FIRST DRIVE: 2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty draws a new benchmark

Ford heavyweights’ capacity to tackle the tough stuff is even more enhanced

Published: January 20, 2020, 4:00 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Ford F-Series trucks have been the benchmark in the industry for decades – 54 consecutive years in Canada – and it’s apparent the company isn’t about to relinquish its position as top dog in the pickup segment. The latest salvo is a lineup of new Super Duty pickups with more power under the hood, greater payload and towing capability, and a suite of new technologies to help drivers do their jobs more safely and with greater ease of operation.

In Canada this past year, the F-Series was the best-selling vehicle overall in the country for the 10th straight year, posting sales of more than 145,000 trucks. While the bulk of that 2019 total was comprised of F-150 light-duty pickups, about 30,000 sales were Super Duty models (3-quarter-ton and up.) These are the big boys in the business, the ones preferred for larger trailer hauling and tougher assignments as work trucks.

With the improvements built into the new 2020 models, the Super Duty’s capacity to tackle the tough stuff is even more enhanced.

For starters, there are two new engines to provide the grunt these types of truck owners expect. An all-new 7.3-litre, gas-fuelled V-8 cranks out 430 horsepower (at 5,500 rpm) and 475 lb-ft of torque (at 4,000 revs) – the best output and torque in its gas-fuelled class. This engine, built in Windsor, Ont., has a beefy bottom end with large, 4-bolt main bearings that are cross-bolted in its cast-iron block, plus a durable forged-steel crankshaft, all in a very compact package. Its cam-in-block and overhead valve architecture, with port fuel injection and two valves per cylinder, generates lots of power low in the rev range to help get heavier loads moving with confidence. It also features a variable-displacement oil pump and piston cooling jets to help manage temperatures under heavy load.

“The 7.3-litre is designed for maximum durability in the harshest environments, given that our customers live and work in these conditions every day,” says Joel Beltramo, Ford manager for gas V-8 engines. “This engine has the largest displacement in its class and is designed to provide benefits in key areas like power, durability, ease of maintenance and total operating costs.”

2020 Ford F Series - New engines

The 7.3-litre V-8, which will be available first in Super Duty F-250 and F-350 pickup models, joins the base workhorse, the 6.2-litre V-8 gas engine (385 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 430 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 revs), in the Super Duty lineup.

The other new engine offering is an upgraded third-generation 6.7-litre Power Stroke diesel V-8. It features a redesigned, electronic-actuated, variable-geometry turbocharger and a new high-pressure (36,000-psi) fuel injection system with all-new injectors that precisely meter and spray up to eight times per stroke to control noise levels and optimize combustion. It’s so effective, I could barely hear the engine working, even under heavy load.

Structural enhancements have increased the strength of the aluminum cylinder heads, the compacted graphite block, connecting rods and bearings to handle the higher cylinder pressure and increased output. New steel pistons provide higher firing pressure capability and less friction, helping to improve performance. The Power Stroke V-8’s diesel power output is best in class, delivering 475 horsepower at a low 2,800 rpm and 1,050 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque at just 1,600 revs.

Ford is also introducing a new 10-speed TorqShift automatic transmission that is available with all three Super Duty engines. (The 6.2L gas V-8 comes standard in the F-250 XL and XLT trim levels with the carried-over 6-speed TorqShift automatic with double overdrive; Lariat trims and higher get the 7.3L V-8 with the 10-speed automatic.) The new, electronically controlled, 10-speed TorqShift has a wider gear ratio span with three overdrive gears and features five drive modes that can be selected on the go: normal, tow/haul, eco, slippery and deep sand/snow. This transmission is so compact it actually fits in the same space as the 6-speed unit and weighs just an additional 1.4 kilograms.

The new transmission also offers an available, class-exclusive, live-drive power takeoff that can engage industrial equipment and accessories, such as snowploughs, with the truck in motion. This provision can deliver up to 300 lb-ft of torque when paired with the 6.7L diesel –a best-in-class capability.

I had the opportunity to drive the new 7.3L gas engine and the upgraded 6.7L diesel during this media launch and suffice to say neither engine was lacking in grunt. Both cruised quietly on the open road, seeming to exert little effort when asked to climb steep grades or accelerate into the traffic flow. Hitch up a trailer and tackle a mountain climb – no problem. I hauled a 3,356-kg travel trailer with the 7.3L gas engine and it met the challenge with ease. Likewise, the 6.7L diesel hardly broke a sweat when asked to drag a 4,263-kg car hauler up the same route. The power output in both engines was impressive, although I’d probably prefer the diesel for towing.

Cosmetic changes to the 2020 Ford F Series

It should be noted the new 10-speed automatic transmission worked flawlessly. In fact, an engineer asked me after the drive if I’d liked the way the transmission worked. My answer: “I didn’t even notice it.” It was exactly what he wanted to hear – the transmission was simply doing its job in the background, its shifts were seamless, and it never had an issue picking the appropriate gear, whether the truck was hauling a load or just cruising.

Cosmetically, there are some obvious changes to the Super Duty’s exterior and interior. The front fascia has been redesigned, including a new bumper and air dam that optimize cooling and improve access to the utility hooks; the LED headlamps have been reworked to improve performance and the grille designs have been freshened. In back, the tailgate, taillights and rear bumper have been reworked. The assortment of wheel offerings is new as well.

Inside the spacious cabin, new materials, colours and trim have been added, including the Limited model, which features new leather coverings, a new Miko suede headliner, a coarse ash wood in black and modern brushed aluminum trim. There’s decorative stitching on the leather-wrapped instrument panel topper, wrapped door armrests, seating and centre console lid, and an embroidered Super Duty logo added to the floor mats. On the Lariat, decorative appliques on the doors and media bin door have been updated, while these pieces on the Platinum edition get Onyx Argento wood.

The cabin is a nicely appointed, comfortable place to work or take the family for weekend play. The higher trim levels are especially. Most noticeable, however, was the level of quietness in the cabin, regardless of the trim level. Even with the diesel, there was minimal noise intruding from the engine bay or the road, although I did notice a bit of wind noise during our drive here.

More than work

While the Super Duty is designed to work hard all week, Ford knows some of its customers also like to play hard when work is finished. To appeal to those enthusiasts, it has introduced the Tremor off-road package featuring new hardware and technologies. It’s a more aggressive, off-road-capable package than the FX4 package, yet not the extreme set-up of the F-150 Raptor, and it’s available on XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum F-250 and F-350 4x4 single-rear-wheel SuperCrew trucks with the 6.75-foot box and powered by the 7.3L gas V-8 or 6.7L diesel V-8. (F-250 models also require the high-capacity trailer tow package.)

“A growing number of Super Duty customers use their trucks for more than work. They’re fishing, camping and towing boats on weekends and they go off-road, so we designed this truck specifically for them – more ground clearance, bigger shocks, bigger tires and more off-road capability,” said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager. “Tremor balances what customers demand in terms of work with what they need in the great outdoors.”

Suspension upgrades include progressive-rate springs that balance heavy-duty towing needs while also controlling body motion on rutted, rock-strewn trails. The rear stabilizer bar is tuned for a lower spring rate, so customers experience less head toss over obstacles during severe suspension articulation, while custom 4.3-cm piston twin-tube dampers work to control body motion. At very low speeds, the shocks are tuned for soft damping, which is dialed up for control over more severe impacts. Internal hydraulic rebound helps soften the blow of the hardest hits.

The Tremor uses a locking rear differential with electronic shift-on-the-fly engagement and a new Dana limited-slip front differential. In certain modes, the front axle can sense when a tire has lost traction and uses the brakes to send power to the wheel with traction.

The Tremor rides on massive 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac maximum-traction tires – the largest diameter tires available on a heavy-duty pickup – and are mounted on 18-inch matte-finished black wheels. The tires, combined with a 2-inch front-end lift and shorter air dam, result in 27.4 cm of ground clearance, best-in-class water fording of nearly 84 cm, and the best approach and departure angles of any Super Duty ever – 31.65 degrees and 24.51 degrees, respectively.

Added equipment

Additional hardware includes off-road running boards that tuck up next to the body for damage control, extended axle vent tubes and the same beefy skid plates as fitted to FX4 models. 

Technology features include an additional selectable drive mode – rock crawl. In addition to the  10-speed automatic’s standard five modes normally used for on-road use, this new rock-crawl mode is optimized to operate in 4x4 low with a 53:1 crawl ratio for the 7.3L gas engine or 44:1 for the 6.7L diesel. The Tremor also gets Ford’s Trail Control system, which made its debut on the Raptor and Ranger. It functions in any mode like cruise control for off-road driving.

I was able to put the Tremor’s off-road capabilities to the test over one of the most challenging off-road layouts I’ve ever encountered. Muddy slop, water troughs, massive rock piles, deep ruts, log barriers and steep grades, including a 27-degree monster, were no problem for the Tremor. (Negotiating these obstacles was also a lot of fun.)

Another feature just announced for the Tremor is an available integrated Warn electric winch, the first ever offered on a Super Duty model. The unit, with 5,443 kg of winching power, will be available on gas and diesel-powered Tremor pickups. It can be ordered as a factory-installed option or as a dealer-installed accessory and will be available starting in mid-2020.

The winch, with a high-tensile strength, abrasion-resistant synthetic cable, is mounted behind the steel front bumper and has approved in frontal crash testing. It can be operated by a hand-held wired remote control or a wireless remote control, a class exclusive.

Of course, towing and payload capacity are key components with these classes of trucks, and the 2020 Super Duty doesn’t disappoint, with maximum towing capacity increased across the pickup lineup. The F-250, F-350 and F-450 pickups deliver best-in-class maximum gooseneck towing of up to 16,783 kg, best-in-class maximum fifth-wheel towing of 14,742 kg and best-in-class maximum conventional towing of 10,977 kg – all with the 6.7L diesel – while maximum payload capacity is up to 3,561 kg with the 6.2L gas V-8.

Towing experience

To enhance the towing experience, a class-exclusive Pro Trailer Backup Assist is available. It made me look like a pro as it helped me back a large travel trailer into a tight space. It was also simple to use. After setting up the system for the trailer (an easy operation), I was able to use the reverse camera and a knob, mounted on the instrument panel, instead of the steering wheel to guide the long, gooseneck trailer into the specified space. The trailer reverse guidance system showed the trailer angle and direction on the centre display screen. It also suggested steering corrections as I backed the trailer into position. Ford’s backup assist and reverse guidance technology is the only system that accommodates all trailer types – conventional, fifth-wheel and gooseneck.

Additional technologies and driver assist systems on the new Super Duty trucks include a FordPass Connect embedded 4G LTE modem with Wi-Fi access for up to 10 devices, wireless charging for compatible mobile phones and USB-C ports to power your devices. Standard features (except on the XL trim) include lane-keeping alert, a blind spot system with trailer coverage and pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking. Class-exclusive second-row seat belt pretensioners are standard on all trim levels.

Pricing for the Super Duty lineup starts at $41,859 (plus destination and delivery fees) for the F-250 XL and ranges up to $99,029 for the F-350 Limited edition. If you’re considering a dual rear-wheel model, the F-350 starts at $45,739, while the Limited dually is $100,879. The F-450 lineup ranges from $60,029 for the XL to $104,429 for the Limited.

The 2020 Super Duty trucks, built at Ford’s Kentucky truck plant in Louisville, Kentucky and the assembly plant in Avon Lake, Ohio, are rolling into dealerships now.