Ford’s diesel-powered F-150 pickup is here, or soon will be as production ramps up this spring, and it’s remarkable for its smoothness and quietness. Perhaps a little surprisingly, the builder expects only about 5 percent of buyers to choose the 3-liter V-6 diesel over several gasoline engines, but because the F-150 is America’s biggest selling motor vehicle of any type–896,764 last year–5 percent will still be a high-volume proposition.
Buyers will find highway fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon, along with 22 mpg city and 25 mpg combined, according to the EPA rating disseminated by Ford. With a light foot, highway economy could be a bit higher, representatives told truck writers who drove various iterations of the 2018 F-150 on suburban streets and mountain roads northwest of Denver earlier this week. Although called a Power Stroke, that name and the material used in casting the block–compacted graphite iron–are the only commonality with the larger 6.7-liter V-8 diesel offered in SuperDuty pickups.
“It has its own architecture,” spokesman Mike Levine explained. It’s a truck version of a diesel used in Range Rovers in Europe, and is a Ford design built in a Ford plant in the United Kingdom. It comes in only one rating, with 250 horsepower and 440 lb-ft. of torque, which proved more than adequate in drives of empty and loaded trucks at high altitudes in rainy, snowy and foggy weather.
The standard transmission is a new SelectShift 10-speed automatic, replacing 6-speed gearboxes previously used. In the test runs, multiple ratios allowed the diesel to work in its most efficient speed, which when cruising was between 1,400 and 1,600 RPM, near its torque peak of 1,700, no matter the road speed. When pressed for more go-power, revs rose to 2,500 and 3,000, but with neither commotion nor smoke, either seen or smelt. Federal regulations demand such behavior, yet it’s still impressive.
Above: Beneath the shrouding, piping and wiring is the new 3-liter, 250-horsepower, 440-lb.-ft. V-6 Power Stroke diesel. It was smooth and quiet, and entirely smokeless and odorless.
The Power Stroke V-6 will be available in all F-150 trim levels except the top-of-the-line Limited, Levine said. The upcharge will be a modest $4,000 over a 3.5-liter EcoBoost gasoline engine, compared to about $9,000 for the 6.7 Power Stroke in a SuperDuty pickup. SuperDuties no longer have a unique, larger cab, instead sharing the F-150’s aluminum structure.
A diesel makes the most sense for people “who run fully loaded all the time, like landscapers, or someone who just wants a diesel,” he said. “And it will be an alternative for those who buy an F-250 just to get a diesel.” With its 1-ton payload and a tow rating of 11,000 pounds, an F-150 diesel will be nearly as capable.
A line of new pickups awaited the troupe of reporters outside our hotel, and the first one I grabbed was an XL SuperCab, loaded with a hefty stack of 2x4 boards said to weigh about 1,000 pounds, or half its listed payload capacity. The load made for a steady ride and the powertrain propelled us well. Designers didn’t skimp on sound-suppression, so the engine could be heard only faintly and there was little wind noise on a breezy day. While standing next to the truck as its engine idled, it would not be clear to a casual listener that it was a diesel.
The XL is Ford’s basic work-truck model, and is the one fleet buyers usually choose. It comes with a “rubber floor” (actually a vinyl material), monotone grey plastic on the dashboard and door panels, and cloth-covered seats that proved very supportive and comfortable.
“This is good enough for me,” I thought, until I got in a King Ranch version, which had sumptuous leather seat covers with a western flair, along with bright-metal trim that nicely contrasted with the expanses of plastic. This truck also had a large infotainment screen that, among things, included an accurate navigation system. Levine rode along on the 45-mile loop with this truck and pointed out that among other electronic features was an adaptive cruise control that shadowed traffic ahead, accelerating and slowing as needed, and it included automatic braking that could bring the truck to a complete stop. I tried it and it worked.
My third trip was in an F-150 with slightly fancier Platinum trim, hitched to a heavy boat trailer that gave the diesel a slight workout and upset the truck’s ride. The trailer’s tongue had a crack-the-whip effect on the rear end; this caused bouncing that made its way into the cab and seats, resulting in moderate but annoying back slap. If I towed a lot, I’d make pulling my trailer part of a test drive because an F-250 might be a better choice after all. But for most hauling and cruising chores, the new F-150 diesel is a smooth and capable machine that Ford fans will love, whether they buy one or not.