2003 Ford F-350 Power Stroke
The next next step forward.
by John Pearley Huffman/TCC/11/4/2002
It used to be that any pickup rated at more than a half-ton of capacity was hopelessly crude and driven only by guys Ė big guys Ė who did so for a living. Today there are five-foot tall women who use crew cab dualies to carpool kids during the week and haul their barrel-racing quarter horses on weekends.
Back then, diesel pickups sounded like Louisiana shrimp boats and trailed clouds of black smoke. Now theyíre almost as quiet as gas engines and at least as clean. The evolution of the big diesel pickup from commercial necessity to consumer status symbol has been both quick and unexpected.
Following leaps forward by GM (with its 2001 introduction of the Duramax turbodiesel V-8 in 2001) and Dodge (which introduced a thoroughly revised and better Cummins turbodiesel straight six earlier in the 2003 model year), itís once again Fordís turn to lug diesel heavy-duty pickups another few thousand feet up the steep evolutionary mountain. Theyíre doing it with a new version of the Navistar-built Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8 available in the Super Duty line of pickups.
Smaller engine, better manners
The new 6.0-liter Power Stroke replaces the 7.3-liter Power Stroke which itself represented significant progress when it was introduced. Like the Duramax and latest Cummins, the new Power Stroke adopts four-valve cylinder heads for improved respiration and more complete combustion. But itís not just new combustion chambers over the same old short block.
Everything about the latest Power Stroke is new, including the cast iron block, the iron heads, the advanced variable-vane single turbo, the high-pressure direct fuel injection system, the high-energy ignition and the super-duper-powerful drivetrain control computer. That conglomeration results in a 6.0-liter V-8 that pumps out 325 horsepower at a rev-happy (for a diesel) 3300 rpm and a vast 560 pound-feet of torque at 2000 rpm. Itís power that comes with elegance, grace and speed that hasnít been seen before in a truck diesel.
The new Power Strokeís output sets a new standard for light truck diesels. It edges out the 305 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of the Dodge Ramís new High Output Cummins that only a few months ago surpassed the standard set by the GM Duramax. The Cummins does have a slight advantage over the Power Stroke in that its power and torque peaks lower, maxing out on horsepower at 2900 rpm and grunting out its peak torque at just 1400 rpm. So there may be a few drivers whose style works best with the Dodge. However, the High Output Cummins isnít available with an automatic transmission (the lower output Cummins is available with a four-speed automatic), and the Power Stroke comes with either a six-speed manual or a brilliant new five-speed automatic.
Nearly perfect gearchanging
Ford calls its new (and first) five-speed automatic truck transmission the ďTorqshiftĒ and it incorporates electronic controls at a new, significantly higher level. Shift valves? Forget Ďem. The Torqshiftís shifts are completely electronically controlled Ė thereís no shifting until the drivetrain computers say there should be shifts, after consulting sensors throughout the truck including engine speed, vehicle speed, vehicle load, throttle position, and whether the truck is headed up or down a hill. The shifts are precise, crisp, quiet and perfectly spaced. The software includes a tow/haul mode that can be selected by the driver so that gears are held longer going up hills and adds appropriate downshifts when the brakes are tapped going downhill. Itís a natural step beyond what GM achieved with their groundbreaking Allison five-speed automatic a couple of years ago.
Under certain circumstances the transmission will skip a gear entirely and the driving experience is better for it. The engine never seems to fall out of the meatiest part of its torque curve and thatís because that torque curve is so big and the transmission so dang smart. The combination of the Power Stroke and Torqshift is simply unbeatable right now.
In fact the Power Stroke and Torqshift are so good together that they make the gasoline-fueled engines Ford offers in the Super Duties look kind of lame. Neither the 260-horsepower 5.4-liter Triton gas V-8 or the 310-horsepower, 6.8-liter Triton gas V-10 can match the Power Strokeís 325 horsepower, and the dieselís 550 lb-ft of torque out-yanks the two Tritons by a massive 300 and 125 lb-ft respectively. Throw in the dieselís inherent fuel economy advantage, that it revs nearly as quickly as the gassers, that itís almost (but not quite) as quiet, and that its automatic transmission has one more gear and is vastly more sophisticated and the only reason to stick with the gas engines is initial purchase price.
Except for the Power Stroke/Torqshift combination, Fordís Super Duty pickups remain pretty much unchanged since their introduction.
Because theyíre so distinct from the half-ton F-150 line, Fordís Supers have a certain aura and cachet about them similarly rated trucks from GM and Dodge (which share cabs with half-tonners) canít match. Theyíre square-jawed, ramrod straight trucks that make no pretense of offering anything but a truck-like driving experience. The Twin-I-Beam swing arm front suspension used on two-wheel drive Super Duties is legendarily rugged, but its not as supple as the A-arm systems used by GM and Dodge. The solid front axle used on 4x4 Supers can be downright harsh.
Ford now offers a King Ranch package on the Super Duty line thatís so lavish that the only trucks carrying more leather are likely hauling cattle to the slaughterhouse. This isnít leather like the leather in a Cadillac. Itís leather like that on a saddle under John Wayne in Rio Bravo. The King Ranch interior is all positive male essence; it only lacks a stone hearth around a six-foot fireplace and the stuffed head of a 12-point buck mounted beneath the rearview mirror.
With diesels this good now in 3/4- and one-ton trucks, the only question is why isnít a great turbodiesel offered in the half-ton segment?
2003 Ford F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab King Ranch 4x2 (Long Wheelbase Dualie)
Base price: $43,550 (est. plus $745 destination)
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8 turbodiesel, 325 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 262.0 x 95.5 x N/A in
Wheelbase: 172.4 in
Curb weight: 6884 lb
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, power mirrors
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles (comprehensive)
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....