“It’s so quiet,” I blurted out, unprompted, as we sat at a stoplight. If there’s anything we know about trucks and diesels, after all, it’s that they can be pretty noisy. Not this new 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel, though.
That’s right, I said F-150 diesel. After years of listening to truck buyers begging and watching to see how things worked out for the trendsetters over at Ram, Ford has taken the plunge and installed a diesel engine in its light-duty full-size truck. It’s a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 adapted from the engine Ford builds in Europe for Jaguar Land Rover. Although it makes similar power—250 hp and 440 lb-ft—it’s not the same engine at all. For a full rundown of the truck-duty enhancements, give Frank Markus’ excellent engineering deep-dive a read.
In the portly 5,600-pound Land Rover Discovery Td6, with a different transmission and rear axle, this engine is good for a 0–60 sprint in an unremarkable 8.7 seconds. Ford says the F-150 diesel in four-door SuperCrew configuration could weigh as much as 600 pound less than the Disco, and Ford’s new 10-speed automatic is very, very good at surfing the engine’s torque peak, so a low 8-second run up to 60 mph seems reasonable. That would make it a half second slower to 60 mph than the standard 3.3-liter gas V-6, which itself is only 0.6 second behind the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6. We’ll have a full First Test for you soon.
Eight seconds isn’t blazing fast, but for a truck it feels quick enough. As you’d expect, there’s a ton of bottom-end torque to get you off the line and make moves on the go. There’s a spot of turbo lag leaving a stop if you stand on the throttle, but avoid jackrabbit starts, and you won’t really notice it. At highway speeds, it picks up and goes nicely, though not like the twin-turbo gas V-6 engines Ford also offers.
Off-road, where speeds are low, all that torque, multiplied by the transfer case and optional locking rear differential, makes crawling and climbing hills a breeze. Just as it is for tight parking spaces, the optional 360-degree camera system is a godsend in rough terrain, allowing you to peer over the crest of a hill and see low obstacles you want to maneuver around.
Most remarkable, though, is the diesel’s refinement. As I so gracelessly pointed out to my co-driver, it’s very quiet in the cab and outside, too. There’s that trademark diesel growl under moderate to hard acceleration, but it sounds far away. There’s just a hint of diesel clatter under load, but at idle, you barely even hear it running, and then the automatic engine stop/start kicks in. There’s a small vibration in the cab as the engine restarts, but it’s more than tolerable. Off and running, it’s nearly as smooth as a gasoline engine, no easy feat.
This truck isn’t about hauling ass or driving Miss Daisy, though. It’s about efficiency, especially when you’re towing. On that metric, it unquestionably delivers. Per EPA estimates, it returns 20–22/25–30/22–25 mpg city/highway/combined, making it the first pickup to crack 30 mpg. It’s also 2 to 4 mpg better in the city and 4 to 6 mpg better on the highway than any other F-150. Not a huge difference, but remarkable for a trunk nonetheless.
According to Ford, though, the real score is towing efficiency. Diesels naturally get better fuel economy when towing than gas engines, and Ford claims the F-150 diesel is no exception. For our part, we saw 13.5 mpg indicated while towing a 5,500-pound horse trailer 90 miles through the rolling hills outside Denver at the 55-mph speed limit. It wasn’t that long ago trucks averaged 13 mpg empty, and some heavy duty trucks still do.
The actual towing, though, was less impressive, and it only suffered when we traded up to a 6,500-pound boat and trailer. All that low-end torque is still good for getting off the line with a trailer and keeping pace with city traffic, but the turbo lag is more pronounced leaving a stop, and there’s some jerkiness from the transmission at low speeds. On top of the lag, getting going quickly can also be hindered by some rear wheel slip as the truck struggles for grip in the middle of all that weight. Getting out on the highway, the diesel underwhelms. Above 50 mph, the diesel has very little power in reserve for accelerating or overtaking. If you want to pass a big rig on the highway, you’ll need to take a run at it. Climbing even a small hill at freeway speeds, about the best you can hope for is maintaining your speed with your foot to the floor, and 6,500 pounds is less than two-thirds of the truck’s maximum 11,400-pound tow rating.
Ford also provided a truck loaded with 700 pounds of landscaping supplies, and I’m pleased to report it’s a happy hauler. With considerably less weight to move, the F-150 diesel feels no different than driving around empty. In fact, like most trucks, it rides a bit better with some weight in the bed holding it down.
Here’s where you have to perform an analysis of your personal wants and needs. For consumers, the diesel is only available on Lariat and higher trim levels (and the base Lariat comes as a SuperCab, not a regular cab like lower models), so you’re in it for $42,410 to start, and the diesel engine is a $4,000 option. $46,410 is a good chunk of change for a mid-trim truck with no options on it. (Fleet buyers can get the diesel on the lower XL and XLT trims for just under $5,000.) An XL SuperCab F-250 diesel starts at $46,100 and laughs at overtaking and hills with its 900 lb-ft of torque, so if all you want is a no-frills tow rig, you’ve got options.
You have to ask yourself, then, how much towing/hauling you really do and what your priorities are. If you tow a lot, live someplace flat with high fuel prices, and aren’t in a big hurry, the diesel could pay for itself in fuel savings reasonably quickly. If any of those criteria don’t fit you, it’s going to take a while to see $4,000 worth of savings at the pump. If you’re the lead-footed type even when towing, you’re going to find the diesel frustrating and an EcoBoost engine more your style, and you’ll just have to eat the extra fuel cost. Power or fuel economy, you choose.
This assumes, of course, you’re making a purely logical buying decision, and for many people car buying is at least as much an emotional decision, if not more so. Maybe you don’t tow or haul often, but you just want a diesel and you’ve got the budget for it. Maybe you don’t want to park a heavy-duty truck. Whatever your reason, you’ll be happy with your truck, and you’ll be happy spending less time at the gas station. So what kind of truck buyer are you?
Diesel and non-diesel 2018 Ford F-150s are shown below.