Buyers expect heavy-duty trucks to be durable, capable and reliable. Unlike 1/2-ton models, heavy-duty trucks are used more frequently for hard work, whether that means towing 30,000 pounds of trailer and equipment or carrying over 7000 pounds of payload, and its owners expect it to perform without issues. That's a lot of pressure for the only players in the game -- namely Ford, Ram Truck, Chevrolet and GMC -- yet all of them have decades of expertise. Chevrolet/GMC and Ram Truck recently introduced new HD trucks. Now, we've experienced first-hand the latest and greatest from Ford, sampling the F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty.
All three benefit from significant updates for 2015, namely improvements to the engine, transmission and chassis. The new truck has more horsepower and torque from its turbodiesel 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8. The output is best in class, without any increase in emissions. Horsepower is up by 40, to a total of 440 and torque has increased by 60 and is now 860. (A 6.2-liter gas engine, unchanged for 2015, is also available.) Also best in class is the Super Duty's capability: the F-450 boasts a towing capacity of 31,200 pounds, and a gross combined weight rating (the weight of the truck, the trailer and all people and gear) of 40,000 pounds.
The other side of the truck though, is the interior amenities. These aren't like the haulers from when we were kids, where having roll-up windows, no air conditioning and entertainment provided by AM radio was the norm. Today's HD trucks cater to people that are going to tow their ultra-lux RVs, or horses and trailers that are worth millions. That audience isn't shy about investing in an opulent tow vehicle--which is a nice customer to have, especially considering there are no trucks like these available from luxury brands. Ford has targeted these customers with King Ranch and the Platinum editions. Among the amenities are yards upon yards of leather and creature comforts galore. The King Ranch offers up that luxury with Western flair (but more low-key than the Ram Laramie Longhorn), and price tags that would make a workin' man's eyes water: it is possible to spend $75,000 on an F-450 Platinum. But keep in mind that isn't all that unusual in this segment.
Ford's challenge with these trucks is to appeal to two very different groups--fleet buyers who want a hard-working truck on a budget, and lux buyers who want amenities--but both are looking for capability. We spent time towing, carrying payload and driving the Super Duty empty, and found it is good at its job and perfectly happy getting it done.
The first truck of the day was the F-450, which was set up with a trailer towing 31,200 pounds. It powered up a 7-percent grade with ease (we weren't allowed to drive it, as the weight of the truck and trailer required a commercial driver's license), making excellent use of the increased horsepower and torque. But this is the hardest-working truck in the line, and its suspension is also the firmest and most jarring.
The F-350 was set up to tow a 12,000-pound trailer. Its ride was much more comfortable than the F-450's, and all of the trucks' cabins were surprisingly quiet. In addition, the seats provided the right balance of support and comfort for long drives. Climbing and descending a steep grade was easy, thanks to easy-to-use features like hill descent control, hill-start assist, exhaust brake, trailer brake control and tow/haul mode, and all of these work well together. This reinforced what turned out to be a running theme for the day: the Super Duty trucks make towing and hauling easy, whether you're an old pro or the occasional RVer.
We drove the F-250--the best-selling Super Duty--empty, under a payload and with a 9,000-pound trailer and came away just as impressed with its strong work ethic. It tows with confidence and the payload didn't faze the truck in the least. Driving it without trailer or payload highlighted a few key details about the truck: first, that the 6-speed automatic transmission's shifts were just as pleasantly smooth as they were while towing; second, that the ride is still comfortable enough even when the truck bed is empty; and third, the diesel engine makes the F-Series Super Duty fast. It isn't quick like a sports car, but it'll get to speed soon enough.
Those who were hoping for a big restyle may be a little disappointed in the 2015 Super Duty, but those who want a pickup for towing and hauling with plenty of luxury options, should certainly consider the F-Series Super Duty. Pricing starts at $32,240 for the XL, well within reach of fleet buyers, and goes up from there.
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