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Behind the Wheel

Inside the Super Duty’s cab, occupants are left to wonder if this could possibly be a work truck, considering the abundant leather in the Lariat and King Ranch versions (and in the Harley-Davidson edition in the future). But professional drivers practically live inside their trucks, and personal users tend to employ them on long drives towing trailers to distant locations, making virtually all of the Super Duty’s customers sensitive to the amenities available.

Sirius Satellite Radio, dual-zone climate control, quiet steel laminated dash panel, more insulation and thicker window glass all combine to make the Super Duty’s cabin a comfort palace unrecognizable to those of use whose first trucks had AM radios and no A/C.

For those diesel veterans accustomed to freezing on cold days, the Super Duty offers a welcome innovation in the form of an electric heater. The Rapid-Heat cab heater starts making heat instantly and supplements the diesel’s meager heat output whenever needed.

The TowCommand system looks like another electronic doodad, but it is in fact a miraculous breakthrough in trailer brake technology, as anyone who has used the system since it appeared on the previous generation Super Duty well knows. The device is an electronic trailer brake controller that is built into the truck, so it has the benefit of knowing everything about the vehicle’s systems and the driver’s inputs, so that it can provide the correct amount of braking force to the trailer, rather than having to guess at the correct amount as add-on brake controllers do.

New for the ‘08 models is smarter software that lets the trailer brakes work better on slippery surfaces where the truck’s antilock brake system is active, and especially in those tricky situations when one side of the truck is on, say, the dry crown of the road, while the other side is on a wet or icy edge. Forget the tailgate step; TowCommand continues to be a reason to buy a Super Duty over a competitor.

Hammer the brake pedal with the truck pulling a massive 20,000 lb. fifth-wheel camper and it hums uneventfully to a stop in a normal-seeming distance. The truck’s brake pedal is long, as seems to happen with hydraulically boosted brakes on diesel trucks under heavy braking, but keep pressing and it keeps slowing the truck more. There was simply no indication of any activity from the trailer. It didn’t seem to push us onward, it didn’t wiggle, and it certainly didn’t smoke or flat-spot any of its tires. It just stopped.

The F-450’s precise steering is appreciated when pulling such a big trailer, making it easy to keep the rig in the center of the lane with no difficulty. On the open road without the trailer, the F-450 rides better than we have any reason to hope, its longer leaf springs working as advertised to soak up bumps without punishing the occupants. Broken pavement makes itself known, as should be expected, but in regular conditions an empty F-450 dually gives the driver no reason to wish for a payload.

The Super Duty F-450 still falls short of the tow rating of vehicles such as the Chevrolet Kodiak medium-duty truck with a pickup bed conversion performed by a an aftermarket company such as Monroe. The Ford would be easier to live with when unhitched, more comfortable and better-equipped with luxury features and at a lower price too. The massive commercial-duty rear axle and brakes, combined with the smart brake controller make the F-450 an impressive hauler. But if exorbitant towing capacity is the overriding issue, an almost-big rig like the Kodiak is the way to go.

The F-250, which we also drove unladen, has the ride and handling of a half-ton truck. At least that of a half-ton truck before the latest generation of half-tons moved more solidly into car-like ride. Personal use owners won’t regret the days they have to use their truck as a car thanks to the many upgrades to the Super Duty’s frame and suspension, as well as the interior amenities.

Off-road, in more-than-axle-deep slime, even in four-wheel-high, the truck powered through uneventfully. This included impressively deep ruts and some very steep climbs over wet rocks, with no instance when the truck felt out of control, in danger of getting stuck, or had the driver wishing he’d selected the low range in the transfer case.

You will never get stuck, but if you ever need to pull anyone else out, the Super Duty has 27 mm closed tow hooks that will support 33,000 lbs. So you can lift out a couple of the other guys at once.

Maybe the Ford guys can add that test to the fire and ice trial next time around.

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