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2017 Ford Super Duty First Drive

It’s been a full 18 years since the Ford F-Series Super Duty line (F-250, F-350, and F-450) has had as complete a redesign. That’s all changing for the 2017 model year with all-new trucks rolling off the line in Louisville, KY in just a few short months. 

Indeed, when a product as popular as the F-Series ― Super Duty or not ― goes under the knife as extensively as this, a revolution much more than an evolution could very well be in the cards.

New from the skin down

For 2017, the Ford Super Duty has received the aluminum body and box treatment for all body styles (regular cab, super cab, crew cab), after the F-150 got the same in 2015. Up to 158 kg (350 lbs) have been saved depending on the body style and equipment you’ve selected for your particular truck. The ease with which the doors and hood can be operated shows just how big a difference aluminum construction makes.

The chassis remains finished in steel, 95% of which is of the high-tensile variety, leading to a 24% increase in stiffness. In the real world, this translates into a better, quieter ride, better towing, and of course increased durability. Speaking of durability, up to 10 through-welded crossmembers have been added. Ford says the only reason it didn’t use 100% high-tensile steel for the chassis is for crash safety. 

Bad weight saved, good weight gained

Instead of valuable GVWR kilos being used up for the thick, heavy steel required for chassis strength, they’ve been applied to beefier front and rear axles, better brakes, and a larger, class-leading fuel tank of 170 litres (beating the closest competitor by 45 litres).

The stronger chassis also means that Ford engineers had to re-tune the suspension for added pliancy, which is made easier by the fact the shocks and springs don’t have as much weight to control. We’d find out very quickly during our drive just how well the new Super Duty can ride.

Of course, the big plus to less weight on the truck is added towing capacity. The max load with a gooseneck-fitted, dual-rear-wheel (DRW) F-450 is 14,740 kg (32,500 lbs), while the single-rear-wheel (SRW) F-250 and F-350 diesels get a conventional tow rating of 8,165 kg (18,000 lbs). The F-250 diesel can handle an 8,437kg (18,600lbs) fifth wheel; the F-350, a 9,752kg (21,500lb) fifth wheel.  

Hauling, meanwhile, is made easier by a new bed fitted with optional LED lighting, a remote-release tailgate, and load ramps with a 362kg (800lb) capacity. Gasoline-powered SRW F-350s can haul up to 2,009 kg (4,430 lbs), while F-250s max out at 1,905 kg (4,200 lbs).

New on the 2017 Ford Super Duty is an adaptive hitch; thanks to the inclusion of hitch sleeves, you can fit a 3”, a 2.5” or a 2” hitch. There are also pin sleeves, so you only need to worry about a single pin for all three sizes. It’s so ingenious, yet so simple, that I can’t imagine why the Big 3 truck companies haven’t thought of it before. 

Of course, the new trucks can handle a lot more than trailering. We had the chance to take them on a proper off-road course with over 18-degree climbs and descents, chassis-twisting bumps, and terrain strewn with discarded railway ties and boulders. Things I thought we were supposed to be driving around, we were instructed to go directly through them, including a stretch so full of rubble it looked like the set of a World War II movie. 

Thanks to a tall ride height and new electronic locking differentials, the new Ford Super Duty trucks climbed over (and through, in the case of a deep water crossing) everything with nary a complaint. At one point, we were told to get the truck up on opposing-corner wheels, leave it there, and open the door just to see how much the body could take. These were conditions that I thought should be reserved for Jeep Wranglers (and dirt bikes), yet these behemoths crushed it.

A tale of two trucks

When it came time to leave the off-road track and head for some open-road testing, we started off by driving the 2017 Ford F-350, whose mighty 6.7L PowerStroke turbodiesel V8 is good for 440 horsepower and a locomotive-esque 925 lb-ft of torque. A slightly less potent 6.2L gasoline V8 is also offered (430 hp, 385 lb-ft) as well as a gasoline V10 (288 hp, 424 lb-ft), although the latter is only available in the F-450 chassis cab that’s mainly used for fleet customers. 

Inside, it’s fairly easy to see how the new Ford Super Duty’s cab design is shared with the F-150. You get the down-sloping window frames on the front doors for more comfortable arm positioning and a better view out, a broad centre stack that has now been fitted with SYNC 3 as an option, and a large 8” digital gauge cluster on Lariat trims and up. 

Go a little lower down the range, however, and things change. For example, the aforementioned screen is replaced by a smaller version, and the centre console becomes a middle front seat. As we soon realized, the trucks vary on how they drive depending on trim level, as well. 

The rear bench in crew cab models is huge; it feels like you’re riding in a full-size luxury SUV as opposed to a heavy-duty pickup. The flat loading floor with retractable underseat storage, meanwhile, ensures the rear seat can be used for more than just your crew.

The luxury SUV feeling is multiplied in the top-tier F-350 Platinum as the dampers on that truck have been tuned for a softer ride. Beyond that, sound-deadening materials have been added to the front bulkhead and wheelwells, so unless you’re really putting the engine under some duress (let’s say a steep climb while towing 10,000 lbs), you’d hardly know it was a diesel at all. 

We also had the opportunity to sample a 2017 Ford F-250 XLT with a gas engine, and the ride proved a little harsher due to some slightly different suspension tuning. I wouldn’t say it was a deal-breaker, but it sure was noticeable and does deserve an asterisk. 

High-tech trucking

The addition of SYNC 3 is notable, too; Ford’s old infotainment system was clearly showing its age with muddy graphics and a slow interface. However, in the 2017 Super Duty, that big 8” screen you see is used for a whole lot more than flipping through your tunes or finding the quickest way to the jobsite.

Thanks to six exterior cameras (there’s a seventh, but its services are reserved for the blind-spot system that can be extended to include a trailer), you get a full 360-degree view of what’s going on around you. In a passenger car, that’s great for parkades and such, but in a truck, it can also help you navigate the hazardous environs of the jobsite, as long as you’re not exceeding the 8 km/h limit. We were actually told to look at the screen ― not the path ahead of us ― at certain points on the off-road course to really put the forward camera display and its guidelines to the test. It’s a strange thing to get used to doing, but after a few passes it already started to feel more natural and quite effective. Remember: these trucks are huge!

There are also two separate forward-facing cameras (so you can better see cross traffic), similar cameras in the rear, as well as cameras to help you monitor your payload and line up your hitch. That last one is really impressive as it also provides a guideline so you can line up your standard fifth wheel or gooseneck trailer with more ease. Once hooked up, a handy meter helps stop you from jackknifing as you back up.

Also new for 2017 is an adaptive cruise control system. Trust me, you’ve never seen one quite like this. In short, instead of just relying on the brakes, it combines the brakes, the transmission, and the exhaust brake to regulate speeds, even when towing a trailer. The new piece of tech works effectively and inspires confidence on steep grades. 

The heavy-duty truck segment remains one of the final frontiers of hydraulic power steering. In the 2017 Ford Super Duty, however, it’s helped by an electric motor mounted in the steering wheel hub that can modify your steering ratio, much like an electric system does. It can take a full rotation off the required turns to go from lock-to-lock at low speeds, and becomes a little heavier on the highway to make keeping your lane that much easier. 

We had a chance to sample two new trucks (the technology is available on all but the base XL trim) back-to-back on a handling course, and the difference between the two racks was palpable, much more so than the ride quality we spoke about earlier.

2017 Ford Super Duty pricing

Now, let’s talk business: 2017 Ford F-250 4x2 models with a regular cab start at $39,849, while the base F-250 4x4 starts at $43,849. Upgrading to an F-350 will cost you at least $41,849 in 4x2 configuration or $45,349 in 4x4 configuration.

The steering, the capabilities, the technology, and even the updated styling (there are two grille styles, as well as available LED daytime running lights and taillights, plus some nice, chunky chrome detailing throughout the body) are all so well carried out, here. 

In order to keep up its sterling reputation and maintain its status as the best-selling truck in both Canada and the U.S. for years, Ford had to get this new Super Duty right. More than just getting it right, the Blue Oval has moved the heavy-duty truck game to the next level. 

 

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