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Competition is fierce in the full-sized pickup truck arena as Ford launches its all-new warrior, the redesigned 2021 F-150. It's clear that the popularity and profitability of this truck provides the motivation for a significant evolution with each generation.
This generation is no different as Ford looks to deliver with an interior upgrade, work-friendly innovations, a hybrid powertrain, and a generous roster of safety and driver assist features that rival a luxury vehicle.
The core principles carry forward with a lightly updated exterior, steel frame/aluminum body, three cab configurations, three bed lengths, and six engines to choose from. There are myriad configurations again, with six trim levels: XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited. Digging deeper, there are many features and detail touches that could make this one of the most appealing F-150 generations ever.
The new truck boasts some big numbers, with a maximum of 430 horsepower, 3,250 lbs. cargo capacity, and 14,000 lbs. towing capability.
The F-150 will be made in America at two factories (the Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan and Kansas City Assembly in Missouri) and goes on sale this fall.
Here's what we know so far.
Ford clearly treats the F-150 as if it's the automaker's most important vehicle, loading it with the latest powertrain, infotainment, and connectivity features. This generation ups the ante for creature comforts, with a cabin that looks like it can compete with the pampering Ram 1500 and even more work-centric innovations than before. The company continues to expand its advanced safety and driver assist features, including those that make pulling a trailer easier. We're particularly pleased to see that automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection is again standard. This vital feature can help curb vehicle vs. pedestrian collisions. It addresses unique risks with large trucks that have compromised forward visibility and monolithic front ends that don't absorb pedestrian impacts well.
The outgoing F-150 shined for fuel economy, aided by the weight-saving benefits of extensive aluminum. Ford looks to further its efficiency reputation by adding a hybrid powertrain and numerous tricks to improve aerodynamics.
The 2020 F-150 has a stiff, jittery ride and ponderous handling. In contrast, the Ram 1500 shines with its coil spring rear suspension, yet the F-150 continues to use a simpler leaf spring and solid axles set up. Traditionally, this aids maximum cargo and tow capacities but doesn't contribute to ride comfort.
We look forward to buying a truck to test and seeing how it measures up against its archrivals.
The F-150 is all-new inside and out. The exterior looks distinctly like an F-Series truck, but it's updated with C-clamp-inspired headlamps, refined round wheel arches, a bulging hood, larger door handle cutouts for gloved hands, and larger-diameter tires positioned outward by three-quarters of an inch to give it a more powerful stance. Standard wheels span 17 to 18 inches, and there are optional 20- and 22-inch wheels.
There are three types of headlights: halogen, LED, and active LED that rotate in turns.
Ford says aerodynamics have improved by 3 percent. Key among the wind-cheating tricks is active grille shutters on all models that close to improve efficiency when fresh air isn't needed for cooling the engine. There are 11 different grilles offered on the F-150.
This is Ford's first application of an active air dam. It adjusts to balance efficiency and cooling by moving up three-fourths of an inch at low speeds to aid clearance, and it can be fully retracted for off-roading.
There are three cab sizes: regular, extended, and crew, and three bed lengths: 5.5, 6.5, and 8 feet. Ford says 80 percent of customers use the truck for hauling stuff in the bed, and it admits that accessing the bed from the side is difficult. Power running boards are available that extend under the bed to make it easy to step up for side loading. The boards lower when the truck is approached with a key fob. They can also be activated manually or set to deploy when you wave your leg nearby, like hands-free liftgates on SUVs.
Recognizing that many owners use the tailgate as an impromptu workbench, this one has been designed with a flat area that has niches for a tablet, cup, and pens. There are also cleats for anchoring tie downs.
Perimeter lighting can illuminate all around the truck or just a portion as needed, helpful for working at dusk or setting up a campsite. The tailgate now lights up to help with evening projects.
The cabin shows the most visible changes, with clever touches and true innovation throughout. Open the front doors to discover American flag emblems on each end of the dash and doors dressed with a textured map of Detroit. They add a little personality here.
An available 12-inch instrument panel gives the dash some sizzle, with gauges and various animations that represent different functions and modes.
The center dash has an 8-inch touch screen on XL and XLT models for the infotainment center, with higher trims fitted with a large 12-inch touch screen. With either screen, the F-150 uses the new Sync 4 infotainment platform, with improved natural language voice recognition and twice the computing power of the previous system. Among its tricks, Sync 4 has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Starting with the XLT, the audio system can be upgraded to an eight-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. Move up a trim and an 18-speaker B&O system is available that includes speakers in the headliner and front head restraints.
Automatic emergency notification service is standard, with the truck alerting first responders in the case of a collision. The FordPass app allows drivers to use their smartphone to lock/unlock, start the engine, control exterior lighting, check trailer lights, receive trailer theft alerts, and other functions.
The horizontal shape of this center screen allows for large physical buttons beneath to control common tasks, including the climate control system.
The center console has arguably the coolest innovation: a traditional gear selector that folds away to create a flat work surface for doing paperwork or using a laptop when in Park. This optional interior work surface can also be used as a tray for lunch break.
The top three trims offer Max Recline Seats for the front row. They fold back nearly 180 degrees, with the bottom cushion rising to meet the back cushion, and the upper back rotating to provide a comfy place to nap.
Storage is enhanced with a new, standard dual glove box upfront. And there's a lockable box available for under the rear seat.
What Drives It
The F-150 will offer six different engines, each paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Most engines carry over from the previous generation but with some tweaks designed to improve power.
The base engine is a naturally aspirated (aka nonturbo) 290-hp, 3.3-liter V6.
There are two turbocharged V6 engines, a 325-hp, 2.7-liter and a 400-hp, 3.5-liter, that have been popular on the current F-150.
The 400-hp, 5.0-liter V8 engine gains 5 horsepower and cylinder deactivation for 2021, enhancing fuel economy by cutting off cylinders when not needed, such as during steady-speed cruising.
A 250-hp, 3.0-liter diesel engine is available again, as is common in light-duty full-sized pickup trucks now.
The F-150 will be offered as a hybrid for the first time. Dubbed PowerBoost, this setup combines a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 with a lithium-ion battery and a 35-kW electric motor. It will use a unique 10-speed automatic transmission suited for the hybrid application. It produces 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. of torque.
The hybrid powertrain will be available in rear- and four-wheel-drive trucks spanning the entire product range, from XL to Limited trim. Ford says it's targeting best-in-class horsepower and torque, with an EPA-estimated range of over 700 miles per tank. It claims a 12,700-pound maximum tow capacity. (The 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 claims the largest tow figure for the range, with a maximum 14,000-lb. capacity-up 800 lbs.)
The PowerBoost engine comes with a Pro Power Onboard feature that allows the truck to be used as a mobile generator that produces 2.4 kW. The bed has dual 120-volt 20-amp outlets. This can be used to power a campsite, tailgating party, or small job site. Ford claims that it could power a couple of saws and an air compressor with an 85-hour run time on a full tank of gas. For larger tasks, the PowerBoost can be equipped with an optional 7.2-kW system with four 120-volt outlets and a 240-volt outlet.
The Pro Power Onboard feature is an option with the 2.7-liter, 3.5-liter, and 5.0-liter engines. With those nonhybrid engines, the system produces 2 kW that's distributed through two 120-volt outlets. Ford notes that tools can be recharged in the bed on the go.
Fuel-tank size depends on the cab and cargo box configurations for most engines. The hybrid gets a 30.6-gallon tank in all configurations; the diesel has a 26-gallon tank. The other engines are fitted with 23-, 26-, and 36-gallon tanks based on the truck configuration.
Safety and Driver Assist Systems
Every F-150 comes with forward collision warning (FCW) and AEB with pedestrian detection, plus automatic headlights and a backup camera with dynamic hitch support to make it easier to hook up a trailer.
Stepping up to the XLT and beyond brings a lengthy list of features, including blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, lane keeping assistance, driver monitoring, post-collision braking, and rear automatic braking.
Optional features can add adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go and speed sign recognition), lane centering assist, evasive steering assist, intersection assist, trailer backup assist, trailer reverse guidance, and parking assistance front and rear.
Plus, there's a new Tow Technology package that adds 360-degree cameras, a trailer brake controller, smart trailer navigation, and a blind spot warning (BSW) system with trailer coverage.
Next year Active Driver Assist will enable hands-free driving on certain mapped highways, akin to the Cadillac Super Cruise system. Ford says coverage will include 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states and Canada. To ensure the driver is attentive, a camera will monitor his or her head position and eye gaze rather than just relying on a steering-wheel sensor. The hardware for this feature will be included at launch. The software to use it will be available in the summer of 2021 with an over-the-air update for a fee.