In the wide world of pickup trucks, buyers often croon over sayings like “best payload”, “most torque”, and “highest towing in its class”. All the Big 3 truck automakers are equally guilty of increasing these numbers on a seemingly year-over-year basis just to one-up each other, but how much is really too much in this heated battle? If these numbers really do sell trucks, then Ford just one-upped everyone and everything on the market with their latest 2020 Super Duty. It has – counts them all – over 20 “best in class” features.
That’s great and all, but I like to think in terms of the real world. I, like many of you, tow trailers, haul “stuff” in the bed, haul people in crew cab comfiness, and put those power and torque numbers to good use. So, Ford has unleashed their 2020 Super Duty lineup with a whole host of performance upgrades, including their all-new 3rd generation 6.7L Power Stroke diesel engine (class-leading 475 hp and 1050 lb.-ft. of torque), all-new 10-speed Torqshift automatic transmission, all-new gas engine that displaces 7.3L in a traditional V8 layout (class-leading 430 hp and 475 lb.-ft. of torque), and many other strengthening and performance upgrades under the skin of the truck.
There is also an all-new, off-road savvy version of the Super Duty named the “Tremor”, which has specific features all its own (more on that in a minute…). Ford has done little to the exterior, save for a moderate headlight and taillight redesign. Same with the interior which received simple material changes throughout. With the primary focus on all the parts that truly make this truck go, how does it all come together and perform in the real world?
Like it or not, most of today’s trucks are daily drivers rather than workhorses and rarely pull trailers and heavy loads. Ford has gone through extensive testing to make sure you stay just as comfortable with the truck unloaded as you would be towing a massive trailer. Both the inside and outside include features to do just this.
Starting with the cabin, we were able to test out the mostly carried over interior through a variety of city streets and open freeways. In our Platinum trim level Power Stroke diesel-equipped tester, the drive was comfortable and easy. If you’ve looked at a Ford Super Duty in the past 3 years, this 2020 will feel very familiar on the inside. There is plenty of storage for all of your necessities with large glove boxes for the passenger and a big center console for the driver. While this is commonplace nowadays, I find all the little storage areas in the doors and side center console to be very handy. My truck, which is from the earlier part of this decade, doesn’t have those creature comforts and I miss the handy storage pockets every time I hop into the driver’s seat in mine.
The dash layout is very clean and easy to use with just the right amount of buttons. The SYNC system though despite the features it offers feels dated and honestly, small and lacks the pizzaz of the 12-inch screen that adorns the Ram’s dash. It is a cause for concern especially if you’re opting for the higher trims as you will likely breach the six-figure mark for the top trims.
The back seats lift up to reveal a compartmentalized system for storage in the back, making all of your grocery and organizational needs easy. The back seats are comfortable for long trips, too, no matter which trim you opt for. Of note, those massaging seats in the front were, er, comfortable? I’m not really fond of this feature in the truck and find the regular seats to be plenty of comfortable and supportive for long drives, but I suppose some people “need it all”.
Though, it’s not all about the technology packed into the truck. Like most of you, I spend many an hour behind the wheel of trucks towing trailers and relying on them to do the “dirty work”, i.e. make sure that we are holding a steady 70 mph up the next 6% grade. While having a powerful engine is important, the general interior layout of the Ford provides you with the comfort and convenience for all of those long drives. The steering feel is also a highlight – it is very steady on center and doesn’t wander on you. The robust steering rack is very precise in every situation.
One thing that I always notice about Ford trucks is how well you can see out of them. The front bulges in the hood really don’t impede your outward view, and I still find the front, side windows and the drop in the door to be handy when looking at the mirrors and getting a clear view of what’s behind the truck.
While fuel economy is important in every driving situation, it is more important for those of us who are using our trucks as commuter vehicles. In a normal driving situation over 105.3 miles, I averaged 21.1 mpg with the new third-generation Power Stroke diesel engine. For a truck that was barely broken in at 1840 miles, the number was impressive! Credit the more efficient fuel system on this new third-generation diesel engine, along with the very intelligent 10-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain combo is really hard to beat in the segment with very smooth and quiet driving dynamics. To compare, we weren’t able to do fuel mileage runs with the 7.3 gasser, but it’s almost certainly not near as frugal.
Full disclosure: I love a great off-road truck. And when you think of an off-road Ford, the Raptor is what comes to mind. So it was only natural, the off-road prowess extends to the bigger trucks. The philosophy behind the Tremor dictates that off-road capable or not, the Super Duties must retain their hauling capability. Even though the Tremor looks like a well-executed aftermarket job, all its components are straight from the factory.
The Tremor package is offered on the 2020 Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks in the following trim levels: XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum. The items that make the Tremor a true off-road worthy truck are the factory front suspension lift kit, 35” Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires mounted on matte black 18” wheels, progressive-rate springs, 1.7” piston twin-tube dampers, Raptor-style fixed running boards, Trail Control with a new rock crawl mode, locking rear differential with electronic shift-on-the-fly engagement, a Dana limited-slip front differential, and two crawl ratios based on your engine choice – 53:1 for trucks with the 7.3L gas engine and 44:1 with the Power Stroke diesel engine.
Besides all of those Tremor-specific features, the towing capacity remains unaltered with the maximum conventional towing rated at 15,000 lbs. Maximum gooseneck towing ticks the scales at 21,900 lbs. And, just to make sure you can still haul the pallet of block home from Lowe’s, the maximum payload rating is 4210 lbs with the new 7.3L engine, also known as Godzilla. To answer your question, yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Numbers Are Great But How Does It Perform In The real World?
Contrary to what most manufacturers do on these test drives, Ford set up a proper off-road course filled with mud pits, steep climbs, equally steep descents, rock gardens, water holes, and fast-paced uphills. I’ll cut to the chase – the Tremor eats it all up! Coming from a guy who has cut his teeth in the dunes and deserts for years, this truck is truly capable in all environments listed above. If you’re going to be towing your trailer out to your local trails or dunes, this truck has the capability that you need to tow the trailer and still have enough leftover grunt to get everyone else unstuck when you get there.
The traction from the Goodyear tires was impressive. Credit the 35”, wide diameter of these tires for great rollover in even the toughest rock gardens on this course. In addition, the standard ground clearance is quite impressive too. If you’re looking into buying a Tremor and trying to decide between the Power Stroke or the 7.3 gasoline engine, here’s something to help you make the all-important decision a bit easier.
If you will tow with the Tremor, go with the Power Stroke, all day. It’ll be a huge payoff. But if your towing needs are limited and you intend to stick with hauling/towing occasionally and use this truck primarily for family hauling and the weekend off-road getaways, the 7.3 is an excellent choice. You’ll notice how much lighter the gas engine is when on the trails, something that really helps true off-road enthusiasts get “up and over” the obstacles.
One last point: the transmission gear ratios in this 10 speed are truly off-road capable. 4-low creeps and crawls with limited throttle input, giving you pretty darn good control over the obstacles. And, when the going gets tough and the trail ahead requires your undivided attention, Crawl Control does make life easier behind the wheel. Think of it as an off-road cruise control system that lets you ‘cruise’ off-road between 1 and 20mph. The system easily activates via a button on the dash and comes in very handy on steep descents where the brakes automatically control your speed.
Would I recommend the Tremor? Absolutely. I like to take the occasional off-road trip in my truck when I get to my favorite recreational spot. If you own motorcycles, ATVs, or UTVs, you know the feeling. The fact that the Tremor retains so much of the hauling and towing capability of a traditional Super Duty, yet still has the off-road chops to handle pretty much anything you throw at it, means that Ford is going to be selling a lot of these trucks.
Do you need to haul up to 37,000 lbs with a gooseneck trailer? Or, what about enjoying a maximum payload capacity of 7850 lbs? Finally, how about the most power out of a diesel in the pickup market with 475 horsepower and 1050 lb.-ft. of torque?! Seems like Ford knew exactly waht it wanted in the 2020 Super Duty redesign.
We were able to sample nearly every combination of F-250, F-350, and F-450 trucks with different trailers, including goosenecks, fifth wheels, and conventional bumper pulls. Plus, the 7.3L gas engine and Power Stroke diesel engine were scattered amongst the different setups. The question is, which one is best and why?
If you will be towing large trailers consistently and straining your truck, there is no question that the Power Stroke diesel should be your engine of choice. In all the trucks we sampled, it really didn’t matter what trailer was behind the truck if you had the Power Stroke under the hood.
The diesel has no issues pulling a heavy load up a steep hill. The all-new 10-speed automatic transmission is a work of art when towing, too. It has an occasional hard-ish downshift when the load is heavy behind the truck, but, otherwise; it is buttery smooth and plenty up to towing maximum numbers. Plus, the diesel is just plain quiet in the Ford and a pleasure to drive with consistent, smooth power delivery and seemingly endless torque.
Even the F-450 loaded down at near-maximum towing capacity (remember, it can tow a gooseneck trailer weighing a total of 37,000 lbs!), the truck still maintained a 45 mph speed up a grade that measured around 6%. That’s quite incredible. Plus, if you need to tow a big load consistently, look into the F-450 with its better turning radius slightly different front end, larger rear axle, and several other purposeful additions. It’s a beast and always up for your towing task! Then there’s the all-new gas engine from Ford, better known as the 7.3L pushrod V8. Right from the get-go, I enjoyed this engine because of its proper V8 sound. The exhaust is muted, but it still sounds like a good ol’ fashion V8 should – burly and strong.
Mated to the excellent 10-speed automatic (this is the only transmission available with these 2 engine options), the 7.3L had no problem towing a near maxed-out load up the steep grade, but it wasn’t nearly as fluid and seamless as the diesel. The engine does feel light while driving but as we said before, if towing is your primary concern, stick to the diesel. With that being said, this larger V8 is the way to go if you’re set on a gas engine and are picking between the 6.2L and the 7.3L options. Even with the 7.3L, you can still tow up to 21,200 pounds with either a bumper pull trailer, fifth-wheel, or gooseneck on the F-350 platform.
Back It Up A Bit
I’ve been backing up trailers since I was a kid and never thought an electronic system would ever be useful. But I’m happy to be proven wrong. The Pro Trailer Backup Assist system is really a well-engineered product for anyone who isn’t comfortable or used to backing up trailers. The engineers have simplified the system so setup is more straightforward than previous iterations. Once set up, a dial on the dash is all it takes for the system to practically park the truck and trailer for you. It steers the vehicle into place while you, the driver, operate the pedals.
I found the system very easy and effective to use. When you couple this feature with all the different camera views that the top trim levels include nowadays, there really isn’t a spot that you can’t see when backing up a trailer. An experienced driver will probably not use the system but it is an effective way to help someone learn the essentials of trailer parking and make progress towards parking the behemoths unassisted.
Oh, and that’s not all, you can also hook up rear view cameras on the trailer itself to extend your field of view and see what is directly behind your trailer. This is one of the latest and greatest features to hit the truck market. If you tow regularly with the same trailer, consider investing in one of these secondary cameras that mount to your trailer.
Verdict: 2020 Ford Super Duty First Drive
For the 2020 Super Duty, Ford’s primary focus was clearly on upgrading the powertrain and towing capability above all else. And I have to say that it has worked. These new trucks are extremely confident going down the road towing at maximum capacities. Plus, if you like to tow big rigs consistently, the new Power Stroke diesel should be your engine of choice as it not only offers over 1000 lb-ft of torque, it also the more frugal engine of the three. The functional but rather joyless cabin is the only shortcoming of an otherwise great truck. The Super Duty just does it all, and we would be happy driving one of these highly capable trucks every day.