Ford F350 Super Duty review

The gleaming snout of the latest Ford F350 Super Duty certainly makes a statement. What that statement means, however, may vary depending on your outlook on life. On the one hand it says you’re a tough off-roading type who likes to haul heavy loads. On the other hand it says you believe in polygamy, that climate change is a communist conspiracy and that the world is only 6000 years old.

Regardless of the redneck image, one thing the big Effie has got in spades is grunt; 440 diesel V8 horses and 1100Nm of torque. Good thing it does; as it can also take a payload of 3.5-tonne and tow a whopping 6804kg on the hook, or 7575kg as a fifth-wheeler (properly braked).

The Super Duty gracing these pages is a Harrison F-truck. These are converted and made compliant for the Australian market by Vehicle Development Corporation (VDC) based in Coolaroo on Melbourne’s northern outskirts. VDC has a strong relationship with Ford in the ’States and is registered with the company’s Export and Growth Division. The connection between VDC and Ford USA also includes QVM Certification, which is generally used for vehicle conversions like limos, hearses and ambulances. In short, QVM means that Ford reckons you’re up to the job of fiddling with their stuff and not making them look too bad.

NEAT JOB

This Aussie-converted F350 Super Duty is quite a neat job. There are only a couple of tell-tale signs of the F-truck’s left-hand drive origins. The first is the key pad for unlocking the driver’s door which remains on the left door. The other hint is the vanity mirror in the driver’s side sun visor. The most obvious sign, however, is the slightly cramped driver’s foot well.

The firewall protrudes marginally to cater for all of the componentry located on the hot side of the engine; not ideal for right-hand drive. The truck is such a behemoth, though, that you’d have to be a pretty big individual for it to be an issue. To help address this, 2015 models will gain an extra 50mm in the footwell. Airbag discharge angles have also been modified to suit right-hand drive. To back it all up, all converted F-trucks have been crash tested to ensure they maintain their crash safety integrity.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

We recently had the keys to a 2014 F350 Super Duty 4x4 for a week. This not only meant spanking a 6.6-metre long 2.2-metre-wide truck off-road, but dealing with it in supermarket car parks, fast food drive-throughs and urban and country roads. You know what? It’s surprisingly easier to manoeuvre than it looks.

The 2014 models have 400hp rather than the 2015 model’s 440hp, however torque remains the same. Most updated features for 2015 revolve around developments in the conversion process that improve functionality.

The 6.7-litre Powerstroke V8 diesel is a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit. This means it uses a Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), or AdBlue, to satisfy US EPA 13 emissions standards (Australian emission levels are still back at the equivalent of EPA 07). It may look like a rainforest-killing giant, but it runs cleaner than most other diesel vehicles on the Australian market. How much AdBlue you use depends on how hard the truck is working, but the accepted wisdom is around four per cent of diesel burn. SCR engines do their most fuel efficient work at highway speeds when under load. A six-speed torque converter automatic is the only transmission option.

This test truck was a top-of-the-line Platinum model which meant it was climate-controlled, leather-equipped, sat-nav controlled, sun roof fitted and had rather fetching alloy wheels all-round. So when I parked my butt in the driver’s seat and slotted the key into the ignition the big leather couch rolled forward electronically and wedged my man-boobs up against the steering wheel. This was great and meant everything was within reach. It also meant I wasn’t going to have to burn any valuable calories reaching for the radio or climate control buttons.

SNACK ATTACK

The massive centre console appears to have been designed to swallow an entire bucket of chicken, and the cup holders pull out to reveal another cavernous compartment designed to hold two 7-11 Big Gulp cups. No good can come from ingesting that amount of chicken and soft drink. Paradoxically, the glove box is tiny and would be lucky to hold a couple of CDs.

On the road the F350 is akin to driving a bob-tail prime mover. It feels, looks, and is large. The gratifying rumble emanating from the cool dual-chrome exhaust tips puts a hell of a smile on your dial if you plant the foot – you can feel all of that torque tearing at the road and legal speeds are reached quickly. When empty, however, the ride feels very much like the chunky, empty load lugger it is. Some close attention to wheel and tyre specification would probably help out in this department.

A big truck like this is built to carry, or tow, a load. So, we hooked a tandem car trailer up behind the F-Truck and loaded up my beloved Valiant, before heading to the countryside. Given the F-350’s prodigious towing capabilities, hooking a couple of tonne behind it didn’t tax the driveline much at all.

TOWING BIG

Within minutes of leaving home, with my precious cargo in tow, it seemed as if the Effie forgot the load was even there. In fact, it drove better with the trailer on the back. So much so that I had to stop and tie down the Val twice on my 200km trip as the big truck handled the rough country roads with deceptive ease.

The Super Duty plants itself on the road and is very stable at speed. I even overtook a couple of dawdling caravans and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t smiling when I did it.

A tow switch, on the transmission gear selector, adjusts shift points in the Torqshift auto. Most of the time, with such a modest load behind, this didn’t make a great deal of difference. It was very handy, however, when braking as it prompted early down changes which provided some engine braking effect.

The Super Duty does have shift-on-the-go-4x4 with a two-speed transfer case. With that grunt it does have the potential to handle itself in the rough stuff. But it’s big and heavy and with a long wheelbase it’s not the most manoeuvrable thing in the bush.

Traction on slippery surfaces including sand and mud is excellent, though. It’s more an Outback cruiser than a rock-hopping bruiser. As a heavy-tow vehicle it’s a cracker and it’ll seat five adults in comfort. While an F-truck mightn’t be cheap, a high spec Land Cruiser is pretty close to the same price – depending on spec. It’s a great option for hauling 5th wheelers, big boats or even buckets of fried chicken.

DOESN’T IT DRINK?

You might think that a truck of this size would have a prohibitive thirst when it comes to fuel. In fact, the glares of contempt I was getting from people driving hybrids started to become very disconcerting. My combined fuel average when empty, however, was 13.8L/100km and only 15.5L/100km when towing. Considering the size of the beast, that compares pretty favourably with a lot of mass-market dual-cab 4x4s on the Aussie market. 

Photos by Matt Wood & Andrew Britten

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