2003 Ford F-250 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A hard-working truck, now more civilized than ever.
Ford Super Duty trucks out-sell the heavy-duty pickups from Chevrolet and Dodge combined. Ford has improved them for 2003.
A new 6.0-liter diesel engine brings more power and reduced emissions to the Super Duty line. The standard 5.4-liter V8 gas engine has been revised for quieter and more refined operation. The base interior is nicer, and a power sliding moon roof is available for Crew Cabs. Those changes, plus new option packages make the 2003 F-350 and F-250 models more people-friendly.
Still, these trucks aren't designed to be family-sedan substitutes that make an occasional run to Home Depot. Ford's full-size but lighter-duty F-150 is more than enough truck for that job. The Super Duty pickups look like serious big rigs, and they are.
Ford Super Duty trucks don't offer the chassis sophistication of the newer designs from GM and Dodge, but their new and revised powertrains are first-class.
Like most domestic pickups, the Ford Super Duty is offered in more configurations than any normal human can count. Ford offers 28 variations on the F-250 (3/4-ton), and 50 more on the F-350 (one-ton). Any one of them can pull anything from a horse trailer to an Airstream camper. They are all the truck most consumers will ever need. (If not, Ford builds bigger F-450, F-550, F-650, and F-750 trucks for the commercial market.)
F-250 and F-350 are available in regular-cab, extended-cab (SuperCab) and Crew Cab configurations. Crew Cab versions come with four full-sized doors, and are the most passenger-friendly models. Both two- and four-wheel drive are available as well. Four-wheel-drive models offer either manual-locking or shift-on-the-fly auto-locking hubs.
Short-bed (6 3/4 feet) and long-bed (8 feet) versions are available. Wheelbase lengths include 137 inches (regular cab), 142 inches (SuperCab short-bed), 158 inches (SuperCab long-bed), 156 inches (Crew Cab short-bed) and 172 inches (Crew Cab long-bed).
Four-wheel-disc brakes and ABS come standard on all Super Duty models.
All Ford F-250 models come with single rear wheels. F-350 models are available with single rear wheels (SRW) or dual rear wheels (DRW). The latter, often called 'duallies,' are good for towing as they offer higher tongue-weight ratings.
Ford Super Duty F-250 competes with the other heavyweights from Detroit: Dodge Ram 2500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, and GMC Sierra 2500. F-350 dual rear wheel trucks compete with the 3500-series models from GM and Dodge. With the ability to tow up to 12,500 pounds (with the optional Class IV trailer package), the Super Duty F-250 offers the best towing capacity in its class.
Three trim levels are offered: standard XL, mid-level XLT, and luxurious Lariat. XL models are pretty basic, with only a two-speaker stereo and fixed-interval wipers. Air conditioning ($805) is optional. XLT models are equipped more like a mid-range passenger car, while luxurious Lariats come with an overhead console, leather seats with six-way power, and aluminum wheels.
Base prices range from $21,120 for a two-wheel drive XL regular cab up to $36,250 for a long-wheelbase, four-wheel-drive Lariat Crew Cab with dual rear wheels.
New for 2003 is the FX4 Off-Road Package ($225), which adds skid plates, Rancho shock absorbers, a steering damper and FX4 decals. The skid plates ($100) are also available as a stand-alone option.
XLT Sport Package ($895) is offered on 2003 Crew Cabs as well as SuperCabs. The package includes chromed tubular step bars, an exclusive twill cloth 40/20/40 split-bench front seat, body-color exterior accents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear sliding window, fog lamps and privacy glass. Options for this package include a reverse proximity sensor ($245), a great feature on these big trucks, and a power driver's seat ($290). Exterior color choices have been expanded from just one, black, to include white, gray, blue, and red.
The King Ranch package is available for 2003 Super Duty trucks, which dresses the interior in premium leather interior trim, and accents the exterior with body-color mirror housings and door handles, Arizona Beige wheel lip moldings, lighted running boards, premium aluminum wheels and a choice of three exterior colors: Estate Green, Chestnut and Oxford White.
Ford Super Duty pickups are arguably the best-looking heavy duty pickups available. The new heavy-duty Rams are more stylish, while the GM trucks are too conservatively styled. The Fords have a brawny, no-nonsense look that is appealing.
Unlike Ford F-150 pickups, the F-250 Super Duty looks like a big rig. While 2003 F-150s have rounded edges, the Super Duty trucks look bluff-nosed and serious. Their menacing, square-jawed front ends, brawny raised hoods and aggressive headlamps announce significant engineering differences between a garden-variety F-150 and a Super Duty. Super Duty trucks ride on an entirely different platform from F-150 models.
Super Duty's dropped beltline gives it a sense of openness and accessibility. It also makes it easier to climb in, a welcome feature when juggling tools, briefcases, or even toddlers. A distinctive dip along the front door side glass improves the driver's view of the exterior mirrors, a big help when towing a trailer or for seeing around cargo boxes or dump truck bodies. A locking tailgate is standard.
New telescoping trailer mirrors are available for 2003; they feature power adjustments, heated glass and integral turn signal repeaters, and telescope manually.
Ford Super Duty trucks are very roomy, with comfortable and spacious seats and plenty of hip and shoulder room.
Truck owners spend a lot of time in their vehicles, so the designers at Ford paid a lot of attention to comfort and convenience. The interior features a fold-down armrest, a floor console that can accommodate a laptop, and a removable hanging storage bin that can attach to the dash. Controls are big and easy to reach and manipulate. The only exception is the instrument panel dimmer, which is a bit hard to reach. Two large cupholders are provided. The standard cigar lighter is augmented with a second auxiliary power outlet. The instrument cluster includes a transmission temperature gauge when an automatic transmission is ordered.
XL models have been upgraded for 2003 with higher-quality cloth and vinyl on the standard bench seat, and a bucket seat option ($390). Inboard armrests and a driver-side grab handle are standard on all 2003 models.
Passenger-side airbags offer a deactivation switch on regular cab and SuperCab models. Adjustable seatbelt anchors increase safety and comfort.
SuperCab's four doors are a great way to gain access to the rear seat. The rear seat cushion folds up and forward and the seatback folds down to create a flat, steel loading surface, a perfect place to put tools and other heavy items that need to stay secure and out of the elements. SuperCab XL buyers who need out-of-the-weather cargo space more than seating capacity can delete the seat entirely for a $415 credit. The rear doors are 25 inches wide. They hinge on the rear pillars of the cab and swing out a full 90 degrees from the doorsill, a design that eases the loading of gear and passengers. Hidden vertical beams and a cross brace where the front and rear doors meet contribute to occupant safety.
Ford Super Duty's standard 5.4-liter V8 is rated 260 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. The 6.8-liter V10 is rated 310 hp and 425 lbs.-ft. of torque. Both Triton engines employ overhead cams for valve control.
Sophisticated computer analysis has given the 5.4-liter V8 a stiffer engine block for 2003, reducing radiated noise by as much as 3.1 decibels.
A new 6.0-liter diesel engine is available for 2003 models that's cleaner, more efficient, and more powerful than the outgoing 7.3-liter diesel. Though smaller in displacement, the new 6.0-liter turbo-diesel V8 is rated 550 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2000 rpm. The outgoing 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel, available on early 2003 models, offered 525 lbs.-ft. at just 1600 rpm. The 6.0-liter engine produces 325 hp at 3300 rpm, compared with the 7.3-liter's 275 hp at 2800.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all Ford Super Duty models. The new 6.0-liter diesel offers an all-new five-speed automatic as an option, which is a sweet combination. The gasoline engines and the 7.3-liter diesel can be ordered with a four-speed automatic transmission ($1095).
The F-250 feels smaller than it is, almost like a big luxury car. It doesn't seem to fill rural roads as much as the Dodge trucks do. Steering is precise. Handling is good, though not as good as the newer designs from Dodge and GM. Body roll is noticeably limited when cornering. Ride quality is okay for a heavy-duty truck, thanks to a compliant suspension, but it's not nearly as smooth as the newer Dodge and GM trucks.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, which are standard, provide excellent driver feedback and smooth, undramatic stops.
Ford Super Duty trucks look good. Their real beauty lies in their capabilities, however.
New and revised powertrains make Ford's heavy-duty pickups more capable and, therefore, more attractive. The new 6.0-liter turbo-diesel is drawing rave reviews and is available with a new five-speed automatic.
F-250: 4x2 regular cab 137-in. wheelbase XL ($21,120); 4x4 regular cab 137-in. XLT ($27,140); 4x4 SuperCab 158-in. XL ($26,590); 4x2 SuperCab 158-in. Lariat ($29,185); 4x2 Crew Cab 172-in. XLT ($28,880); 4x4 Crew Cab 172-in. Lariat ($34,385)
F-350: 4x2 regular cab 137-in. wheelbase XLT ($24,805); 4x4 SuperCab 142-in. XL ($27,175); 4x4 Crew Cab 156-in. Lariat ($34,800)
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($1,095).
F-250 4x4 SuperCab Lariat SWB ($32,055).
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