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We flew into Las Vegas for the drive out to Bullhead City and picked up a dark shadow gray metallic Ford F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab 4x4 dually to make the 100 mile trip. Its many features included optional Sport and FX4 packages. The Sport Package includes chrome tipped 3-inch exhaust pipe, monochromatic sport grille, chrome side steps and unique front and rear bumpers. The FX4 off-road option is new on Super Dutys for 2003 and adds Rancho shocks, skid plates and a steering damper to the base 4x4 package. Our F-350 also had a moonroof, a Ford exclusive in the heavy duty segment, and a 6 disc in-dash CD changer.

We were disappointed with the F-350's interior though. The Super Duty's dash and IP design is definitely showing its age next to the newly revised Dodge and GM trucks. A great looking truck on the outside should have great looking inside.

Starting up the F-350, it was our first chance to build hands-on impressions around the new Power Stroke and TorqShift.

The engine fired up with a tighter and quieter clatter than what we were used to hearing from the 7.3-liter Power Stroke. When we were inside the truck with all of the doors closed the clatter was reduced even more thanks to Ford's aggressive cabin noise insulation efforts.

Pulling out onto the street we immediately pulled up next to a raised 2002 F-350 4x4 at a stoplight. Sure it was a coincidence but a purposeful comparison couldn't have been staged any better because we certainly heard the clatter of the other F-350's 7.3-liter Power Stroke much more loudly in the cabin of our truck than we heard our own 6.0-liter engine.

Ride and handling has also been unexpectedly improved and refined.

Having driven many Super Duty trucks over the years the ride quality jumped out at us. The feel from the steering wheel was firm and positive with very little shake or any other vibrations at all. Ford engineers on-hand attributed this to time well spent increasing the amount of rubber in the body mounts to improve isolation. The confidence that the ride and steering feel inspired proved to be valuable on the trip across state route 95 from Las Vegas to Laughlin.

Driving on state route 95 we quickly found ourselves stacked up behind big rigs, motor homes and blue hairs headed back to Sun City having lost the remainder of this month's social security check at the $1 slots. It was the perfect opportunity to test unloaded performance and the Power Stroke did not fail to meet the high performance expectations set by Stoehr.

We have driven some very powerful vehicles as part of media tests but never one this powerful.

The press information says that the new Power Stroke performs much like a gas engine. We are sorry to disappoint the Ford engineers that worked so hard on this engine, but if we had a gas engine that ran the way the Power Stroke runs we would never ever consider a diesel.

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