2017 Ford Super Duty exceeds driving expectations

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I don’t often offer up this many words when I am reviewing a new vehicle, but it isn’t every year that new heavy-duty line of trucks are introduced, and even less often when it is already the nation’s best-selling lineup and a ground-up redesign.  That is what Ford has done this fall with its F-250 (and up) Super Duty models, and — based upon my driving experiences — the results are stunning.

087-ford-denverI drove the new F-series trucks in Colorado — on-road, off-road, towing, hauling, and doing all of the things that I expect you to do with your trucks.  I will be driving them again next month in a more typical Texas environment on a ranch property and should be able to offer even more driving impressions.

Optimized Materials and major changes

First, there is a dramatic change in materials.  This is the first heavy duty with upgauged aluminum body panels that help remove about 350-pounds of weight.  And, before you send me links to the GM truck ads showing how second-rate aluminum is, I will tell you that it just isn’t so.  While the F-150 redesign was designed to reduce weight to increase tow capacity and other benefits, the Super Duty (which already had class leading tow and payload capacities) was lightweighted to build in more capability.  There is a stronger fully-boxed high-strength steel frame, bigger more-robust axles, and increased fuel and DEF tank capacities.

New steel frame

17fordsuperduty-boxframe_03_hrI haven’t heard any complaints about the previous generation of Super Duty frame, but this one is up to 24 times stiffer than the previous generation with six-times more than before.  The frame is fully boxed from front to rear on pickup versions and that translates to reducing noise, vibration and harshness.  Middle frame rails are 1.5″ taller and (depending upon size and model) there are up to 10 crossmembers for a rigid ladder structure. Torsional stiffness is enhanced by their through-welded, close section design.  For comparison purposes, Ford says that the dimensional difference between the new crossmembers is 9″x3.5″, while respected competitors parts measure out as 7.75″ x 3.5″ and 7.75″x2.75″ respectively.  Frame parts are e-coat painted for durability and corrosion resistance and suspension attachment points are post-pierced after the frame is welded for enhanced handling.

Increased weight-carrying capability tow new hitch receivers

Outdoor sportsmen expect their heavy-duty trucks to tow a lot and well.  The new Super Duty has 2.5″ and 3″ hitch high-strength steel receivers with a platform that extends under the truck frame.  Weight-distributing hitches are not needed for towing the maximum conventional trailer rating of the truck, and the combination of features accommodates large boat trailers and pintle hitches that are not compatible with weight-distributing bars.  To accommodate smaller hitches, the 3″ hitch receiver includes 2″ and 2.5″ nested inserts and the 2.5″ receiver includes a 2″ insert.  This is a great feature if you tow a variety of different sized trailers.

Chassis upgrades

You don’t make the kind of material and frame changes that Ford has without making substantial changes to the chassis, as well.  Everything is more robust, and beefing up the systems and components makes a considerable difference.

Driveline

Most components have been upgraded.  Rear axle housings and increased ring gear diameters, along with increased torque, critical for many towing applications, from driveshaft, joints and transfer cases.  If you have ever towed your sports vehicle up a steep grade, you know how important any improvement can be.

Suspension

Ford has retained the twin I-beam front suspension on all 4X2 pickups and the F-350 Chassis Cab 4X2, while redesigning the mono-beam front suspension front radius arms on 4X4 models and F-450/550 Chassis Cab 4X2 models.  There are new front and rear springs, retuned front and rear shocks with larger lower bushings.  Rear suspension joints and bushings are upgraded and front stabilizer bars and collars are upsized.

For non-gear heads, this all means the ride will be better, you can be more confident with handling, and your truck time will be much improved.  Sometimes I know that you are less enchanted with a description of how stuff gets done than in the benefits to you, but — for the technically inclined — here’s a summary of the changes.

Steering and brake changes

Brakes and steering are among the most important elements when you tow, as anyone who does it can attest.  The 2017 Super Duty trucks have new larger breaks on the F-450 and F-550 models for increased stopping power, on DRW and Chassis Cab models, there is a new 4-channel ABS. AdvanceTrac with RSC and trailer sway control capability.

Steering feel has been improved on all of the new models, along with a faster steering ratio for long-wheelbase model.  One of the new features that really impressed me were class-exclusive available adaptable steering which changes the ratio between your actions at the steering wheel and how much the front wheels turn with your motion.  That means your exert yourself less and make fewer turns of the wheel.  The difference is pretty dramatic and I suspect that towing would also be easier.

Powertrain Upgrades

Many people don’t realize that Ford is the only heavy-duty truck maker that designs and builds its own engines and the mated transmissions streamlining dialogue and the development process.  The changes to the 6.7L turbo diesel V8 for this second generation reflect what used to be tagged continuous improvement.  The 2017 diesel delivers 44o hp and 925 lb.-ft. of torque.  This is partly accomplished through the inclusion of new fuel injectors and pump.  The turbocharger is larger and the design, which a downpipe design shaped like a cobra head reduces exhaust gas restrictions for a performance improvement.  The 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is B20 biodiesel capability.

In addition, a 6.2L V8 gas engine offers 430 lb.-ft. of torque and 385 hp.  Here the increased torque makes it a more efficient tow vehicles, particularly on steep grades.  The engine is mated to an all-new 6-speed automatic on the F-350 and is E85 flex fuel capable and available with a CNG/propane prep package.

Interior improvements

Ford deserves credit for upgrading its truck interiors years ago to reflect changing consumer tastes and it has paid off handsomely.  For the all-new Super Duty, this continues.  All three cabs are longer in size than their predecessors and feature new seating designs.  They are exceedingly comfortable and more attractive from my driving experience.  The will take a long trip and make it more palatable than ever.

Acknowledging that these are trucks that have a job to do for users who take their activities seriously, controls on the instrument panel are within driver reach, with the 4X4 selector and integrated brake controller mounted higher and angled toward the driver.  In my own driving experience, I found that these improvements are considerable, and I am shorter than the average Super Duty driver.

17fordf350kingranch_4685_hrUpfitter switches have been relocated to the overhead console — a good decision that has made room for other functions and increased the space allowed so that there are now four 25A switches powered via the ignition and two 40A switches which can be powered by either the ignition or battery.  Nothing is cramped or requires a search tool to locate it.

The new center console has greater storage, both open and closed, and the center armrest is  fully functional as a vehicle-based desktop.  That armrest will also accommodate hanging file folders (no fun at all) which gives you an idea of its depth and breadth.  There are large open pockets on both the lower sides of the console.

Interior power outlets are critical these days and the Super Duty has new 110V/400W versions.  An optional high-power inverter provides up to 400W when the truck is stopped or 300W while driving.  I like that outlets can be divided between the front seat (located on the instrument panel) and a second one is provided for the rear seat when the truck is equipped with a flow-through center console on both the Super Cab and Crew Cab models.  The rear seat location is one that I hope Ford will consider as a standard in the future.  For reference, chargers for cordless tools and laptops only use 75-100 watts each so there is plenty of power onboard for almost anything you might need to do.  Upfit those upper console toggles and you are all set.

17fordf250lariat_1225_hrThe storage availability on the flat load floor when the rear seats are folded up has been increased by 6″ in the Super Cab model and by 3″ in the Crew Cab, and there is available lockable underseat storage in the Crew version which is neatly concealed under the unfolded rear seat.  It folds out of the way when the load floor is needed.

17fordf350kingranch_4203_hrWhile it is not officially part of the interior but is certainly a factor when you are loading passengers or cargo into a SuperCab truck, the rear doors on the 2017 version now open wider — a full 170-degrees — for wide open access.  This makes perfect sense and works extremely well.

I won’t focus here on the range of technology available on the 2017 except to say that it will meet your needs and that everything you need is available.  Some unique features that make towing easier.

Towing and Hauling

Ford took a beating when it first introduced an aluminum bed for the F-150.  The subject has been debated endlessly and I won’t belabor it.  Suffice to say that I have never heard an owner complain that the aluminum didn’t work for them.  I attribute it to the fact that some aluminum alloys have twice the strength-to-weight ratio of bake-hardened steel.  The aluminum used on the 2017 heavy duty models is more dent and ding resistant than the outgoing steel ones and it is naturally resistant to red rust corrosion.  The aluminum bed on the Super Duty is not the same bed as is on the F-150.  Upgauged aluminum alloy is used on the bed and inner side panels, the bed pattern is optimized for strength, and crossmembers are 45% thicker with a new fifth-wheel gooseneck-crossmember reinforcement.

Most important are the increased payloads which Ford describes as best-in-class — 7,630 lbs. for the F-350 and 4,200 lbs. for the F-250.

Tow capabilities blew me away.  Again Ford says tow loads are best in class with gooseneck tow ratings of 32,500 lbs. and 32,000 lbs. on the F-450 and the F-350-dually respectively.  Maximum fifth-wheel towing is rated at 27,500 lbs.  Conventional towing upgrades have also been upped to 21,000 lbs. max without a weight-distributing hitch.  Probably most important to sportsmen is that max conventional towing has been increased to 18,000 lbs. with the a newly-offered tow package and with the single wheel model of the F-350.

Most impressive was my experience with the towing tech package on this new heavy duty series.  I used to field a lot of flack from readers about rear view cameras in trucks.  The argument was that if you were going to tow you had to do it using only mirrors or mirrors and a human spotter.  I don’t hear that anymore.  Rear view cameras work.  They make it easier to line up the vehicle and the object that is being towed.

17-ford-super-duty-trailer-reverse-guidanceNow Ford has taken all that many steps forward.  The new Super Duty has a suite of seven cameras and features that make towing — even for a novice — much easier.  The front camera has a 180-degree view which allows an improved view when pulling out.  Side-view mirror cameras provide a view along along the length of both sides of the truck and, when combined with front and tailgate cameras, offer a 360-degree view.  The tailgate camera is equipped with dynamic guidance lines which make the rearward direction much simpler to execute on the first pass.  It also provides a zoom close up of the hitch.  This works beautifully in combination with the exclusive trailer reverse guidance feature in which a target sticker placed on a conventional trailer hitch to determine trailer angle and, with the side-view mirror cameras offer views of the trailer as it dynamically adjusts as the trailer turns.  You can get multiple stickers if you use multiple trailers, and it takes less than 15-minutes for set up for each.  Time well spent.

There is also an optional factory-installed trailer camera that you place on your tow to provide an in-cab view behind your trailer.  It is prewired and connects to a 12-pin electrical connector.  Good news for towing a boat is that it is waterproof and completely submersible.

Last but certainly not least is the center high-mounted stop light camera which provides a good view of the cargo bed and assists in fifth-wheel goose neck connections.

If a new Super Duty is in your future and you regularly tow, I encourage you to spring for the entire 7-camera suite, and I don’t often say that.  I have tried it multiple times and it makes the most miserable parts of towing far less unpleasant.  I also rode shotgun with a person who had never before lined up tow a load and, using the new system, was able to align and back up for trailer hookup on the first try, and on successive additional attempts.

My conclusions

I am generally a cynic when hearing that something is the latest and greatest.  I consider it a challenge to find the weak links and dispute the claim.  I couldn’t do it this time.  The new Ford Super Duty trucks for 2017 have so many features that are exclusive and that enhance the heavy duty driving experience that, taken as a whole, set them apart.  For sportsmen, these trucks are highly covetable, particularly if towing is a frequent occurence.  I know they won’t come cheap and many of the best features are optional, but they are top notch additions.

 

 

 

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