Defending a coveted spot from fierce competition is almost harder than reaching that position in the first place. It’s a scenario that engineers of the 2011 Ford Super Duty pickup truck know well.

Photo: Thom Blackett / ENR
An optional, electronic-locking rear differential helps the 2011 Ford Super Duty get out of tight spots.

As it turns out, that kind of pressure is a good thing, especially for heavy-duty pickup-truck buyers who want to tow more than 20,000 lb, strap in 3 tons of payload and spend less money at the pump. As ENR also discovered during a recent test drive hosted by Ford, the manufacturer delivers a work truck with more capability, singular towing and hauling features, and comfort to boot.

Nuts and Bolts

For 2011, the Super Duty is available with a Ford-built, 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke diesel that offers 390 horses, 735 lb-ft of torque, and 18% better fuel economy than the outgoing 6.4L. This new, turbocharged oil-burner uses a urea solution to meet emissions standards, can operate on B20 biodiesel fuel and has been awarded Certified Clean Idle status in “green” states such as California—meaning drivers won’t be hampered by five-minute idle restrictions. Ford now employs exhaust braking with its diesel, but unlike what you’ll find in Chrysler’s Ram Heavy Duty pickup, Ford’s is automatic and does not require any activation by the driver.

The Power Stroke is mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission that features a tow/haul setting, a manual mode and a Progressive Range Select function that allows you to limit availability of higher gears, something that proves helpful when ascending or descending a steep grade. That gearbox also is used with a new gasoline-powered, 6.2L V-8 that generates 385 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. Expect a 15% fuel-economy advantage over last year’s 5.4L V-8. Rounding out the powertrain options is a 6.8-liter, gasoline V-10 available only on F-450 and F-550 Chassis Cabs.

This all translates into a maximum payload of 6,520 lb and a towing capacity of 21,600 lb (24,400 lb for the F-450). Based on published data, those figures likely exceed what you’ll get from the Ram Heavy Duty and General Motors’ upcoming 2011 heavy-duty models.

Nifty Features

Among the goods you’ll find offered in the 2011 truck are Ford’s Work Solutions fleet management system; a Ford-installed and warranted fifth-wheel/gooseneck prep package with in-bed wiring; trailer sway control (also to be offered on GM’s 2011 heavy-duty pickup trucks) and a 110-volt power inverter.

Features like Live Drive Power Take Off, which allows drivers to operate auxiliary equipment whenever the engine is humming; an electronic-locking rear differential; front-side and side-curtain airbags; Hill Start Assist, which engages for about three seconds after releasing the brakes, and Hill Descent Control. Finally, an available display screen includes an apps menu, under which you can track several trailers, monitor their use and mileage (handy for scheduling routine maintenance like greasing hubs) and even go through a safety checklist.

Behind the Wheel

Settle in behind the wheel of a 2011 Super Duty and you may notice comfortable seats derived from the F-150 as well as a driver’s lumbar support that helps reduce fatigue during long stints. We weren’t crazy about the small primary controls on the dash that can be difficult to use when wearing work gloves, though we were impressed by how little engine and fan noise made it into the cabin. Gas-powered models returned miles per gallon in the middle teens, whereas diesel variants offered fuel economy in the low 20s.

To test the 2011 truck’s capabilities, we attacked a few steep hills with about 10,000 lb in tow. Even while under load and climbing a grade, the new 6.7L Power Stroke diesel didn’t break a sweat. The Progressive Range Select...