2018 Ford F-150 Diesel First Test: Knowing Your Audience


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I know better. Driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on a Sunday afternoon is a circle of hell unto itself. After three days of touring wide-open interstates and empty state highways in Colorado and Utah, the soul-crushing, back-to-reality traffic leaving Las Vegas was an unwelcome end to a wonderful road trip. Thing is, I wasn’t nearly as frustrated or exasperated with it as I normally would be. The easy-riding F-150 Power Stroke diesel gets a lot of credit for that.

Normally, a pickup wouldn’t be my first choice for a 1,300-mile, five-state road trip. But it makes perfect sense.

Read about the 2018 Ford F-150 XL Power Stroke diesel commercial truck right here

Back in 2014, we set about updating our Truck of the Year competition to better represent what you, the truck buyer, want and expect from your rig. One part of that was collecting market research from multiple sources on buyer priorities and how people actually use their trucks. One of the biggest takeaways: Light-duty truck owners tend to think of their trucks more like big cars than traditional trucks—but they buy more capability than they need, just in case.

You could see it right across the data. Although heavy-duty buyers list towing and payload as top priorities, light-duty buyers tend to look for comfort, quietness, technology, maneuverability, fuel economy, power, and sportiness more than outright capability. It’s reflected in how they use their trucks: A solid majority of light-duty buyers never take their truck off-road, and only a small majority tow. Of those who tow, less than half tow once or more a month, and virtually all of them tow less than 8,000 pounds. (People who tow more than 8,000 pounds regularly buy heavy-duties.)

Despite this, towing and hauling regularly figure into the light-duty truck-buying mindset. Trucks are the ultimate “just in case” vehicles, and nothing puts the mind at ease like knowing your truck can safely tow and haul way more than you intend and go farther off-road than you will. On top of that, light-duty truck buyers want to know that when they do load it down, the truck won’t feel overburdened.

This research, which all truck manufacturers routinely conduct, is at the heart of the new Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel’s performance. After carefully watching the trend-setting Ram EcoDiesel’s performance in the market the past few years, Ford knew which metrics mattered most in the bid to claim class leadership. More horsepower and torque was a given (it’s 10 hp and 20 lb-ft ahead of the last-gen Ram), but so, too, was fuel economy. Ram set a new benchmark for all pickups with an EPA-rated 27 mpg highway across the board, and Ford wasn’t going to let that mark stand. The F-150 diesel gets an EPA-rated 30 mpg highway on a 4×2 truck and 25 mpg highway on a 4×4, an incredible achievement for a class of vehicle whose fuel economy numbers were stuck in the mid-teens less than a decade ago.

That’s no test lab trickery. Over the course of our road trip, an XL-trim 4×2 self-reported 27.7 mpg, and a nearly 700-pound-heavier Platinum 4×4 self-reported 23.7 mpg. To be sure, we hooked both trucks up to our EQUA Real MPG equipment. The XL returned 22.9/34.3/27.0 city/highway/combined mpg and the Platinum 20.9/28.6/23.8 mpg city/highway/combined, all handily beating Ford’s estimates.

On top of that, the F-150 Power Stroke wallops the last-gen Ram EcoDiesel in a straight line. EcoDiesels we tested needed between 8.6 and 8.9 seconds to hit 60 mph with their eight-speed autos, but the Power Strokes and their new 10-speed autos took only 7.1 to 7.8 seconds. A big factor in this is the aluminum F-150’s 450- to 1,000-pound weight advantage. Heck, the F-150 Power Stroke is quicker than the base model F-150’s 3.3-liter V-6 (7.6 seconds) and nearly as quick as the optional 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost (7.0 seconds). Our only performance testing quibble was a Platinum brake pedal that felt long and squishy; the XL’s was nice and firm.

New engine aside, the F-150 is the same great truck we unanimously voted our 2018 Truck of the Year. It won that accolade by correcting all the little deficiencies that had kept the previous iteration out of the winner’s circle. A better transmission, improved steering feel, stronger crash-test scores, a more intuitive information/entertainment system, and an interior worthy of the price tag (especially if you throw in heated and cooled massage seats on the Platinum) add up to a fantastic long-distance cruiser and delightful daily driver.

Unfortunately, in fitting the diesel, Ford also introduced a pair of new deficiencies. I suspect it all comes back to the unintended consequences of market research. The first issue involves a clunkiness in the transmission that’s unique to the diesel models. It’s most noticeable at low speeds and when towing. For example, sitting in traffic in fourth gear turning roughly 1,000 rpm at 20 mph, every time I touched the throttle or took my foot off of it, there was a shunt in the driveline. Gear changes at low speed also tended to be a bit rough for an otherwise smooth transmission.

What’s the cause of all this? Ford has the torque converter locking up at a very low engine speed to help reach that best-in-class fuel economy. Unlocked torque converters are a drag on the engine but also do a better job of absorbing drivetrain lash.

The second issue involves towing at freeway speeds. Around town and getting up to 50 mph, the torquey diesel feels stout with 6,500 pounds on the hitch (less than 60 percent of its 11,400-pound max tow rating). Out on the highway, however, it runs out of breath. Passing with a trailer requires a good, long runup, and going uphill means putting your foot on the floor just to maintain speed. The truck downshifts until the revs come up to 3,000—and that’s where it sits until the road levels out again.

Towing isn’t about speed, of course, but as noted, light-duty truck buyers don’t want their trucks to feel stressed when towing and like to have more capability than they need. If you opt for one of the EcoBoost engines or the V-8 instead, you’ll have top-end power even when towing. Even the slower Ram EcoDiesel pulls harder while towing at freeway speeds.

Could Ford have tuned the F-150 Power Stroke for more power while towing? Sure, but it would hurt its crucial fuel economy score. For what it’s worth, Ford claims the F-150 Power Stroke will get much better fuel economy while towing than a gas-powered truck pulling the same trailer. Thankfully, it’s all weight-dependent anyway and isn’t a problem when you’re hauling rather than towing, as the payload rating is just 2,020 pounds, not enough to stress the engine.

Other top priorities of light-duty truck buyers are price and value for the money. You can only get the Power Stroke on the Lariat trim level or higher—putting its base price at $46,410. (Commercial fleet buyers can get the diesel on any trim level as a $5,000 option.) By contrast, a 2.7-liter EcoBoost is a $995 option on any trim level, and it gets up to 26 mpg highway per the EPA. You’ll need to rack up the miles or frequently use the diesel’s added towing capacity to make up the $3,000 difference. And if you’re going to do that much towing, a base-model F-250 can be had with its massive turbodiesel V-8 for just less than $44,000.

Ford knows its customers. For most F-150 drivers, the new Power Stroke is a torquey, comfortable cruiser that’ll go 700 miles between fuel stops with the smallest tank option. It’s a great truck, as long as you don’t come expecting an F-250 diesel in an F-150 package.

2018 Ford F-150 XL 4×2 Power Stroke (SuperCab) 2018 Ford F-150 Platinum 4×4 Power Stroke (SuperCrew)
BASE PRICE $38,180 $62,305
PRICE AS TESTED $41,730 $66,985
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 6-pass, 4-door truck Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.0L/250-hp/440-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.0L/250-hp/440-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,982 lb (58/42%) 5,647 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 145.0 in 145.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 231.9 x 79.9 x 75.5 in 231.9 x 79.9 x 77.2 in
0-60 MPH 7.1 sec 7.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.6 sec @ 88.9 mph 16.1 sec @ 84.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73 g (avg) 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.2 sec @ 0.60 g (avg) 27.9 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 22.9/34.3/27.0 mpg 20.9/28.6/23.8 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21/30/24 mpg (MT est) 20/29/23 mpg (MT est)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 180/126 kW-hrs/100 miles (MT est) 189/130 kW-hrs/100 miles (MT est)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.91 lb/mile (MT est) 0.95 lb/mile (MT est)