"Holy crap, that thing is big." Those were my first words upon catching sight of the bright red Ford F-250 Super Duty behemoth that sat impatiently in the parking lot, as if it were annoyed at being forced to wait too long. The truck appeared to be wedged between two other vehicles, but I soon found out that such an appearance is normal when you're attempting to park a vehicle as big as this.
The writer who took delivery of this monster is only 5'2", and she had a difficult time describing the truck when it sat in her driveway over the weekend.
I pumped her for information over the phone. "How's the ride?" I asked.
"What? Well, describe it, at least. I have some stuff to haul. Does it have a bedliner?"
"I dunno, I can't see into the bed. It's just really big."
Our writer was finally brave enough to take the Super Duty out for a spin on a Monday, because the work week meant that her parking lot had emptied and she could safely navigate around without fear of killing anyone. The running boards met her at the knees, meaning that to climb in required full use of the interior door jamb, and quite a bit of flexibility. But she succeeded and was rewarded with a driving experience unlike that had with most other vehicles.
For its 1999 line of F-Series Super Duty trucks, Ford went back to the drawing board. Instead of trying to get heavy duty performance out of their light duty F-150 and F-250 models, Ford created an entirely new platform for the previously-named Heavy Duty lineup. Mostly, this platform is bigger in every dimension: width, height and length. The new Super Duty trucks are not made for personal everyday driving, but are intended rather for commercial use, or for hauling heavy things like fifth wheel trailers, horses and cement mixers.
From inside, the F-250 Super Duty looks even bigger than its exterior would indicate. It's big enough for six people with the optional Extended Cab configuration, though rear seat legroom (32 inches) is comfortable only for short-legged folk. There was more than enough legroom up front, which was appreciated by this writer, whose inseam measures 36 inches. Our bet is that even Shaquille O'Neal would be perfectly comfortable in a Ford Super Duty.
An altimeter would be a handy option; not to check the surrounding elevation, but just for the visual effect of flying. Driving the F-250 Super Duty is akin to piloting a small aircraft; everything on the road is far below, including other vehicles. Pull up next to a Dodge Durango or an Isuzu Rodeo, and you'd swear they were miniaturized. Sit straight up in the driver's seat, and you have a clear view of the roofracks on Chevy Suburbans.
All 1999 Super Duty Extended Cabs are available with four doors. The rear doors are hinged aft, "suicide" style, but can only be opened when the corresponding front door is opened. That's because the B-pillar is simply the joined front and rear door jambs. We were impressed by the truck's lack of noise and vibration that most pickups seem to create, especially those with more than two doors. The Extended Cab model we drove was as tight as any sedan in recent memory, even without the help of permanent and secure door frames.
Visibility to the side is diminished in the Extended Cab due to wide B- and C- pillars. Even if visibility were unobstructed, most cars could not be seen without the use of side mirrors; the truck is simply too high off the pavement. Now we know how big rig truck drivers feel: like the King of the Road. This worldview is aided by the Super Duty's new big rig styling up front, not unlike the styling of full-size Dodge pickups, which feature an enormous blunt-nosed front end with square headlights and an aggressive-looking, power-bulge hood.
Dodge's styling is meaner and more in-your-face, but Ford has done an acceptable imitation that's sure to attract macho men who want an intimidating truck to match their rough-and-tumble lifestyle. As far as appearances go, we don't have any complaints.
The ride is not so smooth, however. Hit a bump, and you'll know it immediately. Turn into a corner too fast, and you'll feel and hear the rear tires quickly lose their grip. But this is, first and foremost, a pickup truck. It's made for towing trailers, not for speeding along twisty two-lane roads. The revised chassis gives the Super Duty line a 19,000-lb. maximum GVWR, which is 4,000 pounds more capable than the 1997 model. And that's good enough for anything we could think to tow.
Both of our test vehicles were powered by Ford's 6.8-liter 265-horsepower, 410 foot-pounds of torque V10 engine. This energy pump is the first-ever use of a V10 in a Ford pickup truck (though its first appearance was in full-size vans for 1997). The Super Duty line can also be equipped with a smaller 5.4-liter V8 or a 7.3-liter diesel-powered V8 which provides the most torque of all with 500 foot-pounds. During our tests, the V10 sucked gas like it was going out of style. The 2WD averaged 13.0 miles per gallon in mostly highway use, and the 4WD averaged 10.7 mpg, again mostly on the freeway.
In 2WD form, the engine can be more than enough to handle, and we frequently found the rear end sliding out during hard acceleration and cornering. Our 4WD Extended Cab performed with less flamboyance, thanks in part to a more balanced front-to-rear weight distribution and a heavier curb weight. Four-wheel drive models can also be equipped with dual rear wheels, which of course offer twice as much traction. And for 1999, unlike previous years, Extended Cab models can even be fitted with a snow plow. So feel free to bring the whole family along for those winter street clearing treks.
Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to drive the 2WD model during a move. And there's nothing in this writer's home that couldn't be moved via the huge 8-foot by 4-foot cargo bed. In one trip alone, we hauled six boxes, a queen-sized mattress and box spring, a lamp, two chairs and one big-screen television set. Loading and unloading were a snap, thanks to the relatively low-lying tailgate and bed (relative, that is, compared to the 4WD version of the same truck). The 4WD Super Duty came with a shorter bed (only 6.75 ft. in length), but an 8-foot bed is optional. We'd always suggest that you spring for the extra cargo room. Our 4WD Extended Cab with the shorter box was useless for carrying 8-foot sections of plywood or sheetrock unless the gate was lowered and cargo tied down. Thankfully, we didn't need to haul any 8-foot sections of lumber, or we would've had a gripe.
Equipped in Lariat trim, the interiors of our test vehicles were as elegant as anything else made entirely of plastic. The leather-trimmed seats were comfy, but too wide (yes, we realize they're bench seats). Let us explain: with the center part of the seat folded down, a huge armrest is created for both front seat passengers. The distance from armrest to door is comfortable only to the exceptionally wide.
For an example of ergonomic success, radio controls are placed prominently and in a useful location, and the CD player is a marvel of shock absorbence; after two hours of driving over insanely rough terrain, we realized that the CD had not skipped once. However, immediately after noting this achievement, the washboard surface of a dirt road proved too much for the system, forcing Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows to stutter. But what a sound system for a pickup truck. Ford should market portable CD players to construction workers and jackhammer operators.
Off-road, the F-250 4WD makes an excellent rock crusher. It's not exactly a comfortable vehicle to drive over bumps, but the F-250 is a capable off-road machine. Steering feedback is excellent, yet the wheel never took off on its own course, even over some rather large obstacles. Tight switchbacks are a rather sore point for the F-250 Super Duty, as the vehicle's turning radius proved to be not quite as tight as the road in some instances.
We do have our complaints. A 48-foot turning radius will never feel nimble. Cupholders proved worthless for carrying even small water bottles, the sliding rear glass on our 2WD Super Duty didn't latch shut, the vehicles' step-in height rivals second-story verandas, the engine is impossible to service without the use of a stepladder and can anybody really tell how big these things are from inside?
Other than (and in spite of) those complaints, the Ford Super Duty pickups are perfect for their market. Need a truck that can tow anything, carry anything and look good doing it? This is it.