Ford, Harley-Davidson mark 105 years

Sunday, April 20, 2008

If you think riding a raucous, powerful Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a bold experience, try getting behind the wheel of the new-for-2008 Ford F250 Super Duty Harley-Davidson pickup truck.

This three-ton, four-door truck rides on 20-inch, Harley-inspired wheels; drivers tower over other vehicles and can wind up, like I did, eye to eye with the driver of a cement truck.

Indeed, the Harley Super Duty pickup truck is so tall, it makes the ground-hugging, little Mazda Miata roadster look like a mere bug on the road.

And in contrast to Harley motorcycles, this Harley is so big, it doesn't necessarily fit in downtown parking garages. Complicating things is the truck's height, which puts the roof perilously close to concrete ceiling beams in the garages and snags the stationary antenna, and the far-out PowerScope mirrors on the truck doors, which can bump into parking ticket dispensers.

With a turbo-diesel V-8 under the hood, this Harley has torque like no other -- a whopping 650 foot-pounds at a low 2,000 rpm.

The 2008 model year marks the first time in the 11 years that Ford Motor Co. has been selling special, cobranded Harley-Davidson editions of its F-Series pickup that a heavy-duty Super Duty truck gets the same Harley treatment as light-duty, Harley F-Series trucks.

Note that both Ford Motor Co. and Harley-Davidson are celebrating 105 years of production this year.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $46,130 for a 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Duty with V-10 gasoline engine. But the preferred engine for people who tow is the 6.4-liter, Power Stroke diesel V-8. It doesn't come cheap. It's priced at $6,895, which puts this pickup truck into the plus $50,000 price range.

With fuel priced as high as it is these days, I didn't expect to find many people interested in this truck.

But I was wrong. Harley fans and full-size truck owners who tow trailers and boats knew about this truck and wanted to get inside to see the special, black-and-dusted-copper leather front seats that look and feel an awful lot like regular living room chairs.

They loved the large, raised, chrome-colored Harley badge that I thought was gaudy on the top of the center console lid. And they marveled at the spaciousness of the back seat, where 41.8 inches of legroom rivals that of the front seats of many large cars.

Typical diesel ruckus emanated from the front hood at idle, but it was soon drowned out by the strong power sounds as this truck accelerated with unexpected grace.

The Harley Super Duty with 350-horsepower V-8 parsed its power delivery commendably in stop-and-go traffic, so I didn't need to put on the brakes every time I needed to slow. I could just let up on the accelerator and the truck immediately began to slow.

The transmission -- a Torqshift five-speed -- worked smoothly, and steering had a mainstream feel without being sloppy.

This truck, with standard four-wheel drive, can tow Harley-Davidson motorcycles with ease. Maximum towing capacity is 12,500 pounds.

The federal government doesn't require trucks in this weight class to post fuel mileage ratings on the window stickers. But Consumer Reports estimated the F250 Super Duty with Power Stroke diesel gets about 10 miles per gallon.

This was what I got in the test truck with 30.5-gallon tank. It's one of the few vehicles I've tested where I could hear "glug, glug" as I put fuel into the near-empty tank at the filling station.

With diesel selling now around $4.15 a gallon, the sound seemed to magnify a fuel bill that could top $120 after barely 300 miles.

The driver seat was up high -- it was at neck level when I opened the door. I made good use of the cab steps provided.

The ride was truckish, bouncy over bumps and a feeling of a lot of mass at the wheels. But the truck didn't feel loose.

Views out front and to the sides of this truck were amazing. If no semi-hauler was in front of me, I could see all the way to the next hill on the highway. And in the neighborhood, I easily peered over fences.

Rear vision was seriously compromised, however, by the tall pickup box. In fact, at 5 feet 4, I had to stand on tiptoes to peer over the bed's sides when I was standing on the ground.

Thank goodness the test truck had both a rearview camera and rear parking sensors that beeped to tell me when I got close to an object behind me. I still was nervous, though, every time I backed up.

There are no crash test ratings for the F250, but the sense of security in this big truck is palpable. Still, standard safety features are few and include antilock brakes and frontal air bags but no side air bags or curtain air bags.

In addition, traction control is an option, but all Harley Super Duty trucks come with standard four-wheel-drive.

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