There’s an old saying in the automotive world: “Racing improves the breed”. The idea being that while alone, some car companies would be happy to sit on their laurels, once they know someone is gunning for them, suddenly they ratchet things up a bit. This is unequivocally true, however the real idea is simply that any rivalry will undoubtedly make both competitors better. Throughout history, we’ve seen rivalries spurn countless battles that, we, as consumers, benefit from. Coke needs Pepsi. The Yankees need the Red Sox. The Mustang needed the Camaro. Angel food cake needs devil’s food cake. IBM needed Apple. The list goes on and on. And we see one more shining example of this synergistic opposition in the half-ton pickup truck market.
It’s not news that Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler has been duking it out for decades. But, in 2014 Ram unleashed a world changing idea — ‘let’s put a diesel engine in a light-duty truck’, and they made a killing. Finally, a full-sized pickup that could get good gas mileage! The Ram Ecodiesel sold like Pepto at the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. But, just when they started to get comfortable, last year Ford brought some new competition in the form of their own Power Stroke diesel F-150, and new for 2019, it will be available in the XLT F-150 trim.
Why is this significant? The XLT is the highest selling trim, in the highest selling pickup, so Ford is not messing around, and wants to make up some ground they lost waiting around those four years Ram had the light-truck diesel monopoly. In case you’re new to the market, the F-150 Power Stroke is a 3.0-liter V6 that has a new forged bottom end as well as engine specific main and rod bearings. The high pressure direct injection line sends fuel along to the tune of 29,000 psi, and has a variable geometry turbocharger that does a very good job of doing its work in clandestine fashion. While it does sport an iron block, the heads are all aluminum and a there is also a two-stage oil pump to keep things moving around as needed. All in all, the Power Stroke pumps out 250-horsepower and 440 monstrous lb-ft of torque at a very low 1,750 RPM. Just for comparison’s sake, and as clear proof of the ongoing rivalry, the Ram Ecodiesel makes 240-horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, so Ford was not very shy about where it’s target was. Beyond that, the F-150 has a tow rating of 11,400 pounds and a max payload of 2020 pounds, which outshines the Ram’s 9,290 pound tow limit and 1,640 payload max — again, not subtle shots across the bow.
The big punch in the gut for Ram is the F-150’s 30 mpg highway rating, which just eeks out the Ram’s best of 28 mpg highway. The Ford also bests the Ram in city (22 vs. 19) as well as combined (25 vs. 24). Power for the F-150 gets routed through a very smooth shifting 10-speed automatic that handles gear selection like a pro and then sends power to either just the rear wheels, or all four corners depending on which trim you’ve decided on.
Inside the cabin, it is almost impossible to tell if you’re driving a gas or diesel engined pickup. The engine itself has been tweaked to minimize the stereotypical diesel rattles (still noticeable on cold start ups if you’re outside the car and paying attention), and the interior of the F-150 has been dolled up with plenty of sound-deadening material and creature comforts that it’s hard to remember you’re in a truck at all at times. The 8-inch “productivity” screen that we prefer to call a dashboard has an extensive readout for things like towing data, trailer light status, all the requisite temperatures and speed data, as well as the all-important fuel economy rating in real time. There is also a 360-degree camera that has a trick split-view display that allows for a comprehensive view of all four sides of your truck, and even offers up some help when trying to line up your trailer hitch.
Other features you might not expect on a work truck include adaptive cruise control with Ford’s Stop-and-Go, which allows you to set a specific distance you want to be from the car in front of you as well as bring you to a complete stop in traffic and then get back up to the cruise speed with no need for you to move a muscle. Blind spot monitoring that includes trailer coverage is another nice tool to keep your trip going smoothly.
The XLT version of the Power Stroke comes in a just about 35 grand, which, not surprisingly, undercuts the current Ram Ecodiesel by a considerable margin. But of course, all of that might change when Ram unveils the next-gen Eco in 2020, and oh by the way GM will be throwing their hat in the ring very soon as well. So, much like we’ve enjoyed Covettes battling Porsches, Nike battling Reebok and vanilla battling chocolate throughout the years, we can only assume the half-ton diesel market battle is just getting warmed up, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.