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3. Brake Systems
Engine power is one thing, but brakes are what keep you safe when dealing with a heavy load. On the Super Duty, we have ventilated discs on all four wheels, 13.66 inches in size, front and rear. They feel good in the sense that they are not touchy at the top of the pedal, and stopping power comes on strong mid-pedal, proportionally to effort. We never made repeated full-power ABS stops, but we did make a few very hard stops with the truck empty.
The rear discs are a tad bigger than the 13.39-inch rear discs in the F-250 we tested a year ago, and it feels like there really is a little more braking power overall. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes is standard equipment, and Ford’s brake-based anti-sway trailer program is also standard on all single-rear-wheel Super Duty pickups.
Braking while towing
We felt obligated to make a few simulated “panic” stops with the trailer in place. We did these starting at relatively low speed, building to near-highway speeds. It was surprising to see how well controlled the trailer was with this hitch and setup. By the third try, we knew we could stop straight, far harder than we hope we ever have to. Meanwhile, under tow on the highway, the brakes never complained or made us anything less than completely confident. It turns out that Ford has integrated an exhaust brake mechanism that automatically commands a downshift when the driver applies heavy braking. That increases engine back pressure, helping to slow the vehicle without relying on brakes alone. It’s the kind of system you could really appreciate when another driver cuts you off on a downhill section of highway.
Making things easier was the built-in trailer brake controller. We’ve been a little skeptical about these factory controllers in the past because they are not always compatible with all types of trailer brakes. If it doesn’t happen to work with the trailer you have, what good is it? But this one interfaces with multiple systems, and it’s neatly integrated into the dash and covered by the factory warranty. We set the gain on 6, which felt about right when we set out, and we adjusted it just a little one time when we were descending a long, steep hill with lots of traffic because we wanted to be sure the trailer brakes would come on early. With the Airstream, it worked really well, with no bumping or hopping at low speeds.
Overall, we never could find a weakness in the brake setup, not with our load, anyway. Some people might think the pedal is a little squishy at the top, but we like that in a tow rig. We’d rather have progressive brakes than grabby ones when we’re rolling down a steep mountain pass.
Our score: We give the brakes 19 out of 20 points, just because there’s always a bigger load out there.
4. Interior Comfort
Ford has long been known for comfortable, well-appointed cabins. The King Ranch crew cab interior has got to be one of Ford’s best, blending leather with wood panels, lightly accented with chrome. It’s generously spacious, with wide, flat seats upholstered in a sea of fragrant two-tone leather. The seat bottoms can be heated or cooled, and they are power adjustable with a wide range of motion. This is exactly the type of seating we’d want for long days in the saddle, year in and year out. During our three-hour drives, we found plenty of room to shift around, readjusting the 10-way seats when we began to feel uncomfortable.
The front seating area is dominated by a large, lockable storage bin, large enough for a laptop, notebook or binder, and there are provisions for hanging folders. There are cupholders with removable liners everywhere, along with all manner of modular trays, slotted holders and false bottom compartments that can be adjusted to create larger, or smaller, storage areas. The wood looks real, and the leather materials contribute to a tangible sense of quality. There is some plastic used on the dash and glove box door, but it is quite nicely shaped and textured.
The rear-seat accommodations on this crew cab are equally generous and well thought out, designed with long-haul comfort in mind. Rear legroom is sufficient for adults — and not just average-size people, either. The center seat on the rear bench is slightly less accommodating but still entirely functional. Air conditioning flows rearward through the center console, and the vents are adjustable.
There is a 110-volt power plug in the console so backseat occupants can plug in a laptop. Sockets for 12-volt chargers and appliances are at the rear of the console and inside the main bin, which is designed for cords to be passed through with the armrest lid closed. Under the right rear seat is a storage compartment just about the right size for a drawbar and ball combination. There is satellite radio, a voice-activated navigation system with touch-screen and a plug-in port for an MP3 player.
We could go on, but you get the idea. But the bottom line is, the interior keeps people happy on long trips. That’s a quality that makes the Super Duty perfect for towing at 55 mph in the slow lane. Even our teenage girl had everything she wanted in the back, and we never heard “Are we there yet?” once.
It’s true that all three of the major manufacturers now offer a true crew cab, and they are all roomy and well appointed. But we think the Ford King Ranch crew cab interior is the best we’ve seen. It’s comfortable, attractive, practical and highly versatile.
Our score: We have to give it 15 points out of 15 … maybe 16 out of 15.
5. Factory Towing Gear
A lot of people feel the need to customize their tow vehicles, slowly adding upgraded connecting plugs, hitch setups, gauges, brake controllers, towing mirrors and beefed-up electrical systems. These are the little things that make all the difference when it comes to towing. Original equipment manufacturers have noticed and have begun to supply these kinds of upgrades specifically for those who tow. With the 2011 Super Duty, Ford has run with the concept.
Like a lot of new tow rigs, our test vehicle included a factory Class IV receiver, plus flat 4-pin and round 7-pin plugs. We also had towing mirrors and the built-in trailer brake controller.
Getting the towing mirrors deployed and adjusted was a cinch. These are power extending mirrors, which have both a large power-adjustable mirror and a smaller, manually adjustable wide-angle section. With the inside rearview mirror completely blocked by the Airstream trailer, it took us about 30 seconds to extend and adjust the towing mirrors to regain a good view of everything around us.
Most impressive is how towing-specific features are integrated into an on-dash information system. By calling up a series of screens, you can customize your setup for a given trailer. You also can save multiple setups, so if you switch from your RV to your work trailer or your boat, for example, your setup is already tuned. You can track mileage, trailer by trailer, and store the gain settings you developed the last time out.
The screen allows the driver to go through connection checklists for any kind of hitch, including fifth-wheel hitches and goosenecks. The checklists amount to reminders to check the wheel chocks, tongue jack, running lights, safety chains and the like. This kind of preflight checklist is the professional way to go for any pilot, no matter how much towing you do. Follow it, and dumb mistakes can be eliminated.
Gauges and feedback systems
Another thing we appreciate is the early warning system. Call up Gauge Mode, and you can monitor actual oil and transmission temps. We drove with these digital gauges turned on so we could see the effect of hills and steady operation as we drove. Sure enough, chug up a steep hill, and the transmission temp ticks upward. Activate Tow/Haul mode, and the temps stabilize. Glide down a hill, and they tick downward.
The range of temperature changes was moderate, perhaps 20 degrees up or down, which told us the cooling system was doing its job and the entire powertrain was copacetic. On the road, oil temps hovered around 195 degrees; transmission temps were between 170 and 190 degrees. You could pay a lot to have temp gauges installed in a standard pickup; in the Super Duty, they’re already there.
Speaking of gauges, it’s also possible to monitor maintenance down to a very fine level. A digital engine hour gauge told us our engine had 187 hours on it, of which 43 were consumed with the engine at idle. There is also an oil life monitor and a way to adjust or turn off various features such as headlights, compass zone and operating schedules for different maintenance requirements.
Fuel economy data
Drivers who want to monitor fuel economy can use any of five resets and watch average and instantaneous consumption. The data can be sliced a few different ways — trip time, mileage, gallons used, miles per gallon — and it’s possible to record history from two different trips. We drove with the miles-to-empty calculator on, calibrated for towing.
Our test unit also had a bank of four auxiliary switches, a $125 option that would make it easy to install lights or other appliances without tearing up the dash. Another upgrade, a 200-amp alternator, is priced at $75 and would be well worth the investment. For those who tow loads over 16,000 pounds, a factory fifth-wheel hitch is available. It has the electrical connection mounted inside the bed wall, and the hitch.
We think Ford has broken new ground here, by integrating so many truly useful features into the Super Duty. They are all covered by a factory warranty, and their costs can be rolled into the purchase price. We admit it. We’re impressed.
Our score: 15 out of 15
6. Ride Quality and Steering
As a rule, an empty tow vehicle is the world’s worst ride. It’s bouncy, the rear tires are too stiff to hook up without weight in the back, and the springs will let you know every time you hit a ripple in the roadway.
We’re not sure how it managed to do it, but our test unit was surprisingly compliant when driven empty, with reasonably good grip. At the same time, it was easy to handle when loaded.
When the truck is empty, ride quality is firm but not jarring — actually quite nice for a 10,000-pound GVWR suspension. On the highway, the truck steers and handles in a relaxed, low-effort manner, without requiring much concentration from the driver. It cruises steadily in-lane, without wandering, and is precise around town for a truck this size. Even when towed our Airstream over the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood, using crowded, cracked urban surface streets, we felt confident and relaxed.
Parking, always a back-and-fill process in a full-size truck, is made easier by hydro-boosted power steering and a rearview camera. Sure, it’s a big truck and you have to be careful with it, but all in all, the attention to driving dynamics and ease of operation by Ford engineers seem to have paid off. We think the King Ranch F-250 is a nice truck to operate, with or without a load.
Our score: 9 out of 10
Pricing, and the Bottom Line
So we like the truck, pretty much everything about it, with just a few reservations that only time will resolve. Of course, like a lot of great things, the price becomes the balance point between “want” and “need.”
Our F-250 crew cab test unit was based on a $48,860 MSRP, plus the cost of options. Standard equipment includes the Sirius Satellite Radio, the power towing mirrors, power window locks, four-wheel ABS, a security locking ignition, a three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, plus other niceties.
Added to that is the cost of the 6.7-liter diesel ($7,835), 20-inch wheels and tires ($1,375), navigation system with upgraded audio system ($1,875) and a power moonroof ($995). Those and other options — including a spray-in bedliner, tailgate step, bed extender and a tool cable lock — bring the total price to $64,405, including a $975 destination charge. So it’s not cheap.
During our time at a San Diego beach campground, Super Duty pickups were by far the most common tow vehicle. As you might imagine, we were approached by Ford owners curious about the new 2011 and the diesel engine, which allowed us to conduct a small survey.
A couple of owners in particular stood out. One of them was a 2005 F-250 owner with 6.0-liter diesel who regularly towed a 30-foot fifth-wheel trailer estimated at 17,000 pounds. He’d had negative history with the engine, but kept the truck. Another had a 28-foot triple-axle trailer with lots of gear, and a large family, probably towing well over 10,000 pounds behind a 6.4-liter diesel. Both were Ford owners towing far more than we did, with older Super Duty diesels.
After a quick tour, and a review of specs, we asked these owners for their thoughts. Both believed that the truck we had, as equipped, would be easily sufficient to handle the kinds of loads they had towed for years. Despite mixed feelings about the diesel engines in the trucks they now own, they loved everything else about their Super Duty rigs. We have a feeling they will be switching to the 6.7 when the time is right. And that says a lot.
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