It has long been the stereotype that pickup trucks are built for the tough types, the kind of people who can prepare the fields and plant the crops but aren’t clever enough to market them in the store with a catchy tagline.
Engine: 6.2L Gas V8 with 385 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque or a 6.7L diesel with 440 hp and 925 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: N/A
Pricing: Starts at $33,730.
Pricing (CAN): Starts at $39,849.
It is no coincidence that these stereotypes exist, considering for many years trucks were simply measured by their toughness. How clever and intuitive its systems operated were of no concern, as long as the rig could do the job whenever it was called upon.
But now it’s 2016, and the 2017 Super Duty pickup truck lineup has received its graduate degree and masters from Ford university. This is one smart truck that has toughness to back up its brains.
Brains and Brawn
Before you ask, yes, Ford’s new heavy duty (HD) pickup trucks now have an aluminum body just like the F-150 half ton. In fact, the cabs are shared between the two trucks, which means that the interior design and some of the styling cues have graduated up from the F-150 to the HD lineup. On average, Ford’s HD has been trimmed down by 350 pounds, allowing for larger carrying capacities then ever before.
To be specific, max towing is pegged at 32,500 pounds with a gooseneck, 27,500 pounds with a fifth-wheel and 21,000 pounds of conventional towing. Those numbers all apply to the F-450, which is only offered as a crew cab, diesel long box. The F-250 and F-350 single rear wheels can handle 18,000 pounds of conventional towing. Best of all, Ford says that thanks to some clever engineering, a weight distributing hitch is not required even when loaded to the max limit on the conventional hitch. We didn’t use one while pulling trailers through the foothills in Colorado and it certainly didn’t feel like we needed it.
Thanks to the shared cab, the new HDs are nearly indistinguishable from the F-150 on the inside, save for a small selection of fresh features. More storage is now available thanks to a new upper glove box that is well concealed behind a trim piece, while under the rear seat a new lockable storage bin is available for storing long items.
Both are smart additions to the truck, though one of the smartest new features may just be the sliding cup holder cover that can quickly change the drink-holding capacity from 2 to 4 in the center console. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s these small, clever touches that make the Super Duty such a strong proposition.
Another great example of this is the rubber-wrapped button mounted to the wall of the bed that allows you to switch on the box-mounted LEDs, lighting up your work at night. While other manufactures offer bed lights, none offer a switch in the bed to work them, which means you’re either walking to the cab or reaching for a key fob to operate them. There’s even a new LED light stuck into the bed handle, lighting up the entire rear area of the truck, which makes hooking up a trailer at night no problem. And the F-150’s mirror-mounted spotlights also carry over, ready to light up any job site.
Probably the simplest system (at least in appearance) in the truck is the engine, and that’s saying something. Under the hood of the entire range, which spans the F-250, F-350 and F-450, buyers can choose from either a 6.7-liter turbodiesel or a 6.2-liter gas-powered V8. Opt for the gas engine and you’ll get 385 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, while the diesel puts out a massive 440 hp and 925 lb-ft of torque.
Both are hooked to six-speed automatic transmissions, which can be manually shifted for more control using small buttons located on the standard column shifter.
Pulling that shifter down into drive gives the driver access to some of the smartest systems on the market and a mountain of torque, which is meant to get big loads up to speed, but also provides quick acceleration when the Super Duty is riding empty. After a head-to-head comparison with the Ford’s direct competition, it was pretty clear that the truck with the blue oval on its nose was the quickest – at least it felt that way. Throwing 10,000 pounds on the back was barely enough to slow this truck down either, jumping up to speed when commanded through the right pedal.
Not just quick, but comfortable, too. Especially in the F-250, the new ride of the Super Duty is noticeable, feeling barely stiffer than a half-ton, while the diesel rumble is muted to an ideal level – just enough to be heard but not enough to be annoying.
Technology in Trucks?
When it comes to driving technology, the Super Duty studied extra hard and it gets high marks. First, we have the adaptive steering system, operated by a small electric motor that fits into the steering wheel, making the steering ratio variable. That means at low speeds less input into the steering wheel will turn the front wheels further, allowing the navigation of parking lots with less input. On the flip side, on the highway, the ratio grows so that the steering is not twitchy, allowing for comfortable cruising. And it works great, ensuring that the driver is doing the least amount of work possible to guide the truck.
Unlike the F-150, the Super Duty has a hydraulically boosted steering rack, resulting in a natural feeling in your hands. The weight of the wheel is especially nice, and unlike electrically boosted steering systems, which can have variable weighting depending on speed, the Super Duty’s wheel weight stays good and hefty at all speeds. This is especially important for highway cruising, where the on-center feel is about as direct and connected as it gets.
While the adaptive steering system works away in the background, Ford’s new adaptive cruise control system works wonders right in front of your eyes. Adaptive cruise alone is nothing new, but integrating the system with the trailer brake, transmission and exhaust brake to hold back large trailers descending steep grades certainly is. Set the cruise at 50 mph, and the truck will take care of the rest, including keeping you a set distance back from the vehicle in front.
For safety’s sake, as the truck’s speed increases, so does its following distance, something that is imperative when you need more space to stop a trailer. The system performed quite well for us, especially when descending hills, holding back the trailer’s weight very comfortably, though there was one hiccup. At one point with the adaptive cruise set, our truck suddenly grabbed the brakes, mistaking a car that was in the left lane to be in front of us, proving once again that technology isn’t perfect and the driver always needs to stay alert.
Cameras, Cameras and More Cameras
Cameras are also a huge part of the technology that makes the Super Duty so much easier to use. A nose camera helps you see obstacles directly in front the truck, while a front wide-angle view is also available for tight maneuvering. Out back, a high-mounted camera makes hooking up a gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitch a breeze when you’re alone.
Of course, there is a regular backup camera, but the truly smart addition to this camera system is known as the AUX camera. It can be attached onto a trailer anywhere. In most cases, it will probably end up on the rear of the trailer to show the driver what is behind the rig, but you could also put it inside of a trailer to keep tabs on cargo.
Backing up a trailer in the Super Duty has also been made easier than ever thanks to these cameras and two specific systems. A small truck icon will show you the predicted course of your trailer as you reverse, along with a warning if a jackknife is imminent. There’s even a setting for backing up in a straight line that shows the driver a small steering wheel and coaches you on how to keep your rig dead straight.
Not only will the Super Duty help you back up with a trailer, it also has a new blind-spot monitoring system that can see all the way down the length of the trailer and will alert the driver if the car in the adjacent lane is in the way of a lane change. Tire pressure monitoring is now also available on your trailer’s tires, too, and the truck will warn you if one of those rollers is under inflated. Ford really thought of everything to make trailering with this truck as stress-free as possible.
We had the chance to pull a few different trailers with the Super Duty, from 10,000 pounds hooked to the standard hitch, up to a full 30,000 pounds loaded hitched to the gooseneck (in this case we rode along in the passenger seat), and the Super Duty did admirably in both situations. Even when maxed out, acceleration felt acceptable for highway merging, while the trailer didn’t feel like it was controlling the truck at all. Some more front to back bucking was present than felt comfortable, even with the smaller trailer, but not enough to push the truck around while driving.
Hit the Dirt
We also took the chance to leave the pavement and do some off-roading, just to further prove that this HD can do just about everything. For customers who do plan to crash through the forest with their trucks, the FX4 package can be added, bringing Rancho shocks, hill descent control a skid plate and a transfer case to the table.
The ride of the truck seemed slightly cushier with the new shocks, absorbing the loose rocks and broken railroad ties we navigated well. The hill descent control worked also did its job, grabbing the brakes fairly quickly and bringing the truck down steep inclines slowly and in control. On the flip side, when it’s time to head back up the steep sandy hills, an e-locker in the rear end will lock the axle and allow all that power to be evenly distributed.
Its size works against for tight trails of course, but for reaching the rural job site or traversing the construction site, this Super Duty is up to the task.
At the base level, the 2017 F-250 XL starts at $33,730, while maxing this truck out at the F-450 Platinum with nearly all of the options pushes the price to around $85,000. A basic F-350 will cost $37,700.
The Verdict: 2017 Ford Super Duty Review
There isn’t a single other HD pickup on the market with the combination of advanced technologies that can be found on the Super Duty. And these aren’t gimmicks. When you spend day in and day out sweating at the job site, having a truck that is as intuitive to work with and confident to drive as this Ford makes each hour spent that much more productive.