In 1983 Ford rolled out their first production diesel pick-up with a 6.9 liter non-turbocharged V8. The 170 hp and 315 lbs of torque don’t seem like a lot today, but at the time it out powered all of the gasoline V8 offerings with much better fuel economy. The engine was sourced from Navistar, then International Harvester.
I remember it well as I was a teen-ager then and learned to drive in my parent’s 1984 F-250 diesel pick-up with its four-speed manual transmission. They were also available with a 3-speed automatic, but back then auto transmissions were not the best option. The truck was solid and reliable though the 250,000 mile mark when they finally sold the truck just a few years ago.
Fast forward to the present, we have sampled a much more modern 2011 F-350 Super Duty King Ranch edition pick-up optioned with Ford’s new 6.7 liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel. At $64,770 including destination charges, this new rig is a bit more expensive than they were back in 1983. But the two-tone King Ranch model also represents the top of the line and this one had virtually every available option.
Underneath the all new sheet-metal the basic formula is the same; a strong frame, heavy duty power-train, multiple tons of towing capacity, and a quiet luxurious interior comfortable enough for drives across America.
The main attraction is Ford’s new in-house designed and built 6.7 liter turbo-diesel engine. With 400 horsepower and 800 lbs of torque, this new powerhouse puts down well over twice that of Ford’s first diesel pick-up. And with a modern piezo fuel injection system, dual scroll turbo charger and computer controls this engine performs admirably in fuel efficiency.
Our crew-cab 4×4 test truck with a six-speed automatic transmission averaged 14.8 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving over a week. On highway alone it was easy to achieve 17-19 mpg which is fantastic for a vehicle of this size. And the power is immediate. Ford’s high tech dual scroll turbocharger has no discernable lag, shoving boost up the moment you put your foot down. That translates to strong acceleration that yes, will fry those tires clean off.
It does have two major departures from previous diesels. One, it does not smoke. Period. A variety of after treatment systems including a particulate trap and a urea based injection system make this thing blow as clean as any gas powered truck. And believe me, we stepped on it hard many times trying to get that familiar cloud of smoke. Nothing doing.
The second thing is the quiet and smooth nature of Ford’s new engine. Obviously a healthy dose of sound deadening is at work to keep the cabin and even the outdoor of this truck whisper quiet. When you fire this thing up, it springs to life with little clatter or drama. Much of this is also due in part to the new fuel injection system that forgoes the old fashioned injector pump which is much of noise a diesel engine can make.
The six-speed automatic transmission is the only choice these days, no manual is offered. That is just fine however as this auto-box does its job very well and has a number of modes to keep truck driver’s happy. It has a tow haul mode which changes the shift points for better power under load. There is also a manual mode with a thumb switch on the shift lever to allow completely manual shifting. The transmission shifts tight as you would expect in a heavy duty truck, but never jarringly.
On the road the suspension feels tight and stiff while also offering good road isolation to the passenger compartment. Ours had the large optional 20” wheels and tires which provided additional road holding feel. Steering is tight and direct and the chassis feels solid as a rock. Braking effort was a bit higher than we expected, but should be expected in a vehicle weighing in at 6000 plus lbs.
Inside of course was a great place to be. The King Ranch features a beautiful interior with Adobe leather seating, two tone trim, embroidered logos, and all the gadgets. For 2011, the instrument cluster has Ford’s new information screen which can display any number of things at your choosing. For us it was fun to watch the animated fuel economy bar which goes as high as 30 mpg on coast and as low as 5-6 mpg on full acceleration.
It is hush quiet inside of course and there are lots of storage compartments. The center console alone has a large cavern big enough for a lap top, a six-pack of soda and a gallon of milk. There were four cup holders in front as well as more for the rear. A nice feature were map pockets in the center console as well as in the doors.
Ours had the full tilt navigation system with HD radio, Satellite radio, jukebox, and rear view camera. The latter is a great thing to have backing up the 247” long truck in a tight Walgreen’s parking lot. While I learned to drive in an equally large pick-up without such niceties, it was a welcome reassurance you weren’t backing over a Snowbird from Minnesota getting into their Buick.
Towing is of course the main reason most buyers seek out this truck. And for 2011, Ford doesn’t let them down. With the right set of options the F-350 Super Duty diesel can tow up to 16,000 lbs of conventional trailer and a 24,400 fifth-wheel. Wow. The integrated trailer braking system with in-dash squeeze switch is also a big help.
While Ford has continued to build on the same formula that have made their heavy duty diesel trucks top sellers since the 1980’s, there is no question this is not my parent’s pick-up. New design and technology have made the new Ford Super Duty a quieter, smoother, more powerful and more efficient place to be while retaining all the same traits that made the original the top choice of the Ford truck stable.