DRIVEN: 2018 FORD F-150 Diesel – Chasin' the Devil
Foul play, nasty business and dirty politics ruined the reputation of diesel in less than a year. Did Ford miss that news or are they onto something?
These are turbulent times. World leaders descend into increasingly unfriendly rhetoric, metropoles grind to a halt under the pressure of growing revolts and even the American truck market that used to be a bastion of stability, now appears to go through a small revolution of its own. Terms normally associated with compact cars now spring up like mushrooms after the rain in the world of tough trucks for hard workers. Terms like downsizing, four-cylinders, aluminum, light-weight, fuel economy and diesel.
Ram beat the competition by launching the first diesel in the light duty segment with their 1500 3.0L V6 EcoDiesel but (temporarily) pulled it off the market in early 2017 after rumors about violating the Clean Air Act. This all turned out to be a panic attack from environmental extremists and some tofu Taliban, but the damage was already done. Ford didn’t seem to care much about all this, as they stayed on course to release their diesel version of the new and improved 13th generation F-150.
After Volkswagen – whether deliberately or not - destroyed the future of diesel with their cheating software, green lobbyists, pseudo progressive politicians and even some manufacturers (ab-)used Dieselgate to buff up their image. The public ran away from diesel and the automotive industry jumped nose-forward into hybrid and electric propulsion. Ford however, doesn’t rely on just Europe for their income and has a vastly different customer base at home, not pressured by extreme tax measures to artificially reduce their carbon footprint. But Americans are no big fans of diesels and see them as smoky and noisy truck engines. Until recently, only Heavy Duty pickups were offered with diesel engines. And of course not the tiny, highly turbocharged four-bangers like the Europeans use, but enormous six and eight-cylinder units with over six liters of capacity and turbos the size of basketballs.
Even though most customers don’t need over 900 lb-ft of torque on a daily basis (or ever), many HD trucks are used as daily drivers, gradually increasing the acceptance-level for diesel engines. That is why the step to introduce diesel into the more popular and smaller 1-ton pickup segment was only a matter of time. It is no longer a secret that diesel is not the fuel of the devil and emissions compared to unleaded fuel are vastly overrated, smeared even. For Europe it is already too late, but in the United States diesel still has a chance to shine and prove its superiority over unleaded fuel in certain applications.
Ford took their time to prepare the 3.0L turbo diesel for the F-150. The V-6 engine originates from the Dagenam plant in the UK, where it is also made for Jaguar, Land Rover and PSA Citroën. It was intensively reworked and now even shares technology with the 6.7L V-8 PowerStroke used in the Super Duty trucks. Made from graphite iron instead of gray iron, the block has a cast aluminum oil pan and is coupled to Ford’s latest 10-speed automatic. A 29,000-psi fuel injection system not only increases efficiency with the help of a variable geometry turbocharger, it also reduces noises. The result of all this is a maximum power of 250 hp at 3,250 rpm and 440 lb-ft of torque at only 1,750 rpm. Ford proudly advertises an EPA rating of 22 city/30 highway/25 combined mpg, but these numbers are for a Lariat SuperCab 4x2. The test vehicle I drove was a decked out King Ranch SuperCrew 4X4, rated at 20/25/22 mpg but I came to an average consumption of almost 24 mpg. That is downright impressive for a truck this size, weighing almost 5,400 lbs, but Ram claims 21 city and 29 highway for their two-wheel drive 1500 and 19/27 for the 4x4. Expect Chevrolet to beat even that with the 2020 Silverado, since it all comes down to splitting hairs in this highly competitive segment.
Acceleration from stand-still feels a little sluggish, but that is mainly because you really have to step on the accelerator to release the full potential of the PowerStroke and get all that mass going. In-gear acceleration is smooth and surprisingly quick, with the 10-speed doing a great job without any hesitation, offering a strong enough shove to quickly pass slower traffic. The PowerStroke’s noise level is kept to a minimum at normal operation, and only under hard-pressed acceleration a distinct diesel ‘rattle’ is audible, but still at a surprisingly low level. During a return trip from Houston to Austin, I stuck to the 75-mph speed limit (for most of the time…) and the F-150 performed impressively on every level. Even at these speeds the engine has plenty of power in reserve and the only sounds penetrating the large cabin come from the wind turbulence around the large mirrors and from the tires when driving on rough surfaces.
Another factor that contributes to making the F-150 PowerStroke a great daily driver and an impressive long-distance rig, is the interior. The King Ranch looks and feels downright luxurious and does not disappoint when it comes to gadgets and electronic goodies. Things such as electric seat adjustment and dual zone climate control have become the norm for trucks and this goes to show these work horses have come a long way. Now there is even satellite radio, 360-degree cameras with birds-eye view, active cruise control, seat ventilation and massaging seats for crying out loud. Does that mean these trucks are getting less rugged, less capable and more like fashion accessories? Not at all! They just offer more luxury amenities while outperforming their predecessors. It really is impressive to see trucks reaching into high-end luxury sedan territory, while still able to reliably perform heavy labor.
After driving the PowerStroke King Ranch for a week, I didn’t have any major complains about it. I could however – and this is nitpicking - mention the fact that the more luxurious editions of the Ram 1500 – like the Southfork and Tungsten – have a slightly better level of interior finish and a more comfortable ride with the optional air suspension. The engine noise could be considered a negative compared to the 5.0L Ti-VCT V-8 because it doesn’t have the traditional burble coveted by so many, but as mentioned before, you only really hear the diesel when stepping on the accelerator. The price could also be considered an issue, at least for some. Most media test vehicles are loaded with extras so this King Ranch came to almost 70,000 dollars. The base price for an F-150 PowerStroke is 47,000 dollars and Ford will give you a SuperCab Lariat 4x2 without any options for that price, as Lariat is the lowest trim level available in combination with the V-6 diesel.
With Chevrolet ready to roll out the 2020 Silverado, chances are GM will outdo Ford with a new diesel scoring slightly better numbers, next to offering a four-cylinder and a more powerful 6.2L V-8 which both leave Ford without an answer. For now though, the 3.0L PowerStroke is not only one of the most appealing propositions in the F-150 lineup, it is also one of the most appealing propositions in the light duty truck segment and a great example that the devil’s fuel can’t be chased away that easy.
© Words and images Natan Tazelaar
2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke
Ford did not build Crew Cab trucks until 1967, so you could call this 1960 example a special. It was build in limited numbers for the armed forces.