2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty first test: Thinking bigger
In 2017 we named the then all-new Ford Super Duty our Truck of the Year. I’ll never forget it, for a couple of reasons. The big one is that at our gala Of The Year event held at the Deco-meets-Gaudi Theatre inside the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, yours truly gave Ford the big award. “It’s the truckiest truck that ever trucked,” is how I concluded my speech. We had never seen anything like that Super Duty. Gargantuan, dripping with functionality, and oozing capability, the Super Duty wowed us like few other vehicles have during my decade-long experience with Of The Year events. “Sometimes, one vehicle so clearly satisfies or exceeds our criteria that we spend more time looking for faults than attributes,” features editor Scott Evans said. Amen.
Since then, both Chevy/GMC and Ram have completely revamped their heavy-duty lineups. Ram even took the logical/ridiculous step of endowing its biggest hauler with 1,000 lb-ft of torque. GM kept the numbers down (“only” 910 lb-ft of twist), but thanks to a fantastic 10-speed transmission, properly equipped 3500 HDs can tow 35,100 pounds, beating the giant Ram by a meaningless (but fundamentally important) 400 pounds. Naturally, Ford had to respond, and a midcycle refresh at the four-year point in the Super Duty’s lifecycle is the place to do it.
If you ask me, Ford brought a tank to a gunfight. This puppy is strapped.
The biggest news is that Ford’s truck team figured out a way to extract an additional 125 lb-ft of torque from its 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8. Yes, folks, the Blue Oval’s big dog now makes 1,050 lb-ft of torque. Put that in your four-inch tailpipe and smoke it, Ram. Oh, and Chevy, GMC? Thanks to a hugely beefed-up version of that 10-speed transmission (jointly developed with GM), a certain Ford F-450 can tow—wait for it—37,000 pounds (!). However, that’s only kinda the big Super Duty engine news. Say huh? Yeah, see, Ford has finally dropped the venerable/ancient 6.8-liter V-10 (a Modular engine family member with roots going back to 1981) with an all-new 7.3-liter naturally aspirated pushrod V-8. If you plug that big V-8 into a F-350 with four wheels on the rear axle, the thing’s payload is 7,850 pounds, the best in the industry.
You might be saying, hey, wait a second. That Silicon Valley mag/website/talking head assured me that all cars will be electric by the end of the month! What gives? Well, the Ford Motor Company, the people betting big on the Mustang Mach-E, predict that by 2024 only 8 percent of the U.S. market will be electric, and a teeny, tiny sliver of that will be trucks. Moreover, zero percent of that small slice will be heavy-duty, medium-duty, chassis cab, or van-cutaway trucks. Now, Ford did make the bold, brave, and smart decision to strike a deal with the California Air Resources Board and “recognize[s] California’s authority” in setting emissions standards. We salute them for that. Turns out that relatively simple, huge-displacement V-8s offer the most flexibility when it comes to controlling both NOx emissions and CO2. Who knew? This new V-8 is a bruiser, too, kicking out 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Did I mention that the Power Stroke now makes 475 horsepower? What a (truck) world.
I did mention that 10-speed transmission already, but ye olde six-speed TorqShift is nearly gone forever. The six-speed is still available on the F-250 with the 6.2-liter V-8. Let’s call it an eventual good riddance. If you do want a $35,300 Super Duty, though, that’s the engine/transmission combo to get. I say that $2,045 to jump up to the new 7.3-liter V-8 is money expertly spent, however.
Between Ford (Raptor) and GM (Camaro ZL1), I’ve become pretty familiar with this new 10-speed gearbox and its closely spaced lower gears. Before I drove the new Super Duties, I would have given the programmatic edge to Team Chevy. However, this iteration of the 10-speed seems perfectly tuned to the big Fords while also expanding the truck’s capabilities. The new first gear is Empire State Building tall at 4.615:1, trumping the old first gear (4.17:1) by almost half a rotation. GM’s HD 10-speed transmission uses a 4.54:1 first gear, and we saw it used to humiliate the Ram 3500 HD in acceleration (6.9 seconds to 60 mph vs. 8.8 seconds, despite the Ram having more torque). The Ram’s eight-speed uses a 4.10:1 first gear ratio. Ford’s new 10-speed feels at least as good as, if not better than, what GM offers.
Nearly as big a story as the powertrain news, and to certain MotorTrend staffers the only thing that matters (Hi, Christian Seabaugh): the Tremor off-road package. You can easily think of the Tremor package as Ford’s answer to Ram’s (totally awesome) Power Wagon but with several important differences.
First of all, Tremor is available on four trim levels: XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum. Only XL and Limited, the bottom and top trims, can’t be had with the Tremor package. You can’t get it on duallies, either. I asked. You can, however, get Tremor with a diesel, something you cannot get with the Ram. Word on the street is that Ram couldn’t figure out how to cool the big Cummins with the standard winch in place. So the Power Wagon is gas-only. Ford offers an optional ($3,000) 12,000-pound Warn winch with either engine. I should point out that, unlike the Power Wagon, Ford’s winch can be operated wirelessly. And yeah, the winch works with the diesel.
What do you get with Tremor? First and foremost, custom 1.7-inch-dimeter twin-tube dampers. Tremor-equipped trucks are also lifted by more than an inch and have 10.8 inches of ground clearance. The 18-inch wheels are wrapped in 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler rubber. There’s a locking rear differential, a limited-slip front differential, and a new rock-crawl off-road mode (one of six new off-road modes; non-Tremors get five), as well as a trail-control mode that’s essentially off-road cruise control. You actually set the vehicle’s speed with the cruise-control buttons. A raised front air dam increases the approach angle to 31.7 degrees, while the departure angle is 24.5 degrees. You can ford 33 inches of water thanks to vent tubes on the transfer case and axles. The side steps are actually Raptor-style rock rails, and the bottom sports the armor plating found on the (still available) FX4 package. Keep in mind, the FX4 is largely a $400 appearance package, whereas the Tremor goodies go for $3,975. A bargain, says me, for all that you get.
Ford also heaped a couple helpings of electronic technology into the 2020 Super Duty. Most of these technologies have been in the F-150 and Expedition (and other Ford products) for a year or two and for 2020 trickled their way up to the Super Duty. These are: Pro Trailer Backup Assist, where you turn a dial instead of the steering wheel to back your truck and trailer up; Trailer Reverse Guidance, which shows the trailer angle and direction and provides you with suggestions on how to best back it up; Ford Co-Pilot360 (debuted on the Edge), which includes automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and trailer coverage; and lane-keeping alert. The Super Duties now have USB-C ports and wireless phone charging.
How do the updated Super Duties drive? Pretty darn well. There was an 820-pound jump from the 6.2-liter gas V-8 to the 6.7-liter diesel when we weighed two comparable F-250s back in 2017. I’d imagine the new 7.3-liter V-8 weighs a bit more than the old gas engine, but we won’t know until we weigh the two of them side by side. Still, on the road you definitely feel the weight of the diesel, especially in terms of the rear end feeling even more unloaded. In layman’s terms, the diesel Super Duties bounce around more than the gasoline-powered ones. I went into this thinking the 1,050-lb-ft monster diesel would be the one I’d like best simply because of its acceleration. But let me be the first to tell you that the 430-hp, 475-lb-ft 7.3-liter is awesome and feels a tick quicker just by the seat of my pants, probably because it has less weight to haul around. Sounds much more sinister, too.
I was able to sneak a F-350 King Ranch Tremor with that sweet 7.3-liter V-8 back to L.A. for some instrumented testing. (Fine, Ford let me drive it away from the launch.) A few observations and provisos: The only 2017 F-350 we tested was a diesel Lariat 4×4 dually that crushed our scales to the tune of 8,643 pounds. We did weigh an F-250 Lariat 4×4 with the 6.2-liter V-8, and despite its “lightweight” aluminum body panels, it clocked in at 7,070 pounds. Much to our surprise, the 2020 F-350 Tremor with the bigger V-8 weighs 7,200 pounds. Yes, an F-350 will outweigh an F-250, and the Tremor package should add weight, too. Seems as if the new V-8 weighs less than the old one, though, despite being larger in displacement and cleaner and making much more power. Go, science!
The slightly heavier 2020 model hits 60 mph in 7.3 seconds before tackling the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 90.9 mph. The 2017 beastie gets to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and runs through 1,320 feet in 15.9 seconds at 88.8 mph. The new Super Duty stops from 60 mph in 147 feet, three feet shorter than the 2017 version. As for our patented figure-eight test, the King Ranch Tremor is 0.1 second behind the 2017 model at 29 seconds flat. Putting heavy-duty trucks through our figure-eight (torture) test is ridiculous, as notes our testing guru Kim Reynolds: “These tires are very tall and knobby and will quickly (almost immediately) disintegrate if you push it very long on asphalt.” Does comparing any Tremor-equipped Super Duty to a non-Tremor truck make any sense? Not really. But as Kim concluded, “It did the laps, so there you go.”
Back to the actual launch: For the towing portion, Ford turned us loose up Arizona’s Granite Mountain in six Super Duties towing everything from a 9,000-pound off-road trailer to a 27-foot, 12,000-pound RV trailer. Gas or diesel, the engine didn’t matter, and the new 10-speed transmission worked beautifully. News flash: Super Duties remain as good at towing as any vehicle you can purchase, especially the six-wheeled versions. With the 12,000-pound trailer hooked up to a diesel F-350 dually, I tried out Reynolds’ tried and true frustration test, a key metric at our Truck of the Year festivities. Essentially, when pointed uphill, you slow down to 20 mph as if you’re stuck behind an annoyingly slow driver. Then you floor it and time how long it takes you to hit 60 mph. It took 17 seconds, which is damn good for six tons hanging off a gooseneck. Impressively, 20 mph to 40 mph seemed to take about five seconds. That’s what 1,050 lb-ft of torque gets you. Strong, strong truck.
Wait a moment—can’t these trucks haul (well) over 30,000 pounds? Yes, they can! That’s why Ford had one hooked up to a 30,000-pound trailer. Because I don’t have a CDL (which you need to legally haul more than 26,000 pounds), a Ford engineer did the driving. Key observation: As we headed uphill towing 15 tons, the transmission happily sat in seventh gear, which just happens to be 1:1. Meaning the engine produces such copious amounts of torque that no multiplication is needed. Again, we were headed uphill on a stretch of road Ford uses as a development substitute for the legendary Davis Dam. Color me incredibly impressed. I also kept an eye on the temperature gauge. Didn’t budge.
Next we showed up at a quarry where Ford had built an off-road course for us to torture the Tremors. I’ve been on dozens of press trips where manufacturers set pathetic little off-road courses to selectively show off a vehicle’s rather limited capabilities. In fact, Ford did exactly this on the launch of the previous-generation Explorer. A good 90 percent of the obstacles happen when the truck’s pointed downhill. This Tremor course was not that. The course began with a rock crawling section that perhaps a dozen other production vehicles on sale could handle, and three of them are Jeeps. The trail grew harder-core from there, with mud, water, and what seemed like a wall to climb. The Tremors never so much as flinched. I will say that the Tremors equipped with the 7.3-liter gas V-8 felt about twice as good off-road as the diesel-powered trucks did. The Power Strokers completed the course just fine, but that extra several hundred pounds over the front wheels did them no favors. As capable as a Power Wagon? Boy, the Tremors sure felt as good if not a bit better—meaning better body control, torquier, better gearing, and of course the 2-inch-larger knobby tires seemed to have more purchase. Now, true, the Tremor package does not offer a locking front diff, nor does it have FCA’s detachable anti-roll bar for hyper articulation. Kinda felt like those things weren’t needed, but I can’t say for certain. You better believe a comparison test is coming, and soon.
By all rights, Ford could have turned in a minor refresh of an already superior truck, sat back, and counted the cash. After all, Americans did purchase more than 890,000 F-Series trucks last year, down from more than 909,000 in 2018. That’s one full-size truck sold ever 35 seconds for an entire year, just to sort of (but not really) put these mega-sales into perspective. Instead of mild updates, though, the Blue Oval made the gutsy decision to reassert its dominance in the highly competitive and hugely lucrative (did I mention that the F-450 Limited starts at $92,125?) heavy-duty truck race. In almost every measurable way, the new Super Duty numerically beats (and beats up) the competition. We can’t render an actual verdict as to which big truck is best until we drive them back to back to back on the same day on the same roads and trails, towing the same trailers. However, my instincts are telling me that I’m seeing if not feeling the writing on the wall. It might not be from me, but you very well could hear “the truckiest truck that ever trucked” again real soon.
|2020 Ford F-350 Super Duty King Ranch Tremor|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$75,630|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||7.3L/430-hp/475-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||7,200 lb|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||250.0 x 80.0 x 79.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.6 sec @ 90.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||147 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.71 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.0 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Exempt from testing|
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