Growl, growl, growl, growl.

Anyone who drives a diesel knows that familiar sound, a continuous rolling, rattling reminder of what's under the hood.

Diesels have come a long way in the past decade. They're cleaner, quieter and more responsive, and emit less smoke or fuel-oil smell. For 2003, Ford has a new turbocharged diesel V-8 for its big Super Duty pickup trucks.

In the F-250 SuperCab tested here, the 6-liter Power Stroke diesel provided remarkable torque and brisk acceleration. The on-board computer registered overall fuel mileage of about 17.5 miles per gallon for this 5,600-pound behemoth.

Big trucks are almost the only place where you find diesels in the United States, with only Volkswagen selling diesel cars. In Europe, where gas prices are through the roof, diesel engines are common in automobiles and light trucks.

With current U.S. gas prices in the $2 per gallon range, there could be a resurgence in diesels, which typically get 30 percent better fuel economy than gas engines. Diesels are also more durable and require less maintenance.

It's not all gravy. Diesels are expensive options, and fuel savings that offset the initial cost can take years to realize. In the F-250, the Power Stroke engine is a $5,000 option.

What it is:

The F-250 is a mighty pickup truck that's a favorite on the worksite, the campground and the boat ramp. It comes in several different sizes and variations, with the one tested here a two-wheel-drive SuperCab, in which clamshell doors provide access to a rear bench seat. This is the shorter-wheelbase version, which basically means the load bed is shorter than the full-length truck. It's still a big bed on a huge truck and probably more than most people using a pickup for personal transportation would ever need. And the F-250 is the smallest member of the Super Duty class of Ford trucks.

Engine and transmission:

Torque is the key word when discussing diesel power. The 6-liter Power Stroke has a mountain of muscle, 560 pounds-feet of torque that comes on just barely above idle speed. The result is a big truck that, despite its formidable mass, literally jumps from a standstill and races to highway speed like a muscle car. Throttle response is impressive at any speed. At 75 mph, the engine ticks along just over 2,000 rpm.

Horsepower is rated at 325, which becomes almost irrelevant with all that torque. There's no sense of turbo lag, just a tower of power all ready to rip. Trailer towing is rated at 12,500 pounds.

That growling noise is present, though it seems toned down. Under power, the engine can get raucous. I turned up the stereo.

The automatic in the test truck is also new, a TorqShift transmission designed for the heavy diesel. Shifting was smooth and precise. Priced at nearly $1,500, it's an expensive option.

Handling, drivability:

It's surprising how nicely this truck steers, brakes and handles. Certainly no sports coupe, but this heavyweight holds the road and steers responsively. On the highway, the unladen truck has a stiff and jiggly ride.

It's easy to forget the size of this truck on the open road, but in tight quarters, such as narrow streets and parking lots, it tends to get in its own way.


Ford borrowed heavily from Dodge Ram for the semi-rig look of the Super Duty series. The big face with its wide-open grille has a formidable appearance.

The two thronelike front seats are set in a huge cabin. The feeling is that of piloting a semi.

The gauges and features are typical Ford truck, simple and accommodating, with a huge center console and two sets of twin cupholders for two-fisted drinkers. A welcome feature for shorter drivers are the power pedals that adjust according to the length of the driver's inseam.

The rear bench seat is limited and should be considered only for short hops by small riders.

For a full-size rear seat, check out the Crew Cab version of F-250.


The fully equipped F-250 Lariat starts at a significant $29,740. Options on the test truck included the diesel engine, $5,085; automatic, $1,480; reverse radar sensor, $245; exterior enhancements, $225; telescoping power mirrors, $220; premium audio, $210; trailer hitch, $175; adjustable pedals, $120; and shipping, $795. Total of $38,295 is steep, but this is a lot of truck.

Bottom line:

This heavy-duty pickup performs well, due in part to powerful yet economical turbo diesel, but casual users might find it to be too much truck.

Ford F-250 Lariat SuperCab

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, stretch-cab pickup truck, rear-wheel drive.

Base price: $29,740.

Price as tested: $38,295.

Engine: 6-liter turbocharged diesel V-8, 325 horsepower at 3,300 rpm, 560 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 141.8 inches.

Curb weight: 5,601 pounds.

Payload: 3,195 pounds.

Towing capacity: 12,500 pounds.

Fuel mileage: 17.5 mpg (observed).


Engine power, economy.

Steering, handling.

Interior comfort.


Engine noise.

Jiggly ride.

Too huge for personal truck.