It's not often that the truck segment turns all-new at once, but that's basically what's happening with heavy-duty pickups.
The 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty is the latest entrant in a violently competitive category. Given the current economic climate, new 2010 emissions regulations for diesel, and certain factions of political correctness, the rivalry between truck brands has never been more challenging. The 2010 Dodge Ram HD recently appeared, while GM will likely soon give us an early look of the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD/2011 GMC Sierra HD.
Ford introduced its redesigned 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty to us at the 2009 State Fair of Texas, a place where pickups really matter. Like almost no other segment of the auto industry, the heavy-duty truck category requires excellence in design, power, fuel economy, overall strength and cost of ownership. But after taking a close look at the latest Super Duty pickup, it looks as if Ford has done its homework.
Something Old and Something New
You can think of the 2011 Ford Super Duty as a home renovation, the kind where you get a complete redesign while preserving the existing foundation. Like your house, the frame of the new Super Duty is only slightly modified, as a few crossmembers have been relocated. But after that, there's new stuff everywhere you look.
First you'll see the even more aggressive grille, which features the largest-ever example of Ford's big, blue oval logo (well, outside of the one on top of Ford's big building in Dearborn, of course), which measures 13 inches wide. There's a new, deeper cutline in the sheet metal that runs the length of the truck and there are more pronounced wheel flares and larger wheel openings.
The interior design changes are a little more dramatic. Ford redesigned the gauge layout and remolded the seats. It has created a rather clever storage system for the center console that apparently can be reconfigured in more than 70 different ways. With about 60 percent more storage room than the previous console, this new bin will hold a laptop, notebooks and various-size files, and has both a 12-volt power point and a 110-volt inverter plug.
The interior also features a "Productivity Screen," which (among the usual tripmeter functions) lets you work through a menu of advice to help configure the powertrain and suspension settings for towing. There's also a checklist of advice for driving the truck in four-wheel drive.
Diesel Power to the Heavy-Duty People
It's no secret Ford has had some trouble with its Navistar-built turbodiesel engines in the past, so the company is introducing a new, turbocharged 6.7-liter diesel V8 that has been designed by Ford. This new PowerStroke V8 features a unique, Garrett-built turbocharger with a double-sided compressor wheel that functions like a sequential turbo system — the small turbine spins up quickly for good response at low rpm while the large turbine delivers a large volume of air for more power at high rpm. It's a twin-turbo setup in single-turbo clothing.
The turbo sits in the valley between the iron-block V8's new aluminum heads, a position made possible because the new heads have inboard exhaust ports (a first for a modern diesel). One of the further consequences is a dramatic reduction in noise, vibration and harshness. Additionally, Ford uses a high-speed common-rail injection system that not only increases fuel-efficiency and power output but also makes this one of the quietest heavy-duty turbodiesels that Ford has ever sold. Power outputs are reported to be significantly improved, but rated horsepower and torque numbers won't be released for several months (we're guessing 365 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque).
It's worth noting that 2010 emissions regulations require the 6.7-liter PowerStroke V8 to inject urea into the exhaust stream and then process everything with a rather complicated three-stage exhaust system. The various filters, catalysts and sensors make sure particulates and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are practically eliminated.
A New Base Engine and Double-Duty Transmission
The 2011 Ford Super Duty also gets an all-new gasoline engine. Longtime Ford enthusiasts will notice that some of the construction details of this 6.2-liter V8 mirror those of the renowned Boss 302 and 351 Cleveland V8s. The large-bore/short-stroke V8 (introduced by the Ford F-150 Raptor R) features single-overhead-cam cylinder heads with low-friction roller rockers plus variable valve timing for both the exhaust and intake valves. Other tech features include dual spark plugs, dual knock sensors and oil squirters to cool the underside of the piston crowns.
Backing up both the new diesel and gas V8s is an all-new six-speed automatic transmission built by Ford called the TorqShift 6R140. In Drive, it can be toggled into a mode that selects the optimum gears according to whether the truck is empty or heavily loaded. In Manual mode, the torque converter mechanically locks up and gear selection will change only when the thumb selector is tapped up or down. All transmission information can be visually identified on the center information screen in front of the driver. The 6R140 will be the only transmission available for the Super Duty, as the six-speed manual transmission option has been discontinued.
Anyone looking for a work truck will also want to know that the new transmission has a power take-off (PTO) called LiveDrive that allows the transmission to power auxiliary equipment, such as snowplows, cement mixers and dump trucks, when parked or in motion. The option is the first of its kind.
HD Electronics Help With Towing and Hauling
It's not going to surprise anyone to know that people who buy these trucks usually do so for a reason that involves towing, whether it's a toy hauler, a horse trailer, a big trailer or a fifth-wheel camper. In fact, Ford says 97 percent of Super Duty buyers have towing in mind.
To make towing better, the Super Duty's central computer continuously reads information from the various sensors around the vehicle and automatically makes adjustments to engine output and transmission settings. The Productivity Screen also allows you to calibrate the system for the kind of trailer you're towing, determine if your trailer lights are working and find out what kind of fuel economy you got the last time you pulled a particular trailer. Additionally, you can find out your transmission's current operating temperature, discover if your rear locking differential is engaged, exact temperature (in real-time) of your transmission or if your rear locking differential is actually engaged. All this information has always been there; it has just taken the truck makers a while to make the information available to owners.
The Super Duty also has a separate tow-haul switch at the end of the column-mounted shift lever to manually change the transmission and engine output parameters, as well as an integrated Trailer Sway Control algorithm built into the ABS computer to help calm any scary weaving from your trailer. Other new electronic options like hill descent control and hill start assist could also come in handy for serious tow junkies. Power-telescoping side mirrors, one of the best back-up cameras around and even Sync (with its real-time traffic, weather reports and sports information) should make for happy (fifth-wheel) campers as well.
Configurations, and When Are They Ready?
Expect Ford to basically cover the exact swath of market landscape with the 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty that it covers with the current model, although you can expect the actual size of the various models to grow by a few inches in wheelbase. The F-250 and F-350 will still be available with either rear- or four-wheel drive and with either a single wheel per side or dual rear wheels per side. The F-450 will be offered again as a crew-cab dually.
Pricing for the 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty won't be announced until later in the spring, with trucks rolling into most dealerships by summer.
Whether the 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty is able to gain a larger percentage of the heavy-duty truck market will likely be determined by how well the new PowerStroke V8 compares with the current Cummins in the Dodge Ram HD and forthcoming Duramax engine in the GM HD truck. But if judgment had to be made on what we've seen so far, the Ford is looking pretty strong. There's a lot at stake here, with a huge number of Ford enthusiasts (and Ford haters) chomping at the bit to find out more.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.