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For 2018, Ford has enhanced power and efficiency for three of the F-150 pickup's five engines and revised front-end styling with a total of six new grilles (all images: Ford).

Ford pumps powertrains for 2018 F-150

It’s tough at the moment to sell a car to a U.S. customer, so wily automakers—or those at a fortuitous place in their product cycles—are doubling down on trucks and crossovers. Regardless of that, nobody would ever expect Ford to hang back when it comes to keeping the F-Series pickup fresh, so for 2018 the light-duty F-150 line gets a light face-freshening and tasty rework of its powertrain lineup.

At the base end of the F-150’s current five-engine range, the former 3.5-L V6 is reduced to 3.3-L, but fear not: its all-new cylinder heads accommodate the twin direct-injection (DI) and port fuel-injection (PFI) setup that all 2018 F-150 engines use, so horsepower is up by eight, to 290 hp, and torque runs to 265 lb·ft (359 N·m), a 12 lb·ft (16 N·m) hike.

Pete Dowding, Ford Powertrain’s well-travelled chief engineer, told Automotive Engineering the cost of moving all the F-150’s engines to the direct- and indirect-injection layout is justified by the increased fuel economy the design permits—largely because of the higher compression ratios (CR) available from overlaying PFI onto DI. At high load, DI cools the cylinder sufficiently to maintain a high CR without high-octane unleaded. At lower loads, “the DI system bleeds off,” Dowding said, and PFI takes priority, delivering efficient cylinder-fill while still reaping the BMEP benefit of higher compression.

For the newly-downsized V6, the twin-injection system allows a CR increase from 10.8:1 to 12:1. For the heavily-revised 2.7-L turbocharged DOHC V6, the next engine up the F-150 food chain, CR goes from 10:1 to 10.3:1 and for the pickup’s lithe “Coyote” 5-L DOHC V8, CR is boosted from 10.5:1 to 12:1.

The equally important benefit, however, is a slight but meaningful fuel-economy boost for all three engines. Depending on 4x2 or 4X4 configuration, fuel efficiency increases by at least 1 or 2 mpg in the city or highway cycles, or on both drive cycles.

As a final tweak for 2018 fuel-economy ratings, the 2.7-L and 5-L engines now all are backed by Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission introduced last year for F-150s using the 3.5-L turbocharged V6 in standard and high-output configuration. Only the 3.3-L V6 continues in 2018 with a 6-speed automatic. The 10-speed automatics all feature stop-start technology as standard.

The 2.7-L turbocharged V6 maintains its existing 325-hp rating but torque is increased by 25 lb·ft (34 N·m) to an even 400 lb·ft (542 Nm) for 2018.

Plasma-coating for high volume

In addition to the 5-L V8’s performance upgrades, the engine also now features the plasma-transfer wire arc (PTWA) bore-coating technique Ford introduced in 2010 for the high-performance 5.4-L V8 powering the 2011 Mustang GT500—and also was used for the cylinders of the 5.2-L variant of today’s “Voodoo” V8 family in the Mustang GT350.

From the start, Ford said it was testing the process in the hope of increasing its throughput to apply to higher-volume applications.

“We always had this vision we could move that forward,” Dowding said, “to cascade it through to the rest of the Coyote family. It’s pretty exciting.”

In a detail for hard-core Ford V8 aficionados, Dowding said the use of the PTWA cylinder coating enabled a slight increase in bore, generating an overall displacement that’s now 5.04-L compared with 4.94-L for the superceded V8 and its iron cylinder liners. Dowding said the engine also drops somewhere between 5-7 lb. (2.3-3.2 kg) by losing the cylinder liners.

For the plasma-coated V8, power increases from 385 hp to 395 hp and torque from 387 lb·ft (525 N·m) to 400 lb·ft.

Diesel in the wings

Ford also said the 3-L Powerstroke V6 diesel confirmed late last year for the F-150 will be available in the spring of 2018. The company did not yet release power or torque ratings and Dowding did not provide details. But he promised big things for diesel in the light-duty F-Series.

“We’ve got about six months to wait,” before the diesel is ready for introduction, he said, adding assurance that there will be no emissions liabilities or other issues. “This is going to be a cracking diesel. It’s not good—it’s really good,” he said.

Dowding said the black eyes diesel has endured are concerning—but only to an extent. He said the pickup market has conditions that are markedly different from the passenger-car segment—and there’s high anticipation for a diesel for the country’s best-selling nameplate. Ford’s chief competitors, General Motors and FiatChrysler both have diesels available in light-duty pickups.

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