F-350 Super Duty

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2021 Ford F-350 Super Duty Test Drive Review

When you have substantial weight to tow or haul, nothing but a heavy-duty truck will do. Among them, the 2021 Ford F-350 is a standout, and for more reasons than its sheer capability.

7.7 /10
Overall Score

One year after a refresh that brought powertrain, technology, design, and capability changes, the 2021 Ford Super Duty lineup continues to dominate its class. When properly configured and equipped, the Ford F-350 can tow up to 32,500 pounds of fifth-wheel trailer, can haul as much as 7,850 pounds of payload, and can generate a whopping 1,050 pound-feet of torque when equipped with its optional turbo-diesel engine.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Gleaming in its Iconic Silver paint, sun glinting off of its chrome grille and polished wheels, our 2021 Ford F-350 Limited test truck was truly the Lincoln of pickups. Stately yet purposeful, and equipped with plush leather seats and a high-end audio system, it looked like it was ready for any task from pulling a cattle trailer to pulling up to a steakhouse.

Power-deploying running boards made climbing into the cab easy, and they’re necessary because otherwise getting in and out of this truck would be difficult. Once you’re aboard, you’ll find cavernous space, large seats, plenty of storage, and a sensible layout.

Quality depends on which version of the truck you choose. The F-350 comes in XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trim levels, half of which are luxury-oriented. Starting with the King Ranch, you get interiors with higher-end décor. With the Lariat and below, the F-350’s cabin is more purposeful in nature.

In addition to six trim levels, the F-350 comes in regular, extended (SuperCab), and crew cab (Super Crew) styles with a standard or a long cargo bed and a single or dual rear-wheel-axle setup. Our test truck was a crew cab with the single-rear-wheel axle and standard cargo bed, and Limited trim includes the F-350’s available turbodiesel V8 engine and four-wheel drive (4WD). The only option was a spray-in bedliner, so with that, plus a destination charge of $1,695, the MSRP came to $87,655.

Wearing its extra glam, the F-350 Limited perfectly played the part of the luxury pickup truck—aside from its slightly cheesy “4x4” graphics on each side of the cargo bed.

The interior proved convincing, too, with soft two-tone leather with exposed stitching, an extended-leather treatment for the dashboard and other parts of the cabin, a simulated suede headliner, and added luxe in the form of real wood and aluminum trim. A huge, panoramic glass sunroof bathes the cabin in natural light. Collectively, it’s enough to help justify the truck’s price, especially when you factor in the F-350’s sheer capability.

Performance

7/ 10

Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t provide fuel-economy estimates for heavy-duty pickups, let’s first address the F-350’s efficiency. Driven on the usual testing loop, unloaded, in two-wheel-drive, with just a driver aboard, our truck’s 6.7-liter turbodiesel V8 averaged 15.4 mpg. During a full week of driving with heavy highway use, that average improved to 16.5 mpg.

Considering how much power the Powerstroke diesel delivers, this is remarkable. It generates 475 horsepower and the aforementioned 1,050 lb-ft of torque, and when you mat the accelerator to launch the truck onto a freeway and then rapidly release the pedal once you’re up to speed, you can almost sense the Super Duty’s structure sighing in relief.

Naturally, the Powerstroke emits the big-rig clatter that is a characteristic of large diesels, but a choking cloud of smoke and particulates doesn’t visibly belch from its dual exhaust outlets. Still, it’s worth noting that according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the truck earns the worst possible rating for greenhouse-gas emissions.

Pollution aside, the diesel effortlessly motivates the F-350 and, based on a previous driving experience in the 2020 Super Duty, hauling loaded trailers up and down Arizona’s Yarnell Grade, the diesel and its 10-speed automatic transmission easily delivers on its promise.

We also speak from previous experience blasting around an Arizona rock quarry that the Super Duty’s Tremor off-road package is fantastic. With a front suspension lift, progressive-rate springs, custom dampers, and 35-inch all-terrain tires, it offers 10.4 inches of ground clearance, a water fording capability of 33 inches, and better approach, breakover, and departure angles than other Super Duty models. Plus, it includes Ford’s Trail Control off-road cruise control system and a Rock Crawl driving mode, in addition to a long list of other technologies that assist a driver in getting where she is going.

This evaluation of the 2021 Super Duty took place in the wilds of the Southern California suburbs, where different challenges present themselves. Take parking, for example. Finding enough of it to accommodate the F-350 is difficult, but, in addition to all of the climbing in and out of the cab, you’ll get your steps in with each trip to a shopping center because you’ll likely need to park at the far end of the lot. So, think of F-350 ownership as a fitness program.

You’ll also become an expert at backing into spaces. Believe it or not, and especially with the big towing mirrors, reversing camera, and parking assist sensors, it's easier to make this effort than trying to nose the truck into a space, get it straightened out, and then later back it out of the space. Note, however, that when this is necessary, a handy button on the dashboard activates the front camera to quickly assist you.

We took the F-350 to Disneyland, where it fit into the new Pixar Pals parking garage with plenty of room to spare. Still, navigating the tightly-coned pathways through the garage required extra care, the narrow parking spaces made opening the doors difficult, and there wasn’t enough room behind the truck to allow another vehicle to easily park behind it.

We also took the F-350 to Koreatown in Los Angeles, where its size proved a significant liability in terms of negotiating heavy weekend traffic, tightly packed streets, and finding a place to stash the truck for a meal with family members.

Finally, we took the F-350 to IKEA, where it shined brightly for hauling new items for the home office and the kids’ bedrooms. Loading the bed was a bit of a challenge, though, even after deploying the integrated tailgate step.

The IKEA run reminded us that with the added weight of family in the cab and cargo in the bed, the truck’s ride quality improves. Unloaded, with just the driver aboard, the ride is sometimes unyielding in its occasional brutality.

Adaptive steering is new for 2021, standard with Limited trim and optional on other models (except the XL and XLT). This is a speed-sensing technology that Ford claims decreases the steering ratio at low speeds for quicker response and lower effort levels, and increases the steering ratio at higher speeds for a firmer feel and a more controlled sensation on the highway. Based on our experience, this truck still requires plenty of wheel-work in urban environments and suffers from plenty of on-center play on the highway, which requires constant nannying by the driver.

Additionally, during everyday driving, it takes a fair degree of muscle to use the F-350’s brake pedal. There is no doubt; the brakes are stout. But you need to acclimate to the amount of pressure required to use them. Also, the test truck’s engine-braking system came in handy for mountain driving. You can activate it using a button on the dashboard.

These ride-and-handling comments are observations rather than criticisms. When you’re talking about heavy-duty trucks, slow steering, a rough ride, and dealing with the sheer size of the vehicle is to be expected. That’s why it's best to buy one because you need the towing and hauling capability, and not for any other reason.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Because the F-350 sits so high off of the ground, accessing the cargo bed is difficult unless you get the integrated tailgate step or the retractable bed step. Once you clamber up and into the bed, it's easy to secure cargo, especially with the configurable BoxLink system. The optional spray-in bedliner adds protection and grip, and LED box lighting makes it easier to see what you’re doing after sundown.

Inside, the F-350 crew cab provides stretch-out space for five people. With the Limited trim, both front seats are power-adjustable, including for height and thigh support, and they’re heated and ventilated as well. A commanding driving position is easy to find, and from your lofty perch, you’ll feel like the ruler of the road, seeing nearly eye-to-eye with long-haul truckers (or so it seems).

A large center console with plenty of storage separates the front seats, and Ford provides even more space for stashing your stuff in the form of dual glove compartments, a tray in the top of the dashboard, and bins in the door panels.

Rear-seat comfort impresses, especially in terms of legroom. But the seat cushion is mounted just a little lower than expected. The test truck had heated rear outboard seat surfaces to go along with air conditioning vents and numerous power ports. Storage space underneath the flip-up seat cushion will undoubtedly come in handy.

Tech Level

7/ 10

For such a big truck, the Ford F-350 has a small touchscreen. It measures 8 inches across, and it runs the automaker’s Sync 3 infotainment system, which, when measured against competitors, is rapidly losing its competitive edge. This is not to say Sync 3 is uncompetitive. But Ford will definitely want to get its latest Sync 4 system into the Super Duty sooner rather than later, along with its larger 12-inch display screen (both are expected for the 2022 model year).

In any case, the F-350 Limited’s infotainment system includes all of the bells and whistles, such as smartphone integration, wireless smartphone charging, a navigation system, FordPass Connect services including a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and a terrific B&O premium sound system from Bang & Olufsen.

During testing, the screen size was a liability when parking the F-350. You come to rely on the reversing camera and top-down surround-view camera system to quickly get the Super Duty slotted into a space, but a larger display would add more confidence.

Similarly, the screen facilitates the truck’s Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera, Trailer Reverse Guidance, and Pro Trailer Backup Assist technologies, so having a bigger display would also make these features more helpful to drivers. Additionally, the F-350 offers an optional trailer camera that truck owners can place wherever they wish, and you can get it with or without a trailer tire-pressure monitor.

Aside from its screen size and occasional tendency to either hang while loading or ignore inputs from dry fingertips, Sync 3 is agreeable enough. The truck’s separate stereo and climate controls help to limit interaction with the screen, and the voice-recognition technology is easy to use, but it doesn’t always respond to naturally spoken commands so you’ll need to use the prompts shown on the display.

Additionally, via the driver information display between the gauges, the F-350 Limited offers a seemingly endless array of menus related to safety, towing, off-roading, and efficiency, giving you plenty of control over configuration.

You can also get a Live Drive Power Take-off system for the Super Duty, supplying a power source for a snowplow, a piece of equipment, or an accessory of some kind. An array of upfitter switches on the truck’s roof are ready to accommodate add-on equipment, too.

Safety

7/ 10

Vehicle safety is dependent on a variety of factors, ranging from technology that can prevent a collision to how the underlying structure absorbs and distributes impact forces during a crash.

Weight is also a factor. In a collision with a larger and heavier vehicle, a smaller and lighter vehicle will bear more of the crash force. Our diesel-powered 4WD test truck weighed about 7,300 pounds, according to Ford. Therefore, while official crash-test data is unavailable, the F-350 is likely to do a decent job of protecting you in collisions with smaller vehicles. Which, compared to a Super Duty, is most of them.

Because of this, when driving a Super Duty, you do have some added responsibility toward your fellow motorists. So make use of the available driver-assistance systems. They include adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with trailer coverage, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Though the test truck had adaptive cruise control, drivers can choose to use normal cruise control instead. We found the adaptive system to perform in sometimes uneven fashion in Los Angeles traffic, and it's important to remember that the Super Duty’s system does not bring the truck to a full stop. The lane-departure warning system produces a palpable vibration through the steering wheel, but the lane-keep assist operates in a subtle manner.

Despite the presence of blind-spot monitoring, you must still position the lower portion of the side mirrors to provide a clear view of the adjacent lanes. Otherwise, smaller vehicles disappear completely from view, and the small and somewhat faint blind-spot warning indicator can be hard to see.

Pair your smartphone to the F-350’s Sync 3 infotainment system, and you’ll be able to activate the 911 Assist feature, which can automatically contact emergency responders following a collision, as long as your smartphone has a signal.

Cost-Effectiveness

7/ 10

The 2021 Ford F-350 Super Duty is built to tow things and haul stuff. Buy one for these tasks, and you’ll find it to be a cost-effective choice in a vehicle. After all, what else are you going to get for serious towing and hauling aside from a Chevy Silverado 3500HD, GMC Sierra 3500HD, or Ram 3500? And each of those requires about the same outlay of money.

As for the Limited trim level, it serves the same function as a luxury vehicle, but without the luxury brand name. This does not seem to be a problem for buyers and owners in this segment, who easily recognize and understand the added cachet associated with owning a top-trim truck. Whether this is of value to you is a determination only you can make.

When it comes to heavy-duty trucks, businesses and fleets might choose the most affordable models to keep costs down, especially if they don’t require maximum towing and hauling capabilities. Personal-use buyers are more likely governed by styling or numbers that offer bragging rights.

Fortunately for Ford, the 2021 F Series Super Duty looks good and, in most cases, supplies the numbers necessary to definitively settle Friday night bar bets all across America.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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