The noxious fumes from “dieselgate” have softened the demand for diesel cars. But when it comes to trucks, diesels are not only surviving in the marketplace — they’re thriving. Diesel makes up around 60 percent of all heavy-duty pickup truck powertrains, and Ram was first to offer a diesel in a light-duty pickup back in 2014. The success of that model likely inspired Chevy and GMC to follow two years later with the four-cylinder Duramax diesel in its midsize trucks. GM will soon bring a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder diesel engine option to the redesigned 2019 Silverado and Sierra — making it the only company to have a diesel in three pickup truck lines.
But right now, Ford owns the diesel spotlight, and the timing couldn’t be better. This spring, a new 3.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V6 joins the F-150 lineup, packing 250 hp at 3,250 rpm and 444 lb-ft of torque from 1,750 rpm to 2,250. That’s a 10 hp and 24 lb-ft of torque advantage over Ram’s EcoDiesel. And Ford claims best-in-class towing here too because some versions of the F-150 with this engine can handle a hefty 11,400-pound trailer.
The 3.0-liter turbodiesel may be new to the F-150, but this isn’t an all-new design. The basic bones of the engine date back almost 15 years to a joint venture between Peugeot-Citroen (PSA) and Ford. The first 2.7-liter “Lion” turbodiesel V6 engines powered cars like the 2004 Jaguar S-type. That was a long time ago, and the engine has grown in size, potency and efficiency since then. It’s produced in Ford’s Dagenham engine plant about 15 miles from London, and the most modern version has been a part of Land Rover’s lineup in the U.S. since the 2016 model year.
The two-wheel drive 2018 Ford F-150 diesel can get 30 mpg on the highway.
Ford didn’t just pull the Land Rover-spec diesel and drop it in the F-150. According to engine systems supervisor Anita Bersie, her team spent just over three years working on the Power Stroke to make sure it fit into and met the demands of the F-150. Most of that development was done in the engine lab. But her team was able to put this truck to the test in the real world, too.
The Compacted Graphite Iron (CGI) engine block, internals and the aluminum heads are largely the same as the Land Rover engine. But the engine mounts are unique to the F-150 and so is the die-cast structural oil pan. The CGI design allows for a lighter, stronger and more compact engine. At 486 pounds, it’s only about 40 pounds heavier than the gas-fueled 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6. The 3.0-liter’s Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) emissions system uses Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) housed in a tank that will last about 10,000 miles per fill-up. A screen in the TFT gauge cluster lets you monitor the status. There’s also a new single high-pressure, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system on this engine (Land Rover uses a dual low- and high-pressure unit), as well as a new thermostat housing.
The intake plenum is sculpted exclusively for the F-150 and creates a smoother airflow path, according to Bersie. The Power Stroke’s common-rail fuel injectors are also new and covered with insulating “socks” to damp out noise, as is the new fuel pump. The single Honeywell variable geometry turbocharger is mounted on the other (right) side of the engine compared to Land Rover, to clear the F-150’s drivetrain components, and has been designed for a quick spool-up.
The engine’s accessory drive components and front cover are new. And to help keep the Power Stroke cool, the team uses a mechanical fan with a viscous coupler to reduce drag when demands are low. Similarly, radiator shutters open up under high temperature hauling conditions and close down under light use to boost the truck’s aero efficiency.
Ford mates the new diesel exclusively to its 10-speed automatic. The transmission receives unique tuning in this application and has five driving modes (normal, tow/haul, snow, eco and sport) just like the gasoline trucks. The Power Stroke package will add about $4,000 to the cost of an F-150 in Lariat-and-above trims. Fleet customers will be able to spec the diesel package on base XL and XLT trucks.
Ford predicts 85 percent of F-150 Power Stroke customers will tow trailers with their trucks. That’s up from 70 percent for the F-150’s gas powertrains. In other words, diesel owners work their trucks hard, so we spent the majority of our time in Colorado at the launch of this truck sampling new Power Strokes either hitched to a heavy trailer or loaded down with a full bed.
The first thing we noticed immediately was how silent this engine is. Compared to the 6.7-liter Power Stroke in Ford’s Super Duty line, the sounds coming from this one are really no more intrusive than any other F-150 powertrain. Inside the comfy confines of the Platinum-trim SuperCab 4X4, you won’t really hear it. Similarly, the Power Stroke’s engine stop/start function is smooth. But it can be defeated by switching to sport mode.
The bed of that Platinum truck was loaded with twin Yamaha 450F dirt bikes for a total of 685 pounds — way shy of its 1,372-payload rating even with another 300 pounds of people on board. The F-150 moves out briskly with a solid punch of torque and power building quickly. It feels especially alert and responsive in both sport and tow/haul modes. And largely, it's hard to tell there was anything in the bed weighing the truck down. There’s a fat plateau of low-end torque to keep the truck cruising even steep hills without much downshifting.
Later, we sampled the same route in a stripped-down XL SuperCab with 1,000 pounds of lumber in the bed (about half its payload). And even with the additional poundage, this F-150 was unfazed by the lumber and felt planted and confident tackling the twisting mountainous road. This XL is an honest old-school work pickup without leather, wood or extra tech — a natural home for the diesel. But remember, you’ll need to be a fleet customer to get it.
Next, we sampled another SuperCrew 4X4 hauling a 6,500-pound ski boat and trailer combination. Even though this was well shy of the truck's 10,000-pound tow capacity, it was easy to tell there was a heavy load back there. The ride quality was a bit rougher, but the Power Stroke moved it easily. To test the acceleration, we pulled over on a relatively steep grade and performed a standing-start run.
A springtime snow dusting left the road a little slick. So, we shifted the 4WD knob to the truck’s automatic mode. The F-150 seemed to raise up on its haunches once the boost began to build. It launched hard and began to build speed, snapping off quick, precise shifts in the meat of the diesel’s powerband. Even with the big boat in tow, it crested the grade without really breaking a sweat. On the downhill sections, the tow/haul mode really helped by dropping gears to slow the load. And that’s really the great thing about the 10-speed: The ratios are so tightly spaced that shifts are very smooth and won’t upset your haul. Unlike the big 6.7-liter Power Stroke, this 3.0-liter unit doesn’t have an exhaust brake. We didn’t really miss the feature on this drive, but if we were regularly towing up and down steep grades near this truck’s max trailering capacity — we might.
Yes, diesel trucks are certainly useful workhorses, but when it comes to daily driving they can be less responsive than gas engines. Dip into the throttle of most truck diesels and you wait a beat (or sometimes a few beats) before something, anything happens. Ford’s 3.0-liter Power Stroke significantly reduces that turbo lag. And the responsiveness of the powertrain improves further when the transmission is toggled over to sport mode.
The combination makes for reasonably snappy acceleration. Our informal iPhone acceleration timing showed it took just under nine seconds for an empty F-150 Crew Cab Platinum model with 4WD to reach 60 mph. Not too shabby. More importantly, the F-150 Power Stroke delivers on fuel economy. The EPA estimates 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for a 2WD truck with this engine. We were able to do a bit of hypermiling on a very short and very specific fuel economy test route and saw 34.8 mpg on the truck’s computer. We’ve never seen a number that high on any full-size pickup truck’s fuel economy computer.
The Power Stroke F-150 is an excellent work machine. The responsiveness, capability and fuel economy should make it a desirable option for those who spend most weekends with a trailer attached to their truck. At $4,000, the option isn’t cheap. And that’s especially true because you can only get it on Lariat or higher trim levels unless you've got a fleet manager friend. That means the least expensive F-150 Power Stroke runs just north of $45,000. Add a few options like 4WD, and it wouldn’t be difficult to see a sticker climb above $50,000. Still, this is a great powertrain and one we’d strongly consider if we needed a light-duty truck that really worked like a truck.
On Sale: Spring 2018
Base Price: $46,410
Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6, RWD/4WD, ten-speed automatic
Output: 250 hp @ 3,250 rpm, 440 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 rpm-2,250 rpm
Curb Weight: 5,320 lbs. (4WD SuperCrew)
Fuel Economy: 22 city/30 highway (RWD), 20 city/ 25 highway (4WD)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Torque-rich thrust, solid fuel economy
Cons: Expensive trims only, no exhaust brake