Mark Takahashi , Associate Editor
Heavy-duty trucks are often the most expensive tool in a worker's arsenal. These pickups aren't for some urbanite trying to look rugged -- these trucks are meant to get the job done. Among heavy-duty pickups, the 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty line reigns supreme. Not just when you look at its market share, either. No, the Super Duty is top dog because of its wide-ranging capabilities.
Towing, hauling, fording streams and climbing peaks are the Super Duty's core strengths, and at its limit, the big bad Ford is hard to beat. On top of all this, the newly redesigned lineup also delivers unexpected refinement, surprisingly good fuel economy and options to fit every worker -- from ranch hand to company owner. Most of these improvements are thanks in no small part to the all-new 6.7-liter turbodiesel engine that has (hopefully) exorcised the demons of PowerStrokes past.
Naturally, the 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks are challenged by the usual competitors. The Chevrolet Silverado HD (also redesigned for 2011) and its GMC Sierra clones, along with the Dodge Ram heavies are the only trucks that even approach the Ford's qualifications.
The 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty lineup gives buyers the choice of either a 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine or a 6.7-liter V8 PowerStroke turbodiesel. Though we drove many incarnations of the new trucks at a first drive event, we'll focus on the diesel, as it's the best choice for towing and hauling. Previous PowerStroke diesels were sourced from Navistar and plagued with some reliability problems. The 2011 model year marks a turning point, as the all-new diesel power plant has been designed in-house by Ford.
Power output for the new 6.7-liter V8 turbodiesel is an impressive 390 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque. That's an increase of 40 hp and 85 lb-ft over the last version. Besides the bump in output, the new diesel also features B20 biodiesel compatibility, engine exhaust braking and a fuel economy increase of 15 percent (according to Ford). This engine is much more refined and quiet compared to its predecessor, with the trademark diesel clatter and turbo whine reduced to nearly imperceptible levels.
But this refinement in no way reduces the F-Series' hauling capabilities. The 2011 Ford F-250 is offered only with a one-wheel per-side rear axle (non-dually), with a maximum conventional tow limit of 14,000 pounds for SuperCab and crew-cab configurations. The maximum for fifth-wheel towing applications increases to 16,500 pounds. For those who require even more towing capabilities, the Super Duty lineup maxes out at 24,400 pounds with a dually F-450. Maximum payload for the F-250 is 4,050 pounds using a regular cab 4x2 -- an F-350 dually 4x2 takes the Super Duty crown with a 5,460-pound payload limit.
Also new for 2011 is a redesigned six-speed automatic transmission, paired with either gasoline or diesel engine choices. When hauling heavy loads uphill, this transmission rarely hunts between gears. When descending steep grades with trailer in tow, the intelligent programming selects the optimal gear to keep things under control -- downshifting smoothly and quickly when needed. For drivers who prefer more control, buttons on the column-mounted selector stalk allow manual gear selection. Higher gears may also be selectively locked out with Ford's Progressive Range Select mode.
Besides its extraordinary load-carrying prowess, the 6.7-liter PowerStroke also impresses us with its efficiency and relative eco-friendliness. According to Ford, the new diesel has increased fuel economy by 18 percent compared to the previous model, and reduced allowable nitrogen-oxide tailpipe emissions by more than 80 percent. Ford achieved this by using a urea-based exhaust injection system with several catalysts and filter chambers. The diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) filler is conveniently located next to the fuel receptacle, though owners will rarely need to top off since the 5.1-gallon DEF tank should be sufficient to last between oil change intervals.
For anyone who has driven other diesel-powered heavy-duty pickups, the first thing they'll notice about the new Ford Super Duty is the absence of the signature turbodiesel rattle and whine. In this regard, along with the hushed wind and road noise, the Super Duty lineup delivers the type of refinement we usually associate with the more consumer-oriented and gasoline-powered F-150 pickups. The ride quality is generally smooth and composed, though, just as with any pickup, it can be a bit jittery over rough pavement when unloaded.
All seats in crew-cab body styles provide ample space for large adults, while SuperCab (Ford's version of an extended cab) models are much less accommodating for rear passengers -- but in no way confining. Drivers will easily find a comfortable position thanks to the 10-way power-adjustable seats (standard on Lariat trims and higher) and a tilt-and-telescoping steering column.
As with any heavy-duty pickup, the 2011 Ford F-250's elevated ride height gives the driver a commanding view of the road. All-around visibility is quite good, which is also emblematic of trucks in general. The rearview camera option is certainly helpful for a vehicle of this size, especially when hitching up to a trailer. Further simplifying towing tasks is the optional factory-installed fifth-wheel receptacle that accepts Reese quick-release mounts. It's worth noting that this option will cost about half as much as an aftermarket mount, and it also ensures the bed and frame will remain aesthetically pleasing and rust-free.
As with other Ford vehicles, we also recommend the optional Sync voice activation system that greatly simplifies stereo and navigation operation. However, opting for the Ford Work Solutions system will replace the Sync-compatible unit with an in-dash computer. This feature allows users to access files from their desktop computer, send and receive e-mails and even print to a Bluetooth-capable printer while at the worksite. Work Solutions can be further enhanced by adding the Tool Link option, which keeps a real-time inventory of tools and equipment in the truck bed.
Another useful option, but not tied to the Work Solutions system, is Crew Chief. This device keeps a virtual eye on the vehicle, tracking location, speed, idle time and maintenance information. Additional security can be had with the Cable Lock option, which secures items in the bed with a 9.5-foot retractable cable lock.
Aside from the unique features listed above, the 2011 Super Duty's cabin is as useful and accommodating as you'll find. Interior storage options are so numerous that you may end up forgetting which bin you placed your items in. New for 2011 is a lockable rear underseat storage tray that is long enough to carry a hunting rifle. This bin also features an additional powerpoint for powering and charging equipment.
Design/Fit and Finish
From outside or inside a 2011 Ford Super Duty truck, there is no mistaking its utilitarian focus. The new grille is bolder and blockier than styles past with a massive 13-inch Ford logo needed to fill the space proportionally. Dual-rear-wheel models get new rounded wheel flares that remind us of a Harley fender and blend in nicely with the bodywork. Inside, the cabin remains largely the same as last year's, continuing the industrial theme with deep molded ribs that echo the pickup bed's surface.
The interiors on lower XL and XLT trim levels abound with easy-to-clean hard plastics -- typical for most heavy-duty trucks. Opting for the Lariat and King Ranch models will dress up the cabin significantly with leather upholstery, soft-touch surfaces and wood-grain trim -- perfect for the boss' vehicle. Throughout the Super Duty lineup, the panel fitments are acceptably tight and even.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty lineup is a far cry from the pretty pickups you'll find in the city or most suburbs. These trucks are for those who work and play hard, hauling massive payloads and trailers over challenging terrain. Posers need not apply.
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