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2021 Ford F-150 Review: Ford proves it knows its customers, but the truck isn't perfect

The Ford F-150 has been redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It's difficult, even as an automotive reviewer, to drive every single car in the lineup of a global manufacturer. But in the case of Ford in the United States, I've been in everything from the diminutive EcoSport to the track-weapon GT. Every vehicle has pros and cons, as does the 2021 F-150 pickup. But after spending the day in this new truck, I can safely tell you the is the most well-rounded vehicle that Ford has ever built.

New for 2021, the F-150 receives a slew of design and body changes to streamline the appearance and add more functionality. It's not a drastic change from the previous truck, but it didn't have to be. The biggest visual change is the front grille offerings and the new headlights.

2021 Ford F-150 Platinum

2021 Ford F-150 Platinum

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Power comes from a base 3.3-liter V6 engine, a turbocharged 2.7-liter V6, a 5.0-liter V8, a 3.0-liter V6 diesel, a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 – and that's before it's been revealed what's in the Raptor. The new hybrid is the only one that's really changed for the new model year, and the one I'm going to focus on for this review.

It's brilliant. Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, it's hard to flummox this setup. When moving, shifts are not noticeable. When more power is needed, it'll skip down gears seamlessly. Even when attached to a 10,000-pound trailer, you hardly know it's there.

If you try really hard to cause it to goof up, you can get a little jerkiness taking off from a light, but under normal driving it'll never happen. The setup is good, and it's especially good at shifting when running only on electricity.

The hybrid powertrain, which Ford dubs PowerBoost, is also the most powerful option in the 2021 F-150. It makes 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque. The EPA fuel economy rating is 24 mpg in the city, on the highway, and combined. Which is pretty impressive for what amounts to a less-than-aerodynamic box on wheels.

2021 Ford F-150 Lariat

2021 Ford F-150 Lariat

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The truck is quick, both at around-town speeds and on the highway. Steering feel and feedback is similar to previous versions of the truck, which means it's good but not sports car-like. The new suite of safety technology, including updated lane centering and traffic sign recognition are welcome additions.

Really that's where the big changes come – the technology. A new digital instrument cluster is big, bright and responsive. There are fluid animations for a variety of things, including changing the drive modes or showing navigation instructions. There's a ton of processing power behind it, which is something Ford didn't need to do but did anyway. It feels very futuristic.

The one downside is that it doesn't appear to be too customizable. What you see is what you get. It's no Audi Virtual Cockpit, but it looks nicer than the alternatives from Ram and General Motors.

The 12-inch infotainment screen carries a landscape layout, which I prefer, and retains all of the important hard buttons you'd expect. That means no fumbling through the screen to turn on the ventilated seats – I'm looking at you Ram – and the screen looks much better integrated into the dash compared to Ram's 12-incher or even GM's smaller screen.

2021 Ford F-150 XLT

2021 Ford F-150 XLT

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford's latest version of Sync is on board, and Sync 4 is the best yet. It's far more intuitive than previous generations, but there is a lot of information to take in. I do like that you can expand the navigation system to full screen if you don't want to see the information cards on the right of the display.

The infotainment screen also controls the zoned exterior lighting and provides feedback on on-board generator usage. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and they are wirelessly connected if you want them to be.

One thing that really impressed me on the infotainment was the implementation of notifications in CarPlay. When I'm using CarPlay, I don't receive text notifications on my Apple Watch. So, if I'm using the built-in navigation – which we often do on these programs – I don't see notifications because the Car Play screen isn't active. While I was driving around in the 2021 F-150, listening to Tidal on Car Play, with the navigation screen in view, I received a text notification. The system switched to the Apple CarPlay display to show me the notification, and then when I didn't react to it, it switched automatically back to the navigation display.

2021 Ford F-150 interior features

2021 Ford F-150 interior features

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

I have yet to drive a vehicle that does this, and it's something I wish every vehicle did. It worked exactly as I would've programmed, and it tells me that people who actually drive and use CarPlay also engineered this product.

The same applies for the on-board generator. Ford recognized that people take generators places, so why not just build one into the truck? The beauty is that it doesn't take up any space in the bed, and the inverter lives under the rear seats. In the case of the hybrid, there is no inverter but the batteries for the hybrid live under the rear seats. In any case, you sacrifice very little except cash for this useful technology.

The built-in workspace for a laptop from the center console is also forward thinking. The workspace on the tailgate that accepts C-clamps and has a built-in ruler speaks to those who use the truck as their workspace. There is so much cleverness built into this truck I could take days talking about it.

That's why the 2021 Ford F-150 is such a good truck. It was designed by people who use trucks. It was designed by people who do work. When it came time to test it, they tested it in real world with real people.

2021 Ford F-150 exterior features

2021 Ford F-150
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

I almost find something wrong with a vehicle where I ask, "why did you do it this way?" I often get the response, "we didn't think of that." I didn't have that experience anywhere in my time with the F-150.

Ford understands truck buyers, which is no surprise since they sell the most pickup trucks in the country, but it's still worth pointing out how good they are at it.

It's not a perfect truck – no vehicle is perfect – but it's easy to see why someone walks into a dealership and drives one of these homes. If you're in the market, you need to drive one.

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Lincoln will not make a performance variant to compete with Cadillac.

Lincoln

TheLincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade have been duking it out at the top of luxury SUV rankings for decades, but there’s one area of the Caddy’s development that Lincoln won’t touch. In a recent interview, a company executive told Ford Authority that it has no plans to create a performance variant of the Navigator to compete with the upcoming Escalade V from Cadillac.

2022 Lincoln NavigatorThe new Navigator features several upscale touches and excellent tech. Lincoln

That means the Navigator will stick with the powertrain it’s carried for years, which is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a smooth ten-speed automatic and either rear- or four-wheel drive. While there’s more than enough power to get the hulking Lincoln moving, it’s not a powertrain that inspires excitement or engagement, and though beefy, it’s tuned much more for comfort and quietness than drama.

Though more than adequate, those specs are a far cry from the numbers we expect from the Escalade V. The full-size bruiser from Cadillac is expected to get a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, similar to the unit seen in the CT5-V Blackwing and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We don’t know power numbers yet, but the engine should deliver horsepower and torque numbers in the high 600s.

Cadillac Escalade VThe Escalade V will be massively powerful. Cadillac

That Lincoln is taking a different approach isn’t surprising. The automaker has already announced its intention to go all-electric, so pouring more time and resources into creating a performance gas-powered SUV isn’t in line with its goals. Company executives have also expressed a desire to avoid imitating rivals, so the decision to leave a performance Navigator behind is not surprising.

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First-year Ford F-150 Lightning production numbers doubled
Ford

Ford has begun serial production of the new F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, marking what could be one of the most important days in recent automotive history. The first trucks rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan today, so America's best-selling truck has finally gone electric. Ford wants to sell two million EVs per year by 2026 and have half of its global sales volume to be electric by 2030.

Ford F-150 LightningPast meets future: Ford's new electric pickup will be the F-150 Lightningautomotivemap.com

Ford has seen extreme demand for the trucks, with 200,000 reservations since the books opened. To deliver, the automaker plans to increase production to an annual rate of 150,000 units by next year, which involved huge investments in the Rouge Center and created hundreds of jobs. Ford's total investment for the F-150 Lightning crests $1 billion across Michigan alone, and has created 1,700 jobs across various facilities in the state.

Ford F-150 LightningThe first production trucks left the factory today.
Ford Motor Company

Though the Lightning starts around $40,000, the most mainstream models will cost much more than that. The F-150 Lightning Pro, while affordable, is a stripped-down truck intended for commercial buyers. It's still a forward-looking electric truck with amazing capabilities, but it lacks much of the creature comforts and features that everyday drivers expect. Higher trims get the latest driver assistance features, including BlueCruise, which is Ford's semi-autonomous hands-free driving assistant. A 12-inch touchscreen is standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and more.

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