ROMEO, MI – As if we needed another reminder that the Ford F-150 has been America’s best-selling vehicle for 38 years, the message is front and center as plants in Claycomo, MO, and Dearborn roll out the all-new light-duty fullsize pickup.
This is the franchise player, the star of the team who knows what it means to carry the company’s fortunes on his shoulders – or, in this case, in one of three beds measuring up to 8 ft. (2.4 m) in length.
The engineering and design team have much to be proud of with the 2021 F-150, as it becomes clear after a day behind the wheel that no box was left unchecked as drivetrain options, interior materials, infotainment, styling and overall ride, handling and noise attenuation represent significant upgrades over the previous model.
The all-new F-150 offers 16 interior color combinations, three available onboard generators, 15 wheel types, a 14,000-lb. (6,350-kg) tow rating, Ford’s latest infotainment platform, massaging seats and six internal-combustion powertrains, including an all-new high-output hybrid that is sure to be popular.
And we haven’t even mentioned the slick fold-flat gear shifter, or the armrest that pivots forward as a work table, or the additional standard driver-assist technologies, or the 12-in. (30-cm) fully digital gauge cluster, or the camera-enabled trailer reverse guidance, or the max recline seats that are great for napping, or the tailgate with clamp pockets, pencil holder and yardstick built in for the worksite.
Considering how the F-150 has been overhauled from roof to rim and headlight to taillight, the 2021 Ford F-150 is the best pickup truck I’ve ever driven.
In the interest of full disclosure, I drove several grades of the new F-150 but spent most of my time in a top-of-the-line hybrid Limited SuperCrew 4x4 with genuine carbon fiber and leather inside, a panoramic roof and much more, priced at a staggering $79,890, including a $1,695 destination fee (interior pictured below).
I also drove a well-equipped XLT model priced at $56,990 with rugged cloth seats and a spray-in bed liner and 400-hp 5.0L V-8.
Meanwhile, a rear-wheel-drive regular-cab XL grade with 17-in. steel wheels and a naturally aspirated 3.3L V-6 can be had for $28,940. We didn’t see one of these at the test drive, staged here at Ford’s proving grounds north of Detroit.
Electric vehicles might be all the rage – and of course a battery-electric F-150 is on the way in 2022 – but for now the all-new pickup runs on fossil fuel, which is likely what most fullsize truck shoppers want.
There isn’t a weak offering on the F-150 spec sheet:
- 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 (325 hp and 400 lb.-ft. [542 Nm] of torque – a 2018 Wards 10 Best Engines winner)
- 3.0L Power Stroke diesel V-6 (250 hp and 440 lb.-ft. [597 Nm] – a 2019 Wards 10 Best Engines winner)
- 3.3L V-6 (290 hp and 265 lb.-ft. [359 Nm])
- 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 (400 hp and 500 lb.-ft. [678 Nm])
- 3.5L PowerBoost V-6 hybrid (430 hp and 570 lb.-ft. [773 Nm])
- 5.0L V-8 (400 hp and 410 lb.-ft. [556 Nm] – a multiple Wards 10 Best Engines winner)
Most of the engines carry over from the outgoing truck, but the 3.5L EcoBoost gets additional horsepower and torque. All the gasoline engines run on regular unleaded.
The 2.7L and 3.5L EcoBoost engines have been the most popular, followed by the V-8. The diesel V-6 has accounted for about 5% of recent F-150 sales, with a $4,995 premium over the base 3.3L V-6.
The star of the bunch is the all-new PowerBoost hybrid (pictured above and below), which electrifies the outstanding all-aluminum EcoBoost V-6 for even better performance.
Product planners expect the hybrid – a first in the F-150 lineup – to draw in 10% of buyers, even with a $4,495 premium over the base 3.3L.
During our test drive, the PowerBoost drivetrain proves its worth, cruising effortlessly and quietly despite a curb weight topping 5,500 lbs. (2,495 kg).
Even more remarkable is what happens at wide-open throttle from a standstill in this hulk, as the head snaps back, then again when the 10-speed automatic upshifts to second gear, then again when reaching third. It leaves the V-8 in its dust. Along the way, even with its solid rear axle, the new F-150 stays well planted and composed on washboard dirt roads here.
The hybrid can tow up to 12,700 lbs. (5,761 kg) while only the non-hybrid 3.5L EcoBoost achieves the 14,000-lb. threshold with rear-wheel drive.
Also unique to the hybrid is the optional 7.2-kW Pro Power onboard generator with five outlets, one of them rated at 240V, for those who do a lot of TiG welding or ride electric dirt bikes. The standard generator in all hybrid F-150s is rated at 2.4 kW and offers two outlets.
A third Pro Power generator, rated at 2 kW, comes with two outlets and will cost an extra $995 on trucks with the 2.7L and 3.5L EcoBoost engines or the 5.0L V-8. The vehicle can be set to turn on the engine automatically whenever battery levels are getting low.
Inside, the F-150 is warm and welcoming, with design flourishes such as a microsuede headliner, brushed aluminum speaker grates, hefty gear shifter that fills the palm, clever in-floor storage in the second row and chunky metallic knobs for controlling audio and climate.
The gauge cluster has gone fully digital with crisp reconfigurable graphics, and information is readily accessible.
Voice controls work flawlessly as part of Ford’s new Sync 4 infotainment platform. The system has twice the computing power of Sync 3 and comes with available real-time traffic reports and wireless smartphone links to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Drilling into the infotainment menus can take a while but also can be rewarding. The system can be set to remind the driver when approaching a border crossing, and a Wi-Fi hotspot is available.
Many pickup customers opt for straightforward black interiors, but the 16 color combinations available in the F-150 bring together brown, tan, slate, gray and blue, as well as java in King Ranch editions. The black and tan leather package in one test model was quite attractive (pictured below).
But nothing really compares to the $80,000 Limited tester, trimmed in Admiral blue and quilted gray leather (pictured above), accentuated with contrast stitching on seats and doors.
Blue is not a terribly common interior color, but the Limited test model is bathed in it, from seat bottom and door trim to steering wheel and instrument panel. Despite so many different materials, the color matching of the blue in so many parts of the interior is spot-on. If Lincoln still had a pickup truck, this would be it.
Understood, the $80,000 sticker might offend utilitarian sensibilities, but consider this: Shoppers have demonstrated a willingness to spend more than $60,000 for fully loaded pickup trucks, and many of these are purchased by business owners who figuratively live in them.
It’s doubtful Ford will sell many of these loaded Limited editions, but the automaker can’t be faulted for trying.