If there's one truck that has brought new life and fresh blood into the sport of off-roading, it has to be Ford's Super Duty 4x4. Blessed with the time-honored solid-axle/leaf-spring front (and rear for that matter) suspension, the F-250 and F-350 4x4s have taken the modified truck world by storm.
Although the Super's Triton V-8 and V-10 gas engines and the 7.3L turbodiesel Power Stroke engine have been excellent in regards to power, torque, and smooth operation, for '03 and beyond, Ford has introduced a redesigned version of the Power Stroke diesel and has backed the new 6.0L powerplant with an equally new five-speed TorqShift transmission.
Our first impression of the new Super Duty was that it was a lot like the old Super Duty: The truck is large, yet handsome. Our test truck was a short-bed 4x4 Crew Cab with a beautiful Cobalt Blue exterior. The truck sported chromed wheels and grille bezel, small 4x4 graphics on its flanks, and beautiful headlights with clean lenses and highly polished reflectors.
The interior presented a mix of simple controls, expansive cabin dimensions, and a fair amount of plastic panels. The truck's build quality was quite good, especially the fit of the many interior panels and bezels. Our truck was equipped with dual power-adjustable front captain's seats with separate (manually adjustable) reclining backs. The seats are firm, but the multi-adjustability provides a good seating position for most drivers, and there's more than enough legroom for any driver short of NBA height. The large dash is well laid out and simple to use. A welcome feature was our truck's large, electrically operated sunroof. Power windows and door locks, a massive center storage console, a good-sounding AM/FM/CD sound system, dual airbags, and a rear bench seat with plenty of legroom rounds out the Super Duty's cabin.
Right from the start, the Power Stroke diesel was impressive. The 6.0L V-8 features a technically advanced, electronically controlled, variable-vane turbocharger, which allows the Power Stroke to deliver class-leading power and fuel economy while significantly reducing noise compared with other diesel engines, including Ford's previous-generation 7.3L Power Stroke. The 6.0L's torque and horsepower figures are impressive: 325 hp at 3,300 rpm and 560 lb-ft of torque at a leisurely 2,000 rpm. That's serious power; the kind of torque that makes a truck that weights more than 7,000 pounds accelerate like it's a performance car.
When the Power Stroke spins to life, there's still the telltale cackle of a diesel at idle, but those accustomed to the extreme rattling of older diesel engines will notice the Power Stroke's reduced overall noise level. Once underway, the Power Stroke is incredibly silent, with the distinct whine of the turbocharger the only noticeable sign of its diesel orientation; it's a great-sounding engine. The acceleration is impressive for a 3-ton vehicle, and the engine's output is smooth. Turbo lag has been reduced substantially, and with a 4,000-rpm redline, the Power Stroke features a wider powerband than most low-rpm diesel engines.
Sure, driving our test truck around with an empty bed was a lot of fun, but we decided to load the truck up with weight and give the Power Stroke a test. Even climbing steep, miles-long grades, the Power Stroke barely seemed to notice. The engine pulled nearly as hard at sea level as it did at higher elevations, thanks mainly to the turbocharger, which stuffs the engine's cylinder full of air no matter the elevation. Transmission shifts on the uphill section were as smooth and positive as they were when running around town, and the auxiliary temp gauge for the five-speed gearbox was steady, as was its engine coolant temperature counterpart. Noticeably impressive was the operation of the transmission while in its "tow/haul" mode; smooth, well-timed downshifts were the norm as the truck made its way back down the grades we had just climbed.
During our 2,000-plus mile test, our SD returned an average fuel mileage of 18.2 miles per gallon. That's impressive, given that the trip included multiple hill climbs, nearly 200 miles of off-road trails, a bed full of weight for a couple of days, and a series of throttle-heavy drivers. Comfort was exemplary throughout the drive, although certain drivers wished for the optional adjustable pedals, which would have provided a nearly perfect driving position. We also came to appreciate and rely on the extra-large, power-adjustable side mirrors.
The big truck's steering was good on the highway, exhibiting acceptable on-center response and the right amount of power boost. We also appreciated the simplicity and toughness of our truck's manually locking wheel hubs, although fully automatic hubs are an option.
As noted, we put a lot of on-dirt miles on our Super Duty. The truck is big, yes, but it's well composed in the rough, thanks to a supple front spring rate and good damping. As would be expected, the rear springs are stiff, as they're rated to haul payload. The Super Duty's long wheelbase is also a detriment at some points off-road, causing the driver faced with a tight turn to stop, back up, and then continue. Wide-open terrain, sand, and mud are no problem for the big Ford; the only limitation was the street tread on our truck's tires.
What is most newsworthy about the Super Duty is its support within the aftermarket industry. If you want a part - any part, piece, component, or accessory - for a Super Duty, there's a manufacturer that'll be able to deliver. Even though the 6.0L Power Stroke engine is new, there are several companies building power parts for the new engine. To own a Super Duty is to own a vehicle that is completely, tonally embraced by the aftermarket.
Overall, we liked the Super Duty - a lot. If towing and hauling are your main priorities, a Power Stroke-equipped Super Duty may be just what you need. Given its smooth and solid operation, its incredible power and excellent fuel mileage, the Ford Super Duty Power Stroke diesel handily trounces the competition, and it's sure to retain a stranglehold on the aftermarket.
The Crew Cab is generously sized, and the short bed keeps the truck's overall length manageable. Still, tight trails and urban parking lots will test a driver's maneuvering skills. On the flip side, the long wheelbase smoothes the ride on choppy interstate highways and on rough trails. Even from the rear, the Super Duty is a great-looking truck.
Power and torque-wise, the Super Duty has no equal. The 6.0L Power Stroke diesel whacks out 325 hp, which is nice, but goes serious when torque is the talk: 560 lb-ft of stump-pullin' power. The diesel is equipped with a direct-injection fuel delivery system, which injects (directly) fuel into the combustion chambers' center. There's also a computer-controlled, variable-nozzle turbocharger for near-instant throttle response and very little of the lag associated with traditional turbodiesel powerplants.
The Super Duty's front end is distinctive in style and function. Note the large center opening - the better to cool the torquey 6.0L Power Stroke diesel. Our truck was shod with 235/75R16 tires on 16x7-inch wheels. Note the tread: hardly an off-road-worthy design, but the truck still performed well, thanks to a well-sorted suspension and the benefit of true 4WD.
The Super Duty cockpit is a truly spacious command center. The dash controls and switchgear are first-rate, functioning with a solid feel, and the controls are logically positioned. Our test truck was equipped with dual power-adjustable front seats, a huge center console, and a large sunroof. Back-seaters are provided with plenty of legroom, and the fit and finish of the cabin is impressive.
Ford's Super Duty is one handsome beast, especially when cloaked in Ford's new Cobalt Blue, as was our test truck. With solid axles and leaf springs front and rear, the Supper Duty is a favorite of aftermarket suppliers.