Ford's Escape battles the SuperDuty F-450

Ford updates two of its classic haulers for 2008.

By Alex Taylor III, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- Matching the right vehicle to the job is important - especially in small business, where efficiency and image count. You wouldn't drive a Jaguar to the dump, just as you wouldn't cram the soccer team into a Volkswagen Beetle.

For the question, What do I drive when I have hauling and towing work to do?, Ford (Charts) has two answers, both of them redesigned for the 2008 model year and in dealerships now.

SuperDuty F-450 V-8 4x4 Lariat: $51,280 (base price); 300 horsepower; Towing capacity: 21,600 pounds
Escape XLT V-6 4WD: $23,630 (base price) 200 horsepower; Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

The 2008 Escape is Ford's solution for light jobs around town. This popular sport-utility vehicle - more than a million have been sold to date - has been given a fresh new look for the first time in its seven-year run. Although the Escape is built on a passenger-car chassis Ford designers have given it a more macho look, with a bold front end and prominently flared fenders. That will make it easier to capture former Explorer owners who are fleeing truck-based SUVs.

Inside, the new Escape feels more upscale than its predecessor. It is the first model to get Ford's new interior lighting design, which replaces the traditional green numbers and letters on gauges with an elegant blue. Unfortunately, the same improvements haven't been made to the powertrain.

The loaded version I drove was powered by Ford's workhorse V-6 and coupled to a veteran four-speed transmission. On a run past Henry Ford's old house in Dearborn, Mich., performance was adequate, though the brakes didn't respond proportionately to firm pedal pressure, creating a certain uneasiness. On the plus side, safety equipment such as side-curtain airbags has been made standard despite a several-hundred-dollar price cut.

With its optional towing package, the Escape has a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds - featherweight compared with the 16,000-pound camper-trailer I hauled around Ford's test track behind a 2008 F-450 SuperDuty pickup.

With its shoulder-high front end and yawning chrome-ribbed grille, the SuperDuty looks as if it eats Escapes for breakfast, and its price reflects the fact that it's the most powerful factory-made pickup available. With the optional 6.4-liter diesel engine that produces a stump-pulling 650 foot-pounds of torque at 2,000 rpm, the SuperDuty can haul loads that weigh as much as 12 tons.

I felt pampered in the high-luxe King Ranch edition, with its leather-trimmed seats, console and doors. The cab can also be equipped with a touchscreen computer that will map routes or handle book-keeping. But most of my attention was focused on keeping the trailer going in the right direction while negotiating the bends and banks at the track. Shifting gears made takeoffs a little jerky, but a feature called Tow Command, which integrates brake control on the truck and the trailer, kept the stops smooth.

If I had to choose between the two vehicles, the SuperDuty would get the nod. It gives everything else on the road an automotive inferiority complex.


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