to do but may have forgotten or overlooked when tired or distracted. Of course, they can be turned off and not used.
Owners can customize the screen to track maintenance intervals, program how long the lights stay on at key-off, or change the compass zone. The Information section includes MyKey preferences, log data (engine hours, idle hours, open doors, etc.), and messages like door ajar and tire pressure warnings.
The navigation system is intuitive and will be familiar to Ford family drivers. The screen isn't the easiest to read, however. The type faces are too light and wispy and offer too little contrast to be easily read. This is made worse on bright days when sunglasses are worn. Also, the screen is relatively small. The GM and Ram screens are better. The navigation system is otherwise easy to use. Inputting destination addresses is intuitive. SYNC is also included.
The Tool Link aspect of the Work Solutions equipment will tell you, on the center screen, which (if any) tool or anything else you've tagged is not in the truck when you are ready to leave.
Ford's tow command integrated trailer brake system is easy to set up and provides better, smoother trailer braking control than the majority of aftermarket controllers. From 2011 it is compatible with both conventional and electric-over-hydraulic braking systems and the display for gain adjustment has been incorporated in the instrument pod.
Ford will tell gearheads about new stability control, trailer sway control, revised steering gear here and differential changes there but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the 800 lb-ft of torque delivered by Ford's 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel. Torque is the twist that gets loads moving and is the primary propellant of any motor vehicle up to the 40-45 mph range. In trucks, especially those pulling weight and climbing hills, it is even more important.
The 6.7-liter Power Stroke's 800 lb-ft of torque is more than two Toyota 4.6 or GM 5.3-liter truck engines put together and not far off the combined output of two Ram Hemis or Ford's standard Super Duty 6.2-liter gas engines. Nearly double the torque and 30- to 100-percent better mileage make the cost of most diesel engine options, including this one, easy to justify, assuming you are going to work the truck.
Any negatives associated with diesel engines don't apply any more. The 6.7-liter Power Stroke makes no smoke, no nasty smells and less noise in the cab than the gasoline engine. Yes, it does have its own diesel aural characteristics just as the gas engine does but no one will complain about it. Smoggy city dwellers could be reminded the air coming out the exhaust is frequently cleaner than the air going in.
The new diesel is so quiet you can barely hear it at cruising speeds. The gas engine generates a more authoritative hum. Road noise is reasonably controlled since the nearest wheel is not right under your feet. Unless the road surface is bad, conversation volume will be determined more by what you're towing than anything coming from the engine bay or tires.
Power levels such as these scoot a four-ton pickup along the road quite well, and the Power Stroke will still be pulling hard when common sense prevails. Five-ton trailers are child's play.
Of course if you haven't more than a ton or two of building materials and tools to move around locally, the 6.2-liter gas engine is down on torque but has the same horsepower and will get the job done. It won't get the fuel mileage but will be less expensive to service (it takes about half the oil of the diesel). The lighter weight of the 6.2-liter V8 (especially off the front axle) means more payload capacity. Gasoline engines are quicker to start and warm-up for very cold plowing operations.
The new 6-speed automatic, the only transmission offered, is an ideal mate to either engine and offers excellent control. It can be shifted manually by pulling the lever to M and pushing an up/down rocker switch with your right thumb, just as GM's automatic. Like GM, Ford offers a dedicated 1 shift position, although Ford offers a dedicated 2 as well. We can understand multiple shifting options at different locations (such as steering wheel paddles and a console lever) but prefer the simplicity of the Dodge shifter which doesn't require moving the lever to M. Usually, however, we put it in Drive and let the transmission do its job, so all of this is relatively unimportant.
An exhaust brake function has been built into the diesel/automatic combination and it is fully automatic. It also comes on gently and silently, though to maintain descent speed on a grade when not towing you will still have to downshift manually; in cruise control the truck does all it can to maintain speed up hill or down automatically. Although the diesel makes peak power at 2800 rpm and has redline marked at 4000 rpm, anything beyond 3800 rpm is overspeed and brakes should be used.
For buyers who operate snow plows, towing services or anything else with powered equipment on the truck, Ford offers a PTO option, and unlike most of them this PTO works with the transmission in any gear.
The latest steering system provides fairly light effort and more directness that isn't that apparent unless you've just climbed out of an old one. The steering feels more consistent and it takes more maneuvering to beat the pump and momentarily run short of steering assist. In short, it works great.
No heavy-duty pickup rides like a car, however, and the Super Duty is no different.
While 20-inch wheels may look better, they tend to degrade ride comfort so if your driving involves marginal roads, or no roads at all, better to stick with the standard size wheels; they're usually lighter and easier on fuel too. That said, we towed a loaded 20-foot enclosed car trailer from Los Angeles to New York on the 20-inch wheels and never found them lacking.
There are a few instances in which a competitor might hold an advantage. GM full-size 4WD steering precision is better, a tradeoff many Super Duty owners happily accept to get Ford's solid front axle design often considered superior in durability and articulation. The GM's independent front suspension has a slightly softer ride, but that makes the back (especially empty) kick more for no real net gain. The Ram and GM HD pickups use sophisticated body mounts on all but regular cab models and clearly have less noise and vibration than the Super Duty.
A Super Duty has no obvious drawbacks in maneuverability for such a behemoth, and the cut-down front windows and large mirrors supply a good view. The new hood's smoother edges and corners make it more difficult to judge close-in distances but with a hood that big you'll be climbing out to scout what the trail has in store frequently anyway.
The word handling isn't ascribed to HD pickups as much as control is, and the Super Duty feels comfortable even with heavy loads. Brakes don't stand out as good or bad, and four-ton trucks never stop like cars, but the tow command system and cruise-integrated exhaust brake keep things in check.
Differences between the F-250 and F-350 SRW are essentially limited to the 350 capable of carrying or towing more weight. The F-350 DRW goes a much larger step further in payload and trailer towing (or camper carrying) stability. The max tow rating on some F-350 DRW is close to 23,000 pounds, but remember those ratings are given with a nearly empty, low-optioned truck. (Any trailer more than 8500 pounds requires weight-distribution on any F-250/F-350.) The model specified below is rated for a maximum payload of 3190 pounds, but add the diesel engine and five (U.S.-standard 150-pound) passengers and the camper load rating is 1732 pounds. Less options and accessories you add.
Often the choice comes down to an F-250 short-wheelbase SRW model vs. an F-350 (or F-450) long-wheelbase DRW model. It's not just the dual rear wheels that make parking an F-350 more difficult; the long-wheelbase makes negotiating tight parking lots more challenging. The long-wheelbase, dual rear wheel trucks are better while pulling a big, heavy trailer on the open highway. But we've found the F-250 short-wheelbase truck to be a superb tow vehicle and quite stable. The integrated brake controller is a great feature. If you're running a lot of tongue weight, you may want some air helper springs or a weight-distribution hitch.
The F-450 model is a crew-cab, long-box-only truck that bucked trends and downsized slightly for 2011. The 10-bolt wheels and 19.5-inch tires of the old model required a speed-limiter of just more than the top posted speed limits in Texas, and a lot of customers complained. So the F-450 is now closer in concept to an F-350 DRW with roughly the same load capacity (5260 pounds) but a tow rating of 24,500 pounds. Just make sure your driver's license can handle that load.
Whatever you are towing, the available towing mirrors are excellent and in some cases the wide-angle element is heated and the housing extends and/or folds electrically, handy when pulling up to the fast-food drive-through window.
The Ford Super Duty is the largest mass-market pickup truck you can get, offered in the widest array of configurations and most of the highest ratings that pickup truck bragging wars often revert to. It is more than capable of handling all reasonable recreational or commercial needs, and an honest, thoughtful appraisal of your uses will supply you the best value.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving several Ford Super Duty in conditions from snow to sand; Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.
Ford F-250 Regular Cab long box ($29,065 2WD XL); SuperCab short box and long box; Crew Cab short bed XLT 4WD ($40,860), Lariat ($45,565); F-350 SRW Regular Cab l/b; SuperCab s/b ($34,360 4WD XL), l/b; Crew Cab s/b, l/b; F-350 DRW Regular Cab l/b; SuperCab l/b; Crew Cab s/b, l/b ($34,050 2WD XL) all 2WD or 4WD; F-450 Crew Cab l/b 4WD ($49,395 XL).
Options As Tested
diesel engine; 3.55:1 axle ratio; locking rear differential; power telescoping mirrors; XLT interior package; block heater; power sliding rear window with defrost; rear parking sensors; rear camera; upfitter switches; dual alternators; tailgate step; sprayed bedliner; cable lock.