After decades in existence, you might think the Ford F-150 would be out of tricks. But one of the main reasons it in fact has been around for decades as the best-selling vehicle in America for a good part of them is because it keeps trying new things. In recent years Ford’s venerable pickup charted new territory with an aluminum-intensive body vs. traditional steel, and the use of smaller-displacement turbocharged V6 engines rather than just bigger and thirstier V8s.

Now, Ford has finally given the F-150 another gift, one the automaker says buyers have been requesting for a long time: a diesel engine.

New member of Power Stroke diesel family

While Ford has offered a diesel engine in its Super Duty F-Series for ages, the 2018 Ford F-150 marks the first time such a powertrain has been put in Ford’s light-duty pickups. This 3.0-liter Power Stroke V6 turbodiesel shares technology with the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 offered in the Super Duty truck. Another quick trivia point: Although this is the first application of the engine used in a Ford product, it is derived from the V6 diesel that Ford builds in the United Kingdom for work in Land Rover vehicles like the new Discovery. Though Ford sold off the Jaguar/Land Rover brands a decade ago, it still builds certain engines for the British luxury automaker. This new diesel engine for the F-150 is built in the U.K., then shipped to the United States for the truck’s final assembly.

The two major advantages of a diesel over a gasoline engine are the abundant torque and higher fuel economy, both of which play important roles in doing duties associated with a truck: towing, hauling and off-roading. To show how the new diesel F-150 can be used for such tasks, Ford invited us to Denver, Colorado, where we had the chance to put the truck through its initial paces.

The tow test

The first thing we did was to jump behind the wheel of an F-150 Power Stroke diesel tied to a 5,000-plus pound horse trailer. Thankfully no animals were in the trailer, meaning the only thing that could get harmed should our towing not be up to snuff was our pride.  Like its Super Duty big brother, the diesel F-150 light-duty pickup has laudable low-end grunt. This is what diesels are all about. They’re not the quickest off the line, and certainly not a rocket like the EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 gasoline engines offered in the F-150, but their low-end feels like it could rip out stumps.

The F-150 had little problem towing the horse trailer, but could still tell this is an engine for lighter-duty work. With this engine, the F-150 is rated to tow up to 11,400 pounds, whereas a Super Duty is rated to a mind-boggling 34,000 pounds with a gooseneck. And as with the Super Duty, tow ratings will vary by trim. Beginning with a 4x2 Lariat, which is the least-expensive trim offered for retail, the tow rating is 10,100 pounds.

We could sense the diesel working admirably hard on long uphill straights while hauling the trailer, but part of that we attributed to the high elevation. That said, we think this diesel would make a fine partner for what Ford says is the intended application of hauling trailers and “toys” – think smaller boats, off-road vehicles, motorcycles and the like.

Two of the best attributes that stood out on our roughly 25-mile tow run were the fuel economy and the way it holds gears on downhills. Regarding the former, Ford expects this engine to return in the low teens of mpg vs. the single digits it sees with the EcoBoost V6. From our brief exposure, that proved true. About the latter, we really like how the engine and new 10-speed transmission work to keep the vehicle at a stable speed on steep downhill grades. While there is no “Jake brake” type of device that uses engine exhaust braking a la the Super Duty, the new F-150 diesel inspired confidence in the way it ticked down gears and maintained speed while towing on descents.

A hauler when not hauling

Next, we tried the F-150 Power Stroke with no load at all. Empty as it was, we could really get a sense of this engine’s pure power. And here it truly shined. On pedal-to-the-floor acceleration runs, turbo lag is hardly an issue. And the diesel felt impressively quick.  Here we also got to play with some of the other drive modes, beyond the tow/haul setting we used prior. A Sport mode quickens throttle calibrations for even breezier acceleration, while an Eco mode works to make the engine even more efficient.

After running through the programs, we left it in the standard setting, which felt perfectly suitable for both highway commuting and around-town driving. Ride quality in general is very much like a gasoline F-150, which is to say remarkably refined. Ford has done an excellent job in making this best-selling truck not feel so truckish, and that carries over to the diesel. Also notable is how quiet the diesel is, at least on the inside. Outside the vehicle, yes, you will hear the chug-chug-chug associated with an oil-burner, but inside there’s hardly a patter.

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Lastly, we got to chug this new Ford diesel truck through a gnarly off-road course. From romping over rocks and logs to climbing and descending steep, muddy hills, we had the opportunity to have some fun in the muck and get this truck about as dirty as possible.

It had rained and partially snowed the prior day, and though the sun was out on this day, the course was still in poor shape. And that meant it was in excellent shape to test the truck’s traction and the diesel ability to get ‘er done. The diesel engine and FX4 off-road package proved a formidable combination.

Using 4-wheel-drive high in most parts, and four-low in others with the rear differential locked, this full-size truck made short work of harsh terrain. And here the diesel again proved its mettle, its 440 lb-ft of torque – arriving at just 1,750 rpm – helping muscle the truck up and over every obstacle.

Pricing, availability, and the fine print

If you’re considering a new F-150 diesel, there’s a few things to know. First of all, our initial impression was a good one. This engine is a potent little powerhouse, and if you regularly tow or go off-roading, it could prove itself an excellent partner. The other thing to know is there’s a cost premium associated with this engine, and you’ll have to start with a higher-trim level (read, more expensive) F-150. The Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel is technically available in XL and XLT trims, but for now only to fleets.

Retail versions start at the Lariat trim level, and are also available in the even higher-end King Ranch and Platinum trims. In Lariat models, the engine is a $4,000 premium over the standard 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. That means you’ll have to spend nearly $43,000 to get into a Lariat 4x2 with this engine. From there, prices can rise tens of thousands as you climb trims.

Another thing to note is that while Ford is making headlines by touting this engine’s ability to get up to 30 mpg, be aware that is for 4x2 models. In 4-wheel-drive form, that figured drops to 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in the city.

Lastly, you might be wondering about emission controls. As with the Ram 1500 diesel, the F-150 Power Stroke uses diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Ford reps say the fluid only needs to be added about every 8,000 to 9,000 miles, and self-filling looks easy: there is an inlet right next to the fuel inlet.

The 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel is set to arrive at dealers in May. It will be the sixth engine choice for this top-selling truck, and one that we are happy to see finally available to diesel enthusiasts.

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