First Drive: 2003 Ford Super Duty Power Stroke
By: Michael Levine and Tom Keefe ©, 2002
Posted: 10-07-02 00:00 Last Updated: 10-07-02 22:00

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The past 24 months have proven to be a bonanza for the growing pool of diesel truck buyers. General Motors and Dodge have introduced new and significantly better heavy duty pickups, engines and transmissions offering consumers more choices than they have ever had before.

Ford, the perennial volume leader in the segment, could be accused of lagging behind the others. So when we received an invite out to Bullhead City, Arizona to test drive Ford's 2003 Super Duty trucks we were a bit skeptical about its capabilities versus the competition.

Now Ford is reintroducing the Super Duty, at four years old the eldest of the heavy duty pickups, with an all-new transmission, a smaller 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel replacing the venerable 7.3-liter Power Stroke plus a few other new mid-cycle updates.

With Ford selling every Super Duty it can pump out, 65% of which are diesels, we had to wonder just why Ford picked now to introduce a new diesel powertrain. The Kentucky production plant where the Super Duty originates is one of the most productive full size truck plants among the Big Three, producing nearly 70 trucks per hour with nearly 1 billion possible combinations.

But competitive pressures aren't the only forces pushing Ford to make this seemingly radical change. Federal regulations are also a factor. Navistar, Ford's Power Stroke diesel engine supplier, had to sign a 1998 government consent decree requiring compliance with 2004 emission standards by October of this year. The consent decree settled EPA allegations that domestic diesel engine manufacturers produced engines that utilized a modified fuel management algorithm than the algorithm provided during certification testing. The result: higher nitrogen oxide emissions than the levels that were certified.

To comply with the consent decree 7.3-liter Power Stroke production has been stopped and replaced completely by production of the new 6.0-liter Power Stroke, which meets the new emissions mandates.

For more information on the consent decree and new diesel technology refer to the following article in Light & Medium Truck Online click on the cover story titled "Cleaning Up Engines" by Jim Beach.

The end result for Ford and 2003 Super Duty owners is that on paper and in real-life the 6.0-liter Power Stroke provides noticeably improved performance, emits fewer emissions and delivers an 8-10% improvement in fuel economy over the 7.3-liter Power Stroke it replaces. Ford engineers were not satisfied with just beating their own diesel, they also demanded segment leading performance as well but more on this later when we discuss our driving impressions.

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