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2018 Ford F-150 review: Power Stroke of genius

The new Ford F-150 is the smartest, most capable half-ton truck yet.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

The has been America's best-selling truck since, well, since disco ruled the airwaves. The venerable F-150 received a big upgrade for the 2018 model year, including improvements in technology and updated styling. But the big news is what's under the hood. For the first time in its lengthy history, the half-ton Ford F-150 can now be had with diesel power.

2018 Ford F-150 Diesel

2018 Ford F-150

The Good

Numerous engine, cab and bed options mean you can build your dream truck very easily. New diesel engine is a workhorse.

The Bad

It can get very spendy, very quickly.

The Bottom Line

If you keep your options in check, you won't be disappointed with any iteration of the F-150.

The F-150 is available with no fewer than six engine options, everything from a 2.7-liter EcoBoost to the new 3.0-liter V6 Power Stroke diesel, to a 5.0-liter V8. With three different cab and bed sizes to choose from, plus two drivetrain options and seven trim levels, it's safe to say that you can customize your F-150 to be your dream truck.

Diesel darling

For this review I'm driving the Lariat 4x4 SuperCrew with the diesel engine, equipped with a 5-and-a-half foot bed and a 3.55 rear axle ratio. This specific truck is rated to tow 10,700 pounds and carry 1,476 pounds of payload. However, depending on your configuration, the F-150 diesel can tow 11,400 pounds and carry 2,020 pounds of payload. These numbers can vary widely depending on engine choice and configuration, so buyers, be sure to talk to your dealer about your specific needs.

This 3.0-liter diesel 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 diesel application -- keeps the truck in the heart of the 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.

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

2018 Ford F-150 Diesel
Enlarge Image
2018 Ford F-150 Diesel

Short bed, ain't care.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Unhitch the trailer and the F-150 drives as smoothly as any truck on the road. The diesel engine is well-matched with the 10-speed transmission, seemingly always in the correct gear for whatever I want the truck to do. Coming out of turns it fluidly skips over gears while downshifting so there's no stuttering when I ease back on the throttle. Push the hammer down on the highway and it skips up to high gear imperceptibly. There is a lot right with the F-150, but the transmission is definitely a high point.

For those worried about that old diesel rattle, rest assured that very little engine noise makes its way into the cabin. The powerplant is a bit louder than a gas-powered engine from the outside, but inside you'd be hard pressed to tell there's an oil-burner under the hood.

The diesel engine in my 4x4 drivetrain is rated to return 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 combined. Those numbers go up substantially in two-wheel drive: 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 combined. However, during my time with the truck -- and the heavy shoes I seem to always wear -- I only net 19 mpg.

Luxury and tech in spades

The F-150 comes with truck tech that makes towing easier. The optional Pro Trailer Backup Assist is great if you're not super skilled at the art of reversing with a trailer. 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, 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.

As for driving aids, the F-150 Diesel has optional adaptive cruise control that can apply brakes to both the truck and a trailer, keeping you at a set distance behind a lead vehicle. Available 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.

Standard on my tester is Ford's easy-to-use Sync 3 infotainment system, housed on an 8-inch touchscreen. I never turn into a crazy person, screaming at Sync 3 when I use it. Everything is clearly laid out and works just as it should. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both on deck, as is a Wi-Fi hotspot. Front and rear passengers each get two USB ports and a 12-volt and 110-volt plug.

The Lariat trim comes standard with adjustable pedals, dual climate control and leather trimmed seats. My tester has the optional heated rear seats and standard heated and cooled front seats, but if you want to add that awesome massage seating, you'll have to bump up to the fancy-pants King Ranch.

2018 Ford F-150 looks ravishing in red

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I'm surprised by how comfortable I am in the mid-trim Lariat. It's like driving my old easy chair, riding high above traffic. I feel invincible. I'm usually a two-hands-on-the-wheel kind of driver, but the ease of the F-150 encourages me to lean back, rest my right arm on the expanse center armrest, crank up the cooled seats and just drive until the tank runs dry -- which should be in about 650 miles with my 4x4 diesel. Heck, I could drive all the way from Roadshow HQ in San Francisco to Portland, Oregon if I wanted to.

How I'd spec it

I want the diesel for sure, which is only available on the Lariat trim and above, and at a $4,000 premium to boot. I also want the short bed, SuperCrew cab and 4x4 options, so already, I'm $10,000 over the $41,015 starting price of a Lariat. The 501A equipment group is a good buy at $1,585 with blind-spot monitoring. Pro Trailer Backup Assist is part of a $995 tow package, but I want to get good at doing that on my own, so I'll leave it on the table. I'd like to add adaptive cruise control but to get it I also need to add a $7,335 502A package. No, thanks. My one little luxury: the $325 box side steps because, well, I'm getting old.

2018 Ford F-150 Diesel
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2018 Ford F-150 Diesel

You'll need to buy at least the Lariat trim if you want the diesel engine.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

That puts my dream F-150 diesel at $54,705 including $1,495 for destination. Pricey, but it's still less expensive than the tester you see here, which comes in a $63,435, including a $1,395 destination charge.

Work champ

For now, the 2018 Ford F-150 Diesel 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 Ford F-150 is legitimately a great truck, and if you tow heavy payloads regularly, the diesel is the way to go.

2018 Ford F-150 Diesel

2018 Ford F-150

Score Breakdown

Performance 8.5Features 8.5Design 8Media 8