Review: 2023 Ford F-Series Super Duty
Twenty-five years ago Ford Motor Company split its light-duty and heavy-duty F-Series pickups into two separate platforms and the Super Duty was born. (The name was first used for a Ford pickup engine in 1958.) Since then, the Super Duty has minted money for FoMoCo, exploding in popularity not only among individual customers but particularly in fleets. Ford points to the Super Duty’s massive presence in construction, forestry, utilities, mining, and other industries where heavy-duty pickups and chassis cabs are as common as hard hats.
Neither GM nor Ram come close to Ford’s penetration of these markets. In economic terms, Ford Super Duty makes its own weather, generating more revenue, Ford boasts, than many Fortune 500 companies.
Ford calls the revamped 2023 Super Duty “all-new,” but it’s better described as a refreshed body with a ton of new software stuffed inside it, including a 5G modem. Okay, that’s an oversimplification, because the Super Duty also offers new versions of its existing gasoline and diesel engines, wider availability of off-road hardware, and more convenient bed access thanks to new bumper steps and a kick-down, two-step ladder just ahead of the rear wheels.
The light touch is understandable. Since its last major redesign—for the 2017 model year, when the Super Duty received a stouter frame and the aluminum body panels pioneered by the F-150—Ford’s big, handsome brute has been an extraordinarily capable machine. Blue Oval engineers and product planners obsessively track real-world usage of their cash cow, though, so they found plenty of opportunities to tweak.
On the software side, the Super Duty has new towing tricks, and Ford is making it easier for third-party upfitters—the folks who transform a raw chassis cab into specific work vehicles—to integrate their equipment with the truck’s software suite. And Pro Power Onboard, a new $985 option, provides 2.0 kilowatts of power inside the truck and in the cargo bed.
The exterior styling changes to the Super Duty are so subtle, Ford publicists created a series of short videos with a 2022 Lariat model morphing into a 2023 Lariat, demonstrating that most changes are to grilles, headlamps and taillamps, door handles, and tailgate badging and trim. From the front, the trademark “C-clamp” LED headlamps are more pronounced (LED headlamps are newly available on all trims), and the front view is a more uniformly horizontal stack of five sections: the air dam, topped by the bumper, two wide chrome rectangles, and the leading edge of the new hood stamping, which spills down a bit farther than before. Tidy.
From the side, note the aforementioned kick-down step to access the bed; the cleaner door handle recesses; and the more elongated “F250” badging in the front fender vents. From the rear, the tailgate’s S U P E R D U T Y lettering and blue oval badge are slightly lower.
Heavy-duty trucks are all about towing and payload, of course, and Ford is eager to point out that the Super Duty now can carry as much as 8000 pounds and tow up to 40,000 pounds, at the extreme ends of the mind-boggling specifications chart. During a media event at Ford’s bucolic proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, some 40 miles north of Detroit, company operatives set up a series of exercises in a parking lot to demonstrate features, all of which rely on cameras, that ease the towing burden.
First off, I tested Pro Trailer Hitch Assist: remove foot from accelerator and hands from the steering wheel, press a button on the instrument panel, and watch the display screen as the truck automatically backs itself up toward trailer, perfectly positioning hitch ball under trailer coupler. Magic!
Next up was an improved version of Pro Trailer Backup Assist: hands off the wheel, twist a knob to reverse the truck and guide trailer, shown on the truck’s display screen, slowly but surely rearward. And finally, Ford had erected a raised platform to replicate a loading dock and demonstrate its new tailgate camera. Flip down the tailgate (power operated on the top three trim levels) and a camera and sensors in the top of it face backward, allowing you to back right up to a loading dock…or to align hitches on 5th-wheel and gooseneck trailers. It works as advertised; no spotter needed.
As with the outgoing 2022 lineup, the Super Duty cabin can be a work truck, as seen in the XL, which starts at $45,865, and the XLT, at $52,000. The popular mid-trim Lariat model, starting at $63,305, is the sweet spot for many buyers and is the point where the high-tech 12-inch center display screen becomes standard. The upper half of the lineup, abundantly represented by the test vehicles Ford had on hand at Romeo, is comprised of the King Ranch (starting at $77,870), Platinum ($78,760), and Limited ($97,990), all of which offer ascending degrees of leather-lined luxury. The Limited’s quilted leather interior suggests Mercedes-Benz S-class cabins.
That display screen is the all-important driver command center not just for the usual telematics but also for towing applications and customizable settings for upfitters, via the new Ford Pro Upfit Integration System, which digitally connects the truck to aftermarket equipment. For example, a Super Duty with a snowplow on the front and a salt spreader on the rear can be set up so that each piece of equipment is easily programmed by the driver with a few touches of the display screen to, say, stop spreading salt when the vehicle comes to a halt. Upfitters no longer have to reverse-engineer the Ford electrical system; it’s simple plug-and-play.
Specs: 2023 Ford Super Duty
- Price range: $45,865 (XL) to $97,990 (Limited), including destination
- Powertrains: 6.8- and 7.3-liter gas, 6.7-liter regular and high-output turbodiesel, 10-speed automatic transmission
- Output range: 405 to 500 hp, 445 to 1200 lb-ft
- Layout: Two- or four-door body-on-frame pickup truck
- Maximum towing: 40,000 lbs
- Payload: 8000 lbs
- Rivals: Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD, Ram 2500
The new 6.8-liter gasoline V-8, with 405 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque, is a short-stroke version of the existing 7.8-liter V-8 and a value play for lower trims. The 7.8-liter bumps output to 430 hp/485 lb-ft and is a worthwhile $1705 upgrade for most personal-use buyers. The 6.7-liter PowerStroke diesel, at 475 hp and 1050 lb-ft of torque, is a longtime favorite of the towing crowd and costs $9995. New this year is a high-output version making 500 hp and 1200 lb-ft of torque, made possible by an upgraded fuel system and a stainless steel exhaust manifold to better handle higher operating temperatures. The high-output PowerStroke costs a cool $12,495.
When I wheeled an F-250 Platinum with the new diesel (cued by red “6.7L” fender script) onto the country roads outside the proving grounds, I was immediately struck by the quietness and refinement of the powertrain. The Super Duty cabin is super quiet. The real revelation comes at about 50 mph: hit the go pedal and the acceleration to 80 mph is stunning, the 10-speed automatic transmission ripping smoothly up the gears. For a few seconds, you might think you’re driving a sports car, not a 7000-lb truck riding high above the tarmac. Later, I drove an F-250 Lariat with the bigger gasoline engine and, with no payload or trailer, it also sailed down a two-lane with ease.
Back inside the proving ground, I climbed behind the wheel of a F-350 Crew Cab King Ranch equipped with the high-output PowerStroke. A 36-foot enclosed fifth-wheel trailer loaded with enough ballast to reach 30,000 lbs was attached to the bed. With surprisingly little effort, the long rig ascended steep hills, although there was no forgetting that there was 15 tons of trailer tagging behind. On cue, the cooling fans kicked in. During the downhill portions, the engine braking was effective, reassuringly scrubbing speed.
Finally, it was time to check out the Super Duty’s off-road chops. A new, relatively modest off-road package is available for the entry-level XL trim on F-250 and F-350, offering 33-inch tires, skid plates, and an electronic locking rear differential, but I went straight for a King Ranch with the Tremor off-road package. As before, Tremor includes a front-end lift, a Dana front axle, 35-inch Goodyears, and selectable drive modes. This year, Tremor boasts Trail Turn Assist and newly tuned dampers, and the front and rear camera views, which used to extinguish over 25 mph during off-roading, now stay on at higher speeds. Shades of F-150 Raptor, anyone?
With a few careful applications of throttle and a spotter directing me, the big truck crawled up a steep hill strewn with boulders, each rock coming into view on the center screen as we lurched upward. Then I bounded merrily along rutted trails, up sandy hills, through tight, boggy corners. The Tremor’d truck simply shrugged, as if to say, “is that all you’ve got?” Later, in a muddy field, I pirouetted around a pole thanks to the Trail Turn Assist feature. Dial the steering wheel to the left, the left rear wheel brakes, and you’re pivoting around that braking tire. Fun!
As noted, Ford practically has a cultural anthropology perspective on the Super Duty and its use in the real world, particularly in the trades. What works for the miner, the farmer, the forest service worker, the utility line worker, and the commercial fleet manager, Ford figures, also works for the weekend recreational user who tows a boat or camper trailer, just with additional creature comforts on top.
2023 Ford F-Series Super Duty
Highs: A model and specification for every possible purpose; a remarkable balance between everyday usability and towing and off-road capabilities; beautifully integrated powertrains; an unfailing sense that you are part of the American cultural landscape when you’re behind the wheel.
Lows: Huge, heavy, expensive; diesel fuel isn’t cheap.
Takeaway: If you need, or simply want, the capability of a heavy-duty truck, Ford has perfected the formula.