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2004 Ford Super Duty F-250 and F-350 Full-Size Pickup Trucks

What was tested? 2004 Ford F-250 4X4 Crew Cab ($35,550).

Options: 6.0-liter V-8 diesel engine ($5,085), five-speed diesel automatic transmission ($1,480), all-terrain tires ($250), limited-slip axel ($300), polished tubular cab steps ($75), electronic shift on the fly ($185), camper package ($160), telescoping mirrors ($220), FX4 package ($225), premium stereo ($210), adjustable pedals ($120), trailer hitch receiver ($175), two-tone paint ($225), body moldings ($60).

Price As Tested (including $795 destination charge): $45,115.

Thanks to its soft ride and fancy cabin, Ford's new F-150 pickup is getting more exposure than Janet Jackson's nipple.

And, like Miss Jackson, the F-150 has a rowdy, surprisingly similar-looking brother that's fond of the limelight. It's the Ford Super Duty.

The F-series Super Duty -- called the F-250 or F-350 depending on its layout -- looks an awful lot like the new and popular F-150, but it's completely different underneath. It's designed for intense work and high-capacity towing, not just an occasional trip to Lowe's or Home Depot. If you bought one just to drive around town like a beefed-up sedan, you'd probably be crazy enough to want a removable nose and personal amusement park, too.

That's because Super Duty trucks are designed entirely for tough, Paul Bunyan-type work like towing an aircraft carrier or hauling the contents of Fort Knox, not simply making comfortable trips on the highway.

Seriously, this rugged Ford can safely tow up to 14,200 pounds when properly equipped. That's impressive.

The heart of a Super Duty truck is in the engine bay, where no wimpy V-6s are offered like in the civilized pickups. Instead, Ford makes its base engine the 5.4-liter Triton V-8, which makes 260 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque for heavy-duty hauling. You can step up to the Triton V-10 if you want an extra 50 horsepower and 75 foot-pounds.

But the real monster engine -- the one that could put Mr. Bunyan's giant ox to shame -- is the 6.0-liter Power Stroke V8. This turbocharged, diesel-powered giant has a cast iron block and cylinder head for the ultimate in long-lasting power as it makes 325 horsepower and a whopping 560 foot-pounds of torque, the most in its class.

It's remarkable how strong the Power Stroke diesel feels, giving the impression that you could tie the truck to a granite mountain and tug it down the highway.

On the downside, driving a Super Duty truck around town is a nightmare. You have to fight the truck's massive size with every maneuver, whether changing lanes or going around a 90-degree corner.

A parking lot is the Super Duty's worst enemy, as its 80-inch width and wide, barge-like turning radius makes it almost impossible to park in narrow spots. Some small drive-thru lanes can pose problems, too.

The F-250's ride is rough and bouncy, but so are all heavy-duty trucks. Again, if you don't need serious towing capacity, do yourself a favor and buy the slightly smaller F-150 instead. It has a much better ride, quieter cabin, and still boasts decent work capability.

Like most pickups, the Super Duty line can be customized to meet a buyer's needs. Ford offers the company's typical packages ranging from simple to luxurious called XL, XLT, Lariat, XLT Sport, FX4 Off Road, and King Ranch. With all the different options available, there are more versions of the Super Duty than most folks care to count.

Base prices start at $21,750 for a simple, two-wheel drive XL regular cab up to $41,705 for the high-end, four-wheel drive King Ranch Crew Cab with a "dually" configuration -- double the wheels in back.

Overall, it's easy to see why the Ford Super Duty is the sales leader in its class. It has plenty of capability, potential for serious customization, and a price that's not much higher than the less rugged F-150.

Pros: Few trucks can match the towing potential of the new Ford Super Duty with a 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel engine. It has plenty of power and a reasonable price, and you can customize it to your heart's content.

Cons: If you don't need to do really heavy-duty work like frequent towing, definitely buy an F-150 instead. The Super Duty trucks have a relatively rough, bouncy ride and loud cabin, and the new F-150 is much better for driving around town.

RATINGS (1-10)
Style: 5
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 2
Ride: 3
Comfort: 5
Quality: 8
Overall: 7