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FIRST DRIVE: 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke

You have to keep reminding yourself that it's a big diesel churning away

Clare Dear
Published: April 28, 2018, 8:30 AM
Updated: August 15, 2018, 8:09 PM

2018 Ford F-150

DENVER, Colorado – Ford’s new diesel-powered F-150 pickup is a deceptive machine. The Ford engineering team that has spent the last three and half years developing this turbocharged 3.0-litre V-6 Power Stroke engine has done such a good job that you have to keep reminding yourself it’s a diesel churning away under that big F-150 hood, not a conventional gas-fuelled powerplant.

It’s common knowledge that diesels, in general, are noisy beasts. They clatter and shake, unlike conventional gasoline engines. This iteration, however, is so smooth and quiet one could be easily misled to believing it was simply a gas-burner. After spending a full day driving various 2018 F-150 trim levels with and without payloads and trailers, I can say there was minimal engine noise intruding into the cabin, regardless of the stress being put on the engine. Equally impressive was the lack of noise when standing beside an idling truck.

Of course, one of the strengths of diesel engines is their ability to generate lots of torque – and this 3.0L Ford does it in spades. This new member of the Power Stroke family cranks out 440 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750 revs. Its horsepower rating is 250 at 5,000 rpm. More important than the numbers, however, is how smooth and linear that power is delivered throughout the power band.

Low-end grunt

My first session behind the wheel was in a big, luxurious Platinum-trimmed Super Crew 4x4 with a 2,830-kg tandem-axle car hauler hitched to its tail. I engaged the electronic 10-speed automatic transmission and released the brake and the truck started creeping forward with no throttle input. The fact it had a hefty load tied to its rear end failed to phase the engine – torque simply took on the challenge. That grunt continued to keep the driving experience so smooth, whether the truck was climbing a steep grade, accelerating from a stoplight or just cruising on the highway. The engine never felt stressed and the transmission just clicked off shifts with smooth precision.

Similarly, with 454 kg of lumber strapped into the pickup bed of a basic XL Super Cab, the impressive torque easily met all my power demands without hesitation. The transmission moved smoothly between gears and, due to the strong torque, only had to drop a gear or two when demands such as grade-climbing or hard acceleration necessitated a shift.

Mud warrior

We even had an opportunity to test the mettle of the diesel on a nasty, muddy off-road course. Again, torque played a huge role as the truck faced steep climbs on the slick hills and through the water-logged muck. Confidence in the truck’s capabilities, despite the extreme conditions, never faltered. At one point, the responsiveness and grunt of the Power Stroke was sufficient to launch us completely off the ground as the truck crested a hill.

Overall, it quickly became apparent driving over the hills and climbing the mountain roads beyond Denver that this diesel engine has been developed to be a willing worker, whether it’s hauling a trailer for family getaways or lugging payload to weekday job sites. Its towing capacity is 5,171 kg, while its maximum payload capacity is 916 kg – both are best-in-class ratings.

Fuel economy

The best news, however, is that the 3.0L Power Stroke diesel delivers these capabilities while maintaining outstanding fuel efficiency. As part of this launch event, a fuel economy challenge was held among the journalists. Using an empty base 4X2 Super Cab, driven over a specific urban route and engaging the powertrain’s Eco mode, the best fuel mileage posted in our group was 5.79 L/100 km – truly impressive. My own number was 6.55 L/100 km, the best I’ve ever seen in a full-size pickup.

In truly “normal” driving over a range of highways and mountain roads, a Platinum Crew Cab 4x4 I spent some time in showed an average fuel consumption rate of 9.8 L/100 km over 508 km – and it was hardly broken in with less than 2,900 km on its odometer.

Efficient shifting

Officially, the fuel efficiency ratings are 10.8 L/100 km in city driving, 8.0 L/100 km on the highway and 9.5 L/100 km combined with 2-wheel drive. In 4x4 configuration, the 3.0L diesel is rated at 11.8 L/100 city, 9.3 highway and 10.7 combined.

Helping the diesel achieve its impressive performance and efficiency ratings is its electronically-controlled 10-speed automatic transmission. The tranny offers a choice of driving modes – normal, tow/haul, snow, eco and sport – and it never seems to be searching for the right cog, regardless of the mode that’s engaged or the load it’s hauling.

An engine stop/start feature also enhances the diesel’s fuel efficiency. It functions quite smoothly but is disengaged when the sport mode is selected.

Built to last

Ford powertrain engineer Ken Pumford, who has spent the past two and half years working on the development of the new Power Stroke V-6, says the engine team started with “almost a blank page.” The “almost” was a reference to the engine’s roots in the Jaguar/Land Rover family ties that existed between Ford and the British automaker. While a 3.0L turbo-diesel is part of Land Rover’s engine lineup, the F-150 iteration is not simply a swap-and-drop into the pickup. Pumford says that although the basic architecture, such as bore, stroke and displacement, is the same, the F-150 version has been totally redeveloped for use in a pickup.

The engine block is comprised of compacted graphite iron like its bigger sibling, the F-Series Super Duty’s 6.7-litre Power Stroke V-8, with aluminum cylinder heads. The oil pan is die-cast, adding to the structural strength of the engine while helping control noise. A forged-steel crankshaft, borrowed from Ford’s 2.7-litre EcoBoost V-6, adds strength and durability while reducing weight. In fact, the new engine weighs 220 kg, just 18 heavier than Ford’s 3.5L EcoBoost V-6. The 29,000-psi high-pressure fuel injection system is nearly identical to the Super Duty’s system, a high-efficiency, variable-geometry turbocharger has been added, and the intake and exhaust systems have been redesigned to suit the truck application.

Built to compete

The engine is built in Ford’s Dagenham plant near London, England. The facility builds diesel engines exclusively and the new 3.0L joins three other engines on the production line – and therein may be a problem. If demand exceeds expectations, as Ram discovered when it introduced its diesel engine for its light-duty pickup, Ford may face a challenge with its supply from overseas.

The obvious question is how the 3.0L Power Stroke V-6 compares with Ram’s 3.0L EcoDiesel, which has been the banner-bearer to date in the light-duty diesel segment. Based on this one-day experience, I’d say Ram should be concerned as it prepares to re-introduce its diesel powertrain. The Ford F-150 diesel certainly meets – and in several cases exceeds – the Ram’s performance and capabilities. It’s more powerful, more fuel efficient and more capable than the Ram, and the driving experience during this short stint suggests the Ford is steps ahead overall.

The addition of the 3.0L Power Stroke V-6 boosts the number of engine choices for the F-150 to six and the price premium for the diesel powertrain varies, depending on the base engine/model combination. For example, stepping up to the diesel from the 3.3L gas V-6 is $8,200, while opting for the diesel over the 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 is $7,500. Taking the diesel option over the 5.0L V-8 costs $5,650.

The new Power Stroke engine is being offered to retail buyers in trim levels from Lariat on up the model ladder. It will be available in the base XL and XLT models, but only to fleet customers.

Trucks with the 3.0L Power Stroke diesel will begin arriving at dealers in May.