DENVER, Colorado—The F-series Super Duty lineup of trucks is all-new for 2017, in part because the range has now adopted the same aluminum cab that the F-150 got two years ago.
That fact alone makes this next generation of Super Duty special. Adding the all-aluminum body now means there is only one design for both classes of Ford trucks, and that in turn means updates and improvements to any and all cab systems will now be made available on both half-ton and HD trucks in the same year.
It also seems appropriate, then, that this alignment of truck bodies is being engineered at the same time the Super Duty gets an all-new chassis.
Adding strength and reducing weight, this new Super Duty is 24 times stiffer than its predecessor. The fully boxed frame is taller and has up to 10 crossmembers, including the under-box supports for the factory-installed fifth wheel/gooseneck hitch receiver.
It’s these changes that really makes the 2017 Super Duty the true second generation of a truck that was first introduced in 1999. That’s how long the F-250 through F-450 range has been hauling those heavy loads without a major update (despite ever-increasing weight limits).
Not this time, though: for 2017, most every nut and bolt is new, and with that comes increased power and weight capability. Mind you, we’ve come to expect those increases each time a new truck is brought to dealers.
The Weight War
After all, in the truck world there is a war going on. If you’re a little fuzzy on what I’m talking about, just think of the nightly propaganda war being waged in TV ads by the manufacturers. My favourite tagline from one of those ads is “If you have to ask how much something weighs, you probably can’t handle it.” That says it all.
Now comes Ford’s latest shot in this weight war. The new Super Duty is claiming several victories—its latest top numbers are 32,500 lb towed with an F-450, and a max payload of 7,630 lb. Both these numbers are now being touted as best-in-class.
But as every truck guy knows, what you can haul is just as important as being able to brag about your engine. So the second generation of the 6.7-litre Power Stroke turbo-diesel (the most common Super Duty powerplant) has also boosted its horsepower and torque, to 440 hp and 925 lb-ft, respectively.
Of course, one of Ford’s strengths is that it offers multiple features, including in terms of engines. If the diesel is not in your budget, there will be two gasoline options. The base engine is a 6.2-litre V8 that makes 385 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. For Super Duty chassis cab buyers there is also a gas V10 option.
30,000 lbs without a sweat
Here in Denver there were a variety of trucks available to drive, but I was immediately drawn to the F-450 towing the gooseneck trailer with a nice 30,000-lb load of landscaping stone.
I, too, wanted to experience those “max” tow limits, in part because I still find it amazing that pickups today are built to haul weights that were considered commercial loads back when I started driving tractor-trailers in the early ’80s.
The Power Stroke-powered F-450 handled the weight, and the chassis was noticeably stiffer—even in jackknife 180-degree U-turns, the truck does not tilt or squat.
Under moderate braking it retains a level attitude without any hobbyhorseing, and much of the driving that day was up and down the foothills here at the start of the Rocky Mountain range.
So, while my initial focus was devoted to the weight claims that Ford was making, as the kilometers clicked by slowly, another side of the towing experience caught my attention. This new line of Super Duty has more towing help-and-convenience features than any that have come before it.
It starts with seven cameras placed around the truck, including one in the rooftop brake light array. With this one you can easily see the trailer pin as the truck backs up to the hitch.
It even has a “magnify” button that doubles the image size. Hooking up (bumper or in-bed) is now an easy one-man job. Meanwhile the other cameras offer 180-degree views off the nose; or a 360-degree birds-eye-view.
With the size of these trucks, working (or backing up) in close quarters is so much easier and safer with these multiple eyes at every corner of the truck.
Ford even offers a camera that can be fitted the rear of your trailer then hooked into the trucks’ video display through the electrical connector. This lets you see behind your trailer, an infamous blind spot.
The other aspect of towing that I’m always harping on is stopping. Sure, I love the power, the ability to pull uphill – an ability this Power Stroke has – but frankly nothing is as important as stopping without scaring the crap out of yourself!
In this Super Duty, Ford has installed an inter-related series of new stopping features meant to keep you cool, and your shorts clean.
It starts with the Towhaul feature, which uses the transmission to slow the load, as does the engine exhaust brake found on the diesel. The gearshift lever also has a manual gear selector; and if the tranny is kicked down using the brake, it will hold its gear.
But the most significant improvement comes with an addition to the adaptive cruise control. It will use the truck’s brakes, engine brake and the trailer’s brakes – through the trailer brake controller – to hold the pre-set speed of the rig while going downhill, all automatically.
Similar to the system that GM uses, this improvement will relieve the white knuckles often caused by being pushed by your load.
The other feature that made itself noticeable was adaptive steering. As the name implies, it forces the steering ratio to “adapt.” At slower speeds when the driver is turning pin to pin, the travel shortens up, by as much as one complete revolution of the wheel; while at highway speeds, it gets longer, offering a more sensitive on-centre feel. Again, for backing up while towing, this is a great innovation.
How about tire pressure monitoring? Old hat, you say? Yes, but this is tire pressure monitoring of your trailer. Ford offers wireless sensors that can be fixed to the trailer tires to display pressures right in the centre dash display.
If you’re sensing a theme, it’s because clearly there is one. First you have to build a truck that can handle the weight it’s claiming—Ford has done that.
Then you need to give the driver the tools to haul all that weight safely and create systems that reduce the stress that comes with trailering. Ford has done that, too. Sure you may have the skills that towing demands, but the systems in this truck can only make you better.
Yes, in the 2017 Super Duty, Ford has accomplished both of those goals. Pricing is not yet available; the trucks are due to arrive at dealers mid-fall.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.