A new aluminum-alloy body, class-leading capacities and exclusive features put the Ford Super Duty back on top. Can anyone beat it?
The end, it seemed, was near.
It was going on 18 years since Ford’s Super Duty had undergone a complete revision, and its age was starting to show. For the 2016 model year, it had lost the capacity crown to archrival Ram, who had thrown down the gauntlet with a lofty 31,210-pound max tow rating in its Cummins-powered 3500. Worse yet, the current Super Duty platform simply could not support a bump in tow rating or payload without adding more weight in the form of heavier-duty components, which would create other problems.
“Because Class 3 is defined as a 14,000-pound-and-below gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr), and sufficient payload is required for tongue weight, curb weight was the constraint in future growth,” explained Super Duty Vehicle Engineering Manager Dennis Slevin. “For example, a 32,500-pound trailer requires at least 4,875 pounds in payload to allow the rating. Therefore, future max-trailer-tow-rating growth is tied not only to powertrain capability but also lower curb weight.”
To stay on top, Ford would have to reduce the weight of its Super Duty so it could then “reinvest” in the platform with more robust components designed to ensure superiority in the Class 3 segment for the foreseeable future. Along the way, Ford saw an opportunity to put an end to all the challenges RVers face when hitching up and towing, making the Super Duty not only the most capable but also the most technologically advanced truck on the market.
Light Makes Might
Ford turned the truck world on its head when it announced the all-aluminum F-150. But what few of us knew at the time was that plans were already being drawn up for the next-generation Super Duty, which would also be crafted of the high-strength alloy. In fact, it would use the same cab as F-150 models, from the A to C pillars, helping to improve the production efficiency of both truck lines. The Super Duty SuperCab model is now 6 inches longer, while the Crew Cab grows by 3 inches. And the rear load floor is now completely flat — no more transmission hump.
In total, Ford maintains that the aluminum panels (which also include the fenders, hood and bed) save up to 350 pounds over the previous generation (depending on the model and selected equipment) and have higher dent and ding resistance than steel. Multiple panels of aluminum alloy are riveted and bonded together for strength, while hydroformed tubes from the A-pillar base over the doors and to the back of the cab roof ensure structural integrity. The Super Duty’s bed is significantly stronger than the F-150’s, however, with thicker panels and cross members.
First and foremost, the weight savings allowed the 2017 Super Duty to be underpinned by an all-new steel frame that is reportedly up to 24 times more rigid than before. Made from 95 percent high-strength steel — or six times more than the previous model — it features fully boxed frame rails and up to 10 cross members. Obviously, this increases torsional rigidity, but it also nets an improvement in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). In our brief drive of several Super Duty models, we can attest to the truck’s limo-like interior sound isolation.
Attached to the new backbone is a massive new hitch structure that enables the use of a 3-inch receiver and a maximum conventional trailer weight rating of up to 21,000 pounds. That means, if you plan to tow a travel trailer with your new Super Duty, a weight-distributing hitch platform will probably no longer be necessary. Because there are no ball mounts currently on the market that can carry so much weight, Ford supplies a high-strength-steel hitch pin, as well as 2- and 21⁄2-inch inserts that nest within each other, so more common ball mounts can also be accommodated.
The 2017 model continues to employ the proven Twin I-Beam front suspension on 2WD models, while 4WD models get mono-beam front suspension with redesigned front radius arms. Both models benefit from new front and rear springs, retuned front and rear shocks, bigger stabilizer bars and upgraded rear suspension joints and bushings. Thanks in part to the new Dana M300 rear axle, dual-rear-wheel F-350 models post some pretty incredible numbers: a maximum gooseneck tow rating of 32,000 pounds, a maximum fifth-wheel tow rating of 27,500 pounds, a payload of up to 7,630 pounds and a gross combination weight rating (gcwr) of up to 40,000 pounds. Not that it matters to RVers, but the F-350 also tops the charts with a 7,500-pound front gross axle weight rating (gawr).
Naturally, the new Super Duty is offered with a second-generation 6.7-liter Power Stroke that is more powerful than before. The Ford-engineered and -built power plant now generates 440 horsepower and a whopping 925 lb-ft of torque, thanks to a larger turbocharger and down pipe, as well as new fuel injectors and pump. The standard 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 engine offers 385 horsepower and a best-in-class torque rating of 430 lb-ft.
It is mated to an all-new TorqShift-G six-speed automatic transmission in F-250 models and a standard TorqShift six-speed auto in the F-350. Paradoxically, the gasoline 6.8-liter V-10 is still offered in chassis-cab models, even though it makes less power and torque than the V-8.
Adaptive Steering and Cruise Control
Variable-ratio steering is nothing new, but its application in a pickup certainly is. Utilizing an actuator, gearbox and electronic control unit (ECU) inside the steering wheel, Ford’s Adaptive Steering system changes the ratio between the driver’s steering inputs and how much the front wheels turn. At low speeds, the system reduces the amount of steering input required to change direction. At highway speeds, it reduces the truck’s sensitivity to steering inputs, helping to improve stability.
In addition, a different steering algorithm is employed when Tow/Haul mode is selected, providing more linear steering response and better stability. During our test, Ford engineers were able to switch the system on and off for comparison (Adaptive Steering can’t be disabled in production vehicles). Perhaps the best thing we can say about Adaptive Steering is that it’s totally seamless — we didn’t notice it when it was on, but we definitely felt its absence once it was switched off. According to Tim Cannon, Ford’s Adaptive Steering engineer, the steering wheel requires 650 degrees of rotation lock-to-lock at low speeds without Adaptive Steering, but with it, total rotation is only 450 degrees.
Using cruise control while towing has always been considered somewhat of a no-no, but the system in the 2017 Super Duty is actually designed for it. Using radar, the available Adaptive Cruise Control system measures the distance between the truck and the vehicle in front of it, and works in concert with the truck’s powertrain, brakes and integrated trailer-brake controller to hold the selected speed. It will also issue a collision warning and apply the brakes in a panic-stop situation.
When equipped with the Power Stroke diesel, the engine’s exhaust brake also comes into play and even offers two positions: Normal and Auto. Auto mode is especially useful when Adaptive Cruise Control isn’t activated (or the model isn’t so equipped); if the vehicle in front of you slows on a downgrade and you apply the brakes, it helps slow the vehicle. Then, when the brake pedal is released, it will continue to hold that speed until you apply throttle again.
Visibility is key when towing, so the new Super Duty is offered with an Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera package that incorporates up to five cameras. These can be used individually, as well as to provide a 360-degree bird’s-eye view when the images from all cameras are stitched together. There is a front camera in the grille (with its own washer that activates with the windshield washer to keep the lens clean), a camera in each side-view mirror, a center high-mounted stop light (CHMSL) camera that looks down into the bed, and a tailgate camera with its own LED light.
In addition, there is a forward-looking camera for the lane-departure warning system, and an available “customer-placed” trailer camera that provides a clear view behind the trailer. This latter piece of equipment is offered as a kit and is hardwired to the truck via its own 12-pin electrical connector in the rear bumper.
While it may seem like overkill to some, the cameras provide some very real benefits, especially for RVers. The front camera offers a 180-degree view and is especially useful when maneuvering around obstacles that would otherwise be hidden by the vehicle’s height and enormous hood. This was demonstrated in a street scenario, where we pulled within inches of a plastic traffic pylon, and on an off-road course, where we were able to clearly identify drop-offs and obstacles in our path.
Tailgate cameras are not uncommon these days, but the one in the 2017 Super Duty does a pretty neat trick — it works with the side-view mirror cameras as part of the new Trailer Reverse Guidance (TRG) system. In addition to providing dynamic guidelines that aid in backing up and connecting a trailer, the tailgate camera can actually read. A target sticker that resembles a checkered flag is placed on the trailer’s A-frame in a specific area, then the owner jots down four key dimensions that allow the system to calculate the position of the trailer. These figures are entered into the system’s brain via the Productivity Screen in the truck’s dashboard.
When backing, the side-view-mirror cameras provide a view of either side of the trailer — but as you begin to turn, the tailgate camera begins monitoring the movement of the target sticker and the side-view cameras begin adjusting the display for the best view. A color-coded representation of the truck and trailer warns when the trailer angle is too tight and there is a risk of jackknifing. When equipped with the trailer camera, the driver can toggle between side and rear views to expertly back the trailer into place without the help of a spotter.
Another cool feature of the tailgate camera is called Straight Line Backup Guidance. When selected on the center touch screen, the system again uses the target sticker to determine the angle of the trailer. A dynamic steering-wheel icon is overlaid on the rear-view display and indicates which direction the steering wheel should be turned to keep the trailer backing in a straight line. Keep an eye on that icon, and you can back up perfectly straight for as long as you like.
Unfortunately, TRG and Straight Line Backup Guidance don’t work with a fifth-wheel, because movement of the target decal in this application would be more difficult to detect. However, the tailgate camera’s dynamic guidelines help you back into position, at which point you drop the tailgate with a dash-mounted button, then switch to the CHMSL camera view. The CHMSL camera provides a clear image of the cargo box and has a zoom feature so you can guide the pin box right into the saddle. Learning how to toggle between all of these views takes some practice, but it beats constantly entering and exiting the cab.
One other thing: Whether connecting a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel, you no longer have to perform a safety check for the lighting, because the Productivity Screen will tell you if any lights on the trailer are not functioning. Pretty cool.
Blind-spot monitoring systems are becoming more and more commonplace in passenger cars, SUVs and some pickups, but the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) in the 2017 Super Duty takes it one step further with trailer coverage. Radar sensors in each taillight lens of the truck shoot a signal down the sides of the trailer, alerting the driver to vehicles that may not readily be seen in the side-view mirrors. As with TRG, one-time setup for the trailer is required on the truck’s Productivity Screen.
To us, lane-departure warning systems are an unnecessary feature in passenger cars, but in the Super Duty, this option makes sense. Hauling a large trailer on a narrow road can result in some unintentional lane crossing, so the aforementioned forward-facing camera behind the rearview mirror monitors lane position, and the system will vibrate the steering wheel and display a departure warning in the instrument cluster if the vehicle starts to drift.
Other Cool Stuff
There isn’t enough space to talk about all the great features in this new truck, but here are some other things worth mentioning.
More Range: The new Super Duty Crew Cab long-box models come with a 48-gallon fuel tank.
Trailer TPMS Kit: Trailer-tire pressure can be monitored from the integrated display in the truck. The kit includes four TPMS sensors that attach to the valve stems, a trailer-mounted TPMS module, a wiring harness and other hardware. The system requires one-time setup on the truck’s Productivity Screen in the dashboard.
Enhanced Upfitter Switches: Relocated to the overhead console, there are now six switches for controlling ancillary items, including four 25-amp (ignition-switched) and two 40-amp (ignition or battery).
The 2017 Super Duty is an amazing achievement that represents the future of heavy-duty pickups. The ball is in your court, GM and Ram.
LEDing the Way: The 2017 Super Duty makes extensive use of LED technology, including Quad Beam LED headlights and taillights, side-mirror spotlights, puddle lamps, cargo-box lights and the aforementioned tailgate light.
Smarter Stowage: Features include a remote tailgate release with a power lock, a next-generation tailgate step and stowable loading ramps.
All-New Interior: All three 2017 cabs are longer than previous models and feature fresh seat designs with new materials and colors. Available features now include SYNC 3, push-button start and a twin-panel moon roof on Crew Cab models. The available 8-inch Productivity Screen provides vehicle information, customized views and enhanced towing displays.
Ford Motor Company | 800-392-3673 | www.ford.com/trucks/superduty/2017