First Drive: 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty brings the biggest tools

2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty - Click above for high-res image gallery

It's a guy thing. Tim Allen understands. If you've got a job to do, you need the right tool. As guy logic goes, the bigger and more powerful the tool, the better.

If what you do requires a tool shaped like a truck, then you're currently experiencing a nirvana-like period in history. In just the last few months, Chrysler and General Motors introduced their new heavy-duty trucks. We drove the 2010 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty in October and liked it. We also saw the Chevrolet and GMC HDs at the Chicago Auto Show last month. Although we've yet to get behind the wheel, the powertrain and chassis improvements appear promising.

Not to be left out, Ford's rolling introduction of its latest F-Series Super Duty just culminated with an Arizona-based press-only driving event (we first reported on the new truck in September). Want to know everything about Ford's big, new tool? For starters, the blue oval on the grille measures 13 inches. Believe it or not, there's more. Find out after the jump.

Photos by Rex Roy / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Those of you with functional long-term memories will recall that Ford introduced an all-new Super Duty for 2008. While the 2011 edition is billed as all-new, not everything about the newest F-Series Super Duty is the product of an empty CAD/CAM screen. Following its own recent pattern for product introductions, Ford did what we'd consider a super-duper freshening on its heavy-duty truck.

Major changes include all-new and stronger powertrains, new front-end sheetmetal, and mildly freshened interiors. While certainly not all-new, the changes are certainly all good.

Two new engines, diesel first
Autoblog already reported on Ford's new in-house designed-and-built 6.7-liter diesel. The previous Power Stroke diesel was a cooperative effort between Ford and Navistar. While generally well regarded, the engine was not without its problems, including the fact that it didn't particularly like biodiesel fuel.

The larger 6.7-liter engine is a clean-sheet, all-Ford design that produces 390 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque. The deep-skirted V8 block is made of compacted graphite iron, which Ford claims is about two times stronger than traditional cast iron, all the better to reliably handle that elephantine torque. Four-valve aluminum heads help shave 160 pounds off the engine's total weight, but don't look for cams in those heads. A single camshaft in the block actuates all 32 valves with just as many pushrods.

Bosch piezo injectors send fuel directly into the combustion chambers with up to 29,000 psi of force. The quick-acting injectors are capable of delivering up to five stratified charges (layered squirts of fuel) per combustion cycle. The high-pressure, direct injection system pays big benefits in terms of increased power and economy with reduced noise. In traditional diesels, the combustion event happened all at once, making plenty of noise. Stratified fuel injection lengthens the combustion event, making it quieter.

While not silent, the new Power Stroke is so quiet that you can stand at the rear of the truck and hold a conversation and not have to raise your voice. In the cab, the engine noise levels are so low that it's hard to discern whether you're driving a gas or diesel truck. The fact that you can't smell any eau d'diesel makes the new engine and emissions package all the more impressive.

One of the most innovative features of the new Power Stroke engine is the path of the airflow through the engine. The air charge enters the heads on the outside of the V, with spent gasses exiting to the center of the valley. Waiting for those rapidly expanding gasses is a Honeywell turbocharger featuring two outboard compressor wheels that form a sandwich around the impeller.

The main benefit of the twin-compressor blower is that it delivers the power and flexibility of a twin-turbo system without separate turbo units. The turbocharger also features variable vane technology to enhance boost response at lower engine rpms. Max boost is 29 psi. While high by gas-engine standards, this is lower than many other diesel engines including the 2010 Cummins and the 2010 version of General Motors' Duramax. The lower boost is beneficial because it helps keep intake charge temperatures from rising to unfavorable levels. An air-to-liquid intercooler chills the incoming air on the Ford.

Unlike the six-cylinder Dodge/Cummins diesel, the Power Stroke uses a urea-injection exhaust after treatment to help meet new diesel emissions standards. Ford engineers told us that their system gave them greater flexibility to tune their engine for leaner running. Ford felt the economy vs. maintenance trade-off (having to refill the five gallons of Diesel Exhaust Fluid at every oil change) was worth it.

Trucks over 8,500-pounds are not subjected to EPA mileage tests, but Ford told us that its new diesel is significantly more efficient than the previous engine. During our time behind the wheel, one 80-mile segment was meant to be an economy run. We were too eager to hit our hotel's buffet tables, and averaged about 20 mpg in our F-250 Super Duty King Ranch 4x4 with the new Power Stroke. The mpg winners, however, averaged 29 mpg over the same distance in an equivalent truck, and they were only minutes later to dinner.

This type of performance can be yours for $7,835 more than the standard engine, the same upcharge as 2009, and well over half of Super Duty buyers opt for the oil burner.

6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine
If you wondered how Ford could afford to offer a big-cube, high-performance engine for the low-volume Raptor off-road monster, ponder no longer. The 6.2-liter was always in the plans for the Super Duty line. According to Ford powertrain engineers, the trustworthy and reliable 5.4-liter Triton engine was at the end of its development life and could not be improved to deliver more power and economy with lower emissions. A totally new engine was required, and that's what the new 6.2-liter is.

Even though the 6.2-liter is larger and more powerful than the 2010 Triton, in equivalent Super Duty models, engineers have seen a 15-percent gain in economy. The new engine puts out 385 hp and 405 lb-ft torque. Key features of the single-overhead cam engine include variable valve timing and dual spark plugs per cylinder. Anticipating the arrival of cheaper E85, the new engine can suck down alcohol, regular gasoline, or any mix thereof.

Given the 6.2-liter's power, it not only replaces the 5.4-liter but the 6.8-liter V-10 in all F-250 and F-350 applications, the volume-leaders of the Super Duty line. Limited production of the V-10 continues for F-450 and F-550 models because certain fleets still like the power/value equation of the last remaining member of Ford's modular engine family.

TorqShift six-speed automatic

Both new engines distribute their torque to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. It's a heavy-duty box that engineers proudly boasted could handle way more power than either of the current engines are putting down.

Electronic controls support the beefy mechanicals, enabling convenient manual shifting and locking out higher gears (to eliminate gear hunting in hilly terrain). Representatives reminded the press that Ford invented the Tow Haul transmission mode, and this gearbox incorporates software improvements that make the system work better. We towed a 9,000-pound trailer up a multi-mile grade and the system worked as advertised, keeping the engine running in a sweet spot that enhanced our feeling of control.

The transmission also incorporates the easy fitment of power-take-off devices. While PTOs are not unusual for this class of truck, Ford's system enables the PTO to function anytime the engine is running, whether the truck is parked, idling, or in motion. Repo men will love this industry-exclusive feature.

The wrapper
Ford didn't have unlimited financial resources to put toward the Super Duty's refresh. Apparently the designer's share of the pot ran out at the A-pillar.

The front-end received nearly all of the design department's attention because the new Power Stroke wouldn't fit under the old hood. The deep-skirted block, manifolds and circuitous intake plumbing took up more room than the previous engines. Stylists came up with a taller clam-shell hood to make room. A new two-bar grill, light assemblies and fenders finish off the handsome new schnoz.

Looking over the rest of the truck, if it weren't for the new-for-2011 wheels (sized from 17 to 20 inches), one would be hard-pressed to tell a new Super Duty from old. When asked why the F-150's stylish tailgate wasn't simply bolted onto the Super Duty, we learned that the big truck's bed is a different size.

Compared the 2010 Dodge Ram HD, especially those fitted with dual rear wheels, the new Ford looks like an antique with a Monroney label. The Ram's sleek fenders make it look veritably svelte by comparison.

In the cab
Like the exterior, the interior received some attention, but nothing close to a full redesign. The Super Duty's interior looks like it's heavy duty, and carries over the high-quality materials, finishes and general function that impressed us on the previous generation.

Important upgrades include use of the comfortable F-150 seats (with available heating and cooling), a new center console design that can be configured dozens of ways, and a new 4.2-inch LCD screen positioned between the speedo and tach. The screen comes standard on the XLT and King Ranch, and provides much useful info about fuel economy, off-road hardware and towing. A five-button controller similar to that used on the new MyFord Touch system brings the system to life. The Ford Work Solutions package also continues to be an option.

In models with rear seats, flipping up the bottom cushion reveals a new cab-wide, lockable storage area. Accessing the storage, however, revealed how much easier the GM pickup rear-seat cushions flip up. The former requires two hands (one to flip after the other flips a lever), while the latter is a true one-handed operation.

Bragging points
Because guys like to brag about their tools, here are some facts that 2011 Ford Super Duty owners will relish: The F-250 can tow up to 14,000 pounds, half a ton more than the current Dodge and GM HD models. The big F-450 can handle up to a 24,400-pound trailer. This is 4,400 pounds more than the closest GM and nearly three tons more than the Dodge HD.

The comparisons continue in Ford's favor regarding payload. This seems all the more remarkable given that the Super Duty's frame is generally a carryover piece. Engineers felt it was strong enough as it was.

On the road
What do you normally get when you put three tons in motion on heavy-duty tires and attempt to control it with a recirculating-ball steering system? For those who enjoy driving, the resulting experience usually isn't pleasant. While the Super Duty isn't a Shelby GT 500, it's certainly way better than what heavy duty trucks used to be like.

What's so remarkable about the new Super Duty is that it drives as easily as today's best light-duty pickups. Much of the credit goes to new steering component geometry and some new bits Ford worked into the 2011 upgrade. Whereas previous Super Duty models had some slop in the steering on center, the new truck steers more precisely and with better response and feel. Body pitch and roll are also well controlled.

Regardless of powertrain, the cab is passenger car hushed. Even with the diesel chugging up a hill on boost, there's never a need to talk over the engine noise. We drove a Dodge Ram HD diesel back-to-back with a comparable Ford and found the Super Duty to be considerably quieter. Even more important was the lack of resonance and vibration felt in the cab compared to the Dodge. We'll have to see how the new GM Heavy Duty models stack up when they arrive later this year, because the bar is set high.

We spent most of our time driving crew cab models and even unladen, they rode smoothly. With half a ton in the bed, the ride was downright supple. The trucks weren't particularly quick by car standards, but they weren't slow either. These types of vehicles tend to gather speed as opposed to explode off the line. On the diesels, there was never any perceptible turbo lag.

Features like trailer sway control and electronic stability control systems add peace of mind. Curiously, similar features are not yet available on the Dodge, but should come along for 2011. Ford has offered them for years.

Sitting up high in the Super Duty models, the feeling of invincibility figuratively overcomes the pilot. With the diesel on boil, there seems like there's little this truck couldn't drive through or over. More than 80 percent of Super Duty models are equipped with four-wheel drive. The electronically locking rear differential we've already seen on the Raptor is now available. As we experienced on a rough off-road course, the grip it adds is considerable.

Hill Decent Control is another feature we first saw on the Raptor. Think of it as low-speed cruise control for when you're driving down the side of a mountain and there's no road. After you edge the nose down the grade, tap the brakes at the speed you'd like to go and electronic magicians take care of the rest. The feature works up to 20 mph and is a huge confidence booster to novice off-roaders.

Ford is also holding the line on Super Duty pricing. The MSRP of a showroom-equipped 2011 F-250 XLT Crew Cab 4x4 diesel is priced the same as a 2010 model. Expect to see all four trim levels (XL, XLT, Lariat and King Ranch) in dealers this spring.

If this were the 1990s and fuel were cheaper than bottled water, some people might be tempted to buy a new Super Duty to be their driveway truck. It's certainly comfortable enough to be driven every day, even if your destination isn't a quarry, factory or construction site. But fuel isn't that cheap anymore.

Photos by Rex Roy / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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