For 2015, Ford's F-Series Super Duty pickup trucks (F-250, F-350 and F-450 models) receive an upgraded diesel engine that produces more power and more torque, and provides more towing and hauling capability. The rest of these trucks are otherwise carried over intact from the outgoing model year, so if you want the most refined cabin in the class, the Super Duty might disappoint.
What Is It?
The Ford F-Series Super Duty truck lineup comprises the heavy-duty versions of the company's full-size pickups. These trucks can haul more stuff and tow heavier loads than the light-duty F-150. In fact, that's pretty much why Super Duty trucks exist: Approximately 90 percent of Super Duty customers cite towing as a primary reason for buying their trucks.
The variety of Super Duty configurations on offer is, as usual, astounding. Beyond the three trucks above, there are three cab configurations, five trim levels, two bed lengths, two engines, four different axle ratios, 4x4 or 4x2, fifth wheel or conventional bumper towing, a raft of stand-alone options, single or dual rear wheels.... The possibilities are nearly endless.
What's Been Changed?
Ford made significant revisions to its 6.7-liter turbodiesel "Power Stroke" V8 that result in increased power and torque and less performance degradation at altitude. This new diesel engine generates 440 horsepower and 860 pound-feet of torque, eclipsing the first-generation Power Stroke by 40 hp and 60 lb-ft of torque.
All of this was accomplished with similar fuel economy to the outgoing version. Or so we're told; heavy-duty pickups are exempt from EPA fuel economy testing, so we'll have to take Ford's word on this for now.
A new, larger turbocharger is the keystone supporting the massaged engine's increased performance. Its new variable-nozzle turbocharger is a less complex unit and supports higher airflow rates with less power-robbing backpressure than the one it replaces. This new turbo also provides increased exhaust braking performance. Speaking of which, for 2015, every Super Duty now includes a manual button to engage the exhaust braking function, whereas previously this function was automated.
A higher-flow fuel pump feeds revised fuel injectors that atomize the fuel more finely, providing cleaner and quieter combustion. The transmission, meanwhile, was upgraded with a revised torque converter that has a higher stall speed in order to maintain launch performance that otherwise might have suffered due to the larger turbo. Elsewhere, the heads, valvetrain and exhaust manifolds were all beefed up to support the higher combustion pressures.
Elsewhere in the truck, changes are minimal. There are new colors and mild cosmetic tweaks to the King Ranch package.
What Hasn't Changed?
Essentially everything else is the same. The base 6.2-liter gasoline V8 has carried over intact, as have the truck's chassis, cab, box and interior. Frames for the F-250 and F-350 also carry over, though there's a towing package for the latter that includes stouter front-end hardware, while the F-450 receives the beefier frame and drivetrain components handed down from the commercial-grade F-450 and F-550 chassis-cab trucks.
What About Tow Ratings?
With the changes to the Power Stroke V8, Ford claims the 2015 Super Duty has the highest tow ratings in the segment. That is, according to Ford's internal yardstick. Keep in mind that comparing tow ratings from different manufacturers is an apples-to-kumquats situation unless said manufacturers adhere to the SAE J2807 standard, which Ford does not. Basically, take Ford's tow ratings (and GM's, for that matter) with a huge grain of salt, and maybe the whole shaker.
That said, Ford's tow rating of the brawniest of the F-Series lineup, the crew cab 2015 F-450 Super Duty 4x4 with dual rear wheels, rises 6,500 pounds over last year's truck to 31,200 pounds. Lesser variants of the Super Duty than this one tow, well, less. F-350s now max out at 26,700 pounds, while the F-250's tow rating reaches as high as 16,800 pounds.
Now that Ram has announced it is joining Toyota in adopting SAE J2807 for all of its 2015 pickup truck offerings, there is no doubt that Ford will follow suit when the Super Duty receives a full model change in the coming years.
How Does It Drive?
We drove a 2015 F-350 Super Duty crew cab in King Ranch guise up and down a 7-percent grade in rural West Virginia while towing a 12,500-pound RV trailer. We then did the same task with its similarly equipped competitors (2014 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 and Ram 3500), each sporting their respective diesel engines.
Naturally, this task required foot-to-floor driving. None of the trucks was able to maintain the posted 70-mph speed limit, but the Ford was able to maintain a higher speed up the grade than the others, consistently running a few mph faster. The Ford's new manual exhaust brake and the six-speed transmission's gear-holding grade logic proved plenty effective at preventing the speed from running away on the downhill side. The Super Duty's powertrain is very, very impressive, and takes an awful lot of stress out of towing improbably heavy loads.
Engine noise from the diesel is well abated, even when giving it full whack up an extended grade. It has little clatter, yet enough aural presence to remind you what you paid $8,480 for.
The Super Duty's steering was noticeably less precise than the tillers in the Ram or Chevy. Steering feel isn't just for sports cars. It makes a big difference in towing confidence when you're trying to place your rig within its lane in winding downhill traffic. For this reason we prefer the (relatively) sharper helms in either of the other trucks.
We also drove an F-250, sans trailer but with a 1,000-pound payload. The truck, near as we could tell, didn't even realize the payload was back there, such is its prodigious grunt. The extra weight likely helped settle out the truck's ride quality, too, though we didn't drive an unladen example to compare.
What's the Interior Like?
Unchanged from its last round of cosmetic enhancements a few years ago, the Super Duty's cabin is showing its age. This is easily the least impressive interior of the three trucks, with acres of hard, shiny plastic and a cheesy design motif.
That said, the seat offers solid long-haul comfort and noise levels are low. Visibility is quite good, too. It's a functional place, but those paying the bill will find the trimmings lacking.
How Much and When Can I Get One?
Base prices for the 2015 Ford Super Duty range from $31,045 for the F-250 to $51,720 for the F-450. These are increases of more than a thousand dollars over last year's base prices.
Start heaping on the higher-level trim packages and options and you can push a Super Duty into the mid-$70 grand range. There seems to be, however, no limit to what consumers are willing to pay for these trucks, as the take rate for the highest trim levels among all three manufacturers is eye-opening.
The 2015 Ford Super Duty trucks should start arriving at dealers around mid-summer.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Among heavy-duty pickups, your sole choices are on offer from Ford's crosstown rivals General Motors and Ram. No other pickup truck manufacturer — not Toyota or Nissan — produces a heavy-duty version of its full-size pickups.
The 2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 offers a 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel with 385 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque.
The 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and 3500HD recently received a revised cabin structure and interior, though the available 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel has the least power and torque of the three.
Why Should You Consider This Truck?
You have towing and hauling needs that push the limits of light-duty trucks. Or you simply want one of the most powerful and capable pickups you can drive without a commercial driver license.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Truck?
While the Super Duty's capabilities with the Power Stroke are impressive, it's important to have some perspective. If you don't tow or haul heavy loads on a regular basis, a properly equipped light-duty truck would likely suit your needs better and provide a more livable truck on a day-to-day basis.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.