Andy MikonisChicago Tribune
Following up on the all-new F-150, Ford has redesigned the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty with aluminum-intensive construction, to not only shave weight for the sake of shaving weight, but to parlay that weight savings into strengthening other components.
The configuration of the F-350 tester was a 176-inch wheelbase long-bed crew cab with dual rear wheels, as big as you can get without moving to the F-450.Properly testing this rig required an appropriate mission, a 900-mile towing trip to pick up a derelict vintage car and bring it back on an 18-foot flatbed trailer.
The F-350 was thoughtfully designed with features to aid towing and hauling. Hook up a trailer and the truck knows, offering up trailer status and trip mileage. An array of available cameras are helpful for parking and backing up to a trailer, as well as monitoring the load. A really nice feature is a small spotlight near the top of the tailgate that illuminates the trailer hitch area. A deployable step and handle to climb in the bed is so well concealed you wouldn't know it was there if someone didn't tell you; it's a much more elegant execution than Ford's early versions of this idea. And a shoutout to the lockable storage bin under the rear seat. This may be the best idea in pickup interior storage ever.
The loaded trailer would be in the neighborhood of 6,000 pounds, less than a third of the F-350's stated towing capacity. Running empty to pick up the trailer, fuel mileage hovered around the 16.5 mpg range. Surprisingly, the mileage dropped to 12 mpg when towing the empty trailer at around 2,000 pounds, then only dropped a half an mpg or so more with another 4,000 pounds of the barn find loaded up. Wind resistance may have more of an effect than weight on fuel mileage when towing. Along with ultralow sulphur diesel fuel, diesel exhaust fluid must be added for emissions control. Ford says the Super Duty has the largest DEF tank in the competitive set, and in over 1,200 miles that needle did not come off of full. Average over a week was 13.0 mpg. The balance when not towing was a mix of highway driving; this barge was not first pick for piloting around town.
It shouldn't be a surprise to read the F-350 towed like the trailer wasn't there. Exceptional braking performance made slowing the load drama-free. Variable steering, which changes how many turns of the steering wheel it takes to turn the front wheels based on vehicle speed, made maneuvering easy. It was a real pleasure to have this truck for this trip, if overkill for the weight involved.
It is amazing how refined heavy-duty trucks have become. A stiffer new frame likely allowed engineers to tune the suspension for a smooth ride. The F-350 has a solid feeling overall.
It had not quite every option, but pretty close, including technology that has been slow to find its way into pickup trucks. The lane departure warning was too sensitive and too subtle; the slight vibration of the wheel was often impossible to distinguish from the normal vibrations from the ravaged asphalt of our nation's highways. Blind spot monitoring was a welcome feature, which adjusts to the length of the trailer up to 33 feet and includes the trailer's blind spot. Adaptive cruise control worked flawlessly even when towing, keeping a preset distance upon approaching slower vehicles.
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