Auto review: Fordís 2019 F-150 King Ranch is best diesel vehicle on market

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 23, 2018

             

The 2018 Ford F-150 with a 3.0-liter Power StrokeAE diesel engine.

Itís ironic, but increasingly likely, that U.S. pickup buyers will be last stand for diesel engines, outside of semi-trucks and maybe tugboats.

For years, American drivers were unmoved by dieselís combination of power and efficiency while tens of millions of European buyers snapped them up for everything from VW 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 ó priced at a hefty premium over sexy V-8s ó to power their most popular and profitable vehicles.

The 2018 Ford F-150ís 3.0L 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 brand new diesel coming in an all-new truck, and Ramís slick new 2019 1500 pickup is slated to get Fiat Chryslerís reliable diesel early next year.

Behind the Wheel

2019 Ford F-150 King Ranch diesel 4WD

Four-wheel-drive, five-passenger full-size pickup

Price as tested: $64,805 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Four out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Towing capacity; fuel economy; features

Shortcomings: Engine idle-stop; cost, size.

How much?

Being first of the new generation of diesel pickups on sale doesnít make the F-150 diesel look like a bargain, because itís not. Diesel buyers are a special breed, happy to pay extra for an engine that combines good fuel economy with hefty towing capacity. Fordís 250-hp 3.0L V6 diesel is a $4,995 option on the F-150 XLT thatís its base model, an extra $4,000 on a midline Lariat and adds $3,000 to the tab for luxurious pickups like the King Ranch I tested.

The diesel, which Ford builds at a factory in England, is the sixth engine in the current F-150 lineup. Itís paired with Fordís smooth and precise 10-speed automatic transmission and available with rear- or four-wheel drive.

Ford expects it to account for about 5 percent of F-150 sales. Thatís a small share, but the numbers get meaningful when youíre talking about Americaís best-selling vehicle. Ford will probably sell more diesel F-150s than Chevy sells Corvettes.

At the moment, the only other light-duty pickup with a diesel is the 2018 Ram 1500, available in small numbers after being hung up while the EPA scrutinized its engine controls, which were supplied by the same company that made controls for the cheating Volkswagens that began dieselís downfall.

Next year, the F-150 diesel gets more meaningful competition in an all-new diesel in the all-new Chevy Silverado, and Ramís carryover diesel in its brand-new Ď19 1500 pickup.

Other competitors ó but only sort of, since they lack diesels ó will be the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra full-size pickups. A few shoppers may also consider the bigger medium-duty Nissan Titan XDís 5.0L V-8 diesel.

I tested a loaded King Ranch Super Crew 4x4 with four doors, seating for five, ranch-style leather and badging and more. It stickered at $64,805, excluding destination charges.

Itís hard to compare that to other pickups until Ram and Chevy have equally modern diesels available. Itís likely to be competitive, but at the high end of the class, since the F-150 is the sales leader.

Competitive base prices

(Excluding destination charges)

(Automatic transmission, 4wd crew cab models)

Ford F-150 King Ranch 4x4 crew cab: $55,355

Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4x4 crew cab: $55,300

Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve 4x4 crew cab: $56,800

2018 Ram 1500 Longhorn 4x4 crew cab $53,595

Toyota Tundra 1794 4x4 crew cab: $50,330

Source: Autotrader

Outstanding features

The F-150 diesel doesnít 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 ó up to 30 mpg on the highway in EPA tests ó give it a unique set of attributes that are like catnip to mostly well-heeled buyers who tow horses, boats and campers. 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 U.K. for years, and which also included diesels powering Land Rover luxury SUVs. Extra sound insulation under the hood helps assure that occupants of the F-150ís roomy cab probably wonít hear any more engine noise than they would from a gasoline engine.

The lavishly equipped King Ranch 4x4 crew cab I tested could tow 10,100 pounds. Thatís 890 more than a 2018 Ram 1500 dieselís max towing capacity, and a whopping 1,520 pounds more than a comparable loaded four-door.

The King Ranch is a luxurious and comfortable vehicle, with the kind of passenger space ó particularly rear leg room and head room ó generally associated with limos.

Itís available with the latest driver assistance features and has good, easy-to-use controls and voice recognition for features like audio, navigation and smartphones.

The downside

The dieselís stop-start, which shuts the engine off when itís 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 thereís no disguising the fact that a 4x4 F-150 crew cab is a huge vehicle. It fills up a residential street and turns the search for a downtown parking spot into a quest worthy of the recent "Amazing Race" episode shot in Detroit.

The option price for the diesel is competitive with what Ram charges for its less powerful 3.0L V6 diesel, but still, $3,000-$4,995 is a big ask. People who spend lots of time towing long distances may gravitate to the F-150 diesel but itís not likely to convert many new owners to diesel.

Specifications as tested

Engine: 3.0L turbocharged diesel V6.

Power: 250 @ 3,250 horsepower rpm; 440 pound-feet of torque @ 1,750-2,250 rpm

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 145.0inches

Length: 231.9 inches

Width: 79.9 inches

Height: 77.2 inches

Curb Weight: 5,721 lbs.

Where assembled: Dearborn, Mich.

Facts and figures

The 3.0L V6ís 250 hp is slightly more than the output of Ramís diesel. More important, the Ford engine produces 440 pound-feet of torque from just 1,750 rpm, the kind of immediate power that makes it easy to pull a trailer out of a muddy corral. Fiat Chrysler V6 generates 420 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm, good performance but likely to be a noticeable difference when you try to reach highway speed on an entrance ramp while towing a fifth-wheel camper.

The EPA rates the most efficient F-150 diesel at 22 mpg in town, 30 on the highway and 25 combined. It scored 20/25/22 in the heavier, well-equipped King Ranch 4x4 I tested.

A comparably equipped 2018 Ram 1500 diesel matched the F-150 at 22 mpg in combined driving.

Both diesels beat the fuel efficiency of V-8 gasoline pickups by several miles per gallon.

Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings

(Automatic transmission, 4wd crew cab models)

Ford F-150 King Ranch 4x4 diesel crew cab: 20 city/ 25 highway/25 combined. Diesel.

Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4x4 crew cab: 16/22/18. Regular gasoline.

Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve 4x4 crew cab: 15/21/18. Regular gasoline.

2018 Ram 1500 Longhorn 4x4 diesel crew cab: 19/27/22. Diesel.

Toyota Tundra 1794 4x4 crew cab: 13/17/14. Regular gasoline.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

The verdict

The combination of fuel economy, power and towing capacity give the F-150 diesel a significant advantage for buyers who do a lot of towing. The engineís smooth and quiet operation remove two main reasons Americans resisted diesels in the past.

Add that to a pickup that has earned its spot as Americaís perennial bestseller and you have a pricey but worthwhile addition to the F-series.

Key features on vehicle tested

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front seat side air bags; curtain air bags; LED box lighting; auto start-stop; push button start; backup camera; remote start; Sirius satellite radio voice recognition; navigation; touch screen; reverse parking sensors; trailer brake controller; USB ports; Bluetooth compatible; power sliding rear window; LED headlights, taillights and fog lights; power locks windows, seats; remote tailgate release; damped tailgate; heated rear seats; 10-way power front seats; 60/40 fold up rear seat; 110-volt outlet; heated/cooled front seats; leather bucket front seats; memory for driver settings; power tilt and telescope steering column;

Options: Diesel engine; tailgate step; power running boards; inflatable rear safety belts; blind spot and cross traffic alerts; King ranch chrome package; 20-inch chrome wheels; spray-in bedliner; wheel well liner; all-terrain tires.