Big can be beautiful.
by Sue Mead
Base Price $19,160
As Tested $28,015
Ford's Super Duty F-250 pickup no longer looks like the F-150. Completely redesigned and re-engineered for 1999, the Super Duty F-250 -- and the rest of the new Super Duty F-Series pickups -- now look like real trucks.
Their menacing square-jawed front ends, brawny-looking raised hoods and aggressive headlamps are a big tip-off that there are significant differences underneath. In fact, the Super Duty F-Series trucks ride on an entirely different platform from the regular F-150 and F-250 models. The new Ford Super Duty F-250, which replaces the previous F-250HD, should not be confused with Ford's lighter duty F-250, which shares the F-150's aerodynamic body and chassis. Ford's new Super Duty F-250 boasts significant improvements its predecessor. A roomier, more comfortable interior makes long hauls more bearable. A better suspension, better brakes and a choice of more powerful engines make it a joy to drive. Greater capacities make all of the Super Duty F-Series trucks able to carry heavier loads and pull heavier trailers.
Until recently, heavy-duty trucks -- three-quarter- and one-ton models -- were work vehicles. While many still haul hay, pull horse trailers, work construction sites and are modified for all sorts of duties, more and more heavy-duty trucks are used for recreation. Recognizing this, Ford has redesigned its Super Duty trucks with a slew of thoughtful features to make them more enjoyable for ferrying families. But working stiffs haven't been forgotten.
More than 44 different configurations are available and we checked out a fair sample of them when the Super Duty F-Series line was launched. But we focused on a $27,045 Super Duty F-250 4X4 SuperCab four-door in Lariat trim with the optional $970 automatic transmission for a total of $28,015. The Super Duty F-250 competes with the other heavyweights from Detroit: the Dodge Ram 2500 and Chevrolet/GMC C/K 2500 -- which will soon be available as the all-new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
The most noticeable thing about the 1999 Super Duty F-250 is the new exterior styling. Some compare it to the big-rig look of the Dodge Ram. Traditionally, Ford's Super Duty trucks shared a cab with the F-l50 models, but this new line breaks that heritage. While the smaller F-l50s have rounded edges, the Super Duty pickups look like heavy-duty truck.
A dropped beltline gives the new F-250 a sense of openness and accessibility. It also makes it easier to climb in, a welcome feature when juggling tools, briefcases, or even toddlers. A distinctive dip along the front door side glass improves the driver's view of the exterior mirrors, a big help when towing a trailer or for seeing around cargo boxes or dump truck bodies. Two new Triton overhead-cam engines are available: A 5.4-liter V-8 is rated at 235 horsepower and 335 foot-pounds of torque, while a 6.8-liter V-10 is available rated at 275 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque. Our F-250 was equipped with the V-8.
The 7.3-liter Powerstroke diesel has been improved; it is quieter, more fuel-efficient, and more powerful. Ford expects it to be rated at 275 horsepower and 500 foot-pounds of torque.
A five-speed manual transmission comes standard with the gasoline engines, while a new six-speed manual is standard with the Powerstroke. The optional four-speed automatic transmission has been improved. Manual locking hubs are still available for the 4X4s.
Many trucks these days are used for work and personal duty. To address that, Ford is offering twice as many configurations as before.
The Super Duty F-250 comes in regular cab, extended Super Cab and four-door Crew Cab models. Short-bed (78-inch) and long-bed (96-inch) versions are available. Three trim levels are offered: standard XL, mid-level XLT, and luxurious Lariat.
Extended cab models can now be ordered with four doors. The wheelbase of regular cab trucks has been stretched four inches and the truck is nine inches longer overall. Wheelbase lengths include 137 inches (regular cab), 142 inches (SuperCab short-bed), 158 inches (SuperCab long-bed), 156 inches (Crew Cab short-bed) and 172 inches (Crew Cab long-bed).
With the ability to tow up to 13,400 pounds, the Super Duty F-250 offers the best towing capacity in its class. Some retail prices, including destination charges: F-250 4x2 Super Duty SuperCab with 142-inch wheelbase in XL trim, $20,915; in XLT, $22,295. F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab 4x4 in Lariat trim with 172-inch wheelbase, $28,970, with two-wheel drive, $25,870.
The Inside Story
Ford designers didn't just make this truck bigger and better. They made it smarter. Realizing that today's truck owners spend a lot of time in their vehicles, designers paid more attention to comfort and convenience. New interior features include a fold-down armrest, a floor console that can accommodate a laptop, and a removable hanging bin for storage that can attach to the dash. Controls are big, easy to reach and manipulate and gauges are easy to read. The only exception is the instrument panel dimmer, which is a bit hard to reach. Two large cupholders are provided. The standard cigar lighter is augmented with a second auxiliary power outlet.
Passenger-side airbags offer a deactivation switch on regular cab and SuperCab models. Adjustable seatbelt anchors increase safety and comfort.
This truck is much roomier than before. An additional l.5 inches of seat travel is designed to accommodate a wider range of drivers. Shoulder room has been increased by more than three inches and hip room by more than five inches.
Ride & Drive
We drove our F-250 along the Pacific Coast, down bustling inland freeways and off road in the back country. Our overwhelming impression was that it drove like a much smaller truck. It almost felt like a big luxury car. We were impressed with the striking combination of crisp handling and compliant ride quality. The steering was precise.
The new chassis is more rigid than the previous platform, which allowed Ford engineers to redesign and retune the suspension geometry. Body roll was noticeably limited in the corners.
Four-wheel disc brakes, which are standard, provided excellent driver feedback. Braking performance was impressive with smooth, undramatic stops. Rear ABS, which modulates brake pressure when rear-wheel lockup is detected, is standard on XL and XLT. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes were standard on our Lariat models, a $500 option on the other trim levels. The F-250 comes with a 16-inch wheel and tire package.
We found the SuperCab's four doors a great way to gain access to the rear seat, which is standard on the XLT and Lariat models and optional with the XL trim. The rear seat cushion folds up and forward and the seatback folds down to create a steel flat loading surface, a perfect place to put tools and other heavy items that need to stay secure and out of the elements.
The rear doors are 25 inches wide. They hinge on the rear pillars of the cab and swing out a full 90 degrees from the doorsill. This design eases the loading of gear and passengers and contributes to occupant safety with the combination of vertical beams and a cross brace where the front and rear doors meet.
It seems like the timing couldn't be better for a new line of Super Duty trucks. Nearly half of all vehicles sold last year were trucks and SUVs. Ford says the market for trucks heavier than 8,500 pounds GVW has increased by about 80 percent in the past five years.
We like the new styling. But with features that make it as comfortable as a luxury car and capabilities that allow it to perform more work than ever before, this new F-250 is a thing of beauty.
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