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Driven: 2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL

SAMSUNG CSC When Volkswagen introduced the current North American market, US-built Passat in 2011, it was a move seen as either heresy or necessity, depending on which side of the VW enthusiast fence you sat on. After all, if the company wasn’t going to trade on its “Continental manufacturing for the mainstream” appeal, what was the point? At least, that was the counterargument to VW's claim that a midsize sedan designed specifically for the North American market would finally allow them to compete on price, size and content with competitors from Asia and the US. Despite being three model years in, we haven’t yet covered the “NMS” Passat on these pages. No time like the present… SAMSUNG CSC While it may be known internally as the NMS (new midsize sedan), H.M.S. might have been a more appropriate designation – this thing is a yacht. Rear seat legroom, even behind a tall driver, is enough for any budding taxi or livery fleet to bank their success on; ditto the trunk. If merit was based purely on rear seat accommodations, the Passat would surely be a homerun. Of course, it’s not quite that easy, as VW has discovered – the Passat has been relegated to the bottom half of the segment sales charts since introduction. As I would come to find out during my week with the car, that probably has more to do with the stalwarts in this class and the competence of those challengers than any major shortcomings on the Passat’s part. SAMSUNG CSC Still, it must be said – one problem the Passat faces in this larger-than-life marketplace is its styling: it’s conservative almost to a fault. While I find it to be quite classy and unassuming (which is what some would expect in a German car), its competitors sport more visual flash and still manage to put butts in the seats. It’s especially restrained on lower trim levels, where 16-inch alloys or even wheel covers stand in for our SEL’s tasty 18-inch split-five alloys. Still, while the styling may not light hearts afire, the paint quality and shutlines are better than average for the class. SAMSUNG CSC The interior continues the theme of restraint, with Coal Bin Black™ being the color theme of the day, aside from a few wood trim flourishes on the dash and doors. For this lover of mid-90s Japanese autos, the large side windows and low cowl/short dash combination bring back the airy greenhouse feeling of some of my favorites – 1990-93 Accord, I’m looking in your direction. So even though the materials used are dark, the interior still feels bright and spacious, and assembly quality is typically VW/Audi tight. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Out on the road, the Passat drives like a big, laid back cruiser – far from the buttoned-down home market feel of its German-made B7 predecessor. Large undulations are felt in two complete up-and-down motions rather than just one, and while a smooth ride is fine, more damper control would be nice. Cornering attitude actually remains quite flat, which is unexpected given the soft ride quality, and the steering is light in effort but accurate and trustworthy. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Replacing the previous 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 5-cylinder power unit is a standard 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four cylinder from the EA888 family, which pumps out 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet. While not much stronger on paper, real-world grunt over the old five-cylinder is palpable, and the real reason it’s here – for improved fuel economy – is immediately apparent in the EPA ratings. Ratings of 24 city and 34 highway trounce the old engine’s 22/31, and with the torque peak now occurring at just 1,500 rpm instead of 4,250, the six-speed auto can upshift early on a wave of torque while still providing adequate forward progress. It’s more than a little reminiscent of the TDI/6-speed DSG combo also available in the Passat, right down to the clattery engine note – though at idle, virtually no engine noise or vibration enters the cabin. Mileage-wise, I was only able to eke out a 27.6 MPG average in mixed conditions, which makes me wonder whether an engine start-stop system might be a worthwhile mid-cycle addition to improve around-town mileage. Highway mileage registered in the low 30s. SAMSUNG CSC With a monster 18.5 gallon tank and honest 30+ MPG highway capability, the Passat is truly a mile crusher – 550-mile ranges are well within reach on road trips. The rest of the car certainly won’t beat you up, either. The seats are comfortable, the Fender-branded stereo is strong (though touchscreen inputs sometimes lag before registering), and all controls feel properly judged and weighted. It’s a nice place to spend time, and it’s quiet – really quiet. Unless you’re on rough pavement, that is – our tester’s 18-inch, 235-section tires and an utter lack of wind noise probably conspired to amplify perceived road noise more than a decibel meter could confirm, but there was enough of a sound difference between smooth and pitted pavement for me to notice. Is it a deal-breaker? No. But if you’re shopping the Passat, you may want to try a trim level with 16- or 17-inch wheels back to back with the SEL to see if there’s an improvement. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Overall, then, the Passat is a bit of a mixed success. Is it a nice car? Absolutely. And it certainly feels built to hold up in the long run and remain cheap to operate, something its complex forebears couldn’t always say. But does it retain that “Germanic” feel that drew so many now-loyalists to the VW nameplate in the first place? It looks German, but in every other aspect, this is a car built to (perceived) American tastes of roominess and ride quality – whether or not those are current mid-size shoppers’ actual values is still up in the air.  SAMSUNG CSC 2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium Base price: $31,715 Price as tested: $31,715 Options on test car: None Powertrain: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 170 horsepower, 184 lbs-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 27.6 mpg VW provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Chevy Silverado 2500HD 4X4 Crew Cab

SAMSUNG CSC Chevy’s new heavy-duty line of Silverado pickups are big beasts of burden. Short of a U-Haul, there’s not a whole lot out there that’s bigger and can still be legally piloted without a CDL. Even compared to the Silverado 1500 Crew Cab, a truck already near and dear to my heart but not exactly “compact” in its own right, the 2500 4x4 pictured here commands attention with another 2,000 pounds of girth, 4.5” of height and 9.5” of length. SAMSUNG CSC It’s important to keep those numbers on hand, because behind the wheel, they start to lose relevance. Sure, parking lots need to be negotiated with a bit more care than in your average light-duty pickup or SUV. In the 2500, I tended to stick to the empty ends of the lot where nobody would mind if I took up an extra space or three. But on the move, the HD operates with such a smooth demeanor and lack of fuss that you’d easily forget its larger-than-life shadow if you lived with it every day. SAMSUNG CSC Possessing an interior every bit as roomy, luxurious and comfortable as that of the loaded GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado 1500 models I’ve sampled in the past year, this LTZ Crew Cab tester would easily make the final rounds of competition for “best road-trip vehicle of all time”. If you’ve got a fuel rewards card with unlimited points, even better. Economy with the DuraMax diesel certainly wasn’t terrible – given its skillset, few would argue with the near-17 MPG average it returned in mixed commuting conditions. On pure highway stretches, I saw closer to 21. SAMSUNG CSC   SAMSUNG CSC It’s on those longer highway trips where you can really revel in the 2500HD’s commanding driving position, plush heated and cooled leather chairs, and total isolation from wind and tire noise. And of course, that deep reserve of diesel torque – 765 lb-ft to be exact. To call the Silverado quick from a dead stop is probably overstating the case; with nearly 400 horsepower on tap, it’s certainly no slouch in the engine department, but let’s not forget the 7,300 pounds of curb weight to contend with, plus whatever you happen to be towing out back. It’ll take up to 17,100 pounds in gooseneck trailer weight (13,000 pounds conventional) to make the 2500HD’s knees start to shake. If you’re towing anything larger than that, you may want to consider buying a rig with “Mack” written across the front. SAMSUNG CSC At cruising speeds, that low-end torque is omnipresent – passing maneuvers are reduced to a simple flex of your right toes. The ride on our Z71 off-road package-equipped tester tended to get a little bouncy over rough pavement, but that’s par for the course with these HD trucks – and would likely resolve itself with a full bed or trailer in tow. Overall road isolation is excellent, a trait shared with the HD’s smaller 1500-series brothers. The steering even manages to be responsive without any undue speed or nervousness that could make towing a chore. SAMSUNG CSC Just as in the quarter-ton segment, competition among heavy duty trucks is fierce. As mighty as the 6.6-liter Duramax seems on paper, the diesel alternatives from RAM and Ford are just as formidable – the Dodge carries a serious 17,970-pound tow rating thanks to its 800 lb-ft of torque, and the Ford is no slouch either with 15,900 lbs of overall tow capacity, although that’s a good bit down from the Chevy’s abilities. The Silverado has both of the other domestics beat at the scales, though, since even a 7,300-pound curb weight is svelte when it comes to full-size diesel pickups – after all, that’s 160 pounds less than the Ford and a whopping 500 pounds lighter than the RAM. SAMSUNG CSC Pricing’s in line with the competition, too – as you’d expect. While $62,925 might be what some would consider puckeringly dear for a pickup truck, that’s what these rigs often go for. And in this loaded LTZ level of trim, they serve not only as workhorses, but mobile offices, travel trailer tow rigs and luxury sedans wrapped into one. Buyers expect them to be loaded, so loaded they come. SAMSUNG CSC As a prospect for commuting to the office in, it’s probably overkill. But for a do-anything, carry-anything, tow-anything luxury liner, the HD absolutely hits its mark. SAMSUNG CSC     2015 Chevy Silverado 2500HD LTZ 4X4 Crew Cab Base price: $49,225 Price as tested: $62,925 Options on test car: Duramax turbo diesel engine ($7,195), Allison 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,200), LTZ Plus Package ($1,165), 6” Chrome side steps ($750), Heated and cooled front seats ($650), Z71 Off-road Package ($555), MyLink audio system w/ Navigation ($495), Spray-on bed liner ($475), All-weather mats and cargo package ($435), Front leather bucket seats ($325), Chrome tow hooks ($250), 18” A/T tires ($200), Tilt & telescoping steering wheel ($100), Movable bed tie downs ($60), Cargo box LED lighting ($60), 5th wheel trailer wiring provisions ($35), Delete power sliding rear window (-$250) Powertrain: 6.6-liter Duramax V8 turbo-diesel engine, Allison 6-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive – 397 horsepower, 765 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 16.8 mpg Chevy provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.  

Driven: 2014 Toyota Prius

IMG_5077-2 I’ve admitted on these pages before to not being the World’s Greatest Hybrid Fan. Yeah, I can see their purpose, and although their net impact on global sustainability remains questionable and hotly debated, I do at least understand that a reduced dependence on fossil fuels is a goal we should all be working toward. If in the near term we accomplish that by building vehicles with battery packs that greatly reduce fuel consumption, so be it. But that still hasn’t burnished a place in my heart for the Prius as a vehicle I would recommend to my friends when they ask me, the car guy in their lives, for advice. IMG_5080-5 That could be starting to change, though. For a little background, this is now the fourth Toyota-built hybrid vehicle I’ve driven for our website. I tend to receive a fair number of the Japanese automaker’s vehicles from the local press pool, and over time (as is probably the goal) they’ve started to cement a case for themselves in the cold light of weekday commuting duty. Especially in America’s great outposts of suburban sprawl, like my native Tampa Bay, there are fewer and fewer roads on which to enjoy a fun car during one’s daily commute – most of my route to work and back is straight, clogged and flat as a board. Why grind through it to the tune of mileage in the mid-20s when you can have the same level of comfort and practicality at twice the economy? IMG_5074-1 Such was my mindset after the week in the Prius. Point-A-to-Point-B appliancedom has always been the Prius’ forte. It’s not fun to drive, at least from a driving enthusiast’s perspective. The steering offers nil for feel and the cornering, while pleasantly flat, is light on grip from the efficiency-minded LRR tires and never tempts you to explore the limits. Likewise, the brake pedal exhibits that classic hybrid elasticity as it jumps between slowing the car and recovering energy for the batteries. Dialed back to the type of daily driving 95% of us do, the Prius shines. The ride is smooth and, surprisingly for what many would consider an economy car, the cabin is hushed at speed. The only noise that really makes itself known is that of the powertrain when you dip the pedal into the “power” range on the dash consumption meter. IMG_5082-1 Hybrids have a way of forcing a heavy right foot to buckle under the pressure of the various dashboard doo-dads monitoring your instant and average economy, tempting you into greater and greater returns on your last investment at the gas pump. I decided to turn all of that stuff off this time around, and drive the thing the way I try to drive every car – with gusto. That means hitting the “POWER” button on the dash by the gear selector every time I started the car up, thereby returning more acceleration for a given prod of the throttle. I figured when I tallied up my efficiency report card at the end of the week, I’d see mileage in the high 30s or somewhere thereabouts. Maybe I’d crack 40 if I was lucky. IMG_5078-3 The result? 47.1 MPG. That’s just about bang on the money for Toyota’s claimed economy numbers (51 city/48 highway/50 combined), which I almost never hit regardless of vehicle. The fact that I achieved it without trying to keep that efficiency meter in the black just speaks to the car’s engineering. That it also managed to be comfortable for four, quiet at speed, have a killer A/C system that kept the cabin chilled even during a week of early-summer Florida humidity, a pretty decent stereo, plus a nice-sized cargo area, and I now realize that I’d be hard-pressed to recommend a better car for someone with a budget around $25 grand and no interest in “dynamics”, but instead sturdy, reliable, roomy and comfortable transportation that also happens to blow other compacts and midsizers away when it's time to fill up the tank. For a commuter, you can’t ask for much more than that, really. IMG_5083-2   2014 Toyota Prius III Base price: $26,525 Price as tested: $26,525 Options on test car: None Powertrain: 1.8-liter four cylinder engine, CVT transmission, 60 kW electric motor and Ni-MH battery pack, front-wheel drive – 134 horsepower S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 47.1 mpg Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.  

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2014 Chevrolet SSThe debut of the Chevrolet SS seemed like it would be a good palate cleanser from the Tesla debacle, Buy Periactin Without Prescription. Generic Periactin, The bowtie's first rear-wheel-drive sedan offering in the US since the Impala SS took a bow in 1996, the idea of Chevrolet getting a full-throated anti-social V8 burnout machine certainly was intriguing, ordering Periactin online, Periactin price, however, what was launched at the Daytona Motor Speedway is, where can i buy cheapest Periactin online, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, less Mad Max and more Generally Somewhat Perturbed Max. It's certainly an attractively muscular brute, all hard angles, creases and aggressive lines. The interior continues the much-welcomed new Chevrolet trend of "trying", and it's got a big V8 at the front - the same LS3 from the outgoing Corvette - and big sticky tires at the back. On paper, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Chevrolet SS - and yet, the spec sheet is shot through with places where Chevrolet has tried to round the corners off of this car for mass consumption. Buy Periactin Without Prescription, In between that LS3 V8 and the 275/35ZR19 Bridgestones at the back sits not a six-speed manual gearbox, but instead a six-speed automatic - not exactly a transmission for those who wish to convert the rear tires into smoke and noise, or simply hustle along at 9/10ths. That LS3 V8 is actually detuned from Corvette trim to 415 HP and 415 ft-lbs of torque, a loss of 35 HP and ft-lbs from the full-fat version. Yes, it still goes from 0-60 in under five seconds by Chevrolet's estimation, but why the decimation (literally) of power and torque. Chevrolet says that they achieved a balance of performance and comfort with the SS, but given the softness of the suspension of Chevrolets past (save the C6 Corvette) and the softening of the spec sheet - including the lack of the words "limited", "slip", and "differential" anywhere in the press release - I'm concerned that the Chevrolet SS will fail to live up to its vast potential. We'll find out in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Dodge-Ram_1500_2013_800x600_wallpaper_1fPickup trucks, ostensibly, are about carrying and towing heavy things, Buy Periactin Without Prescription. This requires torque, or rotational force. Diesel engines typically produce more torque and are more fuel-efficient than the equivalent gasoline engine. Therefore, it would seem logical that diesel engines would be an option up and down the whole range of pickup trucks, however, half-ton pickup trucks have been without a diesel option for many years. This is an issue that Ram has decided to fix with their Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. Slotting a 3.0L V6 turbodiesel under the hood and mating with a eight-speed automatic transmission should certainly produce a more-than-adequate amount of torque and power, and provide for what will be certainly a difficult MPG figure to top with a gas engine. Hopefully this will lead GM and Ford to start putting turbodiesels in their half-ton pickups, but we shall have to see how it sells when it goes on sale later this year.

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(Almost) Towin’ Speed:Sport:Life — 2011 Ford F350 Super Duty

by Byron Hurd. Photos: Byron Hurd with supplemental content from Ford Motor Company. A cloud, often more physical than metaphorical, seems to hang over S:S:L's east coast office. Whenever we get a purpose-built machine, the weather turns ugly. Late last fall, we got a spankin' new 370Z from Nissan and permission to track it, only to wake up to snow the next day. This summer, we had a 2011 Mustang GT Convertible and plans to attend a movie at one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the Mid-Atlantic area. What better way to do it, right? Naturally, that weekend brought record heat and wicked thunderstorms. So when we scheduled our camping and horseback riding weekend with the F350, we had every eventuality covered. We had alternate arrangements if we ended up getting swamped out of the campsite. We even lined up dry shelter for the horses in case we really got slammed. Preparation was the name of the game. But Mother Nature managed to sneak one in the back door. Back at the end of September, the east coast was battered by a particularly brutal late summer storm. Parts of the Mid-Atlantic received upwards of 7" of rain in 36 hours. It was nasty with a capital "ass," and at some point during the inundation, one of the horses slipped and cut her shin clear to the bone. Prognosis: Full recovery with no rehab. Downtime: 3-6 weeks. Countdown to trip: 20 days. Author's reaction: "Figures." We managed to can the trip plans before we would lose our deposits, but that still left us with a purpose-built tow/haul vehicle and nothing to do with it. I called my friend & fellow camper, Jim, the day we got the truck and I suggested an alternative: We could go play in the sand. There are few public beaches in the D.C. area where 4x4s are permitted, and most of them are State or National Parks. Parks mean permits and fees--not logistically viable or financial sound when it comes to a press vehicle. Why the stubborn adherence to beach wheeling? The short answer: It's safe. Our F350 loaner was a very pretty truck, and I wanted to return it that way. It was also a very wide truck. Sand washes off, but trees and boulders can leave a mark. The next closest viable alternative wasn't particularly cheap or convenient, but it had the benefit of being somewhat exotic and out-of-the-way while still being reasonable for a day trip. Oh, and beach access is free. Destination: Corolla, North Carolina.

When the truck was handed off, the F350's handy cluster-mounted multifunction display had been left in fuel economy mode. Since it was last reset, it had recorded an overall average of 17.2 MPG. Not a bad number, but not terribly informative either. As we set off southward, I reset the trip computer and settled in. It'll take you about 4.5 hours to get from Annapolis, MD to NC Highway 12 on the barrier island. We took the most direct route (Rt. 50 -> I-495 -> I-95 -> I-64 -> VA/NC168), foregoing the more laid-back and scenic drive down the Delmarva Peninsula for the sake of expediency.  If you hook a left onto NC12 North and ride it out to the bitter end, you'll eventually weave through some short pines and arrive at a cattle guard and some signage indicating that you've reached the end of civilization. Here be dragons. Or maybe a few wild horses and some biting flies. From here, there is no marked highway. The sand itself carries all motorized traffic destined for the beach communities that lie northward. There are still speed limits and rules dictating right-of-way and the negotiation of parked vehicles, but common sense  and courtesy are really all you need. And as it turns out, there's an abundance of courtesy from the locals and lingering out-of-state owners in late October. It probably helped that the only plate on the truck was in the rear, preventing oncoming traffic from identifying us as tourists until after they'd already smiled and waved. The worst part of the beach is the soft, dry sand located at the road transition. Chances are, if you can clear the first 50 feet without issues, you're home free. The F350 dives in with all the grace of a maimed ox, but plows undeterred through the deeply-rutted mounds and lurches onto the packed, wet sand closer to the surf line. It may not be a delicate off-roader, but sometimes a machete gets the job done just as well as a scalpel.

It's early evening and the tide is as low as I've ever seen it. Wishing to avoid salt water, I keep a healthy gap between the passenger side of the truck and the surf line as we make our way up the silicon highway. There are peaks and valleys in the sand at somewhat regular intervals, some forming wicked ruts that upset the F350's suspension if tackled straight-on at speed. A little weaving to hit them at shallower angles keeps the front end from venturing close to the bump stops, but only the gentlest of impacts goes unnoticed by the rear axle. With no load on the bed to keep the rear suspension in check, the truck bucks and tosses with every dip. When traffic disperses a bit, I decide to play around with the truck's shift-on-the-fly four wheel drive system. A simple knob on the dash allows you to select from 2-High, 4-High and 4-Low, with an additional push-pull toggle for the optional electronic locking rear differential. Two wheel drive is useless here for anything but the wet, well-packed sand along the water, but it does have its moments. With the stability control off, the truck responds to lift/mash-throttle and light steering input with calm, predictable fishtailing. With this much weight in front of me and more wheelbase than I know what to do with, I could this all day, but Jim is starting to look a bit green. Curiosity getting the better of me, I leave the truck in 2-High and ease up toward the dunes to try out the soft stuff. Predictably, the heavy front end digs in immediately, snuffing out any momentum. I quickly turn the knob back to 4-High before I bog down completely, and with a gentle touch on the throttle and a few encouraging words, the truck steams back up to speed. With the tires aired down and some ballast added to the bed, I have no doubt the F350 could make do with only one powered axle. But this is just a day trip, and I don't want to be that tourist who gets his pretty truck mired in Carolina quicksand. We arrive at a quiet, open section just as the sun is getting low enough to shoot photographs that come out well even on cheap equipment. We pop our camp chairs and a couple of local libations we picked up at Outer Banks Brewing Station before we made our way up the island. It's cool, but not quite chilly even as the sun starts to sink behind the dunes. I get as many pictures as I can, do a couple faux-nuts just to satisfy my inner hoon, and we relax a bit as the sun gives the ocean that near-sunset mirror finish. We may not have the girls or the horses, but the weekend isn't a complete waste.

With daylight gone and the temperature dropping, we pack back up and make our way southward to solid ground. The tide has come in a bit, but there's still plenty of room and even less traffic. In the open sections, I push the truck a little harder than I did on the way up, doing my best Dakar impression over some of the hard-packed jumps below the high-tide mark. It's too dark to tell if Jim's turning green again, but he's dead silent, with one hand holding the top of the dash and the other clutching the help-me-up handle on the passenger side A-pillar. I'm trying not to laugh openly. "Just don't roll it," he grunts. We hit up the Brewing Station again for dinner before getting back on the road, and the long drive home gives me plenty of time to reflect on the truck. It's a great, but imperfect cruiser. It drives heavy because it is, and the over-boosted wheel demands shuffle-steering or hand-over-hand even in the simplest of maneuvers, but it tightens up well at speed. And speaking of speed, the 6.7L Power Stroke turbo diesel V8 pulls like a freight train all the way to the end of the 100 MPH speedometer. 400hp and 800lb-ft (up from 390hp and 735lb-ft previously) are commanding figures even in a truck this big, and highway passing is absolutely effortless. Need to scoot around a 10-deep line of dawdlers going uphill? No. Problem. And if you're a 2010 owner and you feel like you've missed out on 10 horsepower and 65lb-ft of torque, fear not. Rumor has it they're just a reflash away at your local dealership. Give 'em a call.

Ford's 6-Speed "TorqShift" transmission feels a little industrial in cold temperatures, but quickly warms up and delivers smooth shifts and pleasant cruising. Tow/Haul mode is just a button press away, and selecting manual mode on the column-mounted shifter allows you to time your gear changes with a small +/- toggle lever on the stalk. It will only shift up or down on its own in manual mode if you're bogging or riding it close to red line. While this means the truck technically doesn't pass the Lord Byron "Will it bounce off the limiter?" test, it's entirely forgivable considering the application. The rest is 100% modern Ford truck. Inside, you'll find durable, attractive dash plastics; large, easy-to-use controls; plenty of storage cubbies and accessory ports (including three 12V outlets in the cabin and a built-in,  laptop-ready 110V/150W  inverter) and the usual array of Sync-related features. The Lariat Ultimate package in our tester included heated/air conditioned seats, touchscreen Navigation (with Sync integration, natch), a power moonroof, back-up camera and the integrated tailgate step (Go ahead and laugh, Howie, but it's exactly the kind of underrated feature that can sell a truck right out of the showroom. Everybody wanted to see that step). So feature rich are the new Super Duties that, if you forget for a moment that you're piloting a machine the size of a small space station, you get a genuine sensation of luxury. Just try to avoid any potholes, lest the heavy-duty suspension remind you that the F350 is more NASA than Nassau.

Still, the F350 would have been far more at home with the ladies in the front seat and the loaded horse trailer hitched up in the rear. It's just that kind of truck. I would probably prefer something a little smaller and simpler (An EcoBoost F150 is a bit more my speed), and for a workout like we gave this truck, well, Ford builds the Raptor for a reason. The Power Stroke sells itself on power and mileage alone, but not everybody needs more than a half-ton for their routine, and the nearly $8,000 price tag on the diesel will buy a heck of a lot of gasoline (even for the thirsty 6.2L V8). But then, if you're buying a heavy duty truck and you don't need to tow or haul with it, you've sort of missed the point. Speaking of mileage, I left the trip computer on for the duration of the trip, beach outing included, and there's little to complain about. 19.7 mpg observed and corroborated by back-of-the-napkin math. Not bad for a many-ton behemoth that can tow a healthy 14,000lbs and haul nearly 4,000.

There's an inevitable comparison to be made here with the Ram 2500 we drove back in the spring. Truck-for-truck, the Ford brings a lot more to the table, but when you consider ~$15,000 price premium, it absolutely should. Once you account for price and equipment differences, the gap narrows significantly. Take away the F350's Power Stroke and Lariat Ultimate options and the gap closes to about $3,000, accounted for by the Ford's one-up in bulk. I suspect that a straight-up comparison between the 2500 and an F250 with equivalent engines would be a tough game to call without a comprehensive barrage of towing and hauling tests. On looks alone, I'd have to pick the Ram, and that's further compounded by a shameless soft spot for Chrysler's Hemi/MDS V8s, and there are worse engines to be stuck with than a modern Cummins if diesel power is a must.

It's clear that Ford has taken their role of 2011 one-upper seriously. Their improvements put them at the front of the heavy duty field yet again, and damned if we can find any unpleasant side effects. If long-haul towing is on your to-do list, I can't think of a better way to get it done.

Ford provided the F350 for the purpose of this review. Special care was taken to avoid damaging the beach beyond normal wear and tear. Please wheel safely and responsibly. Obey all state laws and posted rules. Car: 2011 Ford F350 Super Duty 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat (156" WB/SRW) Base price: $44,745 Price as tested: $59,850 Major Options: 6.7L Power Stroke V8 Diesel ($7,835), 3.31 Electronic Locking Rear Axle ($390), All-terrain tires ($125), FX4 Package ($295), Upfitter Switches ($125), Heavy Duty Alternator Upgrade ($75), Stowable Bed Extender ($250), Factory Spray-in Bed Liner ($450), Cable Lock ($120), Two-Tone Paint ($470), Lariat Ultimate Package ($3,995), Destination ($975) Time in fleet: October 20-26, 2010 Miles driven (approx): ~1000

Speed Read: 2011 Ford Super Duty

Dates in fleet: 5/8/10-5/14/10
Mileage: 820
MSRP and significant options: $60,810. Powerstroke Diesel - $7,835, Lariat Ultimate Package - $3,995, Spray-in bedliner - $450

J. BARUTH: It's rare for us to not misuse our press-fleet trucks for race-car-hauling duties, but there weren't any events during our time with this rather chrome-bedecked Super Duty. Instead, we took it to a Pat Metheny concert at the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Kind of a hoity-toity thing to do with a three-quarter-ton truck, but that's okay, because there's a lot of velvet glove surrounding this particular iron fist.

Anybody who has ever rented an old U-Haul knows what Ford truck interiors used to be like. Plenty of exposed metal, vinyl floors, and a pencil-thin steering wheel that seems to have little influence on the vehicle's actual direction. Those days are long gone. Take a look at the picture above: that's a full-color, multi-function LCD screen with more real estate and more resolution than what you'd find in most luxury cars. It isn't integrated with the nav or sound systems, but on the other hand it can tell you how well your off-road adventure is going. On the road, this Super Duty rides like a Town Car --- maybe better, given the long wheelbase. Only really big imperfections in the pavement can generate the "head shake" associated with big, live-axle trucks. And the Town Car would just die for this level of luxury equipment. The SYNC implementation is as good as it is in Ford's passenger cars. Our time in well-equipped 2009 Super Duty trucks revealed that the sound system wasn't quite loud enough to be well-heard over the diesel PowerStroke at full roar. This year, the stereo is louder and the engine is quieter. It's so quiet that a few passengers thought it was a gas-powered truck.

While the new PowerStroke is quiet, it's also fast. This F-250 is a capable passer on two-lane roads and rips into the 80-mph zone with no effort whatsoever on freeway ramps. Ford's finally decided to provide a decent spray-in bedliner with these trucks: at $450, it's a bargain. The same goes for the bed extender, which has saved us for a few overpacked race weekends in the past.

Our trip to Cincinnati revealed the SuperDuty's Achilles heel when used for passenger-car duties: there's no place to park it. Once upon a time, the F-250 was no wider or longer than the equivalent Ford LTD, but today it is roughly the size of an Amtrak engine and nearly as tall. Few garages can admit it. The time you lose finding on-street parking will be saved later when you have to clear traffic out of the left lane. Virtually everybody moves over for the massive chrome grille.

We stopped by Switzer Performance in Oberlin, Ohio to get their opinion on the truck. Company founder Tym Switzer noted that the hose clamps on the new PowerStroke are of the same quality and design as those used in a Porsche 911 Turbo. That's fitting; this is a core vehicle for Ford, just as the Turbo is for Porsche, and in both cases the details have been well and truly sweated.

We didn't tow with the Super Duty, but we would expect it to be just as good as last year's model. In all other respects, however, the 2011 is far superior, so we'd suggest checking it out before you buy the current model.