Here’s a (rather long) report our new tow vehicle. It is a 2011 F250 2WD with the new Ford engine/tranny combination: 6.2L gas engine coupled to the 6-speed TorqShift automatic. I admit to buying this truck after researching and shopping for a manual diesel but bought it on the spot primarily because of a really great deal. So, what I’ve learned about it has come mostly on this initial trip.
I’ve not had a late model truck in a while, so some of the power and features I think are novel on this truck, may be old news to some readers here. My previous heavy duty TV was a clunky Chevy diesel automatic and, the truck we mostly use to tow the Airstream is an 11 year old 4.2L F250 manual.
After a break in of about 500 miles, I’ve put another 3500 miles on it - about 2500 miles towing the 25’ Safari. First part of the trip was on flat, east coast Interstate. The majority of the trip was returning through the Appalachians, a little interstate but mostly highways and back roads. The truck makes for an effortless tow that is stable and nimble in all conditions.
My initial impression breaking in the truck was that it had a good, fairly flat torque curve that needs to wind up a bit. That was indeed the case towing. It accelerates well from a stop with a trailer. The 3.97 first gear gives it good usable power at low speeds. But the engine really kicks in at about 2000 rpm and it keeps pulling strong over 5000 rpm where it is time to shift. While towing, I had absolutely no problem accelerating to any speed needed in any situation: at high speeds, on flat roads, and in the mountains both interstate and steep backroad inclines. It is no 6.7L diesel, but the 6.2L provides more than enough usable power with the 25’ Safari in tow. Mine has 3.73 gears. I’d say 4.10 gears are not necessary, but probably a good option for a heavier trailer. I suspect the transmission and its tow/haul computer programming has a lot to do with my sense of the truck’s towing power, so lots more on that…..
I far prefer a manual to an automatic for towing and left the dealer convinced the automatic was a compromise I’d made to get a great deal on the truck. I’m now convinced otherwise.
First, a bit about the 6R140 shift modes. In addition to the usual Tow/Haul button at the tip of the column mounted shifter, there is also thumb operated up/down rocker switch.
Tap the rocker switch while in Drive, and a gear indicator pops up on the dash and puts the transmission in what I call NHT mode (No Higher Than). The first tap just turns on the numeric gear display. Below it is in Drive, 6th gear.
Once in NHT mode, pressing the rocker switch down (“-“) limits the top gear. In the picture below the truck is in first gear but will shift no higher than 4th.
Putting the shifter lever into Manual lets you use the +/- rocker switch to shift up and down through the gears like a manual. The torque converter locks up in each gear, so the truck feels like a true manual tranny.
I tried the NHT and Manual modes and they work very well. However for this trip with the Airstream, I simply kept it in Drive with Tow/Haul on. I’d hit the rocker switch only to turn on the gear indicator (as in the first indicator picture) so I could see what gear the tranny was choosing.
I have agree that that Ford designed this automatic transmission and integrated it with the engine and transmission controller software, specifically for towing. The integrated brake controller works flawlessly. I set the gain at 9.0. The truck lets you save multiple settings in case you tow different trailers. First and reverse gears are a comfortably high ratio. Here are the 6R140 Gear Ratios (note two overdives):
First - 3.97:1
Second - 2.32:1
Third - 1.52:1
Fourth - 1.15:1
Fifth - 0.86:1
Sixth - 0.67:1
The 6 speeds are well spaced. Without a load it acts like most modern automatics although it does seem a bit eager to get into 6th - maybe for mileage/emissions reasons. It will however downshift to 5th or 4th smoothly when accelerating at highway speeds.
With the trailer plugged in and the tranny set for Tow/Haul mode, it is a whole different machine. In all situations, it found the same gear I’d have slapped around for with a manual transmission, and usually sooner
. Of course it cannot anticipate a hill or steep descent, but with the trailer plugged (and in tow/haul) the transmission reacts immediately to the amount of throttle or brake given. In tow/haul, it seems to adjust its downshift/upshift behavior based not just on speed, throttle position, and presence of a trailer, but also by sensing if the truck is pointed uphill or downhill. For example, hitting an incline at highway speed, just a small amount of throttle drops it quickly to 5th. A bit more throttle as the truck begins to slow and it drops without protest to 4th. And so on. It has no qualms about downshifting and revving upwards of 5k if that is what you right foot is telling it. I found no need to floor it to get a downshift – just give it the amount of throttle needed and it finds a good gear. Even when towing with the cruise control, if the truck slows rapidly, it downshifts and accelerates accordingly.
This was all most noticeable and useful in Tow/Haul mode during downhill mountain towing, where a manual transmission really comes in handy for engine braking. On the first downhill interstate mountain grade where the rig started accelerating at highway speed with no throttle or brake applied, the transmission stayed in 6th. With very light pressure on the brake, the transmission downshifted to 5th so no additional brake pressure was needed. On long grades where the rig kept accelerating, a bit more brake pressure resulted in another downshift to 4th. The engine braking was strong enough that I’d have to say the torque converter stayed locked on the downshifts. Very little braking is needed. Because the rig seems to know when it is going downhill, the left pedal feels as much like a down shift control as it does a brake pedal. Hats off to the Ford engineers on this one. I have to admit, it downshifted on downhill grades pretty much as I would have with a stick shift, with no attention needed on my part. It gives maximum engine braking using nothing but the brake pedal. No worries about missing that one downshift and having to ride the brakes to get it back.
We found our way over to a short but steep 2 lane white knuckle descent. It has 6 or 7 hairpin switchbacks that get increasingly tighter on the way down. I used a lot of brake entering at the top in 6th, Drive, Tow/Haul set, at about 45mph. The truck immediately downshifted to 4th and I was able to ease off on the brakes. More brake pressure as the turns got tighter resulted in more downshifting. When we exited at the bottom, calm and collected, with just minimum brake pedal pressure, the transmission had found its way to first gear, the engine howling sweetly at about 5000 rpm. I was impressed. The engine/tranny/controller combination makes mountain towing a breeze.
During the entire trip with typical summer weather, I never saw the transmission temperature gauge budge. We spent some time on gravel mountain roads and found the electronic locking differential an improvement over the LSD. It disengages automatically if you forget to turn it off after hitting the pavement (so they tell me
We set out on the trip right after break-in. I kept track of gas mileage most of the trip and for a few tanks since we got back, but did nothing to optimize mileage. I drive to keep up with traffic especially in the mountains, so folks may report better mileage than I got. There are 2 trip meters so I was able to check overall and individual runs. I used the trip meters and actual gallons of Regular gas pumped, usually around ¾ tank.. The on-board fuel mileage reading turned out not very accurate but I was not very careful about resetting it.
Best unloaded mileage during careful break-in was 16.2 mpg. Best since returning was 16.8 mostly highway. Best unloaded city/highway commuting was right at 14mpg, worst 11.2. The first run towing the 25’ Safari was flat interstate at a steady 75mph which returned 10.8mpg. Another relatively flat interstate run at 60 mph was 12.2 mpg. Most of the trip was towing in the mountains, 50-60mph highway and 45mph rural roads. The motor was a pleasure to drive aggressively in these conditions and I got varied mileage between 10 and 12 mpg. These are reasonable towing numbers for a gas automatic, and are better than what my f150 4.2L manual gives, so I am not complaining.
I’ve run 4 or 5 tanks of E85 ethanol fuel and cannot say I’ve noticed any performance difference but the price makes me smile. Where we were camped in NY, E85 was $0.90 less than regular and $1.20 cheaper than diesel! My local station sells E85 at $0.45 less than regular and $0.75 less than diesel.
The new Super Duty is a nice towing machine and Ford has nailed the engine/tranny package. I’ve not had a chance to pull anything heavy with it yet but I suspect it will do quite well.