Like Tollhouse's chocolate chip cookies and Converse's High-Top sneakers, some things are tough to improve upon. But Ford takes a different view with its F-series Super Duty trucks. The F-series has been the best-selling truck in America for 39 years running and hasn't seen much revision for the past 18 of those years. Still, the times, they are a-changing.
The 2017 Super Duty Ford Super Duty trucks come in above the F-150s. Ford flew me to Colorado to sample the F-250, F-350 and F-450 models. These are the work trucks, the ones you buy to tow your horse trailer and haul your load of bricks. The 2017 models are capable and loaded with enough tech to satisfy hard-working Joes and Janes.
First off, let's talk towing. The F-450 can tow 32,500 pounds on a gooseneck trailer, the kind that slides over a ball hitch located in the bed of the truck. That's 21 and a half great white sharks worth of towing. Got a fifth wheel? The new Super Duty can tow 27,500 pounds. For those of us who have never aspired to such complex hitches, the Super Duty can take on 21,000 pounds in a traditional towing situation. Maximum payload is 7,630 pounds, that's 254 30-pound cinder blocks, up nearly 600 pounds from 2016.
To motivate all that mass, all Super Duty trucks are available with a 6.7-liter turbocharged diesel V8 putting out 440 horsepower and a massive 925 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 65 torques from the outgoing model. A gas-fueled engine is also available in the form of 6.2-liter V8, netting 385 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Again, torque is up from the outgoing model's 405 pound-feet. Both engines employ a six-speed automatic gearbox.
On the road the Super Duty handled the heavy loads easily, making quick work of a 6 percent grade just outside Broomfield, Colorado. Any nervousness I might have had when towing a 28-foot enclosed trailer (loaded with an F-150 for weight) was mitigated by a blind spot monitoring system that can see the entire length of the trailer. Each Super Duty comes with an extra camera to mount on the rear of your trailer so you can easily see what's happening behind you.
So, massive power and massive towing, what happens when a driver needs to back that mass up?
Unlike the trailer backup assist in the F-150, which completely takes over the steering, the technology in the Super Duty merely offers guidance. I've done my fair share of towing and I can back one up if I think about it hard enough, but this system makes it a snap.
While backing up a 24-foot enclosed trailer, the system showed me a graphic of the truck and trailer overlaid on the rear camera display, with steering inputs indicated by guidelines. It was tough to let go of my instinct to watch my mirrors, but once I became comfortable watching the 8-inch center screen, I was able to confidently maneuver the trailer into a parking space in half the time it would have normally taken me.
The guidance system also improved my straight-line back-up skills. For this exercise, the system overlaid a steering wheel graphic on the camera display. When the enclosed trailer drifted right, an arrow pointing to the right appeared and the steering wheel graphic rotated to the precise input to help me correct.
Had I not paid attention in either situation, the system's jack-knife warning would have alerted me that I'd gone too far.
The Super Duty makes attaching a gooseneck or fifth-wheel simple with a rear-facing camera on the cab looking towards the bed. Overlaid on the camera display is a center line and a driving line. All I had to do was keep one on top of the other and BOOM! Gooseneck attached. My one complaint is the centerline graphic visually interferes with the ball hitch. I actually overshot the hitch by a half inch.
Ford makes a new adaptive steering system optional on the XLT trim line and standard on Platinum and above. An electric motor built into the steering wheel affects the steering ratio, not effort. Essentially it produces more steering output with smaller steering inputs.
The Colorado roads were mostly free from traffic, so it was tough to sample the class-exclusive adaptive cruise control. This cruise control system has been designed to work when towing, applying the brakes to both truck and trailer to keep the rig at its set distance from traffic ahead.
Not just the tech is new. The Super Duty weighs in 350 pounds lighter than the 2016 model, thanks mostly to a high-strength aluminum alloy cab and box. Worried about losing a steel body? Keep in mind that aluminum has a better strength to weight ratio and it won't rust like steel does. The frame is still made from 95 percent high strength steel with up to 10 cross members welded at both the inside and outside of the frame, helping to make it 24 times stiffer than the old Super Duty.
The cabin itself was very quiet and full of features such as the 10, yes 10, cupholders (four of which have a design patent). Ford kits the Super Duty out further with available massaging heated and cooled front seats, a dual glove box, storage cubbies galore and available Sync 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A work truck like the Super Duty is probably not going to spend all its life on the pavement. Ford set me loose on an improvised off-road course in a quarry. It proved to be more than capable, with enough wheel travel to traverse a field of boulders and logs, a locking center differential to keep moving -- even with one wheel off the ground -- and enough power to scoot up a steep and silty hill like it wasn't no thing.
And of course, we got the obligatory mud pit. More like dirty standing water than mud, I was encouraged to hammer through it at wide open throttle. I was, of course, kind enough to obey.
The Ford F-Series Super Duty starts at $32,535 for the F-250 XL while the F-450 Platinum starts at (gulp) $77,125. That's enough of a price spread for most folks to find their perfect work truck, keeping Ford punching the time-clock as one of the toughest, most capable trucks on the market.