Last year at my local Cars and Coffee — an event in which car enthusiasts get up before dawn to stand in a parking lot of some local establishment and have an impromptu car show and coffee klatch — a journalist colleague of mine showed in something rather unique: a Ford F-650 medium-duty dump truck in bright municipal orange. As you might imagine, it was quite unlike anything anyone else had brought to the party (certainly taller than the Jaguar F-Type SVR convertible I'd brought), but it was the undisputed hit of the under-10-year-old crowd, who couldn't get enough of climbing on it and bouncing on its air-suspended seat. Ford had popped one into the press fleet for whatever reason, and I knew I wanted to drive it from the moment I laid eyes on it.
I got my chance this week when Ford invited select journalists to come to east Detroit to get a brief drive in the F-650 and F-550 Super Duty, both upfitted with Rugby steel dump beds. There was a task at hand as well: ferry several dozen cubic yards of mulch from a nursery a few miles away to the grounds of the Wolverine Human Services center, Michigan's largest child welfare agency and a worthy cause to be sure. At the facility I visited, WHS has opened an apple orchard in Detroit and maintains a community garden available to all locals to use, as well as a shelter for children needing to be relocated to safe environments. Our job today was to use Ford's Class 5 and Class 6 trucks to bring mulch to the center for volunteers to then spread all over the hoop house grounds and playground.
These are the true work trucks of the Ford fleet, vehicles available as chassis cabs that are then outfitted by upfitters with all manner of equipment from ambulance bodies to flatbeds to box trucks to the dump beds you see here. Two vehicles were on hand for our drive: a 2019 Ford F-650 medium-duty outfitted with the company's 6.8-liter Triton V-10 engine, and a 2018 F-550 Super Duty chassis cab with the turbo-diesel 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 engine.
My drive centered on the big boy in the duo, the Tangier Orange F-650. I've driven some big trucks before, and I've towed some heavy trailers, but I'd never gotten to drive a truck like this. The F-650 is a dedicated medium-duty truck built at Ford's assembly plant in Avon Lake, Ohio. The V-10 engine in this one is an oldie but a goodie — it makes 320 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque, which is routed to the rear axle through a Ford-built TorqShift six-speed automatic with double overdrive and a live-drive power takeoff unit.
The dump bed on this rig is a Rugby Titan model, 10 feet long with a 6-8-cubic-yard capacity, enabling a payload of 11,335 lbs. With a few latches and the push of a button, it lifts and drops its load in seconds — easy up, easy down, on your way again. The truck's overall gross vehicle weight rating is 26,000 pounds — a pound shy of requiring a commercial driver's license to operate it, and the few cubic yards of mulch we had in the bed weren't anywhere near approaching the truck's maximum capacity. Brakes and steering are both hydraulic — no air brakes here, they're not quite needed for this level of duty. Price as tested: $82,140, including the cost of the dump body ($12,570) and destination fee ($1,995). That means this dump truck is a good $10,000 less expensive than a loaded F-350 Super Duty Limited.
Right about now, I'll bet a good number of readers may be thinking, "Why are you so excited about this? I drive one of these every day for work, what's the big deal?" Well, it's every kid's dream to drive the big dump truck they're playing with in their sandbox, so this opportunity was not one to be missed. And seeing as how I'd never driven one of Ford's Class 6 trucks, I jumped at the chance.
Jumping is a useful skill when approaching this truck, too, as hauling yourself up into the cabin is a climbing exercise. There are two steps to mount before you plant yourself in a very familiar interior — it looks just like a basic Ford Super Duty interior, with one notable exception: The steering wheel is massive thanks to the need to give the driver some leverage in maneuvering the beast around town. The steering is hydraulic and the truck tires on enormous 22.5-inch white-steel wheels have a significant contact patch, but the boosted steering doesn't require any undue effort to operate.
Plop your behind into the seat, and you'll feel it bounce on you. There's an air suspension in the seat meant to smooth out the truck's extremely bouncy nature, adjustable to firmer or softer settings. When not laden with a load of gravel in the bed, the F-650 bounced and banged around on Detroit's broken streets as you'd expect it would. But even empty, the truck's behavior is really not that much more uncomfortable than an unloaded dually F-350 Super Duty — they both bounce and dance around when they're not under load and smooth out considerably when you put them to work.
So that's what we did. It's only a few miles from the WHS center to a local nursery, where they loaded up the bed with several cubic yards of mulch, after which we convoyed back to the center to drop it. Under load, the F-650 becomes much more comfortable. You never lose the sense that you're still piloting something massive, but what strikes you is the similarity to driving any old F-Series pickup.
And that's the idea, according to Ford's brand manager for Super Duty fleet and medium-duty trucks, Kevin Koester. "Our goal is to allow you to drive to work in your Ford F-150, get into a medium-duty truck like this one, and just go without making any adjustments," he said as we trundled along between the ritzy mansions of Grosse Point Park and the still-abandoned dwellings of neighboring Detroit. "We wanted to make it as easy to drive as possible, as familiar as possible."
That they have. Aside from the physical bulk of the truck — which didn't prevent me from squeezing down some narrow residential streets partially blocked by delivery trucks parked on either side — and the lack of visibility to the rear, you wouldn't know that this truck is anything different from your average Super Duty. Acceleration is acceptable, even with a full load, and the brakes feel firm and stop with authority. Sadly, our speeds never topped 35 mph, so I won't be telling you about wind or tire noise at highway speeds.
The second truck on hand was a 2019 F-550 Super Duty chassis cab, a short-wheelbase, regular-cab XLT model that, despite its smaller size, doesn't give up much to the bigger medium-duty truck. This model is powered by the turbo-diesel 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 engine making 330 horsepower and 750 pounds-feet of torque. It has a 9-foot Rugby Eliminator LP steel dump bed with fold-down sides and a 3-4-cubic-yard capacity. Total payload for this model is 9,750 pounds, and the as-tested sticker price is $70,360 — a little high due to $13,755 in options such as that diesel engine. Sadly, time did not permit a drive in this model, but people on the scene expressed that it drove much like the bigger F-650 — bouncy until you get it loaded up, when it then smooths out nicely.
The fact that these big honkin' work trucks drive much like the smaller, more commonplace trucks Ford builds for the general public is really rather extraordinary. The ability to not need any special skills, practice or much in the way of attention to how it drives allows for safer, easier operation and a wider pool of employees to use the vehicles at the companies that own them. This may go some way toward explaining Ford's continued dominance of the commercial truck market.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman