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  • Nine Best Diesel Engines for Pickup Trucks - The Power of Nine

Nine Best Diesel Engines for Pickup Trucks - The Power of Nine

Our Picks for the Best Diesel Pickup Truck Engines of the Last Two Decades

KJ Jones
Jul 9, 2015
We thought it would be cool to compile a list of diesel engines that represents what we believe are the best oil-burning powerplants that have ever been placed between the frame rails of modern-era pickup trucks. Wait…what? Did we really go there?!
You bet we did! Of course we realize preparing a list of “The Top 9 Best Diesel Truck Engines” is somewhat akin to being tasked with bashing a nest of wasps with a baseball bat…without getting stung. While there are plenty of facts about certain diesels that support them being included, declaring said engines are the “best” is the thing that makes this work very tricky.
Despite this challenge, we’ve taken this very informal stab at it nonetheless. Don’t forget to keep in mind our objective viewpoint when you look our rundown over. It’s quite possible the engine you feel strongly about is featured in our report on the best diesel engines of the past decade: 2005-2015.
By all means, feel free to chime in by writing to us at: dieselpower@enthusiastnetwork.com and on Facebook with your thoughts on the best diesel pickup engines that also belong on this list.
Chrysler

3.0L EcoDiesel
Displacement: 3.0L (182 ci)
Layout: V-6
Power: 240 hp @ 3,600 rpm
Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 3.27x3.60 inches (83 x 92mm)
Valvetrain: DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with solenoid injectors
Induction: Water-cooled Garrett single variable-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Aluminum alloy
Block material: Compacted graphite iron
Compression Ratio: 16.5:1
Emission Controls: Diesel exhaust catalyst, cooled, exhaust gas recirculation, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction with diesel exhaust fluid.
Photo 2/10   |   2015 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel V 6 Engine
Small, and very mighty, the Chrysler 3.0L EcoDiesel engine (well, while it actually does have a Cummins origin, the powerplant is produced by VM Motori. So, due to the Italian-company’s partnership with Fiat/Chrysler, we’re using its domestic lineage) makes it onto our list because of the immediate impact it made on the ½-ton pickup segment. Arriving on the scene in 2014, the EcoDiesel is only available in 1500 Series Rams and Jeep Grand Cherokees. The industry’s only light-duty diesel engine produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque (that’s actually more than Chrysler’s vaunted 5.7L “Hemi” engine makes), is as “green” as clean diesels get, and knocks down the best fuel mileage (28mpg highway) in the full-size-pickup segment.
Cummins

5.9L 12-Valve
Displacement: 5.9L (359ci)
Layout: I-6
Power: 160hp - 215hp at 2,500 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft – 440 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 4.02x4.72 inches (102x120mm)
Valvetrain: OHV with 2 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: Mechanical with Bosch VE44 rotary injection pump (1989-1993) or Bosch P-7100 injection pump (1994-1998)
Induction: Holset fixed-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast iron
Block material: Cast iron
Compression Ratio: 17.0:1
Emissions systems: NA
Photo 3/10   |   1985 Dodge Ram Cummins D001 Development Truck Engine View 03
OK, bold-statement time. Hands’ down, the 5.9L, 12-valve Cummins engine is responsible for kick starting the modern-era, turbodiesel-pickup movement. Sure, while there had been other attempts (by other engine and truck companies) at mating diesels with light-duty pickups prior to the engine’s August 1988 public debut in a Dodge Ram pickup, the “6BT (inline six-cylinder, B-Series, turbocharged)” is the powerplant that proved itself to be the best alternative to Dodge’s big-block V-8 gasoline engine, due to its ability to produce incredible torque and achieve significantly better fuel mileage, which was very important at that time.
The original 5.9L turbodiesels (1989-1993 models)—referred to as “First Gen” by hard-core Cummins fans—produced 160 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque with Bosch’s VE44 rotary fuel-injection pump. The “Second Gen” engines (1994-1998) actually are preferred by hot-rod-minded diesel enthusiasts, as these engines feature the preferred Bosch P-7100 injection pump (“P-pump”), which supports power and torque well beyond the factory-rated 245hp/505 lb-ft of ’98 6BTs, with only minor modifications.
6.7L 24-Valve
Displacement: 6.7L (408ci)
Layout: I-6
Power: 385 hp @ 2,800 rpm (Aisin AS69RC automatic transmission)
Torque: 865 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm (Aisin AS69RC automatic transmission)
Bore x Stroke: 4.21x4.88 inches (107x124mm)
Valvetrain: OHV with 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Bosch CP3 injection pump
Induction: Holset variable-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast iron
Block material: Cast iron
Compression Ratio: 17.3:1
Emission Controls: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction with diesel exhaust fluid
Photo 4/10   |   Cummins 67 Diesel Top View
The latest (’15 “High Output”) version of the 6.7L Cummins engine definitely makes our list. With a Diesel Particulate Filter and Diesel Exhaust Fluid injection system in place, this engine pumps out 385 horsepower and 865 lb-ft of torque (with only a PCM recalibration, that’s 15 lb-ft more than the 850 lb-ft of ’13-’14 H.O.s) in 1-ton Ram 3500s equipped with Aisin’s AS69RC automatic transmissions. How could it not be included?! It offers the most torque ever available in a “civilian” pickup truck. The 6.7L Cummins has proven itself as one of the best in the game for pickups that pull or haul heavy loads (with factory ratings up to 30,000 pounds). And, for those who race pickups, the 6.7L is the preferred engine of many heavy-hitters at our own Diesel Power Challenge events. Two-time Champion Lavon Miller (2014/2015), Matt Kaufmann, Rick Fox and Danick St. Pierre have all used 6.7Ls and scored well in DPC competition.
5.0L
Displacement: 5.0L (305 ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 310 hp @ 3,200 rpm
Torque: 555 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 3.70x3.54 inches (94 x 90mm)
Valvetrain: DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Bosch CP4.2 injection pump
Induction: Holset M2 two-stage compound turbochargers w/electronic wastegate
Head material: Aluminum alloy
Block material: Compacted graphite iron
Compression Ratio: NA
Emission Controls: Diesel exhaust catalyst, cooled, exhaust gas recirculation, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction with diesel exhaust fluid.
Photo 5/10   |   2016 Nissan Titan Xd Cummins V8 Left Front Top
Yes, it’s new. And, no, it hasn’t proven very much yet. However, despite this, we think the long-awaited ’16 5.0L Cummins engine, with its 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, truly is destined for greatness, and is one that should be recognized among the best in the pickup segment. Considered by Nissan as being able to be “fuel-efficient while capable of doing real work (primarily thanks to the 5.0L’s variable fuel timing and injection strategy, which actuates 5 times for each combustion cycle),” we’re very anxious to spend quality time with Titan XD, so we can experience and evaluate the new powerplant, and confirm that it really does fall in the “sweet spot” between its gasoline counterparts in the ½-ton and 3/4-ton pickup segments, and other diesel engines that are bigger-displacement, and not-as-fuel-friendly.
Duramax

6.6L LBZ
Displacement: 6.6L (403ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 360 hp @ 3,200 rpm
Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 4.06x3.90 inches (103x99mm)
Valvetrain: OHV 4-valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Bosch CP3 injection pump
Induction: Garrett variable-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast aluminum
Block material: Cast iron
Compression Ratio: 16.8:1
Emissions systems: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation and diesel oxidation catalytic converter
Photo 6/10   |   6 6l Duramax
General Motors’ ’06-‘07 6.6L Duramax LBZ leads the charge as one of the manufacturer’s best diesel engines for pickup trucks. Why? Because it’s a modifier’s dream. For starters, the Duramax LBZ was built around a stronger block, larger connecting rods, new pistons (bigger pin diameter), lower compression (down from 17.5:1), and cylinder heads that are less susceptible to cracking under extreme pressure. Add to that the fact that the LBZ beat its competitors in horsepower and torque output, with 360hp (versus 325hp for both the Cummins 5.9L 24-Valve and Ford 6.0L Power Stroke) and 650 lb-ft of torque, and you can understand why we like it.
6.6L LML
Displacement: 6.6L (403ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 397 hp @ 3,000 rpm
Torque: 765 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 4.06x3.90 inches (103x99mm)
Valvetrain: OHV 4-valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Bosch CP4.2 injection pump
Induction: Garrett variable-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast aluminum
Block material: Cast iron
Compression ratio: 16.0:1
Emissions systems: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalytic converter, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction with diesel exhaust fluid
Photo 7/10   |   2015 Gm Duramax Engine
Chevrolet and GMC 2500HD and 3500HD pickups caught a much-needed break in 2011, when GM upped the power ante of its 6.6L Duramax engine by a significant margin. The then-new, and still-current “LML” is noted as a “best” pickup engine because once again, a new block and internals (pistons, connecting rods, main-bearing design, etc.), a redesigned oiling strategy, and next-level PCM calibration, gave it the ability to make a best-ever 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque, while also being the cleanest Duramax to date and getting 11 percent better fuel mileage than its LMM predecessor (according to GM).
Navistar/Ford

7.3L Power Stroke
Displacement: 7.3L (444ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 275 hp @ 2,800 rpm
Torque: 525 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 4.11x4.18 inches (104.4x106.2mm)
Valvetrain: OHV with 2 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High Pressure Oil Pump with Hydraulic Electronic Unit Injection (HEUI)
Induction: Garrett fixed-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast iron
Block material: Cast iron
Compression Ratio: 17.5:1
Emissions systems: Exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalyst
Photo 8/10   |   On A Budget Buyers Guide Ford 7 3l Power Stroke
You could almost say this list won’t be worth a darn if the 7.3L Power Stroke engine isn’t included. Ford’s legendary powerplant, founded on the International/Navistar T44E, literally is the icon for the no-nonsense, “git’ur dunnnn” attitude that diesel engines symbolize. While the 7.3L’s entire 9-year lineage will always get much-deserved recognition, we feel the top-performing workhorse--the 275hp/525 lb-ft ’01-’03 engine (available with manual transmission)--is the best of the group for this roster.
6.4L Power Stroke
Displacement: 6.4L (390ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 350 hp @ 3,000 rpm
Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 3.87x4.13 inches (98x105mm)
Valvetrain: OHV with 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Siemens K16 injection pump
Induction: BorgWarner series sequential variable–geometry and fixed compound turbochargers
Head material: Cast iron
Block material: Cast iron
Compression Ratio: 17.5:1
Emissions systems: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalyst, and diesel particulate filter
Photo 9/10   |   1
The ’08 6.4L Power Stroke earns inclusion on our best-for-pickups list of diesels because the engine represents Ford’s focus on improving the nuances of its 6.0L predecessor (reconfigured cylinder-head bolt pattern), and the company’s initial foray into common-rail fueling and sequential/twin turbocharging. The latter two technologies helped (finally) usher Blue Oval diesels solidly into the performance arena, where they continue to thrive with the addition of aftermarket modifications.
Ford

6.7L Power Stroke
Displacement: 6.7L (406ci)
Layout: V-8
Power: 440 hp @ 2,800 rpm
Torque: 860 lb-ft @1,600 rpm
Bore x Stroke: 3.90x4.25 inches (99x108mm)
Valvetrain: OHV with 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injection: High-pressure common rail with Bosch CP4.2 injection pump
Induction: Garrett single variable-geometry turbocharger
Head material: Cast aluminum
Block material: Compacted graphite iron (CGI)
Compression Ratio: 16.2:1
Emissions systems: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation, diesel oxidation catalytic converter, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction with diesel exhaust fluid
Photo 10/10   |   2015 Power Stroke
Although it was loosely based on a European CGI V-6, the 6.7L “Scorpion,” the first complete, “all-Ford” diesel engine, with absolutely no ties to International/Navistar or any other outside manufacturing providers, earns a spot in our group because it’s an engine that finally gives the people what they want…Horsepower and torque, and LOTS of it! We’re most pleased with the second iteration of the 6.7L, which debuted in 2015. This engine features a large, single variable-geometry turbocharger (which replaced the previous compound setup), upgraded 19mm injector tips, and a new “Cobra Head” downpipe that collectively increase performance a solid 40 horsepower and 60 lb-ft of torque (440/860) over the ’11-’14 first-gen 6.7L powerplants, and put Ford’s newest diesel at the front of the Big Three pack.

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