DETROIT – It’s looking increasingly likely that pickups will be making the last stand for diesel engines in the U.S. outside of semitrucks and tugboats.
For years, American car buyers were unmoved by diesel’s combination of power and efficiency while tens of millions of European buyers snapped them up for everything from Volkswagen Golfs to Mercedes S-class limos.
We are well and truly through the looking glass.
In 2018, just about every European automaker is phasing out diesels as countries and cities across the continent prepare to ban them. At the same time, the Detroit 3 are rolling out a new generation of diesels – priced at a hefty premium over sexy V-8s – to power their most popular and profitable vehicles.
The Ford F-150’s 3-liter diesel is the latest to hit the road and the best for at least the moment. That last caveat is because archrival Chevrolet has a new diesel coming in an all-new truck, and Ram’s slick new 2019 1500 pickup is slated to get Fiat Chrysler’s reliable diesel early next year.
I tested a loaded King Ranch SuperCrew with four doors, seating for five, ranch-style leather and badging and more. It stickered at $64,805, excluding destination charges.
The F-150 diesel doesn’t have the biggest towing capacity among full-size pickups, or even in the F-150 line. But its combination of an 11,400-pound max, strong torque for good towing and decent fuel economy – up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway in EPA tests – give it a unique set of attributes that are like catnip to mostly well-heeled buyers. Ford also expects to sell a handful of diesel F-150s as straight-up work trucks.
The diesel is quiet and smooth, thanks to recent upgrades to the engine family, which Ford has built in the United Kingdom for years. Extra sound insulation under the hood helps assure that occupants of the F-150’s roomy cab probably won’t hear any more engine noise than they would from a gasoline engine.
The diesel’s stop-start, which shuts the engine off when it’s idling at a stoplight or in traffic, is very noticeable. The vibration can be felt by everybody in the cab when it restarts the engine to resume driving.
The F-150 is brilliantly engineered for maneuverability and drivability, but there’s no disguising the fact that a 4×4 F-150 crew cab is a huge vehicle. It fills up a residential street and turns the search for an adequately sized downtown parking spot into a test of patience.
The King Ranch is a luxurious and comfortable vehicle, with the kind of passenger space – particularly rear leg room and head room – generally associated with limos.
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It’s available with the latest driver assistance features and has good, easy-to-use controls and voice recognition for features such as audio, navigation and smartphones.
Being first of the new generation of diesel pickups on sale doesn’t make the F-150 diesel look like a bargain, because it’s not. Diesel buyers are a special breed, happy to pay extra for an engine that combines good fuel economy with hefty towing capacity. Ford’s 250-horsepower 3-liter V-6 diesel is a $4,995 option on the F-150 XLT,s its base model, an extra $4,000 on a midline Lariat and adds $3,000 to the tab for luxurious pickups such as the King Ranch that I tested.
Ford expects the diesel to account for about 5 percent of F-150 sales. That’s a small share, but the numbers get meaningful when you’re talking about America’s best-selling vehicle. Ford will probably sell more diesel F-150s than Chevy sells Corvettes.
Ford continues to dominate the heavy-truck market, with F-Series truck sales at a 12-year high.
What stands out
Power: Nicest new diesel out there
Price: Up to a nearly $5,000 premium for the diesel
Size: The crew cab version of the truck is massive
Ford F-150 King Ranch SuperCrew Diesel
What? A luxurious pickup with a diesel engine
When? On sale now
Where? Made in Dearborn, Michigan
What makes it go? A 3-liter turbocharged diesel V-6 engine
How thirsty? 20 miles per gallon in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined in the four-wheel-drive crew cab
How big? 19.2 feet long
How much? Starts at $55,355 for the four-wheel-drive crew cab
Overall: Best diesel truck on the market
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