U.S. Markets open in 4 hrs 36 mins

2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke Diesel First Drive Review: An oil-burning peach

DENVER — In 2014, FCA finally offered a diesel engine in a light-duty truck. The resulting Ram 1500 EcoDiesel was a success, offering V6 fuel economy with V8 capabilities. Other automakers immediately took notice. When the refreshed 2018 Ford F-150 was introduced early in 2017, a Power Stroke diesel variant was announced. Finally, after more than a year of anticipation, we're at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains to drive Ford's new oil burner.

The Volkswagen diesel-emissions scandal hasn't affected the truck side of the market. The midsize Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon both have diesel options. The new 2019 Chevy Silverado is also getting a diesel. The 2019 Ram 1500 didn't launch with a diesel, but Ram has confirmed that the engine will make a return. That means Ford's only direct competition at launch is the outgoing 2018 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

We spent time with the refreshed F-150 last summer. While it wasn't a full overhaul, Ford managed to sharpen and refine everything we already enjoyed about America's best-selling vehicle. It was quieter, more capable, featured updated tech and improved engines. The full-size truck segment is cutthroat, and every single inch, pound and horsepower matters. Ford sold nearly 900,000 F-150s in 2017. So far, the F-150 is off to a better start in 2018.

The F-150's new diesel is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6. It's built in the UK and is related to the diesel V6 that's found in a number of Jaguar Land Rover products, including the Range Rover and Discovery. The Power Stroke team worked its own magic, changing the variable-geometry turbocharger, fuel injection system, connecting rod and main bearings, oil pan and crankshaft. In fact, the JLR team will be using the Ford forged crank in the future.

Ford's version makes 250 horsepower and a healthy 440 pound-feet of torque, roughly the same as its JLR brethren and slightly better than the 2018 Ram EcoDiesel's 240 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. The Ford's sole transmission is the 10-speed automatic that was co-developed with GM and can be found in everything from the Ford Excursion to the Chevy Camaro. It's a fine transmission that quietly and unobtrusively goes about its business, which is just what we want in a modern truck automatic.

Ford claims class-leading fuel economy for the F-150 Power Stroke with a rating of 22 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 combined. The thing is, that's just for the two-wheel drive version. Opting for four-wheel drive drops the fuel economy rating significantly, to 20 city, 25 highway and 22 combined. Compare that to the four-wheel drive Ram EcoDiesel's 19 city, 27 highway and 22 combined rating and it doesn't look quite as impressive.

Improved fuel economy isn't the only reason to opt for the diesel. The F-150 Power Stroke sports a 11,400-pound tow and 1,940-pound payload rating. Commercial-spec trucks get a slight boost with a 2,020-pound payload rating. Of course, those are max ratings that vary depending on gearing, drive and cab configurations. Still, they do eclipse the Ram EcoDiesel's max tow and payload ratings.

On the road, the F-150 Power Stroke is a real peach. If you didn't know it had a diesel, from behind the wheel it feels just like a torquey gasoline engine. Power comes on smooth and low, only falling off slightly towards the top of the rev range. You're never wanting for power, be it passing on a two-lane road or climbing up a steep mountain pass. Thanks to that turbo, Colorado's high altitude affected us far more than it did the truck.

You need to attach a trailer to see the truck really shine. Ford had several on offer, from a small single-horse trailer to a long car hauler. The Power Stroke seemed to shrug off the heaviest loads. It wasn't just the engine that shined, either. There were pretty heavy winds when we first got behind the wheel, but the F-150's sway assist prevented any jackknifing.

Not only will the F-150 Power Stroke have to compete against the Ram and upcoming competition from Chevy, it also has a whole batch of in-house gasoline competition to contend with. Currently, the most fuel-efficient F-150 is a two-wheel drive model with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. At 20 city, 26 highway and 22 mpg combined, it's roughly on par with the four-wheel-drive diesel.

The problem, like so many premium engines, comes down to cost. For non-commercial sales, customers need to step into at least a mid-grade F-150 Lariat to get the diesel. Even then, it's a $4,000 option over 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. Yes, it's more fuel efficient than those three, but the 3.5 EcoBoost offers improved towing and payload thanks to its 375 horsepower and diesel-trouncing 470 pound-feet of torque.

The 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel is a fantastic engine, an improvement on an already solid base. It's quiet and refined, a far cry from heavy-duty diesel trucks that your mind may conjure up when you think of oil-burning pickups. It's not the answer for everyone, especially when considering the premium you pay up front, but it's a solid and compelling option that makes America's best-selling vehicle even better. When real competition in this space from Chevy and Ram arrives, things will get really interesting. We can't wait to see how those trucks all compare in the near future.