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Off-Road Test: 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch 4WD

 

The 2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty definitely has strong towing and hauling capabilities, mostly because of its new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel engine and six-speed TorqShift automatic transmission. While the Job 1 Super Duty’s 390 horsepower and 735 pounds-feet of torque give it incredible hauling and towing performance, we wanted to see how it handles a variety of off-road situations.

First, let’s put things in perspective. It doesn’t seem right to compare the off-road capabilities of the average 2011 Super Duty to those of the purpose-built Ram Power Wagon or Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. The Super Duty’s off-road capabilities are intended for a different use, such as hauling hay out into a ranch, towing a horse trailer or even making its way to a primitive campsite or washed-out backcountry road. In this instance, a local horse ranch provided the perfect environment for this King Ranch edition truck, which we put through a variety of steep hills, deep rutted trails and thick brush that gave way to large boulders and rocks.

The Super Duty’s monobeam, front coil-over and leaf-spring rear suspension hasn’t changed much from the previous year. It still provides good traction and moderate articulation with a heavy chassis.

While many trucks, including military vehicles, are switching to independent front suspension systems, Ford is keeping with the Super Duty’s front straight solid axle. It’s true that an IFS system may save some weight, but many off-road enthusiasts know that a straight front axle is a tried-and-true, economical front drivetrain with an impeccable record for reliability. So we’re glad the 2011 model sticks to its roots and offers an alternative to those who prefer it.

Ford’s dedication to old-school wheeling capability and dependability also includes the continued availability of manual locking front hubs. Although they seem redundant these days, manual locking hubs have the advantage of staying locked once engaged, which is great if you want that extra bit of security for crossing tough trails and fields.

Switching from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive in most instances, however, only takes a twist of the dial on the dash, and the 4.2-inch LCD information screen in the center of the instrument cluster lets you know when four-wheel drive is engaged. The information screen is a great asset to this pickup. We loved the high resolution and easily mastered the five-way button on the steering wheel that’s used to navigate through the various menus. We switched to the Off-Road gauge, which shows your degrees off-center from front-to-rear and side-to-side. This is great when you know the truck’s limitations, and it gives you a better understanding of the terrain, especially in situations where you can’t see over the hood as you crest a hill.

One thing that Ford engineers tout about the 2011 F-Series Super Duty is its ride comfort. At first, we didn’t realize how smooth the ride was until we exited the vehicle and found ourselves staring down a two-foot rut from the driver’s door. The combination of a reinforced chassis and the Michelin LT275/65R20 tires absorbs much of the road shock to keep the ride comfortable and predictable. Although we only put the 2011 Super Duty through some mild off-road terrain, the truck’s smooth ride continued to impress us. Much of the vehicle’s electronic stability control is intended for towing, but it also works well to keep the Super Duty from getting you into an unmanageable off-road situation. Ford engineers also altered the truck’s spring rates and internal valving on the shocks to improve stability. This was primarily for towing purposes and to carry larger loads, but in off-road situations, it also delivered additional performance and comfort here as well.+

As in previous models, the rear axle uses staggered shocks to control heavy loads and minimize side-to-side movement. Equipped with a 3:55 gear ratio, our test model didn’t have any problems climbing up nine and 10-degree inclines. Our King Ranch edition was also equipped with an electronic locking rear differential, which was helpful when we found ourselves in a position where one side of the truck was on rock and the other was over loose dirt on a steep incline. Hill Start Assist kept the Super Duty from rolling back and allowed us to slowly add power to climb with confidence. Coming down, the vehicle’s Hill Descent Control – which debuted in a Ford truck on the Raptor F-150 — maintained its speed, making the Super Duty easy to maneuver and glide down at a moderate speed. The truck automatically controlled the brakes. All we had to do was steer.

On the street, the Super Duty is a torque monster. Just for fun, we switched off the traction control and punched the throttle. The rear wheels actually spin slightly as the turbos kick in with the full 735 pounds-feet of torque. The 6.7 is very quiet and sounds different from the old 6.0-liter and 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesels. While there’s a brief moment of turbo lag, you can definitely feel when the power kicks in. Keeping the drivetrain smooth also adds to the truck’s impressive ride. Ford’s 6R140 six-speed automatic transmission always seemed to keep the engine in its power range and is designed to have less low-clutch speeds, which makes shifting quicker to reduce wear and load.

The 2011 Ford Super Duty 4×4 remains a solid platform that provides reliable capability in a variety of terrain. It’s definitely a heavy-duty work truck, and it isn’t designed to feel like a passenger car to appease soccer moms or weekend cowboys. It’s the real deal for towing and hauling heavy loads, and with a strong, new powertrain that’s raising eyebrows, we have a good feeling that the 2011 Super Duty redefines what a heavy-duty diesel truck is all about, even when it’s not on pavement.

Story from Mike Levine @ Pickuptrucks.com

Words and photos by Dan Sanchez for Pickuptrucks.com


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