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First Drive Review: 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty Introduction, Part 1

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You don't have to skip to the end of this review to find out our opinion of Ford's pickups. At this moment, there's no doubt that Ford has once again raised the bar to new levels of performance and productivity for heavy-duty pickups. The Super Duty continues to be the standard against which its competition will be measured. Read on and find out why.

HD pickups are the workhorses of the truck world, and like pack animals that farmers used to depend on to deliver their crops to market, when a work truck is out of service it causes more than aggravation — it can cost hard dollars and time. And these trucks are worked hard. Ford says 97 percent of Super Dutys are used for towing, according to Super Duty Marketing Manager Brian Rathsburg.

A $50,000-plus price tag isn’t uncommon today, so two of the most important considerations a buyer might think about before committing their hard-earned cash are: Will this truck be able to perform the jobs that I need it to do, and do I feel confident that it will complete them successfully?

Ford is answering those questions by making many improvements to the Super Duty just three years after its last major update, but its most significant changes include two new gasoline and diesel engines and a new six-speed automatic transmission that's used for both versions. The ZF six-speed manual transmission has been dropped from the lineup.Both engines have been engineered from scratch. The standard 2-valve 6.2-liter V-8 gas engine develops 385 horsepower (at 5,500 rpm) and 405 pounds-feet of torque (at 4,500 rpm), up from the old 5.4-liter gas V-8's 300 hp and 365 pounds-feet. But it's the 4-valve 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel engine that's the darling of the powertrain lineup. It pumps 390 hp (at 2,800 rpm) and a staggering 735 pounds-feet (at 1,600 rpm). Roughly 60 percent of Super Duty pickups are ordered with diesel engines.

The outgoing 2010 Super Duty's standard 5.4-liter gas V-8 is rated at300 hp and 365 pounds-feet, and the optional 6.8-liter V-10 is rated at362 hp and 457 pounds-feet. So the new 6.2-liter V-8 has more horsepower than either of the old engines and just misses splitting the difference in torque between the 5.4-liter and 6.8-liter, with two fewer cylinders than the massive 6.8-liter.

The 6.7-liter V-8 is under special scrutiny. This is the engine that is going to have to live up to the reputation of the original 1999-2002 Super Duty's 7.3-liter Power Stroke V-8 and surpass the maintenance-challenged 2003-07 6.0-liter V-8 and fuel-efficiency-challenged 2008-10 6.4-liter V-8 PSD engines. The 6.7-liter also is introducing the use of diesel exhaust fluid to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions.

To fill the big boots that the 7.3-liter left behind, Ford's engineers say they've subjected the in-house designed-and-built oil burner to the toughest set of torture tests they've ever devised plus more than 10 million miles of on-road testing — that's the equivalent of more than 400 trips around the world.

Performance shouldn't be an issue. If it is, you belong in a medium-duty truck because Ford has boosted the Super Duty's trailer-towing ratings so high that we're at the point where a standard F-350 one-ton pickup with the 6.7-liter diesel and a middle-of-the-road 3.73 rear axle requires a commercial driver's license to pull its maximum-rated trailer, depending on the state in which you live. That used to be "Tow Boss" special package territory, or it meant moving up to a mighty F-450 pickup.

The old chassis-certified 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8 is rated at 350 hp and 650 pounds-feet, so we're seeing a substantial jump in power by 40 horses and 85 pounds-feet from Ford's in-house designed and built 6.7-liter V-8.

Answering the confidence question is a bit more complex. Do I feel confident pulling and hauling huge loads that I'm able to safely? Do I feel confident that I won't run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere? And do I feel confident that the truck won't break down and leave me stranded on the side of the road?

To answer those questions as best we can, for now, we flew out to central Arizona (at our own expense and Ford's invite) to drive the 2011 Super Duty lineup in the high- and low-desert terrains near Prescott and Wickenburg.

Diesel 2011 F-250 King Ranch 4×4 Crew Cab Short Wheelbase Single Rear Wheel — Unloaded

The first truck we drove was a four-wheel-drive single-rear-wheel F-250 King Ranch Super Duty with the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 for a quick 50-mile trip from Prescott to the base of the steep Yarnell Grade.

Ford gave the Super Duty a new front end for 2011 that's focused around the biggest Blue Oval badge ever slapped on a Ford vehicle and two chunky chrome bars in the grille. Bold? Outrageously so. Ford must be working its chrome mines overtime to produce so much bling. Thankfully, the chrome was offset on the KR by a body-colored black surround and tan painted bumper. Depending on trim level, other models can be ordered with a completely chromed nose and bumper or simple black plastic.

The rest of the truck's exterior is carried over virtually unchanged from the 2008-10 model, except for the dually, which gets new rear rounded fenders over the rear tires and subtle cargo box changes that add vertical ribbing structures similar to the F-150.

It's been 12 years since Ford introduced the original Super Duty platform on which this truck is still heavily based. We're wondering when we'll finally see an all-new body that will bring Ford's trucks up to the par with the Ram and GM HD pickups because the Super Duty's flanks are starting to look a bit dated. We consider the Ram, which received all new sheet metal in 2010, to be the best-looking HD pickup on the road today.

Inside, the new Super Duty ranks a notch above the old for quality and equipment. Truck cabins don't get any nicer than when they're decked out in King Ranch trim. The 2011 KRs are the best ones yet. Our rig came with the trademark rich brown Castano leather 10-way power seats (that are now shared with the F-150), but instead of the traditional beige carpeting, the floor was as black as the Tuxedo Black exterior paint job. It's a new option for 2011 and it looks stellar until you track dirt on the mats, which the beige does a better job of hiding. The console was covered with a dark wood appliqué. The steering wheel has a welcome new telescoping feature to customize its reach for individual drivers.

There's a fresh, new 4-inch LCD driver information system centered in the handsomely updated gauge cluster. Hands-down, it's the best trip computer in the industry across all pickup truck segments, and it's the benchmark by which all others that follow will be measured. It includes features like a fuel-efficiency monitor, pitch and yaw angles while off-roading and a robust set of towing apps that can store names and notes for up to 20 trailers plus provides a hitch checklist to help ensure you've hooked up the trailer properly before you tap the accelerator.

We think that driver information systems like this computer and Ford Work Solutions will spark some of the biggest innovations in pickups over the next decade. Timely knowledge provided by these computers will coach drivers and fleet managers to get the most out of their pickups to help save time and money and improve fuel economy.

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