In 1959, Ford bought up 4,000 acres about a million miles from anywhere between Las Vegas and Phoenix, transforming an Army Air Corp facility and public lands into its Arizona Proving Grounds (APG). When we visited the arid, empty APG in June, the only things making a hard landing at this former airbase were borderline triple-digit heat and the sweat dropping off the bodies of the automotive journalists who came to preview Ford's '05 Super Duty platform.

The trip began in Kingman, Arizona, about 45 minutes north of the proving grounds. Here, in an aircraft hangar, Ford showed off the updated Super Duty chassis and covered the high points of its features and the company's marketing strategy. The last time the Super Duty platform was upgraded was in 1999, but the '05 generation has been significantly changed in over 100 different areas, as Ford strives to build a truck that hauls not just cargo but tons of cash from the very lucrative pickup market.

From Kingman, we had the opportunity to drive an F-250 powered by a 6.0L Power Stroke diesel pulling a 10,000-pound trailer to the APG. In high gear and at highway speeds, the truck's 325hp powerplant enabled us to pass other vehicles and pokey journalists with relative ease. There were only a couple of cases where it felt like the trailer wanted to wag the dog, but even then, the truck's updated suspension and steering characteristics helped keep a firm grip on the leash. A new monobeam coil spring front suspension on F-250 and -350 4x4s reduces the turning circle an impressive amount. The rear suspension has been upgraded with new spring rates and staggered rear-shock geometry for an improved ride.

Aside from the diesel powerplant already mentioned, the '05 lineup includes the 6.8L Triton V-10 and 5.4L Triton V-8 at an estimated 355 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque for the former, and 300 hp and 365 lb-ft for the latter. These are Ford's horsepower and torque figures, which it derived at 4,750 and 3,750 rpm, respectively. The TorqShift five-speed transmission was first offered on the '03 Super Duty with the 6.0L Power Stroke diesel, but it is now available on all '05 Super Duties. This tranny has also been improved, particularly for towing. When in tow-haul mode, the tranny automatically drops a gear as you go downhill and reduces hunting as you nose toward the top of a grade. We tested this on a roller coaster two-lane byway to great effect. It also works with the engine to brake the truck as it drives up or down a sharp grade, allowing us to stop and go in the middle of what was probably a 45-degree grade.

The transmission's wider ratio spread lowers the first gear, improving the truck's quarter-mile performance. Not that drag racing performance is a necessary feature of the Super Duty, but we did it anyway as we pitted a Super Duty and trailer combo against similar Dodge and Chevy rigs. Needless to say, the Ford rig won every time, while the Dodge placed second and Chevy, third.