Car reviews - Ford - F-250 - Lariat
Comfort, refinement, interior space and storage, capability, performance, visibility, steering, RHD conversion quality
Room for improvement
Dislikes: A bit flash, unwieldy in town, size could cause problems off-road
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14 Nov 2014
THE thoroughness of the Performax conversion to right-hand drive on the four F-250s we drove left few clues that they didn’t leave the Ford factory in Kentucky with the steering wheel on what we Aussies regard as the correct side.
A major giveaway is the Performax logo emblazoned on the background of the eight-inch touchscreen but apart from that, it is little details like the ‘passenger’ label on the driver’s side of the dual-zone climate control temperature knob.
But let’s be honest, there are still a lot of mainstream vehicles that leave the factory with quite obviously left-hand drive biased dashboards and centre consoles. Coincidentally, the Nissan Y62 Patrol springs to mind and occupies a similar size and price category to the F-250.
Performax even goes to the trouble of re-shaping the F-250’s footwell to give the driver’s left foot somewhere to rest. Anyone who has driven an Alfa Romeo Giulietta knows the Italian factory didn’t bother to do that.
A tour of the conversion facility left us in no doubt as to why these trucks cost a fair whack more in Australia than their native US – the amount of manual labour and craftsmanship, let alone the unique tooling, research and development and compliance paperwork required in the absence of any help from Ford, left us incredulous that they don’t cost even more.
Considering the lifestyle choices of many Australians require them to do some towing, it is a shame that towing-friendly features on trucks like the F-250 are not factory-fit on smaller, more universally practical vehicles.
One example is those ugly, cumbersome aftermarket electric trailer brake controllers. The F-250 has a neat factory-fit controller on the dash and it interacts with all the on-board safety electronics like trailer sway control.
It also has a towing mode button on column-mounted gear selector that delivers extra engine braking and optimises the transmission settings for the task.
Like a Holden VF, the F-250 has the remote-start key fob party trick. Like an HSV-fettled VF, it has well north of 300kW on tap but the torque figure shades even the 1000Nm V12 diesel Audi Q7 by more than 10 per cent!It’s just as well there is that grunty 6.7-litre turbo-diesel V8 up front, for the F-250 weighs in the region of 3100kg, can pull five tonnes on the tow-bar and haul seven tonnes using a semitrailer-esque fifth-wheel arrangement while payload in the 2077mm long, 1760mm wide tray is 1360kg.
As every successful competition powerlifter knows, it’s better to know you have something in reserve than to over-ambitiously burden yourself. We have all seen tradies and grey nomads out there pushing or exceeding the limits of their vehicles.
Of course none of this is relevant if you are among the 20 per cent of buyers who Performax believes want to cruise around in an F-250 for its sheer presence – and in these circumstances the F-250 provides effortless propulsion for tackling steep hills and maintaining momentum on soft surfaces.
It certainly gets a reaction from other road users – Performax calls it “ute envy” – and during a long beach drive, our convoy of four F-250s got a resounding thumbs-up from people camping and fishing. But back in civilisation, the hulking size of the truck and its huge, chrome-clad grille felt OTT and a bit flash.
So how does it drive? Sitting up high and ready to depart the Sunshine Coast airport car park we felt more than a little intimidated by the 6269mm length and 2029mm (without mirrors) width of this beast, especially when negotiating the tight exit ramp. We revisited this emotion every time we tried to use a car park. This is not a car.
The comfortable, leather-trimmed interior of the mid-spec Lariat variants we drove, combined with the SUV-like driving position and overall refinement conspired to make us forget that Ford Australia sells an even bigger vehicle that we’d instantly forgive the dimensions of – the Transit Jumbo van that is 435mm longer and 65mm wider but has nowhere near the towing capacity.
Once on the move, the F-250’s excellent blind-spot mirrors and forward/side visibility provided plenty of confidence that we were placing this big rig accurately on the road, a sense we never really got while driving the far smaller but very big feeling Ranger one-tonne ute.
Meanwhile the clear, sharp image from the reversing camera, aided by parking sensors, made backing up a breeze – if anything the F-250 would benefit from front sensors to aid judging the extremities of its bluff front-end when in tight spaces.
The cabin is spacious and comfortable front and rear, with endless storage bins, cubbies and cup holders including a massive space beneath the central armrest and room for some assault rifles under the rear bench. A portal in the rear window also slides open for target practice, or ventilation.
Electric seat adjustment, including height, is complemented by electric pedal adjustment and a reach/rake steering column so there are few excuses for not getting comfortable – although we felt the driver’s seat could do with an extra centimetre or so of downward travel.
In contrast to the usual stereotype of American interiors the dash and door trim plastics, while hard, look and feel far better than that found in most one-tonne utes and Performax has done a great job of matching the quality and texture of Ford-original dashboard parts while screwing everything together well enough to eliminate creaks or squeaks.
Performax has managed to integrate Australian sat-nav, including HEMA off-road maps, into the eight-inch touch-screen on Lariat models and above – and somehow it works with Ford’s Sync voice-control system!It quickly became apparent that the F-250 feels far less agricultural to drive than many a separate-chassis ute or SUV, despite the fact is has a solid front axle like a 70-series LandCruiser rather than independent front suspension.
We were pleasantly surprised by the well-judged weight and accuracy of the F-250’s steering but we felt it was hitting the lock-stops too soon when negotiating tight turns in confined spaces, causing the odd embarrassing overshoot and subsequent back-up – a bit like some hot-hatches that have a quicker steering rack fitted, to the detriment of parking ease.
Even when not using all that torque to keep revs low, drivetrain refinement was generally in another league to most mainstream one-tonne utes and equal to, if not better than a V8 diesel 200 Series LandCruiser – which could be cross-shopped on price against an F-250.
Most of the time, the six-speed automatic transmission did its job as discreetly as a butler while we rode the wave of endless torque, although under hard acceleration upshifts were rather pronounced and we found it a prone to sometimes spoil the otherwise seamless progress by being a bit too eager to kick down as we applied small amounts of extra throttle for climbing hills.
Performax made a good decision in fitting uprated Rancho shock absorbers as standard, for the ride quality on both sealed and unsealed roads was far better on the two trucks we drove with these shocks compared with those running standard items.
The F-250s with Rancho shocks also seemed to handle and steer better, mainly because mid-corner bumps were dispatched with ease rather than unsettling the chassis. Typical separate chassis bump judder was never totally eliminated but the level of overall isolation was commendable, as was the lack of vibration through the steering wheel on rough surfaces.
On the subject of ride quality, a stint in the exceptionally spacious and comfortable rear seats – similar to large sedan levels – revealed extra isolation from bumps – in fact the whole rear seat travel experience was a huge step up compared with your average one-tonne ute.
Although we had trouble with a wooden, grabby brake pedal on one truck, other examples had brakes as progressive and powerful as we’d hoped for on a truck this heavy and with such prodigious carrying and towing capacity.
Of course the aforementioned towing mode adds useful extra engine braking – only slightly noticeable unladen – and electronic hill-descent control is there for super-steep slopes.
A four-wheel-drive one-tonner or SUV will go further off-road than the F-250 (all Performax-converted models are 4x4), especially when the trail gets narrow or the undulations big.
Sheer length means the F-250’s approach, departure and break-over angles (18.1 degrees, 18 degrees and 20 degrees respectively) cannot match, say a LandCruiser 200 (30 degrees approach, 20 degrees departure, 21 degrees breakover) and the F-250’s 205mm ground clearance is 20mm shy of the Toyota.
We are in no doubt that weight, combined with the long wheelbase and precise steering added to the sense of stability during our twisty, hilly gravel road drive through the picturesque Mary Valley countryside surrounding Performax HQ in Gympie, 170km north of Brisbane.
With the huge 20-inch, 65-profile Michelin all-terrain tyres dropped from 60psi to 25psi and 4x4 engaged using the electronic on-the-fly controller, a scenic trip through a densely forested section of Great Sandy National Park before emerging on the beach, was tackled without worries.
Again, those great door mirrors made judging our position on the track a breeze and we felt better about threading the F-250 between trail-side trees or making way for oncoming traffic than with similar experiences in a Y62 Patrol, which is just 36mm narrower.
The powerful engine meant an easy, quick build-up momentum for tackling soft, chopped-up beach entries and exits was a small ankle-flex away.
On sand we were easily able to follow in the wheel tracks of those who went before but we pondered that perhaps some rutted trails might leave cause the wide-track F-250 to plough its own furrow with one pair of wheels. Handily Performax specs it with an automatic locking rear differential as standard.
During all driving scenarios described above, the F-250’s fuel consumption readout sat consistently in the region of 14 litres per 100 kilometres, in line with what Performax says customers can expect.
No amount of full-throttle wellying made the tailpipes soot up either – the big V8 diesel complies with Euro 5 regulations and opening the fuel filler flap revealed an AdBlue nozzle for topping up an additive that is injected to the exhaust to further reduce nasty emissions.
We did not have a go at towing the fifth-wheeler caravan on offer, but those who did said the extra weight was barely noticeable on the move and the electrically extending towing mirrors add another layer of user-friendliness.
To sum up, Ford has done a great job of making the F-250 a civilised and enjoyable vehicle to drive while maintaining its serious practical purpose. We don’t doubt that it would soak up long journeys with ease, the engine barely above idle while several tonnes are easily dragged along behind.
But the Australian input to this vehicle is just as impressive. What we have here is a world away from the low-tech, low-spec F-trucks Ford Australia imported a decade ago from Brazil and the nearest thing we can imagine to Ford building the things themselves in RHD.
Now that is an Australian manufacturing good news story – how ironic that it’s a Ford.
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