Review: 2011 Ford Super Duty F-350 4×4 Crew Cab Lariat PowerStroke
By Chris Haak
Photos by Joseph Rapanotti
For the past decade, we’ve been in the midst of a winner-take-all battle for torque supremacy in the heavy-duty pickup truck market. Like the horsepower wars that have seen mainstream V6 family sedans producing more power than Corvettes of a decade and a half ago, heavy duty pickup trucks now produce about double the torque that they did just ten years earlier. As with the horsepower race in cars, the one-upmanship in the truck torque race is nothing but a win for consumers, who can now buy trucks that have the kind of power tractor trailers had years ago.
The Ford F-350 Super Duty is a ridiculously big truck, even in shortbox form. The truck’s height (both from the frame to the ground, and from the roof to the ground) is just incredible. Until my time in this truck, I had never spent time in another vehicle that I felt neededrunning boards, so it was an unusual sensation for me at 6’4″ for me to hop out of my seat and slide down about six or eight inches before my feet hit the ground. The Super Duty does have grab handles on both A-pillars, which helps with ingress/egress; however, I just used the steering wheel to pull myself into the truck, and to gently lower myself to terra firma.
The interior of the Super Duty in Lariat trim is somewhat surprising because of the amount of hard plastic. You will find it at the top of the dash, front of the dash, the door panels, and nearly every other surface. The exception to the “hard plastic” rule is the center console, which is upholstered in vinyl, plus the actual door armrests and the leather-wrapped steering wheel. I found the “leather seating surfaces” to smell like leather, but to look and feel very much like vinyl. For that, I blame the odd choice of printing a design on the actual leather that looked something like a miniaturized version of the “Real Tree” camouflage that some hunters wear. Not all the interior design news was bad. The center stack had nice matte-finish fake wood surrounding the navigation screen and HVAC controls, which spruced up its appearance and added a bit of luxury flair.
In defense of the Super Duty’s hard plastic, I should mention that every full-size truck has this affliction. Perhaps it’s more a function of my passenger-vehicle-centric perspective, where hard plastic is a considered undesirable, versus the perspective of truck owners, who want something that won’t crack after long-term exposure to sunlight, and won’t tear if an unruly piece of lumber bumps into it. The Super Duty’s crew cab layout gave an impressive amount of space for passengers and their belongings, too.
The Lariat is not the top-of-the-line trim (that designation is called King Ranch), but it still includes a number of comfort and convenience features. There’s an extremely wide, very deep console that can hold a mini cooler (plus a number of mobile-office tools, like pens, a computer, tissues, coins, a notepad, and more). You’ll find at least six cupholders throughout the interior – or one for each seating position. Other handy storage compartments include spacious two-tier door pockets, behind-the-seat storage at the rear of the cab, and lockable under-seat storage beneath the back seat.
Ergonomically, everything falls neatly to hand, though the truck’s considerable width requires you to lean forward a bit to reach the far side of the navigation display. The HVAC controls and air vents are large and easy to use. The optional navigation system, included on my test vehicle, contains the same technology and high-resolution display that Ford’s newer-generation systems in the likes of the F-150, Flex, Taurus, MKS, and others have, but has a slightly-smaller display. The navigation system is seemingly less-integrated with the rest of the center stack in the Super Duty than in those other vehicles, which may explain its different display. Otherwise, though, it works just as well, and can display navigation, audio, telephone, and climate control information either in detail or summary format.
Ford installed a second high-resolution color LCD display between the speedometer and tachometer for displaying detailed trip computer functionality. This is far more than a typical trip computer, however. There is a Prius-like fuel economy graphical history (though with numbers about one-third of what a Prius displays), two distinct trip computers (each of which displays time since reset, fuel economy since reset, mileage, and fuel consumed), MyKey settings, personalization settings (such as door locking and unlocking preferences), and pre-programmed modes for off road use or trailer towing. For individuals who plan to install aftermarket accessories on their F-350, there are four auxiliary switches at the base of the center stack for add-on lighting, salt spreaders, or other electrical equipment that can be controlled with an on/off switch (presumably, a snowplow would need something more sophisticated because of the blade’s movement).
Though I did not have access to a trailer, and therefore could not test the F-350’s considerable prowess in pulling very heavy trailers, the truck comes ready to tow, with a plug-and-play trailer adapter beneath the rear bumper, trailer sway control, and a factory-installed trailer brake controller. The test truck also was equipped with Ford’s FX4 off-road package, but – as with trailer towing – I did not have an opportunity to test its mettle in a pavement-free area. Off road features include a dedicated off-road mode, underbody skid plates, and hill descent control.
Dating back to the late seventies, Ford had been in a relationship with International Harvester, which became Navistar, to provide diesel engines for its heavy-duty pickups. That relationship had its ups and downs over the years (the 6.0 liter PowerStroke diesel of a few years ago, in particular, led to lawsuits due to the larger-than-expected warranty claim payments), but also ended with the 2010 model year.
For 2011, Ford developed a brand new, clean-sheet 6.7 liter V8 PowerStroke turbodiesel, and it’s a bruiser. Early 2011 trucks were rated at 390 horsepower and 735 lb-ft of torque, but Job 2 trucks – such as this test vehicle – received updated powertrain programming to boost that output to 400 horsepower and 800 lb-ft of torque. The new numbers are class-leading, ahead of GM’s revised Duramax (397/765) and far ahead of Ram’s Cummins inline six. The best news about the power boost is that buyers of Job 1 (early 2011) trucks can go to their local dealer for a reflash of their truck’s computer to give them the same 400/800 output for free. Supposedly, the update also improves the truck’s fuel economy slightly, though trucks this heavy do not have EPA mileage estimates.
The new PowerStroke definitely has more seat-of-the-pants horsepower and torque than Ram’s Cummins turbodiesel, and the numbers on the spec sheet bear that out (the Ram is rated at 350 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque). The Cummins does top the PowerStroke in terms of soundtrack, with the former sounding more like a big rig, and the latter sounding almost exactly like the millions of Navistar-sourced PowerStrokes already on the road, laboring with the likes of school buses and plumbers’ vans. I had the opportunity to spend a few miles driving a GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD a few weeks before driving the Ford Super Duty, and both trucks felt similarly strong, despite the Ford’s power advantage. Comprehensive testing by pickup truck experts PickupTrucks.com actually showed the GM drivetrain significantly outperforming the Ford one in a real-world climb and descent in the mountains of Colorado.
As with most higher-output diesels, during normal use, the truck doesn’t break a sweat when encountering hills or a full load of passengers. After all, this truck is capable of towing a trailer weighing more than twice its own weight up a mountain (see previous link). One must remember, though, that this truck tips the scales at over three tons. Accordingly, 400 horsepower and 800 lb-ft aren’t doing for this truck what those numbers might do for a sports car. After an initialperiod of turbo lag, the truck moves with authority and the tubine-like whoosh of a large, boosted diesel. Gear changes occur very quickly; the 1-2 shiftfrom a standing start happens in about a second, and even under full throttle, the truck won’t exceed 3,000 RPMs before upshifting (1,000 RPMs below the redline). There is a manual shift mode, actuated by the column-mounted shifter, but moving that lever with any accuracy is very tricky. It has clunky detents and shifting from Manual to Drive, for instance, often results in over-shooting the desired gear. Within Manual mode, gear changes are handled with easy-to-use pushbuttons right on the shift lever.
Overall, I observed about 15.5 miles per gallon over about 350 miles of combined city/highway driving, and that included about 30 minutes of idling during the truck’s photo shoot. Driving conservatively yielded over 19 miles per gallon on a 26-mile trip. Frankly, this fuel economy is remarkable given the size and capabilities of this truck. It’s also better than the 14.8 miles per gallon that I observed in the Ram Heavy Duty, and on par with what you’ll experience in a gasoline-fueled half-ton truck that has far less size and capability.
One curiosity of the PowerStroke engine is that it takes a long time for the engine to reach its operating temperature. On frosty mornings (the truck didn’t come close to fitting inside my garage), it took 15 or more minutes for the engine to warm sufficiently to begin heating the cab, while my [garaged] car typically takes about two minutes. Heated seats mitigates this somewhat, but in an acknowledgement of the issue, Ford offers an optional rapid-heat supplemental cab heater for about $200. The test truck did not have that, but did have remote start – a feature I utilized from time to time – and included an engine block heater, which I did not utilize, but would have helped.
The suspension in my F-350 single rear wheel test vehicle was very firm. Part of that is because 99 percent of my time with the truck, I was driving it unladen with any trailer or cargo, so the truck’s springs were not compressed at all. Also, heavy-duty trucks such as this one have tires that hold air at considerably higher pressures (about 65 PSI) than do typical light-duty trucks or passenger cars, which firms up the ride. As a result, there is very little suspension compression over bumps and uneven surfaces, and instead, the seat cushions and the passengers’ spines serve to absorb the impact. Despite this harsh unladen ride, the Super Duty’s structure is remarkably solid, with no visible flexing or vibrations indicating anything but solidity.
It’s no sports car, but the truck’s considerable width helps with lateral stability. Models with dual rear wheels (unlike this tester) undoubtedly have even better stability on the highway. The power steering is somewhat overboosted and has a very slow ratio (20.41:1 in this configuration), meaning that precise maneuvers are possible, but in all other scenarios, you need to turn the wheel quite far to make a directional change. I found the brake pedal to be uncomfortably high, which resulted in a tired right ankle whenever traffic conditions dictated a lot of brake application. Despite my search, I could not find a switch for power-adjustable pedals, and saw no mention of the feature on the Monroney. Just like the running boards, I’ve never typically felt a need for power-adjustable pedals in other vehicles, but this truck certainly needed them.
Actual braking performance was adequate. Of note, when attempting a panic-type stop, the high-profile, low-grip tires will let you down long before the 13.66-inch vented front discs/13.39-inch rear discs will. The initial bite point occurs early in the brake pedal’s travel, but they seemed to be adequate for what they’re asked to do – that is, stopping a very heavy truck potentially laden with very heavy cargo.
The base price of a 2011 Ford Super Duty F-350 4×4 Crew Cab Lariat PowerStroke and the 156″ wheelbase is $44,745. The test vehicle also had the 6.7 liter PowerStroke V8 diesel ($7,835), all-terrain LT275/70R18E tires ($125), 3.31 locking rear axle ($390), FX4 off-road package ($295), upfitter switches ($125), heavy duty alternator ($75), towable bed extender ($250), tough bed spray-in bedliner ($450), Master cable lock ($120), lower-accent two-tone paint ($470), and the Lariat Ultimate Package ($3,995, which includes navigation, power moonroof, memory group, remote start, rear view camera, tailgate step, and heated seats). Tack on $975 for destination and delivery, and you have a $59,850 pickup truck.
It’s a lot of money, to be sure, and this truck could be optioned even more heavily with niceties such as the King Ranch package, dual rear wheels, fifth-wheel factory-installed hitch, and more, easily topping the $70,000 mark. There’s a reason that Ford’s Super Duty trucks are the best-selling heavy-duty trucks; they look the look, and they back that up with more technology, capability, and comfort than nearly anything out there. Creative solutions to long-standing issues that pickup drivers have had for years just reinforce that Ford knows trucks, and they know what truck buyers want and need.