2018 Ford F-150 Diesel: Does It Have Enough Grunt?


After years of fielding hungry Ford fans' questions about when the Blue Oval planned to put a light-duty diesel in the world's best-selling truck, the moment has finally arrived. The turbocharged 3.0-liter Power Stroke V-6 is now nestled beneath the aluminum body panels of the F-150 and is slated to hit showrooms before spring turns to summer in the U.S. We just had our first turn behind the wheel of a Ford F-150 powered by the baby Power Stroke in the hills above Denver, spending half a day towing, hauling and muddin' with the little oil-burner, and we've come away with mixed feelings about it.

What It Is

The 3.0-liter Power Stroke V-6 is a single-turbo engine that's derived from an earlier Land Rover motor but has received significant changes from the one you'll find under the hoods of the British luxury SUVs. It has a new forged crankshaft, a variable-geometry turbocharger and a high-pressure common-rail injection system that pumps up to 29,000 pounds per square inch. The cylinder heads are aluminum, and there's a two-stage oil pump and a host of other modifications to make the 3.0-liter ready for tougher pickup truck duty.

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The result is a motor that cranks out 250 horsepower and 440 pounds-feet of torque, which is currently best-in-class territory — at least until we hear what the new 2019 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel brings to the party later this summer. It's mated to the same 10-speed automatic that the gas-engine Ford F-150 employs and can be had in 4×2 or 4×4 configuration. EPA fuel economy numbers have been released, with Ford saying that the 4×2 trucks earn 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined, and the 4×4 gets 20/25/22 mpg. Compare that with the 2018 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, which gets 20/27/23 mpg for the 4×2 and 19/27/22 mpg in 4×4 trim using its eight-speed automatic. The Ford gets the nod in 4×2 configuration and the difference isn't great in 4×4 trim. It makes us wonder what the Ram might get if it had two more gears to play with (and was made of aluminum).

How It Drives

From the outside, there's absolutely no way to know that the F-150 you're looking at is a diesel, unless you spot the subtle Power Stroke badging on the base of the front doors or hear the quiet ticking idle of the compression ignition engine. And quiet it is — idling at drive through or at wide-open throttle, the 3.0-liter Power Stroke is impressively hushed. It still has that diesel rhythm common to all diesel motors, but it's not loud, harsh or crude. The noise it makes is smooth, refined and completely unobtrusive. If noise is your worry about checking that diesel box on the order form, rest assured that it shouldn't be. It's a nonissue.

I sampled the diesel in several different Ford F-150 trims, ranging from an empty Sport model to a King Ranch loaded with 625 pounds of landscaping materials to towing two different trailers with two different axle ratios to finally bombing around a muddy field in a King Ranch with Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires. The verdict: The 3.0-liter Power Stroke works really well in some situations, less well in others.

Where it works well is hauling a load or being used as a commuter. A snowy, slippery, twisty drive up a mountain with a load of mulch in the bed revealed a well-balanced truck with plenty of power and easy acceleration when needed. The diesel makes an already impressively engineered, luxurious truck even more of a sweet rig when you're using it as a transporter. The weight in the bed smooths out frost heaves and any choppiness that the Ford F-150 exhibits while empty. If you're willing to live with a little bounciness, the Sport 4×2 fuel-economy champ I drove returned 27.4 mpg in a brief 10-mile test loop, which I hesitate to even mention as this isn't a statistically valid distance from which to derive a fuel-economy number. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive fuel-economy information later this summer when we get our hands on one for a longer road trip.

How It Tows

Where the 3.0-liter Power Stroke engine works less well is — surprisingly — towing. I sampled two different setups: An F-150 with a 3.31:1 axle gears (which is what you get when you specify the FX4 Off-Road Package) that towed a 6,240-pound box trailer and a second half ton with an optional 3.55:1 axle ratio hauling a 5,500-pound horse trailer. Off the line, the new Power Stroke exhibits excellent initial low-end grunt and has absolutely no problem moving these loads up hills at speeds below 40 mph. But once the speed and rpm begin to climb, the transmission starts to behave in a way that keeps this engine from shining like it should.

Towing up a hill with a 3 to 4 percent grade at 55-60 mph, I routinely slowly lost speed despite having my foot to the floor. Even with Tow/Haul mode selected, the transmission refused to kick down from 6th gear, despite having another 1,000 rpm before redlining. The struggle was most noticeable in the 3.31-equipped truck, with the 3.55-equipped truck only slightly less out of breath, but until I slipped the transmission selector into manual and dropped a gear myself, no more oomph was to be found. Once I took over shifting duties, performance felt a little better.

In contrast, the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 I recently drove for 250 miles in Ford's new 10-speed-equipped 2018 Expedition SUV had no such deficiencies. It towed a 3,500-pound camper trailer in the 2018 Full-Size SUV Challenge up 6 to 7 percent grades with absolutely no issues, accelerating all the way. Simply put, the twin-turbo 3.5-liter engine and 10-speed transmission combo might be a better towing setup than the 3.0-liter diesel with the 10-speed.

But the tradeoff for that superior towing performance became obvious to me when I parked the F-150 and looked at the fuel-economy reading — the 3.0-liter Power Stroke returned 11.4 mpg over the towing loop, while the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 in the Expedition was much thirstier, averaging 10.2 mpg when pulling a lighter load. It would seem that the diesel trades some capability for fuel economy, which is an interesting way to market this powertrain.

Is It Worth It?

The diesel is ostensibly aimed at people doing regular towing of a decent-sized boat or camper. With a maximum towing capacity of 11,400 pounds, I expected it to have more guts than it did for towing. But the Power Stroke struggled to maintain speed with a trailer weighing just more than half its max tow rating up hills that I would best describe as moderate grades. The engine also lacks an exhaust brake function, either automatic or manually activated, something Ford engineers told me they believe the baby Power Stroke doesn't need as it wouldn't provide much benefit since it's a relatively small engine. That idea confused me a bit, given that GM includes a Tow/Haul-mode-triggered exhaust brake function on the 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder diesel found in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon that works quite well when towing a load. The Ford F-150 Power Stroke may not be a Ford Super Duty in terms of purpose, but one would think that buyers opting for the F-150 diesel might expect it to have some similarities in towing with its bigger brother.

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Anyone towing something nearer the 11,400-pound range is likely to already be looking at a Super Duty anyway, if only for the larger brakes that it brings. This leaves the light-duty diesel suitable for people who tow moderate loads but want a little better fuel economy than they'd get with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, or commuters who put a lot of highway miles on an unladen truck and just want to maximize that benefit. Ford expects just 5 percent of F-150 sales to be the 3.0-liter Power Stroke, and given that its mission seems a little murky, this might not be a bad estimate. We're looking forward to matching this smooth and refined engine up against the updated Ram 1500 EcoDiesel that we expect to see later this summer, and the new Chevrolet Silverado 1500 turbo-diesel 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that should arrive in the fall. It's going to be interesting to see which one comes out on top.

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Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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