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