Review: When Is a Ford F-150 Not Enough Truck?

Testing the F-250 to find out what is gained — and lost — when making the leap to Super Duty

September 20, 2023 6:59 am
2023 Ford F-250 Super Duty
Is it time you leveled up to the Ford F-250 Super Duty?

The Ford F-150 is arguably the brand’s halo vehicle. Forget the Ford GT supercar, or Shelby editions of the Mustang muscle coupe. The entry-level F-Series is both the financial powerhouse that funds the Blue Oval’s global operations and the most popular model in its entire showroom, selling 650,000 examples last year to Americans who simply can’t get enough full-size truck in their lives. For those trying to do the math at home, that’s one truck sold every 49 seconds.

There’s a bit of an asterisk there when examining F-Series sales. Not all of these massive machines wear the “150” badge on the fender. In fact, a significant portion of Ford’s truck volume — almost 40% — instead feature “Super Duty” emblazoned on the hood and tailgate. These work-oriented monsters are bigger and burlier than their already enormous siblings, and aimed primarily at commercial buyers and individuals whose towing and hauling needs outpace those of the average driver.

How important are the Super Duty trucks to Ford’s bottom line? The company claims that these task-focused rigs alone generate more revenue than Southwest Airlines in a given year, pulling $15 billion into the Dearborn-based company’s coffers in 2022 alone. Much of that money stems from the higher-than-average purchase price associated with the F-250, F-350 and F-450 models, which feature mightier engines and more robust chassis designs than most F-150s can match.

For 2023, Ford has upgraded its Super Duty offerings across the board, introducing a new family of gas-powered engines, enhanced turbodiesel offerings, and blockier styling that brings it more closely in line with the rest of the organization’s trucks both inside and out. What’s it like to step out of the F-150 slipstream and reach for the next rung on the hardcore pickup ladder? It turns out that depending on how you look at it, when you make the jump to Super Duty, you might find yourself paying more to get more, while also paying more to get less.

The 2023 Ford F-Series Super Duty Lineup
When it comes to Ford’s Super Duty lineup, paying more doesn’t mean you always get more.

Big Power Down Low

It’s important to clarify what I mean by that last statement. 

I recently spent 800 miles behind the wheel of a 2023 Ford F-250 Super Duty, doing what it does best: towing a trailer (in my case, to Watkins Glen International for a day at the track). At this task, it truly excels, easily outpacing a regular-duty truck in nearly every measurable way.

Ford’s done a bit of a marketing push on the new gas-powered V8 available across the Super Duty lineup after the recent redesign, a 6.8-liter “mini-Zilla” version of its 7.3-liter “Godzilla” motor that appeared for the 2020 model year. The two share the same push-rod architecture, with the smaller motor featuring a shorter stroke than its progenitor. The vehicle I drove featured this recent addition, which is now the entry-level engine for the F-250, if such a term can be applied to a unit that throws down 405 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque.

Those numbers might at first blush sound remarkably close to what the more modestly-sized 5.0-liter, overhead cam V8 available in the F-150 is putting out. While it’s true that the smaller engine is within 5 ponies of the 6.8-liter, it’s down 35 lb-ft of twist. More importantly, the mini-Zilla’s torque comes on about 1,000 rpm lower, with its maximum horsepower hitting 250 rotations before that of the F-150 motor.

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What does this mean in the real world? With plenty of room under the curve, at highway speeds the F-250’s tachometer rarely rose above 1,800 rpm with 4,500 pounds of trailer and race car trundling along behind it, even on long uphill pulls. In fact, it took steep grades on two-lane roads to kick the 6.8-liter mill into anything resembling full growl, with downward trajectories occasionally engaging its 10-speed automatic transmission’s second gear to help maintain a steady pace when set to tow/haul mode. This is to be expected, given that I was trucking 10,000 pounds under the F-250’s maximum trailer rating.

Compare this to my father’s 2019 F-150, charged with tugging a somewhat heavier, 6,500-pound load along the same route. The 5.0 under its hood is certainly stout and capable, but the experience is quite different, as kickdowns and high revs are the order of the day when the terrain begins to climb. It was easy to see when the regular-duty truck began to fall off the pace in comparison to the Super Duty, shrinking in my rearview while the F-250 merely shrugged off the latest elevation change.

There’s no question that the mini-Zilla could have handled a much heavier load with similar alacrity. I’m also reasonably confident that it would have maintained the same 12-mpg rating even with thousands of additional pounds of trailer to deal with. For comparison, that’s similar mileage to what I achieved towing the same load with the ostensibly more powerful Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which wasn’t quite as composed. The F-250 Super Duty was a veritable rock of stability, with even the battle-scarred U-Haul trailer I was lugging around unable to crack its calm through corners or over bumps in the road.

The interior of the 2023 Ford F-250 Super Duty
You can shell out to upgrade the cabin, of course, but the base trim is the definition of workaday.

This! Is! Spartan!

The all-out competency that Ford’s Super Duty truck brings to bear on whatever job is brought before it is impressive. There’s no doubt that from a practical perspective, the F-250’s payload and towing skills are a meaningful upgrade over the already-useful F-150 whose lineage it shares.

That being said, it’s important not to assign a one-to-one relationship when it comes to comparing the respective value of these two models, especially when it comes to feature content. In fact, over and above its enormous proportions and unwieldy wheelbase, the sticker shock associated with a Super Duty truck might be the thing that current F-150 owners find most daunting about an F-250 upgrade.

Consider the $62,000 ask for the base four-door crew cab XL model I drove, which came with a handful of options packages. At first this number seems to be in line with the current light-duty pickup world, where prices can nuzzle up against the six-figure mark for well-equipped editions. Only in the F-250 all that money isn’t buying you anything that even remotely resembles coddling. Despite its relatively high price, my road trip companion featured a front bench seat (with a folding center section), cloth upholstery, a tiny infotainment screen, no keyless entry (other than the fob button) and no push-button start. Adaptive cruise was out of the question, as was automatic climate control, and although I had four-wheel drive and a locking rear differential, hooking up a trailer disabled blind spot monitoring and forward emergency braking (unless you manually enter in your trailer’s dimensions, something other tow vehicles can automatically scan for).

2023 Ford F-250 Super Duty
Eat your heart out, haulers.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

In short, you’re paying for the payload, the power and not much else. For a certain subset of buyers, that’s exactly what they bargained for, and they wouldn’t be able to tag in a more plush F-150 at the jobsite and expect the same result. Outside the world of contractors and horse haulers, however, that same coin buys a mid-trim F-Series with a similar number of doors and cylinders that is much, much better equipped in terms of tech and luxury. You can always dial up a Super Duty’s opulence until it matches that of its more retail-friendly cousin, of course, but the premium to do so can be considerable, with $100,000 F-250s on the menu for anyone who needs to line the interior of their main battle tank with cowhide and touchscreens. 

While I appreciated the low-stress, hassle-free character of the Super Duty’s towing talents, they’re largely wasted on those who only trailer occasionally, or those whose loads are on the lighter side like mine. This is a truck that’s less daily driver and more paycheck provider. It’s not intended to hit the same sweet spot between comfort, capability and value that’s found in the F-150. Instead, it’s intended to put in a solid day’s work and then be swapped out for something more genteel when it’s time to get the groceries — unless you’re ordering your apples and oranges by the ton.

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