Trucks

2018 Ford F-150 Diesel First Drive Review: High torque, high mileage

Ford’s 30-mpg pickup drives, tows and hauls like a proper F-150 should.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The Ford F-150 has been America's best-selling truck since, well, since disco ruled the airwaves. And while the venerable F-150 already received a big upgrade for the 2018 model year, with improved powertrains, updated styling and tech improvements, the truck's most important update is just now arriving. For the first time in its lengthy history, the half-ton Ford F-150 can now be had with diesel power.

The big news is that the F-150 with its 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel V6 can achieve up to 30 mpg highway, at least in rear-wheel drive guise. It can tow up to 11,400 pounds, also with rear-wheel drive. As we detailed earlier, general consumers can only buy the diesel engine on Lariat models and above. Fleet customers, meanwhile, can spec the 3.0-liter diesel on XL and XLT work truck trims.

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A 2018 Ford F-150 King Ranch 4x4 SuperCrew Diesel is my test truck at Ford's media event in the Colorado mountains, equipped with a 157-inch wheelbase and 3.55 rear axle ratio. This specific truck is estimated to return 25 mpg highway, tow 11,000 pounds and carry 1,268 pounds of payload.

The 3.0-liter engine makes 250 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Towing an empty 5,040-pound horse trailer, the F-150 accelerates with adequate pace, and the 10-speed transmission -- tweaked specifically for this diesel application -- keeps the truck in the heart of its torque band. With the trailer behind me, I have no trouble keeping my speed while climbing a 7-percent grade, and on the way down, the diesel engine kicks into lower gear so only light braking is needed to keep me at a steady 55 miles per hour.

2018 Ford F-150 diesel

The new diesel engine in the Ford F-150 can tow up to 11,400 pounds with the right configuration.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Ford upgraded the F-150's cooling system for diesel duty, fitting a mechanical fan in place of the standard truck's electrical unit. Otherwise, the diesel truck is the same as other F-150s, with the same steering and braking setup as other models.

Everything carries over inside, as well. Since you're getting at least Lariat-spec luxury here, all diesel F-150s will be pretty nice, with decent materials throughout the cabin and plenty of onboard tech, including Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system.

The F-150 comes with a bit of truck tech that makes towing a lot easier. The optional Pro Trailer Backup Assist is great if you lack the confidence to, as they say, "back that sh*t up." A simple, dash-mounted dial controls the steering so that if you want the trailer to go left, you turn the dial left. It's an intuitive bit of tech, and while not completely foolproof, it's far less tricky than doing it the conventional way. The gauge cluster features a checklist of tasks to complete before setting off with a trailer, ensuring newbie towers don't forget to crank up the trailer jack or insert the hitch pin.

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As for driving aids, the F-150 Power Stroke features adaptive cruise control that can apply brakes to both the truck and a trailer, keeping you at a set distance behind a lead vehicle. Blind-spot monitoring also accounts for a trailer in tow. Simply input the trailer's length and the technology takes over, issuing a warning when a smaller vehicle is hanging out in your super-long blind spots.

For now, the 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke bests its competitors in fuel economy and towing. The 2018 Ram 1500 with its 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine gets 27 mpg highway regardless of drivetrain and can tow a maximum of 10,640 pounds. Ram says its half-ton 1500 pickup will get a new diesel engine for 2019, which might include an increase in fuel economy and towing capacity. New diesel options for the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 will surely challenge the F-150's crown, as well.

The 2018 Ford F-150 diesel will be available in the coming weeks. It's a great engine option, one that works well in the F-150 truck. Just remember, you'll have to pay an extra $4,000 -- on top of the Lariat model's $41,015 -- for the privilege.

Editor's Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. 

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.