2017 Ford Super Duty Review: First Drive

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As if the presidential election wasn't enough to keep us awake at night, now we have a dramatic escalation in the Truck Wars, specifically in the heavy-duty segment. To put it simply, the new 2017 Ford Super Duty pickup trucks are two parts evolution (powertrain and suspension) and three parts revolution (more capability, more technology and more significant improvements than any HD truck). In fact, where the 2015 Ford F-150 delivered a mountain of never-before-seen features, capabilities and technology to the half-ton buyer, this new Super Duty promises even more to buyers who aren't used to so much transformation. We recently spent a couple of days near Denver driving various configurations of the 2017 Super Duty. (Check out our 2017 Super Duty drive impression video by clicking here.) 

The current generation Super Duty hasn't gone through a major overhaul in almost two decades, but since it's been the dominating player in the segment there hasn't been much motivation to change. That is until Ford shook up the pickup truck world two years ago by making the body of the F-150 from weight-saving aluminum. Plans for the new Super Duty were done concurrently with the 2015 F-150, which is why the two share so many material and technology choices.

Foundations

We first saw the all-new Super Duty at the 2015 State Fair of Texas. As a quick recap, the 2017 Ford heavy-duty pickups will have aluminum bodies and beds that make the trucks several hundred pounds lighter overall; however, where weight savings was the priority with the F-150, Super Duty engineers understood typical customers would rather have most of the weight savings reinvested into heavier-duty parts to make the truck stronger and more capable of carrying and towing heavier loads.

To do that, Ford re-engineered the entire frame, making the center section taller and thicker, as well as boxing it from tip to tail. Ford now uses high-strength steel in 95 percent of the frame, with the remaining 5 percent used in the front crush zone to better absorb energy in a collision. The frame, typically designed with nine cross-members (most of which are tubed and through-welded for added strength), will also accommodate a stout 10th heavy-duty cross-member when equipped with the in-bed gooseneck/fifth-wheel hitch option. Ford engineers also beefed up the rear section of the frame to accommodate a thicker and stronger conventional trailer hitch that gives the Super Duty segment-leading towing numbers.

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Under the hood, the 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke turbo-diesel is essentially a carryover engine although it has a few injector tweaks, some software upgrades and a turbocharger modification. Those modifications give it the biggest power numbers in the segment, with 440 horsepower at 2,800 rpm and 925 pounds-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm. Naturally, driveline and transmission upgrades were necessary to accommodate the new power levels, and from our time behind the wheel, we found the power delivery to be surprisingly smooth, linear and predictable. The Super Duty's gas engine is still the 16-valve 6.2-liter V-8, with a taller, multipath air intake and new camshaft profile to give it 430 pounds-feet of torque (better than any other V-8 in the segment).

Interior

More obvious changes will be found inside the Super Duty cabs. Part of Ford's original F-150/Super Duty master plan was to use the same cab and design features for all its pickups. The result is that the regular, SuperCab and crew cab configurations are identical in almost every way in the half-ton and heavy-duty lineups with the exception of their different foundations. This means that Super Duty SuperCab models will now offer 170-degree swing-out rear doors just like the F-150, a feature Ram, Chevrolet and GMC HDs lack.

Anyone familiar with the F-150 will immediately recognize the gauge layout, 8-inch productivity display screen between the tachometer and speedometer, center stack and console design, although there are a few slight changes to better accommodate the Super Duty user. Details such as a six-switch bank of auxiliary controls in the overhead console make the cab look like a jet cockpit, and a clever sliding cupholder easily converts from open space to an extra set of drink holders. Backseat features improve on the F-150 as well since Super Duty crew cabs offer an optional, under-seat collapsible storage bin that can be used as lockable storage space by locking the flipup rear seats.

The bed has all the features of the 2015 F-150's bed, such as the versatile BoxLink system can house various clip-in accessories like tie-down hooks, ramp holders and storage boxes. But the bed also offers under-lip LED lights, and the new, simpler and lighter tailgate steps are now available for any of the three-quarter and one-ton models.

Better Vision

Ford will also offer its exclusive seven-camera trailering system that provides 360-degree split-screen viewing of the vehicle in any drive mode as well as several backup views from the center high-mounted stoplight, the tailgate or a separate camera that can be hardwire-mounted to the back of (or inside of) a trailer. The seven-camera setup requires a 12-pin dual-plug setup to accommodate the extra inputs — the cameras are in front, under both side mirrors, behind the rearview mirror, on the stoplight, the tailgate and on/in the trailer.

One of Super Duty's most impressive pieces of technology is the Trailer Reverse Guidance system that uses the 360-degree-view software with backup trailer cameras. The system allows you to view several important angles of the truck and trailer as you're backing up, providing guidelines to keep you safe and avoid jack-knifing situations. Multicolored lines show up on the display screen to help guide the trailer in the right direction. It even visually recommends which direction and how much input to give the steering wheel to move the trailer in the desired direction. Where Pro Trailer Backup Assist is the F-150's trailer support system, Trailer Reverse Guidance system is for the Super Duty customer.

Ford also is offering a new tire pressure monitoring system that not only provides one-ton dualie wheel pressures, but also offers wireless valve-stem sensors for trailers so their tires can be monitored from the cab of your tow vehicle.

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Top Features

Another Super Duty feature that deserves mention is variable-ratio steering technology that helps the truck drive smoother when towing a heavy load as well as drive smaller when navigating tight parking lots. Ford calls it adaptive steering; essentially it's a computer-controlled motor in the steering wheel that varies the ratio of the recirculating ball, slowing down any sharp inputs at higher speeds and speeding up the ratio for tighter, nimble turning radiuses at lower speeds. Some trim levels will include the new steering technology, while others will offer it as an option. During our drives we found the system impressive with a heavy trailer, smoothing out the steering adjustments typically needed with climbing or coasting hills. We found the system had us navigating tight parking spaces like a much smaller vehicle — after we got used to it. Initially we continued to check the rear wheels to avoid hitting curbs or cone as we navigated a tight obstacle course because our minds were steering a longer, bigger pickup while the adaptive steering was working its magic.

One of our favorite improvements to the new Super Duty is the much more functional exhaust brake button that works in three different positions: Normal (off), Auto and Full (similar to the Ram HD Cummins operation). We found the Auto setting quite smart at adjusting to our load requirements, be it a trailer or a bed full of payload. Downshifts were quick when slowing, and upshifts were slowed as we hauled. In fact, we're told that the system has even more setting parameters when you turn the Tow/Haul mode on and off.

Driving Impressions

We had the opportunity to drive Power Stroke-equipped F-250 and F-350 single-rear-wheel crew cabs with a 10,000-pound cargo trailer (housing a new Super Duty and some lead ingots) as well as Platinum and XLT versions of F-350 dualie crew cabs with a 10,000-pound gooseneck horse trailer on the back and a few dozen horse mats strapped over the dual rear axles. In both cases, we were surprised with the smoothness and precision of the Power Stroke torque, which came on quickly when launching off the line.

Thicker glass, extra insulation and upgraded engine tuning make for a much quieter in-cabin experience as well, with a more harmonious look and design to the interior — gauges are easier to read, climate and radio switches are closer to both driver and passenger, there's more storage area in the center console and doors, and the trailer brake controller is visible and easier to grab.

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Although most front and rear axles are bigger and stronger than the ones they replace, the transmission and ring-and-pinion gearing stay exactly the same. Axle gearing is either 3.31:1 or 3.55:1 for the turbo-diesel, while the 6.2-liter gas engine typically will run 3.73:1 gears. F-450 Super Duty pickups run 4.30:1 axle gears. All transmission gearing carries over with a small software change made to F-250s equipped with the gas engine to better accommodate frugal-minded three-quarter-ton buyers who might want a smoother empty driving feel and slightly better fuel economy.

Going Off-Road

We also had the opportunity to take a few Super Dutys equipped with the FX4 Off-Road Package on a short off-road course at a working quarry just outside of Broomfield, Colo., southeast of Boulder. Although we normally don't consider manufacturer-designed off-road courses a good test of vehicles because they're built to highlight the advantages of that company's truck, this course did have a nasty rock trail section, loose sand climbs, steep hill descents, off-camber log negotiating and a water-filled mud pit.

The internal parts of the Super Duty's four-wheel-drive system have been beefed up to accommodate the higher torque numbers for both the gas and diesel engines; however, the part-time system and transfer case is pretty much identical to the previous system. We found it to be sturdy and capable of dealing with some rather abusive low-range crawling; the transmission is smart and accommodating when it comes to distributing the torque, sometimes starting in 2nd and 3rd gear to keep takeoffs smooth, while at other times using the huge gearing advantage to keep speeds under control such as when navigating a steep hill drop. The FX4 package does offer a manual rear locking differential operated by a rather dated-looking knob.

Towing Improves

One important aspect of the stronger frame and bigger axles, especially to those who tow, is that all the factory tow ratings on every model across the lineup are vastly improved. The F-450 gets a gooseneck maximum tow rating of a segment-leading 32,500 pounds; a properly equipped F-350 has a max gooseneck tow rating of 32,000 pounds, a max fifth-wheel tow rating of 27,500 pounds and a max conventional tow rating of 21,000 pounds. The max trailer hitch rating of a properly equipped F-250 is now 18,000 pounds.

All these class-leading numbers are due in large part to a reconfigured and beefed up rear frame section, which now offers a much stronger 2.5-inch and 3-inch hitch option for HD buyers. We're told these new hitches are so much stronger than the previous designs (or any other hitch in its segment) that Ford no longer recommends weight-distributing trailer hitches to any of its Super Duty buyers. Of course, that doesn't mean trailer owners can't continue to use their WD hitches to give themselves a wider margin of safety, but Ford does not require it anymore.

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Defining Terms

We mentioned that these are class-leading towing numbers but, of course, it matters how you define your terms. We've noted before that there are considerable differences in parts, pieces and gear ratios between a Super Duty F-350 and F-450, or between a Ram 3500 and a Ram 3500 with the Cummins engine, Aisin transmission and 11.5-inch rear axle. Federal guidelines define a one-ton truck as having a gross vehicle weight rating at or below 14,000 pounds. And that just happens to be where Ford certifies both F-350 and F-450 dualie pickups.

We also should note that the F-450, most of which will be sold as fully loaded Platinum models in excess of $75,000, does have bigger, stronger front and rear axles, 19.5-inch wheels and tires, 4.30:1 axle gears and the beloved "wide-track" front axle. So for those who want to argue that an F-450 shouldn't compete with a specially optioned Ram 3500 Cummins, the government would disagree. Still, we think a no-holds-barred cage-match-style competition with the F-350, Ram 3500, Chevrolet Silverado 3500 and GMC Sierra 3500 would be an amazing head-to-head contest. No doubt we'll be doing that at some point in the future.

Safety

There is a lot to digest with this new Super Duty, not the least of which is all the class-exclusive safety gear. One impressive optional safety feature for the 2017 Super Duty is adaptive cruise control designed to work with and without a heavy trailer, integrating the transmission and exhaust brake where needed. Other available safety features include blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and trailer coverage, lane departure warning and collision warning with braking. Features such as quad-beam LED headlights and taillights, and LEDs in the side mirrors and tailgate will make planned and unplanned nighttime stops safer as well.

Some of the features we appreciated most during our drives included better visibility since bigger split mirrors are now standard on all models. We also liked the fact that all long-wheelbase versions (crew-cab long-bed versions of every Super Duty) will get a 48-gallon fuel tank option for either gas or diesel engine, potentially giving the Super Duty a range between fill-ups close to 1,000 miles.

Missed Opportunities

Although we spent just two days with this new Super Duty lineup, we do have some quibbles. To begin, this would have been the time to do something a little more dramatic with the front-end design. We understand the Super Duty is the segment leader and Ford has moved to a fairly exotic body material for the highly conservative three-quarter-ton and one-ton segments, but to keep the previous-gen styling seems like a missed opportunity.

Likewise, delivering on better camera technology to make towing easier and potentially safer is money well spent, but not giving a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer aficionado a chance to control the height of the hitch ball with an adjustable airbag feature seems like Ford has guided them through the obstacles course without allowing them to cross the finish line.

Also, as good as the optional speed-sensitive adaptive-steering ratio is, it could have some interesting consequences for those who always have had long-wheelbase pickups with a single-ratio steering box. At the very least, buyers should receive training so they know that their new truck will not navigate at slower speeds like their previous truck. The driver will have to be extra careful to see how the back of the truck is following behind the front end, which may be cutting more sharply than they might predict. Adapting to this technology will take time and practice. And heaven help you if you loan your truck to your brother-in-law.

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Finally, it seems that no changes have been made to the aluminum bed walls and/or flooring since GM's infamous aluminum-versus-steel bed commercials were released a few months ago. No doubt, any bed will deform or fail given the right set of circumstances, but it sure would have been nice to see Ford offer a more rugged bed-box upgrade kit for those who might want extra protection beyond the thicker floor and sidewalls in the Super Duty when compared to the F-150.

Trims and Pricing

The new Super Duty will be offered in six trim packages — XL, STX, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum — ranging in price from $34,000 up to, depending on options, almost $80,000. Some well-equipped 2017 Super Dutys are already in some of the bigger dealerships across the country.

We had the chance to take a closer look at the newest Super Duty trim level, the STX. Slotting between the base XL and well-equipped XLT, the STX is something of a value-conscious trim that still offers a good chunk of style. It will have a lot of front and rear chrome, aluminum wheels and an upgraded entertainment system. The STX should resonate with buyers given that the starting price is fairly affordable, sitting right around $36,000.

Pricing for the 2017 Super Dutys can be found at the Ford configurator, but pricing hasn't changed much from 2016 to 2017 models. The XL trim is up $150, the XLT $365, the Lariat $310, the King Ranch $1,330 and the Platinum $5,070; the steeper increases for the latter two trims are due to more standard features.

Summing Up

Parts of the 2017 Super Duty, such as the powertrain and suspension, are a solid evolutionary upgrade from the previous model and exactly what you would expect with a normal new model debut, but the rest of this truck falls into the revolutionary (with a capital R) category with its new body, frame, cabins, safety tech, camera technology and exclusive features. In all, this seems to be a strong message to the heavy-duty pickup segment that competitors need to bring their A game if they expect to cut into Ford's lead. Certainly there's plenty of room for improvement from the competition, but they'll need to respond quickly. Based on what happened with the 2015 Ford F-150 (once both of Ford's half-ton plants got up to speed), the 2017 Super Dutys have the potential to leave the competition in the dust.

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; manufacturer images

 

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Comments

I have a 2017 F350, Wished Ford would sell the bed plugs to cover the holes in the bottom of the bed for the 5th wheel hitch

I bought a 2017 Ford Lariat 250 and was told it has a thing in the bed for fifth wheel but it looks like a goose neck with the big ball in the center to me I am confused does it do both?

I am very disgusted with the new so called F250 & 350's (really just beefed up 150's). I cannot believe they got rid of the super duty body and now it is just a 150 with lipstick. I have been buying ford f350's all my life.(now 57) I always enjoyed that the truck was a Bigger, Wider Taller truck than the f150 and now it is just taller. The new front end & headlights look like a chevy, If I wanted a chevy I would have bought one.(no thanks), The truck looks obviously skinnier driving in front of me, and I cant stand that squaty sloped windshield. Thats not a heavy truck look. But now I can say sadly enough, when I go for an updated F-350 it will only be if they bring back a larger truck, or its gonna be a Dodge.



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