On the Road Review: Ford Super Duty F-250 PowerStroke

It’s a cool, clear February morning — a good day for visiting “The County” for work. And, a good test of how the newest Ford F-250 PowerStroke-powered aluminum-bodied pickup likes life on the road.

Leaving the lights of Bangor in the rear-view, the big Ford settles into an 80-mph rhythm pointing north from Old Town as the sun starts to crest the horizon. Traffic northbound is light as usual. In fact, I pass four vehicles in the next 55 miles to Medway. Six deer in the road, and four other travelers, no wonder the speed limit is higher.

The newest F-series truck proves to be a model citizen. The PowerStroke V-8 engine effortlessly pursues its assigned chore, now with 440 hp and 925 pound/feet of peak torque, with the tachometer never moving from the 1,800 rpm peg despite the ever-changing terrain. The cabin is actually hushed, with nary a hint of the diesel working ahead of the firewall. This is a far cry from the early 7.4-liter Navistar PowerStrokes, but that is a topic for another discussion.

From Medway to Island Falls, Mount Katahdin peeks through the treeline, its sculpted top snow-covered and forbidding. The pavement below is similar; this stretch of roadway is due for some paving, and the winter-ravaged surface is exacting an unpleasant toll on the Ford’s stiffened suspension. Equipped with FX4 off-roading suspenders, the Ford has more stiffness that is entirely unmasked with no load in the bed. By Houlton, my bladder says relief is needed.

Up to this point, we have skirted the Sync 3’s expired Sirius subscription, however the audio listening options from here north are dreadful. I rummage through the bottom of my gear bag for some old CDs and quickly ply them into the dash slot, which thankfully still affords that option. On long rides like today, the value of endless listening options (like the build-up to this year’s Super Bowl) further proves how Sirius and satellite radio are so relevant to today’s long-haul drivers.

With the pace slower, yet not much more traffic, the straight shot up Route 1 to Presque Isle slowly improves the Super Duty’s fuel economy report. The EPA doesn’t cite economy numbers for heavy duty pickups, so buyers are left to referrals or commentaries such as this as a guideline of what to expect, and neither of these take into account how you might actually use your HD pickup, which is usually skewed toward towing.

The morning’s start indicated 18.5 mpg as I entered the highway at Holden, which was actually lower than a previously witnessed 20 mpg — pretty decent numbers for a 6,800-pound truck driving in sub-freezing weather, which compromises diesel operation somewhat (diesel engines like warmer temperatures). The trip computer at the end of 115 miles of freeway travel was down to 16.4 mpg; by the time I got back on the interstate in Sherman later in the day, the gauge had climbed up to 18.7 mpg, so the Super Duty’s ability to attain responsible fuel economy (20-plus MPG) is real.

Just south of Mars Hill, the skies have darkened and a passing snow squall covers the roads in a slippery dusting. The PowerStroke’s torque output is ample, and with no load on the hitch (rear camera system for hitching and backing) or in the bed, the Ford easily spins the rear tires on startup and any type of modest acceleration request. By the time we hit Presque Isle, it becomes necessary to engage the electric-shift 4WD to maneuver through the city without slithering all over the place.

Three business contacts down, it’s on to Fort Kent. After passing Caribou on the completely unnecessary 161 bypass, the Ford and I are virtually alone headed north — only snowmobilers blistering across perfect trails accompany this rural ride through New Sweden, Stockholm and Daigle. The moose warning signs all flash as we approach, but no Bullwinkles appear today.

Route 11 remains a major thoroughfare for Maine’s woods business, as the mill in Madawaska needs fiber and the stud mill in Masardis is running hard. Jostling for momentum, and space, with the lumbering behemoths feeding this economy, the Ford fits right in and passes several trucks with grace and vigor. Toe the Ford’s throttle, and the firm push in the back displays the diesel engine’s robust potential. Full throttle just isn’t necessary.

Cruising down this undulating path, it also is evident that the MDOT has spent considerable sums to improve this corridor. The road has better sight lines (those moose) and a straighter course, yet there is no getting around the constant uphill, downhill path covering the region. The Ford’s tachometer never wavers, and the six-speed automatic just doesn’t need to downshift. That’s the power of a diesel working.

Just before Patten, the nice pavement surface ends and the rollicking surface of a dated road reappears. The Ford’s steering feel, much improved from earlier editions, delivers precise control despite the solid axle layout and the stiffer FX4 suspension. Heavily weighted, the steering actually feels much better than several recent electric-steering systems sampled.

While Ford is touting the change to aluminum construction, drivers may find it hard to tell the difference. Peak vehicle weight ratings are down, while peak load ratings are slightly increased, yet the numbers are not dramatic. In regular cab form, now the lowest selling configuration of the three available cab layouts, the F-250 can tow up to 15,000 pounds. With dual rear wheels and some other hardware, the Super Duty can tow up to 21,000 pounds of conventional trailer or a massive 32,000 pounds with a Gooseneck layout. That’s a lot of motorhome, horse trailer or construction equipment.

With work-truck roots, the Super Duty won’t disappoint. There are cleats and lights in the bed, finally with a spray-on bedliner, plus a rear camera with an LED spotlight that proved quite useful. The Super Duty is, unfortunately, quite tall with no measureable gain in ground clearance — only 11 inches. The optional tailgate step, $375, really needs to be standard, as the rear bumper is so high. With the tailgate step deployed, a three-step process, you still need to get a foot up to 28.5 inches, with the tailgate at 41 inches off the ground. The top of the tailgate is at 61 inches from ground level — higher than too many objects that could hide behind your truck. Our recent Power Wagon 2500 was easier to access with 14 inches of ground clearance.

Inside, the XLT trimmed Super Duty had a vinyl floor covering, a manual driver’s seat, no rear defroster or sliding window, but one-touch power windows, a tilt/telescoping steering column, power pedals and a Sync 3 entertainment system with voice commands. There is a trailer brake controller, six upfitter switches for auxiliary controls, plus the electric shift four-wheel-drive knob, which worked very smoothly. The column-mounted shifter, however, was quite balky to move between gears; its action was almost as stiff as the leaf-spring suspension on rough roads.

While all of the controls were easy to find, use and manage with gloved hands, the presentation is both “manly” and confused, with multiple pods, pockets, vents and device panels comprised of different materials creating a less than fluid design. The center-dash info panel is useful, and visibility is good — at this height it should be, yet the regular cab layout affords little space for carrying gear inside.

A base F-250 XL regular cab with rear drive and the 6.2-liter 385-hp V-8 starts at $32,535. XLT trim bumps that number by $4,200, while the diesel engine/transmission and associated hardware upgrade adds $8,800 to that figure. Add 4X4, $2,800 more, plus some other pieces, option package 603A here, and the list price of our regular cab diesel zoomed to $50,000. The F-250 is built in Louisville, Ky.

This pickup class of vehicle remains the industry’s most profitable segment. It also is the top-selling segment in several parts of the country as Ford, Chevy and Ram pickups were by far the top three selling vehicles in America last year. All three of these truck-makers, plus Nissan, offer diesel engines with DEF emission fluid systems that both help reduce harmful exhaust emissions and complicate the programming and operation of these trucks as they strive to achieve elevated levels of performance. There is no doubt about the prodigious capabilities of these diesel-powered trucks; they tow and work much better than their gas-powered siblings while producing better fuel economy. However, the ancillary costs of these newer diesel-engine control systems (service and maintenance, plus DEF fluid fills) must be considered when purchasing.

Aluminum skin, new PowerStroke, modified interior, plus new towing assist features all add up to a thoroughly modern Super Duty.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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