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2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson August 2016

Ford has been the leader in heavy-duty pickup trucks for nearly 20 years, ever since the Super Duty lineup started in the 1999 model year. The 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty lineup has just been revealed and, as a Ford marketing man stated, "A leader leads." The new heavy-duty Ford trucks feature innovations and advances in multiple areas, and the other manufacturers will be forced to take notice.

Choices

The Super Duty lineup breaks down into two categories: pickup trucks and chassis cabs. Chassis cabs are trucks delivered without beds, just bare frame rails behind the cab, mostly for commercial and fleet customers.

The pickup trucks fall into three levels: F-250, F-350 and F-450. As the truck numbers increase, they gain strength, capability, features and price. Each variant can be ordered in up to five ascending trim levels: XL (base), XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum. Three cab styles are available: Regular (2-door, F-250 and F-350); Super Cab (2-row with clamshell second-row doors, F-250 and F-350); and Crew Cab (2-row with full-size second-row doors, F-250, F-350 and F-450). Two box lengths get matched to the cabs: 6.75 feet or 8 feet, along with five wheelbase choices, from 142 inches to 175 inches in various combinations. The possibilities are dizzying, but they allow buyers to choose just the right setup for their needs. Prices will start at $32,535 for an F-250 Regular Cab XL and can top $80,000 for a full F-450 Crew Cab Platinum with all the extras.

The changes for 2017 could fill a book. There's a new frame, new body, new suspension, new interior, upgraded engine and transmission, increased towing and hauling capability, a bigger fuel tank, new technology, steering ... the list goes on and on. We'll try to hit the highlights without getting lost in the weeds.

You've Been Framed

When you're talking about heavy-duty trucks, the discussion has to start with the frame. Ford strengthened the Super Duty pickup frame in several ways, most significantly by using boxed rails in place of open C-channel rails. Not only does the new frame have more robust structure, it is also made of a much higher percentage of high-strength steel than before. Up to 10 crossmembers (depending on configuration) form the ladder-style connection between the rails, and they are similarly beefy. This strong foundation forms the basis of all the gains in towing and hauling capability that Ford can now trumpet.

Aluminum

Following in the footsteps of the light-duty Ford F-150, the Super Duty adopts an all-aluminum body this year. In fact, the Super Duty cab, from A-pillar to C-pillar, is the same as the F-150 cab. This shared aspect was part of the development of both vehicle classes, and it makes sense for the body and the interior. The Super Duty's front fenders and hood are beefier with more big-truck styling than the light-duty version, functionally providing more room for bigger engine choices. The squared-off look of the front end gets emphasis from a big rectangular grille bracketed by LED daytime running lights that make it look even wider. A big, bold, blue Ford oval dominates the center of the grille and will fill many rearview mirrors.

The Super Duty bed has slightly lower walls than the F-150 and gets a stronger aluminum load floor with unique beads and valleys. The tailgate is damped, either with internal springs or external shock-style dampers, and has remote locking and unlocking. The available tailgate step (an F-150 innovation) tucks away inside the tailgate when not in use. Tie-down hooks are standard at the four floor corners, and an available new BoxLink system allows for the use of industry-standard E-Track accessories. A crossmember underlies the bed to form the basis of a gooseneck or fifth-wheel connection.

The aluminum body, bed and other lighter parts took 350 pounds off the Super Duty, but the engineers redistributed that weight back into the frame, so there's little net change in weight between generations. Moving the weight down has lowered the truck's center of gravity, which has a very positive effect on handling and ride quality. The suspension parts have also been massaged and upgraded to add strength and to improve performance.

My Office Has Wheels

Inside the cabin, you'll find many shared parts with the F-150. Clever storage abounds, including a second (upper) glove compartment, a center console big enough for hanging files and laptop computers, door pockets that can swallow a notebook and more. There are plenty of power ports and USB outlets, and even available 110-volt connections. The only thing missing is a Wi-Fi hot spot -- a pretty big absence in a mobile office, but the aftermarket can take care of that. The second row (in Super Cab and Crew Cab models) gets some refinement as well, including a flat load floor and simple, yet clever, concealed lockable under-seat storage.

Power to the People

Three engines are available for the Super Duty: a 6.2-liter gasoline V8 (385 horsepower/430 lb-ft of torque), a 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbo diesel (440 hp/925 lb-ft of torque) and a 6.8-liter gasoline V10 (available on Chassis Cab only). A 6-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels (4x2) or all four wheels (4x4). The diesel engine is a monster. Ford had to limit the torque in the lower gears, or else the truck would burn rubber off the line at every start. The gas engine is no slouch either, but the diesel is what makes the Super Duty shine. The 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth and refined, delivering seamless shifts. Well done, Ford.

Both the gas and diesel engines in the Super Duty run smoothly. Inside the cabin, there's little intrusion of engine noise or vibration. Only at full throttle while towing a load did the diesel's voice become a factor, and even then, it was easy to carry on a conversation in the cabin without raising voices. Ford has even refined the cupholder in the center console, which doubles from 2- to 4-cup capacity with the slide of a frame -- a patent-pending solution that's so smart, you'll wish you thought of it first.

You've Got to Carry That Weight

Ford claims that 90 percent of Super Duty customers use their pickup trucks for towing.

Like hp and torque figures, towing capacity and payload have been a bit of an arms race. The old half-ton vs. 3-quarter-ton vs. full-ton distinctions between trucks have lost their pure meaning, as the minimum payload for the F-250 is 4,200 pounds -- that's over two tons. The F-350 can haul up to 7,630 pounds -- that's over 3.75 tons. Pow! Similarly mind-blowing specs show up in the towing column: The F-250 and F-350 (single rear wheel) can tow up to 18,000 pounds with a conventional bumper hitch, and for the dual-rear-wheel F-350 and F-450, the max is 21,000 pounds. Gooseneck and fifth-wheel figures are even better: up to 32,500 pounds for the F-450 and F-350 dual-rear-wheel gooseneck rigs, and up to 27,500 pounds for fifth-wheel rigs. The average 2-horse trailer is no problem, and even a 4-horse trailer should be within range.

The updates go beyond just capacity: Ford has engineered additional towing capability with technology advances. Trailer sway control is standard across the lineup. Available features include trailer tire-pressure monitoring, Ford's Blind Spot Information System that can be programmed to cover the trailer's blind spots in addition to the truck's blind spots, adaptive cruise control, up to seven cameras -- including a wired camera that's installed on the back of the trailer -- and more. The cameras make trailer reverse guidance possible, aiding in straight backing and jackknife warning. Expert trailer drivers may find some of these features extraneous, but everyone else will be thrilled with the visual help.

Take the Wheel

The standard steering setup is a hydraulic power-assisting recirculating ball system, and that works well. An available adaptive steering system with an electric motor and worm gears can be installed in the steering wheel. This system reduces steering ratio at low speeds and increases it at higher speeds. So when you're in tight situations, you get more steering with fewer steering-wheel rotations, and when you're on the highway or towing, small steering-wheel inputs are minimized. There's some numbness at center speed, which is often a feature of electric power steering, but the maneuverability at low speed is worth the trade-off.

We Are the Champions

The 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty pickups look good on paper and in person. They drive better than before, haul and tow more and are remarkably refined. In the heavy-duty pickup world, the Super Duty is the clear leader. Chevrolet's Silverado HD and GMC's Sierra HD received recent makeovers, as did the RAM HD. Nissan's Titan HD doesn't have the big specs to play in this arena, though it may do the job for some buyers. Serious heavy-duty pickup truck buyers will continue to flock to Ford lots, and they should be very pleased with what they find.

For access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty: First Drive Review - Autotrader