Because sometimes you need to tow through to the next dimension.
Overkill (noun). 1. Excess
2. Greater destructive capacity than needed.
Ahh, overkill. Sometimes it’s fun to use a sledgehammer when a mere claw hammer would have sufficed. And surely it’s more fun to drive up hills with 1,166 newtonmetres of torque, than an anaemic 300 Nm. So welcome to life in the Performax Ford F-350, a vehicle with towing genuinely built into its DNA.
Now, the Ford F-350 isn’t a vehicle that is officially supported by Ford Australia. Nope, Australian company Performax heads over to America and Canada to source their vehicles at a retail level, before importing them back into Australia. They then go to work by painstakingly stripping out the interior and converting to right-hand drive. Obviously things like the steering box need to be moved, but far more is done than you might think. An entirely new dashboard is made for example, which looks completely factory – it’s just Performax factory; but it looks like a mirror image of the Ford factory dashboard.
No small details are missed either, including things like the relocation of the microphone in the Bluetooth hands free to the drivers side. There are plenty of small businesses around importing low volume vehicles, but Performax isn’t one of them. With the volume that they process, they are now recognized as a high volume seller, which means they are subject to far more stringent checks and balances than the low volume guys. In fact, your vehicle rego papers will read ‘Performax Ford F-350’, as opposed to just Ford F-350, as the company has its own compliance plates. Performax, whose plant is based in Gympie, has 100 employees, including four full-time engineers. So they’re in this for the long haul.
But let’s get back to the Effie. Under the stub-nosed bonnet, Ford have stuffed a 6.7-litre turbo diesel engine. It’s such a chunky engine, it requires two batteries to fire the glow plugs and starter! Out of all of the big tow rigs, this one with its 328 kilowatts, is the most powerful. And the delivery of that power is a thing of beauty. The long-travel accelerator pedal allows you to drive as sedately as you like, and it actually encourages efficiency. Does 80km/h at 1100rpm sound sweet to you? In fact, with nothing hooked up behind, our test vehicle managed 15.6-litres per 100km. But if you need that power, it’s definitely there. You can wheel spin on bitumen in second and third gears with a mere blip of the pedal. And that’s all without an engine performance chip…
But this is a tow test, so how does the F-350 stack up? Throw a dual axle three-tonne caravan on the back, and you’re flat-out telling it’s there. And yes, I’m serious. The towing platform is simply that good. The leaf spring setup on the rear is quite supple, but with a load inside, the helper springs come into play to maintain ride height. I would like to see bigger shock absorbers on this rig though, as the front end in particular can become unsettled over poor surfaces. Power is obviously not a problem, and as the engine never really labours under load, fuel efficiency is incredible. In fact, we noticed the consumption to increase to just 17.2 litres per 100km on our 1000km-plus tow loop from Tamworth to Sydney and back. Minus a tow load, and the big rig slips down to 15.6 litres per 100km. For most vehicles, this is unheard of. Usually, with a heavy load on board you’ll expect an increase of at least 40-50% while towing – and considerably more with petrol engines. But it’s all relative, I guess. When a vehicle can tow five tonnes, what’s a mere two or three?
When it comes to big descents, simply hit the dash button to engage the exhaust brake, and you’ll coast to the bottom with very little reliance on the brakes. But you may not even need the exhaust brake. You see, the F-350 has a tow/haul mode, which modifies both the engine torque characteristics and the six-speed transmission. In this mode, the truck holds its gears for longer down hill, and generally feels more in control thanks to engine braking. And there’s no need for an additional electronic brake controller – it’s built-in in the Effie.
The standard mirrors are also exemplary for towing. They feature an upper mirror for long distance vision, and wide angle lower mirror for short distance. And unlike most aftermarket mirrors, the mirrors can be widened electrically at the turn of a dial – and that, my friends, is pure towing gold. The centre of the dash houses a 20cm LCD screen, which is not only your entertainment hub, but your screen for your rear view camera. It’s one of the best of its type, and vision right down to the towball is fantastic. There are even guide lines that let you know whether you’re on track or not.
As you would expect from a vehicle in this price range, the interior comfort is paramount. The front leather seats are both heated AND cooled. Yep, if the black leather seats get too hot for you on a steamy summer day, no more sticking to the sweaty seats!
Now, you might be wondering about the difference between the F-250 and F-350. Other than the badge, they’re visually identical. It’s only in some of the underpinnings that you will notice some differences. The F-350 features some more heavy-duty suspension options, and a slightly larger one-tonne load capacity. In fact, that you will need to grab yourself a light rigid licence for this vehicle. However, you can easily get a GVM downgrade 4495kg for around $100, meaning that you can drive this vehicle on a standard car licence. Fifth wheeler anyone?
The load carrying capacity is quite awesome given the incredibly long bed. And there’s a wonderful courtesy step with safety handle to help you get inside. This is one rig that you could easily picture yourself hitting the road with for the ‘big lap’ (or three big laps for that matter!). Just think of the room for souvenirs… Unfortunately being an import model, modifications are pricey. Our test model features a Snugtop canopy for a cool $7,000. Not cheap at all. And in terms of quality it’s not as good as local canopies.
Yes, the Performax Ford F-350 Lariat is indeed overkill. But if you can handle the incredible size (I wouldn’t recommend underground carparks), then you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. It is surely one of the most accomplished tow vehicles on the market, and gets the unabashed RV Daily stamp of approval. And just think, when you overtake LandCruisers you can peer down at them and remark, “Oh, isn’t that cute!”
Thanks to Parravans for the use of the River and Goldstream RV vans.