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Ford beefs up capability of Heavy Duty trucks

July 10, 2004|by TIM SPELL/Motor Matters

Ford's imposing, yellow Mighty F-350 Tonka Truck concept, which starred on auto show stages a couple of years ago, was more than just an exercise in macho. It foretold the future of Ford pickup design and engineering.

Close kin to the awesome Tonka is Ford's newly unveiled 2005 Super Duty pickup. Set to arrive in dealerships this August in XL, XLT and Lariat trim, it has a new face, upgraded interior and touts improved capability.

"This truck is about capability," said Doug Scott, Ford Truck Group marketing manager. "In this segment of the market with the Super Duty, these people absolutely need capability."

Ninety percent of Super Duty buyers tow on a regular basis, Scott said, and 80 percent regularly have significant cargo loaded. Towing is upgraded by more than 20 percent. Conventional towing on F-350 models is rated at 15,000 pounds and fifth-wheel towing is 17,000 pounds. "Those are quantum sorts of improvements in towing capability," he said.

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Across-the-board payload improvements range from 800-1,000 extra pounds.

"At the max level we take payload up to 5,800 pounds, which will be best-in-class capability," Scott said. Re-engineering in several areas contribute to the Super Duty's more impressive towing and payload credentials.

A key factor in this enhanced workhorse prowess is a beefed-up frame. A new, boxed front section is added and the gauge of the steel in the section behind it is up to 17 percent thicker. The front axle also is heftier. Axle capability is increased to handle 6,000 pounds on F-250 and F-350 models, and 7,000 pounds on F-450 and F-550 models. The front suspension of 4x4 F-250 and F-350 models has been changed to a coil type, which improves ride quality and reduces the turning circle. Structural strength for heavy tow demands is added with a new cross member and beefier 2.5-inch hitch receiver.

"Brakes also are bigger." Scott said. "We expect to have best-in-class stopping distances." Scott boasts that Ford's Super Duty is the first pickup to be equipped with an integrated trailer-brake controller. The advantage of the integrated unit is that it's wired into the vehicle's electronics. It works in concert with the vehicle's systems, particularly the ABS braking system. The integrated trailer-brake controller and larger brakes are part of a system Ford brands "TowCommand." The third element in this system is the Super Duty's five-speed TorqShift automatic transmission.

The TorqShift transmission, first available on 2003 Super Dutys equipped with the 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel, can be bolted on all 2005 powerplants. Compared to its four-speed predecessor, the TorqShift is more durable, smoother and quieter operating, and has improved gear ratios and higher-capacity pumps for cooler operation. The TorqShift transmission can be mated with a choice of three engines: 5.4-liter Triton V-8, 6.8-liter V-10 and 6.0-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel.

Replacing the 5.4 two-valve engine with the 5.4-liter three-valve engine - used in the new-generation F-150 - ups horsepower by 40 and adds 15 lbs.-ft. of torque. The engine delivers 300 horsepower and 365 lbs.-ft. of torque. Ford reports 80 percent of the peak torque is available as low as 1,000 rpm.

The 6.8-liter V-10 also gets three valves per cylinder and a 40-horsepower boost. It generates 355 horsepower and 455 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Super Duty's bread-and-butter 6.0-liter diesel, which accounts for about 65 percent of the Super Duty volume, gets a 10 lbs.-ft. torque increase. The Power Stroke cranks out 325 horsepower and, importantly, 570 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Scott said there are more important practical elements to a powertrain than big torque numbers. Usable torque is what's important, and Super Dutys deliver at the low end where it counts.

Super Dutys also get a cosmetic punch for 2005 with a bolder, Tonka concept-inspired grille. This new power-look grille caps off a projecting snout with massive horizontal chrome bars, macho side nostrils and black-mesh background. The front bumper also is chrome, and vertically stacked headlamps stare through clear lenses. From the A-pillars on back, the truck basically is a carry-over design.

Interior upgrades are what Scott calls an evolution in styling. Highlighting the changes is a new-design instrument cluster with cleaner, easier-to-read, white-faced gauges with cool-green markings. Simulated wood-grain trim on the instrument panel and dashboard is available for the first time. It's a Lariat and King Ranch option.

Bottom line, Scott said, the 2005 Super Duty offers consumers the most capable pickup on the market. It's a well-rounded workhorse, but the spotlight is on its towing capabilities.

Tim Spell is the automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section.

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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