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Ford F250 Ute

 

The band kicks into overdrive, the bass playing two beats, walking into the chord changes.

The pedal steel swells and howls, the guitar twangs, the drummer plays a seamless shuffle.

Emmylou Harris launches into the chorus, singing of luxury liners, her distinctive voice taking on a plaintive edge.

The V8's muted rumble rises a note as we climb a little, the kilometres slipping beneath the big chunky Goodyears.

We're turning into the shallow right-hander now, though the vehicle feels a little reluctant at first. A little more lock on the big steering wheel overcomes the reluctance and we turn in.

We're only doing a touch under 100km/h but we seem to be hauling in the cars in front at a huge rate. Maybe they've spotted the wide-spaced headlights sitting high in the night and have slowed down a little. From up here they look like itty bitty little things, those cars up front.

A flick of the left-mounted indicator stalk and we waft across the lanes heading for the offramp.

Emmylou has moved on to Townes van Zandt's cowboy epic Poncho and Lefty by now.

The disc brakes wipe away the pace as we get down to urban speed, the indicator's click a barely audible counterpoint to Harris' voice.

It ain't the Interstate but we are heading west on Auckland northwestern motorway.

And it's not a hot southern night but a chilly winter's evening in Auckland.

For moment or two, though, you're transported below the Mason Dixon line and heading west, the country music an atmosphere-setter and a perfect accompaniment to this larger-than-life vehicle.

Ford's F-250 is a new arrival on our roads, as American as could be (though these right-hand drive examples are made in Brazil).


And it's big in the way Americans like to think all things American are.

You've been able to get right-hand drive conversions of the one-tonne capacity F150 here for some time.

But this is the first official Ford New Zealand import of America's favourite pick-up truck (or favourite vehicle for that matter).

Ford is bringing in two versions of the iconic F-series, a line that began with the F1 pick-up in 1948 - the first new Ford design to emerge after World War 2.

Both are Super Duty trucks, the F-250 and F-350. The latter is coming in as a cab and chassis ready to be fitted with rear bodywork for a host of commercial operations.

The 250 we tested ran the 5.4-litre petrol V8, four-speed automatic gearbox, was two-wheel drive (rear wheels of course) and was a strict two-seater with Single Cab bodywork and a wellside pick-up deck.

Petrol 250s can also be had as Super Cabs or Crew Cabs. All have auto gearboxes and all are two-wheel drive.

If you want four-wheel drive you have to specify the 3.3-litre diesel V8. The diesels also have auto gearboxes, but have lower payload capacities than their two-wheel drive siblings.

The petrol V8 develops good power - 198kW (the diesel gives 187kW) - and a meaty 474Nm of peak torque at 2500rpm. The diesel's torque figure is a staggering 684Nm at 1800rpm.

The Single Overhead Camshaft 5.4 has what I can only describe as a typical US Ford V8 beat. It's throaty, it burbles on idle, it roars when asked to work hard. The sad thing about it is that people outside the truck get to enjoy that magical V8 beat more than the ute's occupants, for the cabin is well insulated against outside noise.

The V8 gives the big vehicle strong performance. It gets to highway speed quickly and will maintain 100km/h with ease.

The F-250 gets off the line impressively, the torque pitching the 2382kg monster into action with effortless ease.

Handling? Well, it's a truck so you can't expect sports car-like road manners.

But the handling is predictable and secure. Initially you're a little overawed by the sheer size of the vehicle you're trying to command.

The key is to overcome that feeling as quickly as possible, for it's not a vehicle to be driven tentatively.

For a start the power-assisted steering is still moderately heavy and moderately imprecise. You can move it a few degrees off-centre before the front wheels start turning.

So you need it steer it firmly and turn the wheel perhaps a little more than you would in a typical car.

Once you've achieved this feat of metaphorically getting on top of the vehicle, the F-250 comes alive.

It needs - and respects - a firm hand and a decisive driving style.

Turning right-angled corners in the city you need to be conscious of its 3480mm wheelbase (by comparison the long-wheelbase Holden Commodore Ute measures 2939mm axle-to-axle). Front suspension is by twin I-beams and the solid rear axle is located by a Hotchkiss arrangement.


At speed you need to take car with vehicle placement. It moves around a little - especially in crosswinds - which is a legacy of its high centre of gravity (to the top of the cabin the F-250 measures 1935mm and ground clearance is 205mm) and of the chunky Goodyear tyres.

It's amazing, too, how the motorway lane width seems to shrink when you're sitting high in the F-250's comfortable, well-shaped, velour-covered driver's seat.

You get a real idea of the truck's width on tight city streets. Its 2031mm can be a little daunting. I discovered that much when I volunteered to drive a colleague home the other evening. He would live in one of the narrowest of the narrow streets in the labyrinthine network below Ponsonby Road. I inched the F-250 nervously between the rows of parallel-parked cars.

Parking needs a little bit more room than you'd usually require and you find yourself seeking spots you can drive out of rather than have to back the ute. Reversing out of a carpark space in a parking building requires much more than a three-point turn (the truck is a massive 5756mm long).

Going into covered carparks is another test of nerves as you grit your teeth and hope the truck won't scrape its roof. The height warnings at the mouth of carparks take on a new relevance. I admit to chickening out a couple of times and finding somewhere outdoors to park.

Ride quality is good, much better than the hard ride found in most Japanese utes. The F-250 takes speed bumps in its stride and doesn't jar when the back wheels clear the humps.

There's a little bit of rock and roll at speed, and you're aware of bumpy surfaces. But the ride is never ever harsh.

The driving position is high and offers a commanding view of the road. I found the seat a little high for my short legs, especially on the right leg. I could have done with a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots to make my right leg a little more comfortable.

Getting up into the cockpit is made easier by grab handles and by big rubber flat-topped tubular side steps which look like chromed side exhaust pipes from a distance.

The cabin's back wall is felt-covered and the floor covering is vinyl.

The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly, though it's controlled by a rather fiddly lever and imprecise mounted on the right side of the steering column.

A multi-function stalk on the left of the column deals with indicators and windscreen wipers. The lights are operated by a rotary switch on the dashboard like those on the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore.

The huge handbrake lever rests on the floor. You lift it up and then release it to engage or disengage the parking brake.

The sound system is great but there's only a radio and cassette player. None of these new-fangled Compact Disc things here.

The Mickey Mouse ear-like exterior mirrors and the windows are operated electrically. A good, highly-efficient air-conditioning system is standard.


There's no glovebox as such, but there is a huge covered storage area between the two armrest-equipped seats.

It's a ute so there's no conventional luggage space, but there is a surprising amount of the room behind the seats to pack soft bags or a week's grocery shopping.

The load tray is massive - F-series accessories offered in America include a tent to fit on the tray - and can carry 1600kg of payload (that's where the Super Duty comes in - greater than one tonne payload and 4500kg towing capacity).

The tray measures 2464mm long by 1642 mm wide (1929mm between the wheelarches).

Fuel economy? Not the right term really. Consumption says it better.

I was thinking the people who'd told me about the F-250's prodigious thirst were a load of wallies.

After all, I'd covered 240 kilometres of city/highway driving and had only used half a tank. Then I looked at the specification sheet. The fuel tank takes 144 litres of petrol! Who's the Wally?

But given that thirst and given the $80,000 asking price for a relatively sparsely-equipped truck I've got to say driving the F-250 is a real blast, and an experience to be savoured. Not to mention grin-inducing.

You're up there above the crowd, no-one much wants to take you on, you've got plenty of power and, once you've overcome the sense of awe at its sheer size and bulk, the F-250 is easy to drive.

Emmylou has given way on the cassette player to Marty Brown (Marty who? - he's kind of like a modern-day Hank Williams with a vocal style closer to western than country) and he's sounding just perfect as we trickle through rain-drenched suburban night.

Not all things American are attractive, but Evan Williams Bourbon, Delbert McClinton singing blues-tinged country rock and the Ford F-250 pick-up sure are.

AutoPoint road test team; words and pictures by Mike Stock.


Auto Trader New Zealand