THERE’S no denying double-cab 4×4 utes have become the default vehicle for families who live an adventurous lifestyle or need a dual-purpose work-cum-recreational truck. But popular models like the HiLux, Ranger and Triton have their limitations.
If you have more than two teenage kids, the rear seat isn’t going to fit them in comfort, and the angle of the seat-back in some of those popular utes is fairly upright and uncomfortable. The Asian-branded utes aren’t great for towing anything that weighs three tonnes or more, so if you have a large boat or horse float you’d need to go for a large wagon (like the LC 200 or Discovery) or a commercial truck (like the LC79). Even then, the big Cruisers only have the capacity you want if they are equipped with a GMV upgrade and/or a chassis stretch.
The only factory alternatives with the capacity you need are full-sized American pick-up trucks. Made in the millions by the big three US auto manufacturers, these trucks out-haul any readily available option here in Australia – yet they aren’t made in right-hand drive, so car companies here don’t sell them. Thankfully we have a strong aftermarket that recognises the need for such vehicles in this country and who source, import and convert the trucks for Aussie buyers.
We’ve lined up a truck from each of the Big Three – from three different importer/distributors – to get a feel for how well they work on Australian roads. The Ford F-250 Lariat comes to us from Harrison F-Trucks; the GMC Denali from Performax; and the RAM Laramie 2500 from American Special Vehicles. All these suppliers have full-volume Australian compliance to sell these trucks. We spent two days with them on the tracks and roads of rural Victoria, and also lived with them for a week in town.
FORD F-250 LARIAT
IN Australia, Toyota’s HiLux occasionally tops the monthly new-car sales chart, yet in the USA, Ford’s F-Series trucks have been the best-selling vehicle for decades. Part of that comes from the huge range of F-Series, starting with the F-150 and growing through the F-250, F-350, F-450, F-550 and monstrous F-650 rigs. But we’re concentrating on the popular F-250 Super Duty model that’s sold in Australia via several outlets – this Lariat-spec 2015 Effie came from Harrisons in Melton, where it’s a $152,000 offering.
DRIVELINE & CAPACITIES
YOU’LL generally find all the Super Duty Effies are powered by the Powerstroke 6.7-litre turbo-diesel V8 engine in Australia. They come with a petrol V8 in the US, but there’s no call for that here. The Powerstroke 6.7 makes a plate-shifting 1166Nm from around 1600rpm, which is enough to haul a 7.6-tonne trailer or a 1900kg payload, although these figures are generally down-rated for Australia so that Aussies can drive them with a regular driver’s licence. Check with your importer/dealer for specifics.
The V8 engine is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission and part-time 4×4, while the F-250 is the only vehicle on this test to be fitted with a selectable rear differential lock (RDL). Electronic Traction Control (ETC) is standard.
CHASSIS & HANDLING
THE Ford F-250 Super Duty rides on a heavy-duty ladder chassis with live axles front and rear. The front end sits on coil springs, while the rear is on traditional leaves. These trucks each use old-style steering boxes that have either been relocated to the right-hand side of the chassis or, in some cases, remanufactured in a mirror image of the OE steering box.
The steering in the Harrison F-250 feels very light at all speeds, which makes it nice and easy to park, but on the highway the front end is very reactive to bumps, resulting in the driver needing to make constant corrections. It otherwise offers a relaxed highway gait as the big engine lopes along at low revs, while it’s relatively easy to punt swiftly in the bends. None of these trucks are sports cars, but they aren’t as monstrous as one might expect.
OFF-ROAD testing was done at the Melbourne 4×4 Training and Proving Ground, where we chose a long, steep and rutted climb to evaluate the tractive abilities of the trucks. It’s a hill we’ve seen stop many 4x4s when they hit the deeper holes near the top.
With the rear diff lock engaged, the F-250 made the climb with relatively little scrambling or loss of traction. We put this down to the longer wheelbase of these trucks over more conventional 4x4s, and where it placed the tyres on the track. On the descent it delivered reasonable engine braking, while Hill Decent Control worked well. Even without the RDL engaged, the F-250 crawled its way up with ease, seemingly flexing more than the other trucks.
WITH payloads that barely amount to that of the average one-tonner in Australia, you may be forgiven for thinking these big trucks are a bit ‘style-over-substance’, but towing is what they’re all about. All three are torque monsters with big-displacement engines, so we decided to hitch the best part of three tonnes to the back of them and see how they handled a decent load.
Sure, we’d like to have hitched something heavier behind them, but all three were only equipped with 50mm tow balls and standard hitches – which only allow a load of up to 3.5 tonnes, after which we’d need a 70mm ball up to 4.5 tonnes. Anything above that needs a Pintle hitch or fifth wheel set-up.
The Ford has the most torque and highest towing capacity, at 1166Nm and 7500kg respectively, so it was a front runner to be the best tow tug. While there’s no doubt the drivetrain hauled the load the easiest, the big F-truck didn’t feel so settled on the open road. There was a tendency toward bump-steer that kept us busy on the wheel during the test loop. With a load on board, the rear end of the two-fiddy felt planted and solid, but the front end let it down. Tow mode on the SelectShift transmission made the most of all the horses thundering into it, and downshifts were superb, but we were expecting better road manners when hauling.
CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION
THIS is one of the most accommodating cabins on the market, with acres of space in the front and back seats; cushy leather seats; familiar Ford Sync A/V system; extra switches in-dash for accessories; and bucketloads of storage options. It’s got the lot. The sat-nav wasn’t operating, but the guys at Harrisons tell us they’ve sorted that and it can now install local maps.
The cabin in the Effie is so wide my elbow didn’t reach the windowsill while driving, and it’s the only one in this trio like that. The exterior mirrors are huge and power-adjustable, and slide out (motorised) for towing visibility. The rear seat backrest is still a bit too upright, but it’s more comfortable than any Asian ute.
THE Yanks love big and bold towing hooks, and the F-250 has a pair of fat chrome ones up front – there’s nothing at the back of the truck, except for the receiver for the tow hitch. The Lariat’s chrome wheels are wrapped in 275/65R20 tyres, so don’t expect to find a replacement at your average outback service station. That said, there are plenty of options available in that size from the US.
Under that massive hood (that’s bonnet to you and me) the V8 engine takes up most of the real estate, with no room for a second battery. The air intake is behind the off-side front headlight, while the air cleaner can be serviced without tools. The F-250 carries 140 litres of diesel in its tank.
Handy inclusions in the tray are a fold-out bed-extender that allows you to drive with the tailgate down and retain goods in the tray, and a clever fold-out step with a lever post to help lard-arses haul themselves up into the back.
THE F-250 Lariat is as big and brash as they come! Its V8 engine might only be a tad bigger than the others here, but it makes the most grunt and you can feel that behind the wheel. It used 21.93L/100km of diesel on test to be the thirstiest of the trucks, but it did more towing than the others as it pulled our car trailer to and from Werribee. The Effie feels the most comfortable off-road, with its supple chassis allowing the wheels and tyres to crawl over rough terrain for a more controlled ride.
That same chassis provided the only blemish on the Effie’s performance, with the aforementioned tendency to bump-steer in the front end, which was evident on rough highways. This does become tiresome on longer drives, and let’s face it: these trucks are made to cover the miles.
The fit-and-finish in the cabin is as good as any Australian-made Ford, and the quality of the left-to-right conversion gave us no reason to think it’s anything but top-notch. Harrison F-Trucks backs its new vehicles up with a full four-year/130,000km warranty, with premium roadside assistance for three years.
Engine V8 diesel
Power 328kW @2800rpm
Torque 1166Nm @ 1600rpm
Gearbox 6-speed auto
4X4 System part-time, dual-range
Construction separate chassis; 4-door ute
Front suspension live axle on coil springs
Rear suspension live axle on leaf springs
Tyre spec LT275/65R20
Kerb Mass N/A
Towing capacity 4500kg*
Seating capacity Five
Fuel tank capacity 140 litres
ADR fuel claim N/A
Test consumption 21.93L/100km
*Subject to state laws and licencing regulations
Continue reading at 4×4 Australia