The 2021 Wards 10 Best UX winners are being revealed in random, non-alphabetical order one per day until Nov. 3. This is the ninth winner profile. Winning design teams will receive their trophies Nov. 17 during Automotive TechWeek in Novi, MI, where winning vehicles will be on display.
The words “pickup truck” and “great UX” rarely have been spoken in the same sentence.
Until recently, pickups were more utilitarian than high-tech luxury vehicles filled with dazzling ambient lighting and showy screens.
While other expensive vehicles switched to touchscreens and haptic switchgear, even high-grade pickups until a short time ago were outfitted with tiny, old-school alarm clock digital displays.
That’s not the case anymore, as demonstrated by the new Ford F-150, winner of 2021 Wards 10 Best User Experiences award.
The $74,000 F-150 Limited grade we tested welcomes you grandly while approaching the vehicle. Hit the fob’s unlock button and headlights and taillights illuminate, power running boards deploy and mirrors unfold with a puddle lamp lighting the ground below.
Climbing into the driver’s seat of the F-150 feels like getting behind the controls of a plane or settling in for a great home theater experience.
Startup and shutdown graphics are stunning, as are those when adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping are active – with vibrant and vivid greens and blues.
On the instrument cluster screen, an animation shows an F-150 from various angles at startup and shutdown. For the latter sequence, headlights turn off and the screen fades to black for a dramatic goodbye.
The generous 12-in. (30-cm) digital cluster (pictured above) is one of the brightest and clearest we’ve encountered.
Also surprising and delightful: A folding shift lever to make way for the fold-out work table (pictured below) in the center console – great for a laptop, lunch spread or signing documents. With the tailgate down, a built-in pencil holder and yardstick come in handy at the work site.
There’s still plenty of physical switchgear in the F-150, all of it backlit in calm turquoise blue. That same shade of blue is used for ambient lighting, brightening footwells and door pockets in front and back seats, as well as cupholder rings, the lower rear center console and an open bin at the base of the center stack.
The infotainment experience is stellar. Ford says the new SYNC 4 platform has twice the computing power of the previous-generation system.
This allows wireless smartphone connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as apps including Waze and Ford+Alexa. It also helps serve up quick replies to voice commands and touchscreen inputs.
On the voice recognition front, we find it to be unflappable with audio commands. We go off script with a complex order – asking the on-board assistant to “tune to FM 104.3 HD Radio 2” – and our request is fulfilled immediately.
The touchscreen and cluster screen menus are well organized and easy to access, while the volume, tune and HVAC knobs are nice and big – grip-able even with gloves on.
Like many of our 2021 10 Best UX winners, you’re never far from a USB port or outlet in this vehicle. Up front are four USB ports and two 120V outlets; second-row passengers get two USB ports, plus a 12V and 120V outlets.
The F-150 Limited checks all boxes with advanced driver-assist systems. Virtually every aid is on this truck, including a prep package with forward-facing camera and radar, priming it for an over-the-air update of the new hands-free Blue Cruise system.
With adaptive cruise control and lane keeping on, we’re impressed by how spot-on the cluster display is, showing the exact position of our truck in a lane. Move a little left and the icon of the vehicle does the same – helpful feedback while driving.
Also helpful are animations and blurbs in the settings menu educating owners on ADAS features.
Says judge Tom Murphy: “The all-new Ford F-150 is sensational for a lot of reasons. With three available onboard generators, Ford’s latest infotainment platform, the slick fold-flat gear shifter and a 12-in. fully digital gauge cluster, plus the tailgate features, it has an excellent user experience that can be tailored for the work site or a night on the town.”