The 2021 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems are being revealed in random, non-alphabetical order one per day until September 24. This is the eighth winner profile.
Not long ago, “hybrid-electric vehicle” conjured up images of underpowered little cars with electric motors and internal-combustion engines engaged in a jerky tug-of-war under the hood.
The Ford F-150 PowerBoost hybrid totally blows up that old stereotype, and claims 2021 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems honors in the process.
Weak? The PowerBoost F-150 now is ranked at the top of the F-150 lineup, above the 3.5L EcoBoost and even above the 5.0L V-8. It is the most powerful and capable engine in the light-duty F-150 lineup, with 430 hp and 570 lb.-ft. (773 Nm) of torque.
The only hybrid stereotype it doesn’t destroy is efficiency: Being the only full hybrid currently available in a pickup, it boasts the best combined fuel economy for all gas-powered light-duty fullsize pickups with an EPA-estimated rating of 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on 4x2 models.
In a nutshell, this powertrain redefines brute force. Compared with numerous super-powerful V-8s and many highly capable V-6s, this propulsion system stands out as a workhorse and luxury vehicle on weekends.
In everyday driving, the electric torque is always there when you need it. It shows up with a powerful shove when passing on the highway and in city and suburban driving as well. Cruising surface streets at 35 mph (56 km/h) under all-electric power is pretty cool, too. Sometimes it feels more like piloting a yacht on a smooth lake than driving a pickup truck. Juror Tom Murphy averaged more than 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) on one brief light-footed test drive.
Ford’s smaller 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 F-150 does offer similar highway fuel economy at a lower price.
“That’s true for highway mpg, but what fullsize truck gets you 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) in the city?” juror Christie Schweinsberg points out. The smaller engine also offers significantly less torque of 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) and towing capacity of 10,100 lbs. (4,581 kg).
“I did a 60-to-80 mph (97-129 km/h) test and 70-to-90 mph (113-145 km/h), both with accelerator floored. It moved very fast. Quite impressive. The battery assists the entire time,” Schweinsberg says.
The PowerBoost system also is there when you need it for hard work. The instant electric torque added to Ford’s 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 provides towing capacity for 12,700 lbs. (5,761 kg). The software is calibrated for truck use, including drive modes like tow/haul to help drivers better manage towing heavy trailers.
Power delivery is seamless. There is no tug-of-war under the PowerBoost hood. Mating a 10-speed modular hybrid transmission with a 35-kW motor and 1.5 kWh Li-ion battery sounds complicated, but all the different components work together like a powerlifter doing a deadlift: all muscles work in tandem from head to toe to create a perfect pull.
“I found it very smooth as it shifted between ICE to EV mode. No real (electric motor) whine either,” says juror Dave Zoia.
But wait, there’s more.
More power and torque going to the wheels isn’t the only advantage the full-hybrid PowerBoost offers. It expands the F-150’s capability by bringing generator levels of exportable power to work sites and everyday life.
The PowerBoost-equipped F-150 comes standard with 2.4 kW of output and an optional 7.2 kW of output. Power is accessible through in-cabin outlets and up to four cargo bed-mounted 120V 20-amp outlets, with a 240V 30-amp outlet on the 7.2-kW version.
The system can even charge tool batteries in between jobs.
“Obviously individuals will need to weigh their travel against fuel savings and the added cost of the hybrid system,” sums up juror Schweinsberg. “But if you do a lot of city driving, I think an extra $1,900 or $2,500 is a no-brainer because you’ll get that back pretty quickly.”