By now, everyone's heard that Ford intends to launch a new in 2020. We don't have many details on that truck yet, but did you know that you can buy a hybrid F-Series right now? The truck is not totally built by Ford per se; instead, it's modified by a Ford-certified company called XL then sold through XL or a Ford Commercial Vehicles dealer.
XL makes two models: the F-250 Super Duty Hybrid you see here and an F-150 Plug-in Hybrid that we've yet to drive. However, we recently were able to get some seat time overnight in the electrified Super Duty, putting significant miles on it to see if XL's hybrid system is worth the expense.
The F-250 Hybrid starts out as an ordinary gas-powered Ford F-250 — powered by Ford's venerable 6.2-liter "Boss" V-8 making 385 horsepower and 430 pounds-feet of torque. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and can be had in two-wheel-drive or 4×4 configuration. In fact, the F-250 powertrain is completely untouched by the XL hybrid system. It doesn't interfere with the engine operation; it doesn't ever operate in all-electric mode; it doesn't even really talk much to the truck. What it does do is listen.
How It Works
The XLH hybrid electric drive system consists of an electric traction motor that's been grafted onto the rear driveshaft along with a 1.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and inverter, and an engine control unit to oversee it all. It listens to the truck's ECUs to determine driver input and what the engine is about to do, then it adds its torque to the system, which allows the gas engine to do less work. When a gas engine isn't working as hard as it could be, it's revving lower, using less fuel and producing fewer emissions. The battery pack is charged when decelerating, as the motor reverses and turns into a generator to recharge the small battery pack. The electric motor adds up to 220 pounds-feet of torque to the system, according to XL, and operates at speeds up to 75 mph. The system is also fully warrantied for three years or 75,000 miles.
The strongest benefits of such a system happens in stop-and-go traffic, where takeoff acceleration can be augmented by the stored electrical energy and deceleration allows momentum to be converted back into electricity via the motor for later use. Steady cruising on the highway is not where any hybrid is most efficient; duty cycles with lots of urban traffic are where it's at. XL claims that its F-250 Hybrid sees a 25 percent boost to fuel economy versus a regular gas 6.2-liter V-8 truck, so we took one for a 120-mile spin through suburban Detroit to see if we could replicate or get close to those results.
How It Drives
Driving the XL F-250 Hybrid isn't really any different than wheeling a standard Super Duty. The version XL let me try for 24 hours was a 2018 XLT SuperCab 4×4 short bed. From the outside, the only hint that it's a hybrid truck are the graphics the company uses to advertise (this truck normally does duty as a trade show floor model). Inside, it's the same story: standard Super Duty XLT gray plastic, a fleet-spec multimedia system — cheap, plain, meant for work. Start up the big V-8 and there's still no difference, it idles and rumbles just like the standard model.
The difference comes when you get on the gas. You realize that you're not revving anywhere nearly as high as you would otherwise. Driving around town at moderate acceleration, the engine almost never got above 2,500 rpm, and I was by no means going light on the throttle — I just drove normally, keeping up with traffic. Accelerating while underway is interesting as well — with a light throttle applied, your speed will increase but the engine rpm takes a minute to catch up. This is apparently the electric motor giving you some propulsive force and allowing the engine to chill for a bit before it needs to add power. Supposedly the additional torque is really felt when towing, as the electric motor puts 220 pounds-feet of extra torque into the system when called for. However, I did not tow during this drive, so I can't speak to that. I also didn't detect a more sprightly performance from the F-250 that might be expected with that much extra torque underfoot. Plant your right foot and floor the accelerator, and it behaves pretty much like an unloaded gas-powered F-250: quick enough, but hobbled by gearing that's meant more for work than zippy acceleration.
Lift off the accelerator and there's a bit more regenerative pull than you'd get without the hybrid system, as the electric motor acts like an engine brake to recapture some energy to shunt into the batteries. It slows you down a bit before you hit the brakes, and can also act as extra stopping force when you really apply some brake pedal pressure.
But the point of the system isn't about speed or additional pulling force; it's about improvements to fuel economy and reductions in emissions, two things that fleet managers are increasingly concerned with. The price of the XLH system starts at $10,990, but if you're ordering a fleet of them, it's likely that this price could be negotiated. That's a little bit more than the $9,120 that Ford charges to go from the gas 6.2-liter Boss V-8 to the diesel 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 in the Super Duty, but XL says that for fleet purposes, you gain an advantage in two areas. First, you're not spending money on diesel exhaust fluid for the diesel engine, and second, your fleet emissions are considerably less, something that many fleet operators are being tasked with reducing.
How Efficient Was It?
So how did it do? Over 150 miles of stop-and-go traffic that included a 30-mile freeway jaunt, the XL Hybrid F-250 returned a combined 15.0 mpg. For comparison, a review of 2017 F-250 Super Duties with the gas 6.2-liter V-8 on Fuelly.com shows 69 vehicles reporting an average of 11.8 mpg, while 151 trucks equipped with the diesel 6.7-liter V-8 reported 14.4 mpg. My results showed a considerable improvement over the standard V-8, well more than the 25 percent XL purports to bring to the party, and instead provided results on par with the Power Stroke diesel, but without the added expense of DEF. And all of it was delivered without any weird powertrain behavior, in a seamless, nearly invisible system that's impressively integrated into the standard, unmodified powertrain. It's very well done and provides a fascinating alternative for fleet operators who don't want to deal with the expense and added maintenance of diesel systems, or who want to improve fleet efficiency and not take a hit on diesel particulate emissions.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman