it's a bird! it's a plane! it's super duty!
2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty First Drive: A Comfortable, Off-Road-Ready Workhorse
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Product: F-Series Super Duty
Release Date: On sale now
Pickup trucks: they’re big business. Ford sold just over 890,000 F-Series trucks in 2019 alone. That averages out to about one truck every 35 seconds. The 2020 Super Duty — the Clydesdale in Ford’s stable — is an updated version of the prior model, not a completely new truck, but don’t think less of it for that. Ford wrenched up the capability, power and technology for this midlife refresh.
And these refreshed models are available in a constellation of capability, with a wide assortment of trims, features, packages and body styles. The range is bookended by the F-250 XL and F-450 Limited; the former starts at $33,705, while the latter climbs to the summit of Sticker Shock Mountain at close to six figures.
A new addition for 2020 is the Tremor off-road package, which retails for $3,975 and is available on the XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum trim levels. (Limited and XL, the top and bottom trims, can’t be equipped with the Tremor spec.)
We set out to greater Phoenix, Arizona with our hard hat and lunch pail in hand to test out these facelifted Fords, in hopes of playing a craggy game of off-road Twister.
What We Like
Payload, power, towing, and off-road capability. These are the four pillars by which a jack-of-all-trades pickup truck should be judged, and this iteration of the Super Duty claims dominance in all of these categories…in one way or another. For now, at least; best-in-class tends to be a fleeting metric in the pickup truck world, leaving buyers seeking barstool dominance vacillating between makes. But if the Blue Oval is your brand, and you’re overwhelmed by the options, we’ll distill it downfor you: The Tremor is where it’s at.
Pull the door handle and automatic running boards untuck themselves from under the frame, welcoming you to a familiar, unfussy cabin. Yank yourself up and into the driver’s seat, and you’ll find it fits like an untied work boot. It’s a world in which cupholders welcome a Yeti mug. In Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models, the olfactory saturation is intoxicating; it smells like a tanner’s showroom. Bovines should have the ironic, beautiful nightmare of being chosen for the King Ranch’s legendary leather appointments.
We drove several Super Duty variants around central Arizona, but when it came time to turn the F-250 Lariat Sport Tremor with the new 7.3-liter V8 loose, we did so in in a massive section of a quartz quarry Ford had terraformed for demonstration purposes. This all-new engine is the most powerful gas engine ever offered in a Super Duty, making 430 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. Nearly a dozen off-road scenarios were constructed in a circuit for us to clamber up, bobble down, jostle over and slosh through. We were told all of them were representative of the many scenarios a Tremor owner may encounter either on the job or recreationally.
I’d posit only a handful of trucks on the market could tackle this off-road course, and apart from the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Tremor, you’d feel most comfortable doing in the one whose first name starts with a J and end with a P. Several specific features set the Tremor apart from its stablemates, starting with 18-inch matte black wheels wearing 35-inch tires as craggy as an Ankylosaurs‘s back. Tremor suspension mods include custom 1.7-inch piston twin-tube dampers, while a two-inch front-end lift and a shorter air dam give a hearty 10.8 inches of ground clearance and allow for a 31.65-degrees of approach angle.
And oh boy, that’s steep. Though 31 degrees doesn’t look like much on a protractor, it feels unnatural when you’re white-knuckling a steering wheel. It’s as if you’re looking straight up, ready for takeoff, the windshield a portal to the heavens. Glance at the instrument cluster and you’ll notice digital gauges for] the angles: approach/decent, steering and attitude.
This type of ascent, which we did from a standstill, requires relatively deep throttle input. off-roading is a nuanced affair; the only other time we gunned it on this course was when we were fording three feet of standing water like it was no big deal. Advertisements lead you to believe it’s a rock-spittin’ trail blaze, but it’s not. It stands to reason then that the proverbial rug that ties the Tremor’s off-road capability together is Ford’s Trail Control selectable drive feature, designed for easy low-speed going; more of a crawl control than cruise control, it enables you to set your speed anywhere from 1–20 mph when in 4WD Low.
On the highway — where even these trucks will spend most of their days — your lofty driving position is above most anything on the road, and you’ll never forget you’re in a truck. Typically, pickups don’t track straight and easy the way cars do, thanks to their suspension tuned for heavy workloads — and the Super Duty is no exception. Any uneven pavement or bumps in turns will send you jostling and jittering along with all those tons of truck.
It does cruise nicely, though; at 70 mph, the engine can sit at around 2,000 rpm, thanks to the all new 10-speed automatic. The 7.3-liter V8 is plenty powerful for all applications, but for those who need more twist-force, the upgraded 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel now boasts 475 hp and 1,050 lb-ft of torque. As disconnected from the outside world as the Super Duty makes you feel, that much power requires your full attention. Consider yourself a true trucker if that’s your daily driver.
Watch Out For
Beasts of burden usually suffer from harsh rides — mainly because they’re high-strung animals, thriving only when they’re laden with tons of payload,or towing thousands of pounds behind them. The Super Duty is no exception. Pickups have come a long way in terms of livability, but this Super Duty is still a rig made for work at the end of the day.
There’s only a handful of herculean haulers on this worksite: the power trio of the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 HD, GMC Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD and Ram 2500 / 3500. The Dodge Power Wagon, however, is the only truck in the group that touts Tremor-like levels of off-road capability.
In addition to the drivetrain updates, tech features such as Pro Trailer Backup Assist and Trailer Reverse Guidance keep this truck up-to-date with its competitors. Aesthetic touches such as unique wheels and blacked-out trim make it a sharp looking truck, even with the obligatory graphics package.
Yet from a pure truck standpoint, what makes this Ford so attractive is that it can be highly capable off-road while still serving up serious payload and towing numbers — 4,210 and 15,000 pounds, respectively. Few rigs can do that at any price.
So whether it’s the knock-around base model perfect for the parks and rec department or a plushly-optioned Limited for the contractor boss who wears a white tucked-in polo shirt to the job site and never gets it dirty, the 2020 Super Duty is ready to rumble without a grumble.
Ford hosted us and provided this product for review.
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