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2003 Ford F-250 Crew Cab 4x4

Cowboy Cadillac

With the new 6.0-liter diesel V-8, Ford’s F250 Crew Cab is one stellar tow vehicle.

As good as Ford’s Super Duty trucks were for heavy-duty towing, they were always better with the 7.3-liter diesel, an engine co-developed with International before the turn of the century. Lots of low-end torque, downright respectable fuel mileage and a solid chassis combined to make the Super Duty series trucks some the best tow vehicles on the market.

However, with the 7.3-liter’s torque and fuel economy came a prodigious amount of diesel noise. If you fired up a 7.3 before dawn, the whole neighborhood knew it.

Apparently, Ford engineers heard the cacophony—from customers as well as the engines—and answered with the new 6.0-liter diesel V-8, an overhead-valve mill also co-developed with International. But this time, they took it a step further, and incorporated development of a new five-speed automatic transmission with the new 32-valve 6.0-liter.

“It was very helpful to have a new engine and transmission coming at the same time because we developed them together, and had the flexibility to optimize both,” said Charlie Freese, chief diesel engineer. “The engine is better because of the transmission and the transmission is better because of the engine.”

After spending a week with an F-250 Super Duty with the new engine and transmission, we tend to agree.

First, the engine is quieter from the inside and outside. Ford engineers used extensive sealing methods to curtail noise from entering the cabin. To reduce noise on the outside, Ford and International engineers stiffened the engine block with a rigid bed plate and block ribbing to reduce vibration and powertrain bending.

They also designed the fuel-delivery system to include a “pilot injection system,” which, according to Ford literature, “introduces a small quantity of fuel into the combustion chamber before the main injection event. This reduces the rate of pressure rise and reduces the ‘diesel bark’ that many people associate with diesel engines.”

It may quell the bark, but the new engine has a bite that will get your attention. For example, this truck accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.46 seconds, which was more than three seconds faster than the 7.3-liter-powered Excursion we tested in May and about a half-second faster than the 6.0-liter-diesel-powered GMC in the June issue. In fact, the only truck we’ve tested this year that was faster was the Hemi-powered Dodge in our April issue.

Pretty impressive for a diesel, don’t you think?

Ford says the new engine offers a 20 percent reduction in NOx emissions.  Ford was able to achieve this by recirculating some of the spent exhaust gases through a cooler and back into the combustion chambers. The process helps lower combustion temperatures and reduce the presence of oxygen, both key contributors to NOx emissions.

Ford also claims 8 percent better fuel economy. However, during our tests, the truck’s overhead data console never indicated anything better than 14.1 mpg, compared with the Excursion from May—with the same data console—which netted 15.1 mpg.

 Regardless, we’d take the new engine over the old. The 7.3 was an impressive engine, but the new 6.0-liter likely will become the industry benchmark. The 6.0-liter behaves much more like a gasoline engine, and therefore doesn’t present the acceleration disadvantages normally associated with diesels.

Ford was able to provide such respectable acceleration by taking advantage of gear ratios in the five-speed transmission and through innovations in the turbocharging system.

According to company information, Ford’s Electronic Variable Response Turbocharger electronically controls the turbocharger to optimize performance for different driving conditions. The system uses an actuator that takes advantage of hydraulic systems on the engine to move the vanes for better efficiency.

Ford also has its act together in terms of this truck’s braking system. It is awesome. It halts the truck with tons of power, great feel and it reacts at the top of pedal travel. As with the Excursion, the F250’s antilock system is creamy smooth and likely the best we’ve tested.
With so many luxury trucks and SUVs on the market, it’s refreshing to drive something that makes no pretense about being a truck. And our test model was a real truck, with a couple of interesting options, the King Ranch package and the FX4 Off-Road option.

The King Ranch package included proprietary aluminum wheels, lighted running boards with diamond-plate inserts, wheel lip moldings, body-color mirror housings and door handles, heated front seats and a Castaño leather interior. The leather smell in the cabin was intoxicating, something we hope would fade over time. We might forego the $2,995 King Ranch package because it comes with rear bucket seats, which kind of limits the number of people you can carry. We’d prefer the standard rear bench.

The FX4 package was worth all of its $225, because it came with skid plates on the undercarriage, Rancho shock absorbers, a steering damper and bedside decals. We’d also highly recommend the $120 adjustable pedals and the six-disc CD stereo system.

With the heavy running gear and the four-wheel drive system, the truck actually handles pretty well. It remains fairly flat in corners and doesn’t sling its occupants around the cabin. And for a stiffly sprung, three-quarter-ton truck, its ride is firm but the 141.8-inch wheelbase helps offset that stiffness.

But was there anything wrong with or objectionable about the truck? Outside of the overpowering leather smell from the interior, no, not really.

It towed an 8,000-pound trailer, stopped it all with no trouble and was even maneuverable enough to use for everyday grocery getting. The Super Duty series was already good. With the new powertrain, it promises to be even better.

SPECIFICATIONS

PERFORMANCE
Fuel Consumption:
Towing... < 14 mpg
Non-towing... 14.1 mpg

ACCELERATION
0-60 towing…  16.89 seconds
40-60 towing... 9.52 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 8.46 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 5.07 seconds

POWERTRAIN
Engine...6.0-liter (363 c.i.d.) diesel V-8
Horsepower...  325 @ 3,300 rpm
Torque... 560  pound-feet @ 2,000    rpm
Compression ratio... 17:1
Transmission... five-speed electronic automatic

CHASSIS
Axle ratio... 3.73:1
Fuel capacity... 38 gal.
Tire size... LT265-75R-16
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: Nonindependent axle with stabilizer bars; Rear: live axle, leaf springs and shock absorbers
Tow rating... 12,500 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... XX,XXX lb.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 20,000 lb.

DIMENSIONS
Overall length... 231.4"
Maximum width... 79.9"
Wheelbase... 141.8"
Curb weight... X,XXX lb.
Base price...$35,045
Price as tested... $46,865

TRAILER TOWED
Formula 271 FAS3Tech
8,000 pounds

INFORMATION
Customer service... 800-392-3673
Web site... www.fordvehicles.com

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