Expert Reviews

2023 Ford Super Duty First Drive Review

Heavy-duty pickups are an important subset of the truck market, and it’s where automakers are paying attention. It covers only four brands, and they’re all very capable, so when Ford updated its Super Duty models for 2023, it was as much about work-friendly features as about engines and towing.

Ford says the truck is all-new, although it rides on the same frame as before, and two engines are carried over. But two more engines are freshly added, the styling is updated, and it offers new high-tech features for towing and hauling.

The Super Duty lineup consists of the F-250, commonly known as a three-quarter-ton truck, and the F-350, usually called a half-ton. These compete with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500, and Ram 2500 and 3500. Toyota doesn’t make a heavy-duty Tundra.

Cab choices are Regular, Super (extended), and Crew. Only the base XL trim offers two-wheel drive; all others are 4x4. The F-350 offers optional dual rear wheels (DRW). An additional offering is the F-450, with DRW only and intended primarily for commercial customers.

What’s New Under the Hood

The carried-over engines are a 7.3L V8 gasoline engine that makes 430 horsepower and 485 lb-ft of torque, and a 6.7L Power Stroke V8 turbodiesel making 475 horsepower and 1,050 lb-ft of torque.

The base gasoline engine used to be a 6.2L V8, good for 385 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, with a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s now replaced by a 6.8L V8, making 400 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. The fourth choice is a high-output version of the 6.7L diesel, cranking out 500 horsepower and 1,200 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission is now used in all the trucks.

While this event didn’t include any top-end towing, Ford says that the Super Duty can tow up to 40,000 lb. Of course, as with all advertised towing capacities, that’s across the lineup, and in this case, it’s for the F-450 regular cab with a high-output diesel engine. Cab configuration, engine, driveline, and options all affect maximum capacity. Most consumers opt for the F-250 crew cab, which ranges from 13,800 to 22,000 lb in conventional towing.

What’s New for Looks and Trims

The updated styling includes new grilles for better cooling, and LED lights in a C-shape around the grille, a design cue first seen on the F-150 trucks. The side vents are now functional for better airflow. All but the base XL trim receive a 12-inch centre touchscreen, along with a centre console that can hold a tablet and includes a clever sliding panel that can turn the open storage cubby into extra cupholders.

Outdoor enthusiasts can opt for an Off-Road Package on the base XL trim, adding an electronic locking rear differential, higher air dam, 33-inch tires, and water-fording-friendly axle vent tubes. If that’s not enough, a Tremor Off-Road Package can be added to all but the XL and Limited. It gives you a Dana front axle, off-road-tuned suspension, 35-inch tires, and trail turn assist, which locks up one rear wheel so the truck pivots around it for tight turns.

What’s the F-250 Like to Drive?

I started my day in the F-250 Lariat Tremor, equipped with the 7.3L gasoline engine, once I scrambled up into this very tall truck. The interior is good-looking and the seats are very comfortable; and while the dash is focused around the large centre touchscreen, the climate functions are handled by easy-to-use buttons and dials, as are the stereo volume and tuning, and the drive modes.

The 7.3L is a strong engine, and the transmission shifts smoothly to keep it in its sweet spot. That said, the Tremor isn’t for casual “one day I’ll go off-road” buyers. Those beefy tires wander at highway speeds, so you’re always correcting the too-light steering to stay in a straight line, and the ride is bumpy. But the Tremor is an entirely different animal off the beaten path. The off-road course we drove on wasn’t all that challenging, but it was still obvious this truck could muscle through tough stuff, where that light steering became an advantage, and the suspension effortlessly got over bumps.

I then drove a Limited model with the high-output diesel, and this is the truck that will take you coast-to-coast in coddled comfort. Here, the steering was beautifully weighted, and the ride was smooth. All of the big trucks in this segment are well done, but for me, the F-250’s steering is the most responsive, which in turn makes it a pleasure to drive.

More on Those New Features

Every truck now comes with a modem, primarily for a commercial application that lets fleet customers track their trucks’ location, maintenance needs, and how they’re being driven. Other available features for commercial or consumer use are a 2.0-kW Pro Power Onboard system that can run power tools or small appliances, and a new head-up display.

The Super Duty’s coolest new technologies make it easy to manoeuvre or load the truck by yourself. In addition to the regular rearview camera, an available camera and sensors provide a view and proximity warning when you back up with the tailgate down. Pro Trailer Hitch Assist locates your trailer’s hitch then backs up and steers itself, stopping over the ball.

An onboard scale weighs whatever you’re putting in the bed and uses taillight indicators to warn when you’re getting close to the payload limit. The system can weigh you and your occupants first, so you don’t overload and exceed payload when they get back in. The Smart Hitch measures the load balance on your trailer, and the lights blink to indicate if the load needs to move forward or back. The F-250 also now gets Pro Trailer Backup Assist, initially introduced on the F-150, where you turn a dial instead of the steering wheel to back up your trailer in the direction required. It does require a bit of practice if you’ve never trailered before, so don’t expect to become an expert your first time around.

Final Thoughts

The 2023 Ford F-250 starts in base XL trim at $60,874 in Regular Cab; $63,974 in Super Cab; and $65,924 in Crew Cab, including a non-negotiable destination fee of $2,395. At the upper end, the Limited Crew Cab begins at $121,910. The F-350 models add $2,500 to those prices.

This heavy-duty segment doesn’t have many players, but they’re always pushing to be ahead of the others, and that’s to the benefit of the customer. Ford’s new engines are part of it, but for many buyers, those useful new towing features could be what wins them over.