Flipping through the channels late at night, you may have come across that show: The one with huge men in tights tossing 55-gallon drums full of rocks, towing DC9s with their braided back-hair and waddling through an open field playing ultimate Frisbee with manhole covers.
You want to, but you can’t look away, even as they chalk up their thighs to prevent their polyester bodysuits from a frictional meltdown.
The World’s Strongest Man Competition may have a new contestant: The 2011 Ford Super Duty. It’s a super-duty freak.
If this truck was a person, Congress would have inquiries into performance-enhancing drugs. Its strength is obscene, its power nearly absolute.
During some quick testing of the Super Duty at an Arizona rock pit — heavy duty trucks live in pits — I pulled an 86,000-pound front end loader, crawled over boulders and then drove back to the hotel with 1,000 pounds in the bed and four people in the cab and managed to top 23 miles per gallon.
I became Herculean, all the while blasting the air conditioning and sipping a protein shake. (OK, it was a Diet Coke — I don’t need my thighs rubbing together.)
The redesigned F-Series Super Duty includes more flavors than Baskin Robbins, with variations of the F-250, F-350 and F-450 pickups. They were pretty good before, but now they come with improved powertrains, including Ford’s all new 6.7-liter V-8 diesel engine.
Instead of having some other diesel company produce the engine, Ford took on the job itself — creating a Picasso out of a power plant with a compact graphite and aluminum block.
Seriously, the diesel engine is quiet and smooth and cranks out Magnús Ver Magnússon kind of muscle: 390 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque.
Instead of simply putting lots of sound-dampening material around the engine to deaden those clacking injectors, Ford tightened the engine’s configuration, moved pieces around and made it lighter, quieter and more powerful.
It’s even designed to burn B20 biodiesel, if only someone would sell B20 biodiesel.
When you tow with this engine, and nearly everyone who buys a Super Duty tows, you’ll quickly forget there’s 12,000 pounds behind you. (The most it can pull is 24,400 pounds.) That’s about 600 more pounds than even Lithuanian great Zydrunas Savickas could carry during the farmers walk through the Power Pit.
Heavy loads, no big deal
But the truck only gets better from there. For gas burners, and those who want to avoid the $7,835 diesel premium, there’s a 6.2-liter V-8 gasoline engine that can still pull up to 22,500 pounds with its 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque.
With either truck, you’ll end up with the TorqShift six-speed transmission — and you want to end up with that; it’s the real gem to this entire setup.
Silky smooth, it adapts and adjusts to the driver and the weight. Pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up a steep hill for a couple of miles is child’s play. It can handle all of the low-end torque of the diesel and still go on the gas-engine version. (There are some changes to the transmission for the gas model, but it’s basically the same.) The transmission also allows for exhaust braking — a great feature for long downhill runs while towing, though I wish I could have heard it. It will downshift when you need it and keep you from burning up your brakes.
Add to that a programmable transmission that allows the driver to limit the top gear and manually shift gears with a selector button on the steering column mounted shifter, and you’ve got everything a trailer hauler needs. Ford has also added a hill start assist that gives a driver stopped on a hill a few seconds to move his foot from the brake to the accelerator without the vehicle rolling backwards. (There is also a hill descent control that lets the Super Duty head off-road and roll down boulders without touching the accelerator or brake.)
All told, the Super Duty engineers and designers were no dumbbells. They carried their weight and then some.
Some of the other features include the trailer sway control and a brake trailer control, mounted on the dash on the right side of the steering wheel. That’s the place most people can reach easily in a hurry; and if you’re reaching for it, you’re probably in a hurry.
For those who want to haul a fifth wheel, Ford will now offer a factory installed gooseneck substructure that is covered under the warranty. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s OK, but if you do, you know how cool that really is. The system is nearly invisible until you need to use it. It’s genius.
Room to stretch out
Then there’s inside the cabin. Ford took the super-comfortable seats from its new F-150 and used those in the Super Duty. There are changes throughout, including an optional 4.5-inch LCD screen mounted between the speedometer and the tachometer. It seems to know everything but your birthday. It uses easy-to-understand categories that even Jon Pall Sigmarsson could click through easily if he wasn’t dead. Ford has even included a trailer hookup checklist for novice haulers.
The only thing missing was a second glove box, a feature other pickups offer and a great place to keep a gun — as long as it is registered and you possess a concealed weapons permit (state laws do apply). There is, however, lockable storage under the second-row seat, a feature hunters will greatly appreciate. And there are lots of cubbies and storage features throughout. Ford also added second-row ventilation — it’s good to keep the air moving in these trucks at the end of the day.
There’s plenty of space inside the cabin, which can easily fit the top five strongest men in the world. The interior feels both plush and down to business. It’s a work ethic kind of vehicle that simply won’t quit.
And it looks like at the end of the day, it heads to the gym to work out and blow off some steam. It’s rippled with power — with lots of lines drawing your eye around the vehicle and the clamshell hood suggesting that there’s so much power under there that designers didn’t have a choice but to try to find a little more space. (In fact, that’s true.)
The 2011 Super Duty is a powerful tool, and for many customers, the most expensive tool in box — hitting $40,000 easily. But it’s like the winner of the World’s Strongest Man Competition. He is rarely the one who can simply lift the most. He’s the one who can do well in all of the challenges. These pickups won’t shy away from any work, they relish it.
And that’s worth staying up late and watching.
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Exterior: Excellent. Bold and expressive. This truck looks like it means business and it does.
Interior: Excellent. Comfortable, complete and very sophisticated. It lets hard workers rest between job sites.
Performance: Excellent. Can tow anything attached to it and still provide a smooth quiet ride. Excellent road manners fully loaded or with an empty bed.
Pros: Will let you do more work in less time.
Cons: Will let you do more work in less time.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor