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Quiet ride inside 2008 Ford F-250 masks tough workhorse

Four-wheel drive will get you in trouble, count on it. That's a lesson I've learned over and over and over again.

Four-wheel drive will get you in trouble, count on it. That’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over and over again.

My latest sinking was in the 2008 Ford F-250 4×4 Crew Cab pickup, and all because I wanted some nice off-road pictures. One minute all is fine and, then, wham! I’m as stuck as a cheap pine door on a humid summer day. Well, I did get the pictures – though I doubt that I’ve learned my lesson.

The new Ford Super Duty is a handsome truck, even when it’s all muddy. Mine was dressed in red with a blackout grille, chrome step rail and eight-spoke 20-inch rims (upgraded from 18-inch) – the look says it’s tough, capable and ready to haul.

Ford says 90 per cent of Super Duty buyers tow regularly, just as I did in March when I hauled a four-place snowmobile trailer to Sault St. Marie and back – at a cost of $400 in diesel fuel. Ouch! But that’s the cost of transporting four snowmobiles, four adults, a twin-axle, seven-metre closed trailer and all the assorted gear that goes with a week-long wilderness ride.

On that basis, the Super Duty works well, towing up to 5,670 kg or as much as 7,484 kg when equipped with a fifth wheel hitch.

During the trip, the F-250 cruised confidently and towed the 4,000 kg trailer with minimal effort – even on wet pavement and through a snowstorm. During the 10-hour trip to the Sault, inside, it was the quietest Super Duty yet, a result of better sound-deadening material and a new quieter engine. That 6.4 L diesel is also more powerful, putting out 350 hp and 650 lb.-ft. of torque. The transmission also gets a new fifth gear that barely taxes the engine at 100 km/h.

The front seats were plush leather, power adjustable and heated, while the rear bench folded 60/40 and had a built-in armrest.

An adjustable gas/brake pedal and tilt wheel accommodated drivers of varying sizes and a new centre console offered extra cupholders and an armrest with cavernous storage.

The rear passengers had plenty of room for elbows and knees, and an available DVD entertainment system. Also new this year is a six-CD, AM/FM/SAT Audiophile sound system that offers an MP3 input jack.

More than 80 per cent of Super Duty (F-250 and up) buyers order the turbodiesel – mostly because of the towing capabilities. The new 6.4 L gets a system called Ford Clean Diesel Technology, which cuts CO2 (those nasty greenhouse gases), and eliminates up to 97 per cent of the particulate output, a figure on par with gasoline engines.

Unfortunately, the changes have also driven up the price by $1,500; it’s now an $8,570 option. The gasoline alternative is the base 5.4 L V8 or the optional 6.8 L V10, both of which are reliable engines (unless you are packing on mega-kilometres, you should consider the lower-priced gas alternatives, even though fuel consumption will be higher).

One benefit that stood out on the trip to the Sault was the 6.4 L’s reworked high-pressure common rail fuel injection, which has improved cold-weather starting, in temperatures as low as -20C, with no warm-up time needed and no smoke.

New this year is the FX4 designation available on 4WD SuperCab or Crew Cab models. This package adds a limited-slip rear axle, skid plates, Rancho shocks, a billet-style grille and 18-inch premium chrome wheels. The skid plate works particularly well.

Ford’s TowCommand System returns as an option. It includes a factory-installed electronic brake controller that works with the anti-lock braking system and helps slow the trailer and truck in poor traction conditions.

The TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission also has tow/haul mode for heavy loads but, frankly, the low-end torque on this engine pulls even the largest trailer smartly off the line without using it.

A useful feature is the PowerScope trailer tow mirrors. These large, heated mirrors slide out at the push of a button affording a clear view. Drop the trailer, push the button and the mirrors slide back in. They also “break away” in both directions and have large adjustable convex spot-mirrors.

Out back, Ford’s hideaway tailgate step makes getting up and down from the bed easy. It’s a good example of a company doing its homework and giving truck people what they need.

During the last snowstorm of the season, just south of Sudbury, a warning light came on that said to “check air filter.” I did, only to find that it was packed with snow. The owner’s manual mentioned this problem and it suggested a remedy: to dry it out. Say what? I scooped out the snow and did again before day’s end.

I later called Ford and learned it was aware of the flaw. As a remedy, the automaker is offering a winter grille cover to any customer who experiences this problem.

A final thought for 4WD owners: Learning there are things you can’t do with a 4WD is the best way to stay out of trouble. Alternatively, I’d like to see manufacturers install a caution light that’s activated when the truck is shifted into 4WD. It should flash a warning message that says, “Whatever you are about to do, don’t.”

Freelance auto reviewer Howard J. Elmer can be reached at powersports@sympatico.ca

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