We know times are tough, but if you need a new truck, you need a new truck -- especially if you depend on one to make a living. But remember, life isn't just work. It might be fiscally prudent to buy a pickup dressed in basic trim to save some money up front, but there's lots of value to be squeezed from select high-grade trims that could make you happier and more productive in the long run, both on and off the job site.
After our latest road test, we think we've found one of the best pickups to help you work and play successfully, and we're going to help you justify the purchase of one to your family this Father's Day. In fact, this might be the ultimate Father's Day gift -- something that's used and appreciated every day.
New for 2009 is the Ford F-250 Cabela's Edition FX4 crew cab. Ford has partnered with one of the best-known outdoor retailers on the planet, famous for huge stores that look like giant hunting lodges on the outside and natural history museums inside. When avid outdoorsmen aren't at home, they're probably either in their truck, at work, relaxing in the field or wandering the aisles of a Cabela's. According to Ford research, this description also applies to Ford truck buyers: 76 percent of F-Series buyers hunt and fish.
The available Cabela's Package ($5,390) isn't shy about appearances. It advertises the tie-up with big yellow Cabela's logos on the cargo box, a two-tone paint job and bright-polished 20-inch aluminum wheels. The cursive name is stitched into its two-tone brown and beige seats and embossed in the all-weather floormats and wheel center caps. It also includes such bells and whistles as painted tubular side steps, a power-sliding rear window, dual-zone climate control, memory seats, adjustable pedals, back-up sensors, and heated seats. Driving the Cabela's F-250 in town is only a little less subtle than riding your Harley to work while wearing Blaze Orange.
More specific to outdoorsmen, however, are some key features that aren't available from the factory in other Ford pickups. There's lockable, padded storage hidden under the rear seats to store long arms or take-down rods, and a small locker in the front center console to safeguard valuables or a handgun. The built-in storage is especially welcome if you live in a state that requires firearms in motor vehicles to be secured when driving. We had no problem fitting a Ruger 10/22 in the box under the backseat, and a .40-caliber Walther PPS looked right at home in the front locker.
Work and Play
All that might sound rewarding for use during off-hours, but how does the Cabela's F-250 pay for itself? Here's how: The truck can also be equipped with Ford Work Solutions and its in-dash computer (a $1,195 option). That's how our Cabela's Super Duty tester was outfitted.
Ford Work Solutions is a brand-new suite of hardware components aimed at work-truck buyers. The in-dash computer is the heart of the system. It includes high-speed wireless internet ($49.99/month, unlimited data or $25/month, limited to 25 MB) and a wireless keyboard; navigation; Tool Link (extra $1,120), which uses radio frequency tag readers in the truck to keep track of tools so they aren't left behind at home or a job site; and a flexible, extendable cable lock (extra $120) that secures equipment left in the bed.
Tool Link and wireless Internet access are worth more than they cost. In the case of Tool Link, you use the touch-screen computer to create custom job listings, like "My Roofing Kit" or "My Drywall Supplies," on the truck's master job board. Tagged tools can then be assigned to one or more jobs. When you start the truck up, two RFID readers mounted in the cargo box scan the bed for all your tagged items and tell you what's present and what's missing, based on those job lists. You can also run the scan manually at any time. With Tool Link, if you've planned your work for the day ahead of time, you may never leave home or a work site again missing a critical piece of hardware. That saves you time, money replacing tools, and fuel running to the hardware store or back home.
Tool Link is very flexible about what a job can be, and can even be used by those of us who don't travel to job sites. When we drove the Cabela's truck, we decided to use Tool Link to tag our fishing equipment for a trip to Lake Erie to catch some trout and walleye. It took 30 seconds to create and enter a new job, called "Fishing." It took another several minutes to tag our Gander Mountain and G. Loomis Bronzeback spinning rods, one cloth and one plastic tackle box, a plastic cooler, and an old military surplus ammo box used for dry storage. We fastened the tags to our gear using both sticker- and zip-tie-style RFID tags.
Each tag had a unique serial number that we wrote down on a piece of paper with the name of the gear it was attached to. Back in the cab, we manually scanned the cargo box for the new tags, which promptly appeared. It took another few minutes using the wireless keyboard to turn the serial numbers into plain English descriptions, like "Mike's Fishing Rod," and assign them to the "Fishing" job on the job board.
Once that was done, we knew we had all our gear before we set out for the lake, and that we weren't going to leave something behind when leaving for home. This feature would have helped a friend who lost his waders a couple of years ago when, after a long day of fishing, he peeled them off after sunset and then left them on the ground when he started for home.
Now, imagine if we'd gone camping, too. We could have tagged our tents, stove, chairs, and coolers There's not a year that goes by that at least one or two things aren't left behind at the campsite. Not anymore.
The only issue we ran into with Tool Link was the steel ammo box, which we tagged with an RFID sticker. The readers can't pick up RFID tags that rest directly on metal. Here, we should have used a zip-tied sticker.
As for wireless Internet access, the Cabela's F-250 in-dash computer has an Opera web browser built in. It looks and works just like Explorer or Firefox. We used it to check the news and Twitter. You could use it to access web-based email as well as fishing blogs and online fishing reports. I have a fishing buddy who said he would use it to check Geological Survey web pages for river height and water flow. Keep in mind, we're talking about a heavy-duty pickup truck here, not a BMW 7 Series. The wireless keyboard was a bit troublesome to sync up with the computer, but once the Bluetooth connection was secure, it worked well.
One feature we'd like to see added to a future version of Ford Work Solutions is a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot so we could connect to the Internet using our laptops, rather than being limited to the in-dash computer. A hotspot could be a significant productivity enhancer for the jobsite, as well as keep you connected when spending time outdoors -- if you feel the need to remain plugged into the matrix when you're in the field.
The F-250's in-dash computer also featured satellite navigation, but it wasn't anywhere near as friendly or nice to look at as the navigation features added to Ford Sync in other vehicles. Sync also has real-time weather maps that Work Solutions lacks, though Work Solutions does provide weather forecast summaries. Both Ford Work Solutions and Sync provide near real-time fuel-pricing information.
The rest of the F-250 showed solid work-truck bones through all the fancy Cabela's gear and gee-whiz electronics. Sure, it could haul tools and outdoor gear around without losing track of those items, but its 350-horsepower, 650 pounds-feet-of-torque 6.4-liter V-8 Power Stroke diesel with a five-speed automatic and integrated trailer brake controller mean this truck is made to pull a trailer or boat. The three-quarter-ton Super Duty had a 3.73 rear axle with a 12,500-pound max towing rating, but our boat was already at the lake, so we didn't do any tow testing.
Like all modern diesels, the F-250 meets strict government regulations that dramatically limit sooty exhaust, so you won't see black smoke coming from its tailpipe. The way the F-250 virtually eliminates that smoke is by trapping and incinerating the particulates in a special filter that requires extra diesel fuel to reach temperatures over 600 degrees F. The process is called regeneration, and our truck went through a cycle while we were driving on the freeway. The exhaust note got a bit louder and a special message appeared in the truck's information center during the five-minute process. What's good for the environment wasn't so hot for fuel economy, though. We could see the fuel gauge needle drop slightly from the time the regeneration started to its finish. In 276 miles of mostly unloaded highway driving - except for our fishing gear, supplies and four grown men - the truck averaged only 12.81 mpg. The ride was excellent in most conditions, but the truck hopped noticeable in the driver's hands over several rough patches of Michigan highway, particularly around one nasty freeway roundabout transition. The F-250 begged for a load to settle down and find its on-road sweet spot.
Our truck's base price was $38,510 before adding almost $8,400 for the diesel powertrain and another $1,720 for its tires. With the Cabela's Package and Ford Work Solutions, plus other optional items -- like a rear backup camera and stowable bed extender -- the total price of the truck was around $60,000.
The 24/7 Solution
Yep, that's a major investment. As we've described, though, this is no longer just a work truck -- it's a life truck, especially for a hard-working family man who wants to make the most out of his rig. It's built to be used and enjoyed, 24/7. If you can manage it, don't let the Cabela's F-250 be the one that got away this Father's Day.