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New Cars Review: 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel has the power for big-league pulling – at a premium price

Ford has given the F-150 diesel almost car-like comfort.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

It’s hard not to think that the new powerful, fuel-efficient, clean and quiet diesel engine in Ford’s signature pickup is the power plant that should have always been there.

Mind you, the technology to build an engine such as this didn’t exist when the F-Series line of pickups made their debut way back in 1948. This is, indeed, a very modern engine that enables a light-duty general-purpose truck to do all the things it should: haul, pull, and carry passengers with low effort, true comfort and remarkable fuel efficiency.

How efficient? As the disclaimer states, “Your actual mileage may vary,” but the numbers start with the as-yet-uncertified fuel ratings of 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres in combined city and highway driving.

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Yes – in a full-sized pickup. Hello, Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

Pushing the 2018 F-150 Power Stroke diesel hard at the truck’s debut on country roads an hour outside of Denver cut those numbers in half. But testers who feathered the throttle in a hypermile challenge also delivered numbers 25-per-cent better.

None of this efficiency comes at the cost of driveability. This turbocharged 3.0-litre engine has none of the telltale rattle of a typical diesel, so riding in the cabin is almost whisper quiet. And it has pulling power to spare. The Power Stroke diesel churns out a respectable 250 horsepower, and a truly impressive 440 lb-ft of peak torque, the latter at just 1,750 rotations a minute – barely above a fast idle. Paired with a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic, the F-150 can tow 5,170 kilograms and can carry 916 kg of payload.

Ford says it designed the truck for people who tow and haul frequently. “The more you tow and the longer you haul, the more you’ll appreciate its class-leading towing and payload capacity,” Dave Filipe, vice-president of global powertrain engineering, said in a release.

The cast-iron engine block is reinforced with compacted-graphite and forged-steel cranks, just as the EcoBoost gasoline engines do. The result is added strength and durability but reduced weight. Although the diesel, which also has stop/start technology, tips the scales at about 200 kg more than its gasoline equivalent, the truck’s total weight is roughly 2,400 kg in the 4x4 configuration. That’s a comparatively light weight for a pickup, thanks to Ford’s continuing commitment to all-aluminum body panels.

The Ford F-150 diesel has the brawn for rough-and-tumble back-country trails.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

The truck is an absolute pleasure to drive. Ease-of-driving features at higher trim levels include lane-keep assist, blind-spot assist and forward- and rear-facing cameras. The no-effort trailer-backup assist makes squeezing your trailer into a tight spot a no-brainer. And Ford includes its SYNC 3 voice-recognition communications system. With road noise at a minimum, the Bang & Olufsen premium audio system helps you fill the cab with the sounds you choose.

It also has the brawn for rough-and-tumble backcountry trails. Ford encouraged us to take the F-150 through a challenging off-road course, over logs, hills and through mud bogs. The torquey engine took us through it all without breaking a sweat.

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Yet, buyers who are looking for a thrifty all-purpose pickup may be disappointed by the premium they must pay for the Power Stroke diesel. At retail, the engine comes at a premium ranging from $5,650 to $8,200, and is available in the Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum edition SuperCrew trucks with either a 5.5-foot or 6.5-foot bed configuration. Fleet customers can access it in any model with SuperCrew. That puts the cheapest Power Stroke in the range of $50,000.

At those prices, you’re buying buying bragging rights, not thrift.

So, in terms of cost of ownership, it’s hard to build a business case for this truck. The 3.5-litre EcoBoost gasoline engine, for example, delivers 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, although not at comparable fuel-consumption levels. It would take a lot of driving, however, to recover the premium for the diesel through fuel savings.

Ford’s decision to introduce a first-ever diesel in its F-150 line of trucks comes at an interesting time. Recent emissions scandals have made light-duty diesel engines about as popular as a burning cigar in a juicer bar. Yet, manufacturers must continuously find ways to cut fuel consumption, while delivering the hauling and towing performance that electrics can only dream of.

Diesel engines with proper emissions controls still have the edge, since they deliver significant fuel savings and longer-term durability and don’t send out clouds of black soot. That’s one of the reasons big manufacturers, including Volkswagen, say diesel engines will be a part of future products.

Ford’s Power Stroke diesel, which starts shipping in May, is a worthy addition to the choices for diesel fans. If you don’t mind saving more fuel than money in your pickup, this F-150 is a worthy contender.

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At retail, the engine comes at a premium ranging from $5,650 to $8,200.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: (turbo; hybrid): $45,349/$57,200; $71,829 (plus diesel premium ranging from $5,650 to $8,200)
  • Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged, V-6 diesel
  • Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic/two wheel; 4x4
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/8.0 highway
  • Alternatives: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Looks

Ford pickups are the best-looking in the industry and these look pretty much like every other F-150, except for a small badge that marks it as a Power Stroke diesel.

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Interior

The finish is tasteful, the lighting is ambient and the sound in the premium trims levels is eerily quiet. Ford has given these trucks almost car-like comfort.

Ford says it designed the F-150 diesel for people who tow and haul frequently.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

Performance

The torque range gives these trucks amazing pulling power. They are not, however, champs at acceleration. Plan your passing with care.

Technology

Driver assist, safety and convenience features are right in there with the current state of the art.

Cargo

It’s a pickup! If you choose the 6.5-foot box, you have cargo room to spare, although many drivers will opt for the shorter version for greater manoeuvrability.

If you choose the 6.5-foot box, you have cargo room to spare.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

The verdict: 8.0

The engine delivers excellent workman-like performance and exciting fuel economy. The only downside is the premium price you must pay to access the diesel.

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