2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty Review - Hauling Above The Limit [w/ Video]
2015 Ford F-350 King Ranch 4×4
6.7-liter OHV V-8, turbodiesel (440 horsepower @ 2,800 rpm; 860 lbs-ft @ 1,600 rpm)
6-speed 6R140 automatic
Not tested under EPA regulations*
14.1 (Observed, MPG)
Tested Options: King Ranch trim, Super Crew cab, 4×4, 6.7-liter turbodiesel engine, 3.31 locking rear axle, Ruby Red paint, 5th wheel prep, spray-in bedliner, heated seats, upfitter switches
Base Price (F-350 XL Regular Cab 4×2 Flex-Fuel V-8):
* Heavy-duty pickups are exempt from EPA fuel economy ratings.
** Prices include $1,195 destination charge.
There was a time when a 1/2-ton pickup could haul around 1,000 pounds of payload and a 1-ton truck was good for around 2,000 pounds. Twenty years ago a good tow rating for a 1/2 ton truck was 7,500 pounds and 1-ton trucks were used by ranchers for hauling 14,000 pound cattle trailers around. Today things are different.
Now we have a Ford F-150 that can tow over 12,000 pounds and haul 3,300 pounds in the bed without batting an eye. In this world, we have 3/4- and 1-ton trucks boasting towing abilities that would have required a Class 5 medium-duty truck in the 1990s. It’s in this world that the F-350, F-450 and Ram 3500 now exist.
These trucks have pushed the envelope, boasting towing capabilities that 99 percent of pickup truck shoppers can’t even legally test. With massive turbodiesel torque figures, Ford and Chrysler’s latest trucks can tow 21,000 pounds more than my plain-old California Class C license allows. With the 2017 Ford Super Duty on the horizon sporting more aluminum than an Alcoa factory and Chrysler nearing the sale of their re-tweaked Cummins engine and its 900 lb-ft of torque, let’s deep-dive into the Super Duty you can buy now.
The Super Duty is the biggest interpretation of Ford’s pickup truck design. The hood of the F-350 stands around five feet off the ground and everything is big, bold and square. I have to say that, although I come from a “Dodge family” as my dad puts it (my parents have a cattle ranch in the middle of Texas), I’ve always been partial to the look of Ford’s big trucks. The surprising thing for me is how relatively fresh the F-350 still looks, despite its successor having already been shown to the world.
The Super Duty family has three pickup models: F-250, F-350 and F-450. The split between the models is primarily defined by their towing capacity, but there are some external differences that the keen observer will notice.
As you climb up the ladder, the ride height increases thanks to frame and suspension changes. The F-250 and F-350 allow the choice between two different bed lengths and three different cabs, but only the F-350 allows you to check the dual-rear-wheel option box. The F-450 is more limited in configuration, coming only in long wheelbase Crew Cab form with dual rear wheels standard. Also different in the F-450 (that many folks don’t realize) is that Ford actually changes the front and rear tracks making them significantly wider in the F-450 for improved stability when towing. The changes necessary in creating the F-450 add over 400 pounds of curb weight versus a comparable F-350.
Like the exterior, the interior is big and bold. Unfortunately, it’s also primarily cast of hard plastic and imitation wood trim that’s not fauxing anyone. I admit when it comes to a work truck I’m a little torn about the hard plastic versus soft plastic question since hard plastics tend to be more durable over time, but this is a nearly $70,000 vehicle and the F-150 has a much nicer interior. While there are plenty of bargain plastics in the Ram 2500/3500 and Silverado/Sierra 2500/3500 trucks, both of the primary competitors have fresher and more luxurious interiors and Ram will even toss in real wood trim if you pay enough. When it comes to interior style and luxury feel, the Super Duty comes in last with the Silverado/Sierra and RAM seeming more appropriate tow vehicles for your $146,000 Airstream Land Yacht.
Front seat comfort proved good over a week of mixed driving, but the age of the truck’s design means you can’t get the incredibly comfortable anti-fatigue seats currently available in the F-150. GM’s twins offer probably the most comfortable front seats in the heavy-duty segment while Ram ties the F-Series in my opinion.
Ford’s touchscreen infotainment system is not long for this world. Starting in the 2016 calendar year, we will see the new SYNC3 system rolling out, but looks like the Super Duty will have to wait until 2017 for its infotainment refresh.
Because there are both workhorse and luxury versions of the Super Duty, base models start low on the totem pole with a 2-speaker audio system featuring AM/FM radio and a clock. And that’s it. You can upgrade to a CD-player in XL models, Lariat adds Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system and top-end models can be optioned up a 9-speaker Sony system like our tester.
Drivetrain and Capability
F-250 and F-350 models start with Ford’s 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 engine tuned to 385 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 405 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm. Twenty years ago that would have been a diesel torque figure, but the optional 6.7-liter V-8 turbodiesel is a modern monster. Optional in F-250 and F-350 and standard in F-450, the “Power Stroke” engine cranks up 440 horsepower and a Bugatti Veyron-like 860 lb-ft of torque.
Power is routed to the rear or all four wheels via a Ford 6R140 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy testing is not required due to the GVWR of all Super Duty trucks exceeds 8,500 pounds, but our 6.7-liter diesel F-350 single rear wheel model averaged 14.6 mpg in mixed driving empty and 11.1 mpg when towing approximately 6,500 pounds in mixed driving.
Understanding the payload and towing split in the Super Duty line is key to comparing the Ford to the GM and Chrysler competition. The F-250 is fairly self explanatory: It will tow up to 14,000 pounds conventional or 16,600 in 5th wheel configuration. The F-350 tops out at 19,000 pounds conventional and 26,500 5th wheel. That tops the GMC and Chevy 3500 trucks easily and sounds like a big drop versus the Ram 3500. This is where it is important to include the F-450 in the comparison as it will tow 19,000 pounds conventional and 31,200 5th wheel, just 10 pounds less of Ram’s refreshed 2016 truck. Trust me, 10 pounds is nothing when you’re talking about hauling more than 15 tons.
Payload is also an area where you have to include the F-450 to understand the Super Duty line. The F-350 is tuned to be the diesel payload king with up to 7,050 pounds of payload while the F-450’s changes to allow that impressive tow rating actually drop payload to 5,300 pounds. This means that in the Ford lineup you have more of a trade off when it comes to towing versus payload since the Ram 3500’s top 31,210 pound tow rig will also haul 6,580 pounds in the bed. Putting this in perspective, 31,000 pounds is roughly what nine Honda Accord V6 sedans or 13 pallets of bricks weighs.
The Truth About Towing
Towing is the holy grail of truck bragging rights, perhaps more so even than the number of pound-feet of torque your diesel cranks out. The trouble is most states restrict what you can tow without endorsements or commercial or noncommercial class A drivers licenses. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada and Texas have perhaps the strictest towing laws, but much of this is buried deep in the state’s vehicle code where it’s not easy to decipher. California is the most easy reading of the bunch and the most clear. You can’t conventionally tow a trailer with a GVWR greater than 10,000 pounds with a standard Class C license. Towing a 5th wheel between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds GCW requires a free endorsement to your license from the DMV.
A larger set of states including (but not limited to) Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming have the limit for both 5th wheel and conventional trailering at 26,000 pounds GCW. This means math is involved and your max trailering without a special license or endorsement ranges from 12,000-16,000 pounds depending on the configuration of your Super Duty.
The rules are even more strict if you’re a commercial operator as you can end up falling under DOT jurisdiction when your GCWR crests 10,000 lbs (which is basically any Super Duty with any trailer since the lowest GVWR in the F-250 is 9,900 lbs).
You don’t generally buy pickups this big because of how they drive. That’s a good thing. If driving manners were important you’d find a way to make a 1/2-ton pickup truck work in a flash. Three-quarter ton and 1-ton trucks are purpose-built for the mission of towing big, heavy things. Big towing means big curb weight. The lightest F-250 tips the scales a hair under 6,000 pounds while a fully optioned F-450 weighs an insane 8,611 pounds. Our welterweight F-350 was 7,508 pounds and every ounce showed out on the road. Despite the 440 horsepower and 860 lb-ft of torque, acceleration was a moderate 7.6 seconds to 60 mph. Braking from 60 was an average — yet extremely long — 160 feet with the bed empty. Adding extra weight in the bed actually helped a little and with about 1,000 pounds in the back the braking distance dropped to 152 feet. Any way you slice it, that’s a medium-sized school bus longer than an F-150.
So far, all of what I’ve said frankly applies to any of the competition as well. However, one area where one option rides to the surface is in the ride quality, with some caveats. With the latest Ram 2500/3500 incarnation, Chrysler went a little off-script. The Ram 2500 now uses a coil spring rear suspension instead of the leaf springs we see in the Ford and GM trucks and this has a serious and positive impact on ride quality when the bed is empty. Improving things further is an optional full air suspension in the rear of the Ram 2500 and an optional partial air suspension in the Ram 3500. While there is an obvious trade-off in terms of long-term maintenance costs (and acquisition cost) for either air suspension, the difference is pronounced on the road where our Ford tester’s rear end was so lively at speed that we called off the 1/4 mile acceleration test.
The F-350 is the first vehicle in 8 years of vehicle testing that I have called off the 1/4 mile run. Perhaps I’m getting soft in my old age, but the somewhat rough road (with a dip just after 1/8th mile) caused the rear of the F-350 to become unsettled. In the interest of safety and returning the truck to Ford with the shiny side un-dented, I called it quits at 80 mph.
Comparisons are also where things start to differentiate more. Since towing is the big buzzword these days, let’s talk about that first. Ford’s decision to make their top-end tow vehicle an F-450 while Ram still calls theirs a Ram 3500 confuses matters a little so you have to read between the marketing lines.
Ford’s top towing happens in the F-450, which comes in one form only: big cab, big bed, duallys and 4×4. Ram claims they will beat that F-450 by 10 pounds. However, the Ram that tows 31,210 pounds is just one model as well, but quite a different kind of truck.
Max towing in the Ram happens only in regular cab, two-wheel-drive form. Add the big cab and 4WD and the Ford beats the Ram’s tow rating by around 1,000 pounds. As a result, it’s not easy to make an apples-to-apples comparison, but there is some flexibility in the Ram’s abilities since it’s possible to get a dimensionally smaller vehicle that can tow similar amounts. The Ram’s payload capacity, when configured in max tow form, beats the F-450. Chrysler will sell you a Tradesman trim in max tow form that’s more than $10,000 less expensive than an F-450.
Which truck is right for you depends on a number of things. Do you need to tow more than 10,000 pounds? No, seriously, more than 10,000 pounds? If so, are you properly licensed in your state for said towing? If you answered no, stop at the F-150. If yes, then you need to decide how far you really need to go.
The Ram and F-350 are very comparable for moderate towing, but the Ram when properly optioned up will deliver a more civilized ride and a more Mack-like exhaust note. For at-limit towing, the F-450 would be my choice despite the 2016 Ram giving you 40 lb-ft more torque and 10 pounds more towing capacity. Why? The F-450’s wider track, nearly three-foot longer wheelbase and 1,200 pound heavier curb weight make it a more solid choice. All of those characteristics make the Ford a more stable tow vehicle if you honestly plan to tow over 15.5 tons of whatever.
The 2015 Ford Super Duty is certainly a truck that lives up to its name. I fully expect the coming aluminum Supery Duty to take things to the next level of tow insanity and bring with it all the questions circling around the F-150 when it comes to body repairs. If you want your next Ford truck to be made out of steel, shop soon. For the rest of us, the Ram 2500 with the rear air suspension awaits. Oh, and that Airstream? My Saab is rated to tow that.
Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of fuel for this review
More by Alex L. Dykes
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