Truck owners have been pining for a diesel engine in a half-ton truck for what seems like an eternity. Pine no more. Ford has answered this call with the 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke, which follows the trail blazed by the Ram EcoDiesel in 2014. And later this year, General Motors will join the diesel half-ton party, too.
The lesson here is that grousing gets you nowhere for a very long time. But when it eventually pays off, you'll be spoiled for choice.
In the case of the Power Stroke V6, Ford had something to shoot for, which was to re-establish the fuel economy and towing bars set by Ram. This appears to signal the beginning of a new arms race among pickup truck manufacturers with the consumer the beneficiary.
Next-Generation Lion V6
Ford raided its corporate parts bin in the creation of the 3.0-liter Power Stroke V6 for the F-150. The starting point for the Power Stroke version of the engine — a member of Ford of Europe's Lion diesel V6 engine family, which debuted in 2004 — is the 3.0-liter currently available stateside in the Land Rover Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.
This dual overhead camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder engine already breathed freely, so engineers focused primarily on updating and tailoring it for the rigors of F-150 duty. There's a new forged crankshaft (which, incidentally, will be adopted in the Jaguar Land Rover engine), new main and rod journal bearings, a new turbo, a water-cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system, and a revised block casting to accommodate the F-150's engine mounts and accessory locations, plus a handful of unique ancillary items. There's also a higher-pressure fuel system that shares several parts with the big-gun 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8. Its pistons, carried over from the Land Rover variant, provide a 16:1 compression ratio.
Generating its peak 250 horsepower at 3,250 rpm, the Power Stroke V6 eclipses the Ram EcoDiesel V6 by 10 hp. Meanwhile, its maximum torque of 440 lb-ft beats the EcoDiesel by 20 lb-ft. That the Ford V6's peak torque is available from 1,750 to 2,250 rpm bestows it with broad shoulders. By 4,500 rpm, the engine has reached its rev limit.
The extra real estate liberated in the engine bay by the V6's slim dimensions allowed engineers to fit a large engine-driven fan. This is said to move far more cooling air through the heat exchangers than would an electric one. In turn, there's ample cooling "headroom," reducing the need to derate power in hot, high-altitude towing conditions.
All Power Stroke V6s come with the same 10-speed automatic transmission found elsewhere in the F-150 range, right down to the gear ratios. The standard axle ratio is 3.31, and a 3.55 is optional. Depending on configuration, the max tow rating of a Power Stroke V6-equipped F-150 ranges from 10,100 to 11,400 pounds, while its max payload rating is 1,940 pounds.
What It's Like to Drive
In its silence, smoothness and tractability, the Power Stroke V6 does a damned good impression of a gasoline engine. When unloaded, there's zero of the clatter or gruff rumble in the cabin that even modern diesels can exhibit. There's the barest hint of telltale ticking detectable when pulling a trailer or when you're standing outside the truck. It's simply a quiet engine. Engineers say that the engine's tidy size and centrally located piezo fuel injectors lend themselves to effective muffling by way of foam encapsulation. We say it works.
It's responsive, too, accelerating away from stoplights seamlessly. You're never dealing with off-boost sogginess, even a mile high in the mountains as we were during our drive. We towed a 5,040-pound horse trailer at this elevation and the Power Stroke didn't much care. It pulled briskly and never felt stressed beyond requiring a foot to the floor to maintain the posted speed limit up a modest grade. The 10-speed transmission helps, too, providing deep gears to aid launches and changing ratios as smoothly as Barry White changes verses.
No exhaust brake is available. And unfortunately, owing to the engine's small displacement, there's not a lot of inherent engine braking on tap. Selecting the tow-haul mode or manually downshifting helps a bit to gain some braking effect, but it's modest. Fair warning for those who plan to tow heavy loads on downhill grades.
MPG — It's Complicated
EPA fuel economy ratings for the F-150 Power Stroke are 25 mpg combined (22 city/30 highway) for the 4x2 and 22 mpg combined (20 city/25 highway) for the 4x4. While the 4x2 outshines the Ram EcoDiesel 4x2's combined score by 2 mpg, the Power Stroke 4x4's combined rating does no better than that of the EcoDiesel 4x4.
Why the big difference between the 4x2 and 4x4 fuel economy? There are several factors. Beyond the additional weight of the four-wheel-drive hardware, there's the "sales mix" factor: Ford expects sales of 4x4 models to skew heavily toward crew cabs with the optional 3.55 axle and all-terrain tires, so that's the configuration it used for fuel economy testing. Shorter axle ratios and knobbier tires have a deleterious effect on fuel economy as speed rises, like on the highway.
Keen-eyed truck nerds might notice that the drop-off in fuel economy isn't as severe in fleet versions of the F-150 Power Stroke 4x4. Well, it turns out that the retail version of the F-150 has a torque-on-demand, selectable automatic full-time four-wheel-drive system that has more parasitic drag than the electronic shift-on-the-fly system found in the fleet F-150 variants.
As always, your mileage may vary. But it's likely that the government's fuel economy rating of the 4x4 is conservative for buyers who stick with the standard 3.31 axle and all-season tires.
A Pricey Proposition
The Power Stroke V6 is available in a broad array of configurations that are skewed toward the higher end of the range. Retail versions of the F-150 offer the diesel in upper trim levels — Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum — in crew-cab (with either a 5.5-foot or a 6.5-foot bed) and extended-cab configurations with the 6.5-foot bed.
Here's where the bloom comes off the rose somewhat: The Power Stroke V6 is the most expensive engine in the entire F-150 lineup. It commands $4,000 more than the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, $3,000 more than the 5.0-liter V8 and $2,400 more than the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6.
You might think the diesel pays for itself in fuel savings. That's true, but it will take quite some time to break even. In the best-case scenario, comparing the 4x2 Power Stroke to the 4x2 5.0-liter V8, the breakeven point is about eight years. It grows longer from there; versus the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, the diesel pays off in nearly 15 years with the 4x2 and 19 years with the 4x4. Compared to the relatively inexpensive and efficient 2.7-liter EcoBoost (which we acknowledge doesn't tow as much as does the Power Stroke V6), you'll have to wait until the next ice age to recoup the diesel's upfront cost.
It's possible that the Power Stroke V6's fuel savings are magnified when towing is thrown into the mix. Certainly its tow ratings are impressive, surpassing the Ram EcoDiesel by thousands of pounds. And who knows when fuel prices will inevitably spike again?
Ford expects that 5 percent of F-150s will be optioned with the Power Stroke V6, which doesn't sound like much until you consider the colossal number of F-150s sold every year. It's a fine engine with a narrow appeal given the price, so this estimate feels suitably modest. For those buyers who will be towing often, the 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke might hit the sweet spot.