Is the 2018 Ford F-150 Turbo-Diesel Cost-Effective?


My first encounter with a 2018 Ford F-150 with the new turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission came at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally in May.

My second encounter with the same truck — a 4×4 SuperCrew in Platinum trim — came more recently, providing a longer period to drive it. I headed out of Chicago for a trip to Michigan during which I could put to good use the F-150's 250 horsepower and impressive 440 pounds-feet of torque while also testing its fuel economy.

Mileage Test Results

For this mileage test, I cruised normally, keeping up with traffic on interstates and rural highways while also driving in city traffic at both ends of the 546.8-mile trip. Ford provides a nice 10-speed gear indicator in the information cluster; it's interesting to watch multigear transmissions to see if and when they get into top gear. This one wastes little time getting up there. At 70 mph it was rolling around 1,700 rpm. With a light foot on a flat road, you can carry 10th gear down to about 1,100 rpm, or about 47 mph. Hit an easy incline and the transmission effortlessly drops down to 7th.

According to the trip computer, my fuel economy for combined city/highway driving was 24.2 mpg. Interestingly, the much shorter initial test I did earlier came in at 24.3. My calculations yielded 23.5 mpg. Trip meter mileage over different legs of the trip was consistent with a high of 24.6; the way it crept up on the longer stretches, it seemed like it could hit the EPA highway estimate of 25 mpg on an uninterrupted interstate run. When I started the trip with the gas tank full, the computer told me I had 599 miles to empty. Distance to empty was 37 miles when I filled up at the end of the trip, so the computer's estimated trip range was in the ballpark.

One concern was the diesel exhaust fluid level. When I began my trip, it showed 7,500 miles remaining. After the 546.8 miles it still showed 7,500 miles remaining. Ford spokesperson Samantha VanHoef told me in an email that the indicator ticks off in 500-mile increments until 500 miles is left. Then the low-level warning comes on and the fluid level indicator goes down by increments of 50.

"Your estimated [distance-to-empty] range will be variable based on speeds, cold start, vehicle weight and altitude where operating," she wrote. "Most will see a base vehicle with a range from 7,500-10,000 miles when operating at sea level. Aggressive drivers & loaded vehicles will see a range of 4-5K on a single DEF tank fill."

Ford targeted 30-mpg highway for EPA estimates for the 2018 F-150; only one configuration hits that mark, the two-wheel-drive SuperCab turbo-diesel. The 4×4 diesels like the one I drove get 20/25 mpg city/highway. It's kind of a wash with a 2018 Ram 1500 4×4 EcoDiesel — the mini Power Stroke's closest competitor — which officially gets 19/27 mpg city/highway.

Is Diesel Cost-Effective?

Ford's diesel doesn't exactly run away from its gasoline stablemates in EPA ratings. The diesel option on the Platinum trim is $3,000 extra. National average fuel prices during my testing were $2.85 a gallon for regular and $3.22 for diesel. When calculating overall costs and taking the combined EPA estimate of the Platinum's base 5.0-liter gas V-8 (the likely alternative for most buyers looking for more torque), the diesel offers 5 mpg higher combined ratings. For these prices, the break-even point on fuel alone is almost 200,000 miles. Then there's the cost of DEF and possibly higher maintenance costs to factor in as well.

Steering average consumers to higher trim levels to get the diesel engine doesn't help them get the full value of that engine, yet that's what Ford is doing. To get the diesel engine, consumers must choose Lariat, King Ranch or Platinum SuperCrew pickups with 5.5- or 6.5-foot beds or a SuperCab in those trims with the 6.5-foot bed. However, fleet buyers can get any trim level while facing the same cab and bed restrictions. With a 3-mpg advantage over an XL or XLT 4×4's base 3.3-liter gas V-6, you'll have the same break-even cost issues, but with an even higher price of entry for the option. For the fleet-friendly F-150s, the Power Stroke engine is almost a $5,000 upcharge. The middle ground would be the Lariat trim equipped with an entry-level 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6. This engine also gets within 3 mpg (combined) of the diesel, but the diesel option is a $4,000 premium.

Some people might look to this diesel engine as a stout tow rig and to support that, Ford put out some eye-popping payload and towing numbers. The max payload of 2,020 pounds is only for a two-wheel-drive work truck that is not available at retail dealerships. This SuperCrew 4×4 Platinum's "tire and load" sticker showed 1,260 pounds for payload capacity, which is pretty much right in line with a well-equipped Ram 1500 EcoDiesel of the same configuration. And like the Ram, according to reviewer Aaron Bragman's observations, Ford's baby Power Stroke is probably not your best bet for towing at the limit. He found performance adequate while moderately loaded, but flat when towing at just more than half its max towing weight rating. Also, it lacks an exhaust brake and the Tow/Haul mode did not function as aggressively as expected. On the upside, it did get better fuel economy than a 3.5-liter EcoBoost, which is known to get thirsty when towing.

Unlike Ram's EcoDiesel V-6, which was first conceived for European SUVs, Ford says the 3.0-liter Power Stroke was a "commercial grade" truck engine from the start, developed by the team responsible for the 6.7-liter Power Stroke. But, unlike what you might have expected from a traditional truck diesel, this engine is quiet. And there is an across-the-pond connection to a Ford engine family — it was developed for Land Rover when the automakers were still partners. Deliberately romping on the throttle from a stop was the only time I heard a hint of diesel clatter. It probably helped that our test truck was a Platinum and had all the sound insulation that comes with a top-end truck.

As luck would have it, the following week I received a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover HSE Td6 to test. This has a variation of the new F-150 diesel engine tuned to 254 hp and 443 pounds-feet of torque. The Range Rover has an eight-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive and a 3.21:1 ring-and-pinion gear. Its EPA rating is 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined. Aside from an 80-mile round trip on urban highways, I drove mostly around town for a total of 229.4 miles and netted 20.6 mpg combined. Even though this is slightly lower than the Range Rover's city EPA numbers, I consider this impressive for my driving environment and especially for a vehicle tipping the scales right around 5,000 pounds. Land Rover charges a $2,000 premium for the diesel engine option (for most Range Rover models), which given the average cost of the vehicles is a relatively small premium. And yes, it was quieter than the F-150.

As to the real-world power output of the new Ford diesel, Editor Mark Williams took a 4×2 XL SuperCab F-150 with the Power Stroke to a local chassis dyno shop for several pulls. The results? A 7th gear pull worked best (with its 1.00:1 gearing) and got  226.4 hp at 3,250 rpm at the rear wheels and 400 pounds-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm.

Our bottom line is that though it may be just right for diesel geeks looking for the latest technology, Ford's F-150 diesel looks like it might stay a small player. With limited production planned, the 3.0-liter Power Stroke may not amount to much more than mileage bragging rights option for the ultra-lux crowd, at least for now. Of course, still has not done a thorough towing or hauling test of the engine, so it's possible we'll learn more later. The return of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel in 2019 and a new inline-six-cylinder Duramax from Chevrolet and GMC (with the same 10-speed transmission they're using with the 6.2-liter gas V-8) will give diesel fans plenty to look for when they hit the market. Stay tuned. photos by Andy Mikonis



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