For 2005, one of the most versatile of the bunch, the Ford F-Series Super Duty, gets an update designed to keep it near the top of its class. With styles ranging from a two-wheel-drive Regular Cab F-250 with a 5.4-liter V8 to a four-wheel-drive Crew Cab F-350 with a potent PowerStroke diesel engine, the F-Series Super Duty appeals to anyone from the boat-hauling weekender to the 24/7 highway maintenance crew.
At least for now, that is. Because besides its raw capability, which is plentiful, and despite improvements for 2005, there is lots of room for improvement with this Dearborn domestic. Our tester, a four-wheel-drive F-250 SuperCab XLT model stickering for $38,245, featured extremely cheap interior plastics, large interior and exterior panel gaps, an uncomfortable rear seat, and dated styling. Admittedly, buyers in this market are more interested in towing capacity than dash panels, but when the price tag gets up to nearly 40 grand, even the little things start to take on significance.
The subtitle to this story, “Defending the last American stronghold,” may be a bit misleading. “Defending” suggests there is some kind of offense, but besides the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, and GMC Sierra – all of which Ford has been able to step above over the years – there is no competition on the field. That will likely change, as Nissan and Toyota have hinted at their desire to take on the big boys. Should either of these respected imports put on a heavy-duty offense, the F-250’s only strengths, its engines and rigid frame, may not be enough to hold the line.
In an effort to maintain its market position, the 2005 Ford F-250 is being offered with a multitude of improvements over the 2004 model. Among them is a more powerful standard 5.4-liter V8, which now features three valves per cylinder and is rated at 300 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 365 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,750 rpm. That’s a gain of 40 horsepower and 15 lb.-ft. of torque over the old 5.4-liter V8. The optional 6.8-liter V10, also featuring the three-valve design, has an added 52 horsepower and 32 lb.-ft. of torque, for a total of 362 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 457 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. Both of these engines are now available with an optional five-speed, TorqShift automatic transmission, which had previously been reserved for the 6.0-liter PowerStroke diesel engine. Unlike its gas-powered counterparts, the PowerStroke is largely unchanged for 2005, with the exception of an additional 10 lb.-ft. of torque, bringing the total to 570 lb.-ft. at only 2,000 rpm.
Important as they are, the 2005 Ford F-250’s more powerful engines may not be as significant as the truck’s newest optional feature, TowCommand. Billed as the first factory-installed trailer brake system, TowCommand requires the TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission and includes a center-mounted display that allows the driver to increase or decrease trailer brake pressure as necessary. TowCommand is similar to after-market systems that heavy-duty truck drivers have been using for years, but since it’s factory-installed, the Ford F-250’s dash remains free of bolted on hardware with extra wiring stuffed into hard-to-reach places.
That dashboard has been updated in the 2005 Ford F-250, complete with a new instrument panel and gauge cluster. On the outside, keen observers will notice the revised grille and headlights, with new bumpers, badges, and wheels filling out the list of design changes. Hidden from view is a beefier frame that features a fully boxed front section for improved torsional rigidity, while the rest of the 2005 F-250’s backbone is comprised of up to 17-percent thicker steel than was used in the 2004 model. Additional gussets have also been used to maximize frame strength. Connected to that new frame is a front suspension setup that now includes coil springs rather than the leaf springs used in previous F-250 models.
While that new front suspension is aimed at providing better steering feel, the Lariat Luxury package is all about interior comfort. In exchange for $475, buyers get automatic climate control, an automatic dimming interior rearview mirror, a trip computer, steering wheel mounted controls, and a woodgrain appliqué on instrument panel.
From its all-black paint job, including a black stacked grille and bumpers, to the wide wings that were its side mirrors, our four-wheel-drive 2005 Ford F-250 SuperCab XLT tester was nothing less than intimidating. Equally formidable was the $38,245 price tag, which included a $795 destination charge; $600 for the 6.8-liter V10; $1,490 for the five-speed TorqShift automatic transmission; $250 for LT265/70R17 B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires; $120 for adjustable foot pedals; $175 for a 12,500-lb. trailer hitch receiver; $495 for the TowCommand package; and more.
Given that the 2005 Ford F-250’s improvements are focused primarily on the powertrain and chassis, we focused our testing on the truck’s overall ride and engine performance, with a significant amount of time spent towing a Toyota Tacoma weighing roughly 4,000 pounds. Granted, even with the weight of the car trailer thrown in, we were well below our F-250’s 13,500-lb. maximum tow rating, but the weight was sufficient to evaluate the powertrain under load conditions, while also gauging any improvements with the revised steering system and stronger frame. Unfortunately, our rented trailer lacked a hookup for brakes, so we were unable to test the TowCommand feature.
After several miles behind the wheel, both with the towed load and without, we walked away impressed with the 2005 Ford F-250’s capabilities. With the Toyota tagging behind, the 6.8-liter’s 457 lb.-ft. of torque effortlessly pulled the Ford up to highway speeds, and hauled that multi-ton load up steep hills without complaint. Even when the throttle was planted for extra power, the five-speed automatic transmission offered smooth shifts. And despite the extra weight out back, the revised front suspension did indeed result in a more communicative steering feel, something you’re thankful for when piloting such a large rig down the highway at 75 mph. We also enjoyed the stiffened frame, as it resulted in less flex over road irregularities without worsening the ride significantly.
Mitigating the effects of the 2005 Ford F-250’s stiff ride are seats that prove to be comfortable even on long drives, though with an as-tested rating of 5.8 mpg with a trailer (that jumps to a whopping 10.1 mpg without a trailer), this truck’s thirst for fuel may preclude you from any extended highway runs. A large, padded fold-down center armrest is perfectly placed, and a tilt steering wheel and our tester’s optional adjustable foot pedals allowed even our most diminutive editor to find a suitable driving position. The rear fold-up bench remains uncomfortable, with insufficient leg and foot room, hard cushions, and a steeply angled seat back.
Unlike the seats, the dash and instrument panel have been updated for 2005. From an ergonomics perspective, everything is just rosy – radio, heating and air conditioning, and all power controls are within easy reach and are clearly marked. Even the TowCommand buttons are well-placed in the center dash. However, the materials used to construct the dash, as well as those used on the door panels and nearly everywhere else inside the Ford F-250, are of questionable quality. Flexible black plastic is used around the instrument controls, and a different grade of unimpressive plastic is used on the passenger airbag cover. The flimsy door panels are huge, gray, feature-less billboards, and the passenger’s power door switch panel popped off with the slightest provocation.
It was much the same on the outside, where canyon-esque body panel gaps were the norm and the warped edges of that menacing grille were half expected. And then there were the badges, straight from the Built Ford Tough factory, with letters that were already peeling.
But, that was us being silly. Heavy duty trucks are built for getting the hard work done with a limited amount of fuss – there’s no room for little things like material and build quality. Well, at least that’s what a week with the 2005 Ford F-250 would suggest.
From a domestic standpoint, a comparably equipped Dodge Ram offers an extra 45 horsepower, while a GM-badged truck provides up to 2,100 additional pounds of towing capacity and up to 800 pounds of extra payload capacity. Those figures alone merit consideration before you put down tens of thousands of your hard-earned dollars on a 2005 Ford F-250, a vehicle that, despite modest exterior freshening, looks dated and is low-rent in all aspects but its powertrain.
None of that may matter if and when the imports enter the heavy-duty game. Nissan has hinted at development of a heavy-duty pickup, and with the impressive standard engine in the Titan, it’s obvious the company knows how to deliver power. Combine that with improved initial quality, and Nissan could be a formidable adversary to the Ford F-250. And then there’s Toyota, which has the quality covered and needs only focus on more powerful engines. Should these import powerhouses work through the glitches and go heavy-duty, they just might put a gaping hole in Detroit’s last line of defense.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Ford F-250 SuperCab 4x4 XLT
Price as Tested: $38,245
Engine Size and Type: 6.8-liter V10
Engine Horsepower: 362 at 4,750 rpm
Engine Torque: 457 lb.-ft. at 3,250 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 6,042 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy: N/A
Observed Fuel Economy: 10.1 mpg without trailer; 5.8 mpg with trailer
Length: 231.2 inches
Width: 79.9 inches
Wheelbase: 141.8 inches
Height: 79.5 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 40.7/32.4 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 41.4/38.5 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 6
Max. Payload: 2,758 lbs.
Max. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): 8,800 lbs.
Max. Towing Capacity: 12,500 lbs.
Ground Clearance: 7.8 inches
Competitors: Chevrolet Silverardo 2500 Extended Cab 4x4, Dodge Ram Quad Cab 4x4, GMC Sierra 2500 Extended Cab 4x4
2nd Opinion – Wardlaw
Industrial-strength hauling and towing requires an industrial-strength truck, and the Ford F-250 sure feels like it fits the bill to the seat of my pants. From the almost brittle unloaded ride quality to the vast expanses of dull gray plastic inside, the F-250 reeks of a work truck, and I cannot imagine why anyone who doesn’t need to haul as much as 3,200 pounds of cargo or tow a trailer of up to 10,000 pounds might wish to drive a vehicle like this on a daily basis.
Granted, I performed neither task, using the F-250 instead to commute in rain-soaked Los Angeles traffic. Ultimately, my favorite feature of our test truck was the reverse sensing system embedded within the rear bumper, which helped me avoid puncturing the toothy grillework of a late-model Nissan Maxima during parallel parking maneuvers. Also useful was the fact that fellow motorists gave our big, black pickup a wide berth, making it possible for the F-250 to punch holes in traffic the size of Texas. Otherwise, driving the F-250 was more work than pleasure, despite a comfortable perch from which to conduct business.
In a pathetic attempt to evaluate the F-250 from a real trucker’s point of view, it occurs to me that someone wearing work gloves might have trouble using some of the switches and controls inside the F-250’s cabin. Surely, with all that unused acreage on the dashboard, it’s possible to have larger buttons for the stereo, and bigger switches for the power mirrors and the headlights. Parts bin items all, yanked for use from passenger cars and expected to perform double-duty in this monstrous pick-‘em-up.
But with big-rig styling and ultra-cool roof marker lights, who cares about finding the farm report on the AM band? And with a gasoline-fired, 362-horsepower V10 engine under the hood, the F-250 isn’t exactly quick but its 457 lb.-ft. of torque makes it simple to spin the wheels on wet pavement, eliciting stares of disapproval on par with those reserved for rowdy teens blasting Ludacris at ear-bleeding decibels.
When it comes to heavy-duty pickups, you’re either a Dodge family, a Ford family, or a GM family. I possess no in-bred preferences – my Daddy won’t disown me if I buy differently from him. Ask me to rank these trucks according to my soft-bellied, clean-nailed, Gap-attired urban sensibilities, and I’ve gotta put the Ford in the middle slot ahead of the cheaply-outfitted Chevy and GMC, but behind the muscular Dodge. Simply, the Ram looks tough and mean, and let’s face it – if I’m buying something like this for light-duty personal use in L.A., I need its brash design, Hemi or Cummins turbodiesel, and the cachet of a name like “Power Wagon” to overcome my personal inadequacies.
Photos courtest of Erik Hanson