One-Day Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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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Custom SUVs

Ford Bronco to rule SEMA this year

The Bronco RTR features a fun livery and several off-road upgrades.

Ford

The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is an opportunity for the aftermarket and manufacturers to come together on wildly customized vehicles and to show off the latest parts and tech in the space. Now that the Ford Bronco has finally made its way to the public, it's not surprising to see several wild SEMA takes on the hottest SUV to hit the market in some time.

2021 Bronco by Tucci Hot Rods The tracks are said to improve the Bronco's abilities in deep snow and ice.Ford

2021 Bronco by Tucci Hot Rods

The new Bronco is capable and rugged on its own, but Tucci Hot Rods felt it needed more. The shop gave it that boost with a set of tracks in place of wheels, which are said to be great for deep snow and ice. This Bronco features a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and a seven-speed manual transmission to go with its Mattracks 88-Series quad tracks.

2021 Bronco RTR Fun-Runner by RTR Vehicles

Vaghn Gittin Jr's RTR Vehicles imagined a Bronco package that could be installed at the dealer. The result is the Fun-Runner, which features several Ford Performance and Ford Licensed Accessories parts. It's based on a 2021 two-door Bronco Badlands, and comes with an eye-catching wrap, an Ultimate Dana 44 front axle, Ultimate Dana 60 semi-float rear axle, RCV Performance CV axles, and a performance intake for its four-cylinder engine.

2021 Bronco by BDS Supensions SEMA presents an excellent opportunity for shops to show off their skill and imagination.Ford

2021 Bronco by BDS Supensions

BDS is a subsidiary of Fox Shocks and has worked with Ford for quite some time. The results of that long-running relationship are on display with the BDS Bronco, which features Fox 2.5 PES coilovers, BDS rear adjustable control arms and track bar, swaybar disconnect, and 37-inch BFGoodrich KM3 tires. The Bronco's bumpers have been replaced with CrawlTek Revolution units that feature a recessed winch mount, recovery hooks and more.

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The Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Hyundai

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is all-new for 2021, and features an impressive list of standard features, great safety scores, and family-friendly space. If you're looking for a new SUV, it's hard to imagine a better fit for an urban family, or any other family, for that matter. Beyond a few small complaints, the Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Here are three things to like about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid The Santa Fe Hybrid brings great passenger space and an upscale interior.Hyundai

It offers plenty of passenger and cargo space

The Santa Fe offers roomy seating for up to five adults with more than reasonable head and legroom in both rows. Second-row passengers have room to move, and don't end up jockeying for position with taller front-seat passengers. When the SUV is packed with people and needs to haul gear, it's more than capable of doing that, too, as it offers 36.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row and up to 72.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down. Making the space more accessible, power-folding second-row seats and a hands-free power liftgate are standard.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid All trims come decked out with safety equipment.Hyundai

It delivers excellent fuel economy

The Santa Fe Hybrid returns impressive fuel economy numbers, especially in town, making it an excellent urban family runabout. The EPA estimates that the SUV can deliver 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The Santa Fe Hybrid Blue returns 36 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. That's several miles per gallon better than the standard Santa Fe and better than some sedans.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Fuel economy is better than many smaller cars.Hyundai

It earned great safety scores

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That score is due in part to the Santa Fe's Good marks in crash tests, but the SUV's long list of standard safety kit helps, too. All models come with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian, cyclist, and junction turning detection, lane keeping assist, driver attention warnings, lane following assist, and a rear occupant alert system. Optional features include blind spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, a parking distance warning system, and a highway driving assist system.

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