PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — The 2008 Ford F-450 without a trailer is like a Clydesdale without a Budweiser wagon.
It’s made to tow.
I had driven this Super pickup in Ford Motor Co.’s Super Duty lineup before, including down steep hills with 20,000 pounds behind me at Ford’s test facility in Romeo, Mich. It was impressive. The F-450 is a natural to haul.
But I never took it on the open road, until I got the chance to pull a 10,000-pound fifth-wheel trailer around Southern California a few weeks ago. It could cruise at 80 miles per hour, never stressing or huffing along winding roads near Joshua Tree National Park. Even as it descended into Lake Havasu, Ariz., the F-450 chugged happily along.
Other pickups may come with 8-foot beds and big diesel engines, but none measure up to the F-450. No, not a-one.
While thoroughly impressed, I need to point out that this truck is not for everyone. If you don’t tow, don’t bother. There are a number of pickups that can serve your hauling needs without carrying 24,500 pounds behind it. This truck was made for carrying a big load, and it would be a disservice to use this workhorse for light-duty work.
Fine-tuned diesel runs quieter
The heart of the F-450 is its 6.4-liter turbo diesel engine. While the 350 horses under the hood may sound a little light for such a big truck, the 650 pound-feet of torque makes all the difference. People may buy horsepower, but torque does all the heavy lifting.
Ford fine-tuned this diesel to cut down on vibrations and interior noise. Stand outside the truck while it’s running and you’ll notice its diesel ticking (that’s the injectors) and baritone grumble.
But for its size and power, it’s remarkably quiet, especially inside the truck’s cab. Ford redesigned the engine’s valve covers to quiet those noisy injectors, adjusted the engine mounts to curb vibrations and used “Quiet Steel,” laminated steel sheets, to cut additional noise in the cab.
However, this diesel rewards every driver. Floor it and you still get that push-you-into-your-seat torque and that glorious throaty growl; A perfect pitch for the truck’s body.
Just look at it. It’s massive.
More than 264 inches long (a regular F-150 tops out at 235 inches), the F-450 still keeps a well-proportioned profile. How many other trucks look normal with an eight-foot bed?
The front end speaks to the vehicle’s power: The giant three-bar grille with “Super Duty” inscribed across the top. The headlights stacked and low. Even the yellow cab lights on the roof add to the trucks distinctive looks.
The wide rear fenders, bulging out to cover that delicious dually add to its looks from the front or back. The big bed also includes Ford’s tail gate step, an exclusive Ford feature that spares your knees from grinding down as you try to climb into the steel bed.
Interior is as tough as exterior
The overhauled cab maintains its tough looks inside. All of the knobs are oversized and easy to use. The dash, embossed with ‘Super Duty’ across it, looks like it’s ready to take a beating from callused hands and tool gouges from tossed wrenches.
But tough does not mean simple.
The navigation system, which can be difficult to see when sunlight hits it directly, is easy to use and kept me on the right roads during the two days I towed the fifth wheel. A nine-speaker stereo is also available and all stereos include an MP3 jack to connect your personal music device to the sound system — a much bigger deal when you start cruising through vast open country.
Ford uses an excellent back up camera system with the screen mounted inside the rear view mirror. You don’t see the screen until you put the vehicle in reverse.
Once you’re backing up, three guide lines help you navigate with the center line running right over the trailer hitch. Connecting a trailer couldn’t be easier: Back up, hook up, go.
Big loads limit fuel use to 8 mpg
While Ford continues its string of top selling pickups, the F-450 is new to the Super Duty family. Technically, it’s a chassis cab and the F-450 has been around for years, just not as a pickup. Ford used to sell it to outfitters who would add a pickup bed. Now, Ford has taken over the final assembly.
With an empty bed, the F-450 can feel a little bouncy on the road. You won’t lose any fillings, but you’ll notice it.
When weighted down, the F-450 rumbles with dually delight. Just remember to turn on the tow-hauling mode. A few times, I would forget how fast I was driving and the additional 10,000 would push up behind me as I slowed to take an exit. Ford offers its TowCommand system (an electronic trailer brake controller working with the anti lock brakes) and the TorqShift transmission.
The system changes the shift points under heavy loads, preventing upshifts when you crest a hill and it downshifts during downhill runs to allow for engine compression to help maintain a constant speed. Both work great.
Of course, the biggest down side of such a big truck (it tops 8,200 pounds) is its overall fuel economy. During my test drive, I managed to get about 8 miles per gallon. The EPA doesn’t test the F-450 because of its size. However, 8 mpg isn’t bad when you consider it was pulling an additional 10,000 pounds and has the aerodynamics of a barn with a trailer attached.
This truck is so strong, it’s even creating a controversy in the fifth-wheel world. Because it can tow nearly three times its own weight, makers of these super trailers — complete with more square footage than a New York City apartment — now can design them so big no other pickup can pull them.
Of course, after testing F-450, if I were buying a fifth wheel, there’s only one pickup I’d use. People who say “you can’t take it with you,” must never have driven an F-450.
Powertrain: 6.4-liter Powerstroke diesel; five-speed automatic or six-speed manual
Power: 350 horsepower, 650 pound-feet torque
Towing capacity: Up to 24,500 pounds
Notes: More powerful than most people will ever need. But if you tow, this pickup does it best.
Report Card Overall: HHHH
Exterior: Excellent. Despite the truck’s huge size, it’s well proportioned, beefy and powerful looking.
Interior: Good. Comfortable and clean lines. Easy-to-use controls and comfortable back mean the entire crew will enjoy the ride.
Performance: Excellent. Big and powerful, the F-450 was designed to haul big loads, which it does with ease.
Safety: Good. First of all, if someone hits you, you may not notice. But Ford includes front airbags and anti lock brakes.
Pros: Big and powerful. Can handle almost any load.
Cons: Poor fuel economy and too much truck for many people.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic of The Detroit News. He can be reached at email@example.com.