Rod Chapman | carsales | 27 Oct 2018
There’s a certain ‘road presence’ to the 2018 Ford F-350 Super Duty. It’s a big, bold and brash American behemoth that’s built to work. And it makes no apologies for its size or excess, be it in terms of dimensions, towing prowess, fuel consumption or even luxury.
That’s right, the terms ‘luxury’ and ‘pickup’ are not mutually exclusive – especially when it comes to our test vehicle, a four-wheel drive F-350 Crewcab which came to us in the second-from-top Platinum trim grade and fitted with Ford’s optional ‘Ultimate’ package.
The latter is worth around $5000 alone, and adds adaptive (radar) cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, a trailer-specific camera package, driver fatigue alert and a two-panel moonroof.
North American imports
Of course, Ford’s Super Duty range, spanning F-250, F-350 and F-450 variants, along with its lighter F-150 sibling, aren’t brought to Australia by Ford. They’re US products imported by a number of specialists and then converted to right-hand drive for our local market.
A variety of these larger US pickups are available in Australia, with a number of local importers and conversion specialists offering Ford F-Series trucks along with rivals like RAM’s 2500 and 3500, Chevrolet’s Silverado, GMC’s Sierra, Nissan’s Titan and Toyota’s Tundra.
This F-350 has been brought here by Victoria-based Harrison F-Trucks, which has the conversion carried out in Melbourne. Currently Harrison F-Trucks is bringing these Fords in from Canada, not the US, due to the more favourable exchange rate – the latter can see the local price of these trucks fluctuate appreciably.
While these vehicles haven’t been assessed by ANCAP in terms of safety, they meet all the required ADRs and are covered by a Harrison F-Trucks warranty: four years or 130,000km, whichever comes first, backed by premium roadside assistance.
Our mammoth test vehicle is in fact a short-wheelbase model – a long-wheelbase chassis is also available, as are models with dual rear wheels for even greater carrying capacity.
Harrison F-Trucks stocks a range of F-150 and Super Duty models, but it can also request specific builds to suit customer requirements.
Two engine options are available in America – a 6.2-litre petrol V8 or a 6.7-litre turbo-diesel V8 – but Harrison says it’s only ever brought the oiler to our shores, which has more power and over double the torque.
Our test vehicle is a special case. While officially an F-350, it’s been de-rated from its regular GVM (gross vehicle mass) of 5215kg to 4490kg so it can be driven on a regular car licence. This was achieved by removing a helper spring and suspension block, and it reduces the truck’s payload and GCM (gross combination mass) from the F-350’s 1700kg and 9700kg to F-250 specifications of 1000kg and 9000kg respectively.
However, with a braked towing limit of 4500kg, it can still haul a full 1000kg more than the toughest of the ‘smaller’ utes to which we’re accustomed, like Ford’s Ranger, and even Toyota’s V8-engined LandCruiser.
This particular F-350 sports an optional heavy-duty front suspension set-up to accommodate a bull bar and winch if need be, while Harrison points out it could be restored to true F-350 specs with minimal fuss, for use by owners with a heavy vehicle licence.
It’s also a 2018 model, and as such sports an aluminium alloy (instead of steel) cargo box. Ford says the associated weight savings (up to 158kg) have been reinvested in a fully boxed steel chassis and even-heavier-duty components, further enhancing its workhorse credentials.
We wanted to see how this truck performed under a significant load and Harrison F-Trucks obliged by hooking up a heavy tandem-axle caravan.
The clientele for these big US pickups is diverse, spanning grey nomads to the equestrian set, boaties, builders and more, but they’ve all got one thing in common: a requirement to shift a major load, yet with more comfort and refinement than you’d typically find in a purely commercial truck.
At this point pricing is the elephant in the room and, like an elephant, the price of this truck is significant – $164,990 plus on-roads. However, it comes loaded with just about every conceivable feature and Harrison says the Platinum offers the best bang for your buck.
The range kicks off with the XL and runs through XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and finally Limited. By way of comparison, the F-250 Platinum is $2000 less, while the F-350 XL Crewcab currently kicks off from $134,990 plus on-roads.
So, with our 3600kg (tare) caravan in tow, we set off on a 400km run through rural Victoria to see how well this Super Duty fulfils its brief.
Cabin comfort and features
That massive, unmistakably American front-end gleams with chrome and is framed by quad-beam LED headlights, LED fog lights, and LED daytime running lights. Even in short-wheelbase form it looks massive, and that sense of scale is amplified when you pull up next to a ‘regular’ Aussie ute.
Access is a keyless affair, either via the fob or even a pin-code pad on the B-pillar, and opening a door triggers the power side-steps to smoothly drop into position. You need them – even for taller adults it’s a fair step up to the seating – and the process is aided by well-placed grab handles.
Once inside the sense of space is palpable – it’s just a big vehicle, inside and out. There’s roughly a herd’s-worth of interior leather, in addition to some wood-grain and silver highlights, and the centre-console bin is just about large enough to stow a small child.
You wouldn’t, of course – there’s also masses of leg room in the second-row seating, which benefits from heating (outboard seats), bottle and cup holders, a variety of power options (USB, 12-volt and 110-volt) and a fold down armrest.
The 60/40 split-fold rear seat bases flip up to create a massive storage area, while the outboard rear head rests fold forward to maximise rear vision.
While rear-seat accommodation in typical Australian utes is usually fairly cramped, in the F-350 passengers can really spread out. The seat backs are less upright and more comfortable for longer trips, even for adults, although taller types will find the headspace a little limited.
The front row seating features heating, cooling, and even a massage function, plus electric adjustment including lumbar support and memory settings. The term ‘seat’ is an understatement here – ‘throne’ would be closer to the mark – and the heated steering wheel also has electric adjustment for tilt and reach.
The quality of the conversion is impressive – to the untrained eye this Super Duty appears all the world as if it rolled straight off the Louisville (Kentucky) production line in right-hand drive. The giveaway is the dead pedal and bonnet release on the passenger side. There’s no dead pedal for the driver, and space for the left foot is further reduced by the foot park brake.
Also, the dual-zone climate-control dials are reversed – you have to adjust what is marked as the passenger settings to affect the driver’s seat, and vice versa – as are some of the functions on the big 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (like the seat massage function, for example).
The multimedia unit is equipped with Ford’s latest SYNC3 system, offering a wide array of voice commands, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and more, while the clear and concise TFT display, which sits between the analogue speedo and tacho gauges, has a logical, easy-to-use menu system.
The steering-column-mounted shifter takes some acclimatisation, however. A six-speed automatic, the action of the shifter in our test truck was quite stiff, meaning on several occasions we ‘overshot’ our intended selection by a notch. With only 4000km on the odometer, this could well free up with further miles.
Full auto and manual sequential shifting is on offer, the latter via ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons on a dedicated stalk.
Handling and ride
On the road the Super Duty presents quite a different personality to the lumbering, commercial brute you might reasonably expect. Without a load the big turbo-diesel V8 slingshots the Super Duty forward from a standing start with surprising pace, and while the unladen ride is harsh, as you’d expect, body roll is nicely controlled for a vehicle with a 3500kg tare mass.
Up front this F-350 rides on a live axle with twin coils each side, with a multi-leaf-spring set-up at the rear and heavy-duty gas shocks all round. There are disc brakes at all four corners, while the 20-inch polished alloy rims are shod with Michelin LTX all-terrain tyres in a 275/65-20 sizing.
Of course, the F-350’s size – 6350mm long in this SWB format – and its associated turning circle mean only masochists will venture into shopping-centre car parks, while you can potentially run out of fuel before finding appropriate city parking.
However, only a relatively light touch is required for the hydraulic power-assisted steering and the steering box is short, at just over three turns of the wheel lock to lock. Besides, the Super Duty was never intended as a city runabout – not outside of the US, anyway!
Performance and towing
Rather, the Super Duty was built to work and especially to tow – something it does exceedingly well, with either a conventional or fifth-wheel/gooseneck trailer.
Even with close to four tonnes out the back and with a towball weight of 360kg, the F-350’s rear wheels still broke traction under acceleration on a dry road on occasions. That was only with some over-zealous throttle application and quickly arrested by the traction control, but it highlights the impressive physics as work here.
Ford says its 6.7-litre Power Stroke turbo-diesel V8 is good for 450hp and 935lb-ft of torque (or 335kW/1268Nm), and it’s that immense torque that delivers effortless towing. The grunt simply laps up the load, and even for the climb up Pentland Hills towards Ballarat the Super Duty was barely breaking a sweat.
On this protracted climb the transmission simply dropped from sixth to fifth while the revs hovered around 2000rpm, all while pushing up the incline at a steady 100km/h. Even sharp climbs present no problem, with fourth gear devouring the challenge without a worry and with no loss of pace, and on the flat the beast lopes along at 100km/h at a relaxed 1500rpm in sixth gear.
The V8 is wonderfully smooth and virtually free of vibration, while the excellent noise suppression eliminates all but the deep growl of the engine under load. It’s a stirring note, one that underlines this vehicle’s serious capability…
Further easing the strain is an array of towing features. Engaging tow/haul mode (at the press of a button) alters the transmission’s shift points for more effective progress under load, while an arsenal of external cameras provides a variety of views on the touchscreen for easy maneuvering – a big help, especially when hooking up a trailer.
The blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems can be tailored to encompass a trailer’s dimensions, while the large side mirrors (also with truck-style spot mirrors) can extend at the push of a button for towing duty.
The vehicle’s service brakes are complemented by an exhaust brake, which helps slow the show while taking some load (and wear) off the Super Duty’s disc brakes.
Our test vehicle’s rear tub has a durable spray-in liner and features LED lighting, eight tie-down points, and a fold-down access step. It measures 1282mm between the wheel arches, so it’s big enough to accept a standard Australian pallet.
Fuel economy and servicing
Of course, you don’t buy a Super Duty and then complain about fuel economy – a crime akin to moving next to an airport and complaining about the noise… Over the course of our 400km journey, all bar 5km of which had that caravan in tow, we averaged 25.6L/100km.
That gave a safe range of somewhere approaching 500km from the 128-litre tank, and didn’t seem overtly excessive for the weight and performance involved. There’s an AdBlue tank too, as the truck uses a selective catalytic reduction system to help it achieve emissions compliance.
Harrison F-Trucks offers its own capped-price servicing scheme for its F-Series models, with intervals of 12 months or 10,000km and the scheme covering up to a total of 130,000km. Over that period, the service costs average out at just over $800 per year.
Heading off-road? This F-350 has a dual-range transfer case with an electronic locking rear differential and manual locking front hubs. It’s all handy stuff for when towing in instances of low traction – like when hauling a boat up a wet boat ramp or a big horse float over muddy ground. Hill descent control is also included, and our test vehicle was also fitted with a bank of switches for auxiliaries like a winch, driving lights and so on.
Safety, long an afterthought in light commercials until recent years, is addressed thoroughly in this F-350. Basics like stability control and antilock brakes are complemented by six airbags, in addition to trailer sway control, tyre pressure monitoring and a host of already-mentioned safety technologies.
For long-haul towing this truck is simply a very pleasant place to be. It’s comfortable and roomy, and its high ride height and quality mirrors afford excellent all-round vision. The Power Stroke V8 takes the strain out of towing while adaptive cruise and a host of creature comforts make for supremely easy mile munching – all safe in the knowledge there’s a phalanx of passive and active safety system keeping occupants from harm’s way.
Yes, you could buy two to three standard Australian dual-cab utes for the same money as this F-350 Platinum Crewcab – and you can spend thousands less on Super Duties in lower trim grades – but for towing major loads in complete comfort this quality conversion is very hard to beat.
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