Trailer towing is a big deal for some pickup-truck owners, and Ford says its next-generation 2017-model SuperDuty pickups are more capable than ever. Tow ratings have gone up and weight has come down, as we’ve previously reported.
Ford showed reporters how good the new SuperDuties are at a demonstration in and near Denver in late July. Three “waves” of magazine writers, including me, traveled to the Mile High City (it’s official altitude really is 5,280 feet, but you probably knew that) to experience the new trucks. We got to pull several types of trailers with pre-production F-250, 350 and 450 pickups.
The heftiest trailer was a Gladiator Load Max gooseneck utility, loaded with eight pallets of concrete blocks and decorative limestone. A Ford engineer told us they were very close in weight, one scaling at 29,900 pounds and the other at 29,960 pounds. Each was hitched to an F-450 pickup, whose emphasis is on towing rather than hauling (that’s the F-350’s role), though the 450 will carry a lot, too.
Gross combination weight of this “tractor-trailer” was about 40,000 pounds, the F-450’s former maximum GCW rating. It’s now 41,800 pounds, thanks to higher torque (925 lb-ft, up from 860) of the revised, second-generation PowerStrike diesel. Those of us with commercial driver’s licenses were encouraged to take one for a spin, and I was the first to climb behind the wheel. Three other people, including that Ford engineer, also piled in (raising our GCW closer to the new maximum).
I headed out of the hotel’s parking area and onto wide boulevards that climbed up and down rolling hills in the upscale, hotel and office-populated neighborhood west of Denver. The PowerStroke diesel ably propelled the truck and trailer up the hills, some of them with grades of about 5 and 6%. On downhill stretches, the exhaust brake kept the rig’s speed in check, almost rendering the large disc brakes redundant.
With the Tow/Haul mode switched on, the 6-speed TorqShift transmission automatically downshifted two or three gears to raise engine revs and maximize the exhaust brake’s effectiveness. That happened when I touched the brake pedal, signaling a need for more retardation. It was quite impressive, though competitors’ powertrains can do that, too.
Now, sooner or later every trailer has to be backed up. That can be tricky for drivers who haven’t done it, so Ford now offers a Reverse Guidance system. It displays views of the trailer in the dashboard screen via rearward-facing cameras. Graphic arrows tell a rooky which way to turn the steering wheel to keep the trailer heading where he or she wants it. If the trailer is turning in either direction, colored lines show where it’s going – up a curved driveway, toward a cliff, whatever – like the backup picture in your car’s screen (if you’ve got that).
I appreciate the engineering and graphics design that went into this system. But I found it of little use because over the years I’ve learned to back trailers the old fashioned way, using the mirrors and remembering that swinging the bottom of the steering wheel right or left moves the trailer in the same direction.
For me, there are other, more useful options for the SuperDuty, such as an extra camera placed on the trailer’s rear to see what’s behind the rig – small child, fire hydrant, cop with a citation book, etc.
And there’s a pressure monitoring system for trailer-tires that broadcasts PSI values to an in-cab display. Sensor/transmitters must be installed on the wheels inside the tires for this to work. A contractor might do that on his own trailer’s tires, but not on someone else’s. This is something I’d want to have if I towed regularly.
Competitors have, or are planning, similar features, imitating equipment and capacities of today’s big rigs. In fact, Ford’s publicists referred to the previous 40,000-pound GCW rating as “half an 18-wheeler’s.” Now they can say, “less than half….”