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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New off-roader

Ford Bronco Production Officially Begins

The Ford Bronco is finally ready for primetime.

Ford

The time is finally here. After years of speculation and several months of pandemic-related delays, the Ford Bronco is starting to roll off the assembly line. The SUV marks the first new Bronco model in Ford's lineup in 15 years, not counting the Bronco Sport, and is one of the most hyped and sought-after vehicles to hit the market in quite some time. Ford's announcement that production has begun will be accompanied by a special YouTube presentation that Ford says will include interviews with the Bronco team and with reservation holders at the automaker's new Modification Center.


2021 Ford Bronco Ford added 2,700 jobs to support Bronco production.Ford


Bronco production has driven Ford to invest $750 million into its Michigan Assembly Plant, and the automaker says it has added 2,700 jobs to support the rollout. Ford's push to begin production can't come soon enough. Over 125,000 Bronco orders have been placed, and multiple delays have pushed the vehicle's arrival back, meaning there is considerable demand for the off-road legend.

Ford is ready to capitalize on the craze and will offer several ways to customize the new vehicle. At its 1.7 million square-foot Modification Center, The Blue Oval will factory-install several optional modifications that include equipment such as a front bumper safari bar, graphics packages, roof racks, and more. That's on top of more than 200 factory-backed accessories that can be installed at the dealer, either at or after the time of purchase.


2021 Ford Bronco Delays and production difficulties have pushed the Bronco back.Ford


If you are hoping to get behind the wheel of a new Bronco, it could be a while. Even buyers that have been in line for a while now might not see their new vehicle until late 2021 or 2022, and the vehicle's official rollout will almost certainly re-spike demand. Even so, many feel it's worth the wait, and Ford's vehicle configuration tool is live, so go check it out for yourself.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder arrives on dealer lots this summer.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't have to be capable of rock crawling or deep water fording. What it has to do is service the needs of families in their daily life and give them the opportunity to competently go off-roading on rocky trails should they desire. The new, fifth-generation models does just that and adds in enough nifty features to make it among the most compelling choices for three-row SUV buyers.

The 2022 Pathfinder is thoroughly modern though not the boxy off-roader it once was. The SUV's styling harkens back to that time with a tilted, darkened C-pillar and a return to a more muscular body style. That styling makes straightforward visibility good but for shorter drivers seeing what is immediately in front of the grille is a challenge that necessitates using surround view camera technology (available only in upper trim levels) when navigating challenging terrain.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can easily handle the roads less traveled.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 that offers up 291 horsepower and torque - plenty to do the job without complaint. The SUV's nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the previous generation and delivers smooth shifts. Though low-end torque isn't as robust as I like it to be, once up over 35 mph, the Pathfinder's powertrain delivers smooth, powerful sailing.

The redesigned architecture and components underpinning the Pathfinder make it stable on the road and don't allow it to wallow on winding roads. Even off-road, the suspension provides the right blend of stability while the drive dynamics allowing the driver to feel engaged with their surroundings whether on freshly paved roads, city streets, or muddy trails.

Nissan has given the Pathfinder a 6,000-pound towing capacity and even when maxed out the engine's functionality is strong as ever. The transmission can get held up in a gear mid-range when performing this function, however, with 5,000-6,000 rpms registering on the tachometer but a quick release of the gas pedal recalibrates the offering bringing it down to a more traditional 2,000 rpm range.

The eight-seater Pathfinder clearly has the Toyota Highlander in its sights, with good reason. It's the top-selling three-row SUV in the country. Nissan boasts that three adults can fit across the rear bench seat of the Pathfinder and, as long as they're average size or smaller, the marketing talking point holds up. There is gobs more room back there than there is in the Highlander.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Nissan has given the Pathfinder ample cargo space.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Getting in and out of the third row is easy thanks to one-touch buttons on the outboard side of the second-row chairs that move the SUV's captain's seats forward creating enough room to get through to the back. Smartly, Nissan's engineers have put duplicates of these buttons on the back side of the same seats allowing third-row passengers to simply press the button to move the seat up.

The third row can also be accessed via a split between the captain's chairs as well, a space traditionally occupied by a center stowage bin/cup holders/arm rest. Owners can quickly remove the center console by opening a panel on the front and pulling the release mechanism. The one-handed operation takes seconds and the console can be easily stored in the under-floor trunk space behind the third row seat for ease.

Speaking of cargo space... The Pathfinder is one of the most spacious midsize SUVs on the market today for both passengers and cargo. There is a substantial amount of room behind the third-row seat and the under-floor storage area is nearly twice the size of the one in the Highlander. Plus, it has a feature that allows the area cover to be automatically propped up when pushed up by a user. This is especially help when carrying groceries or plants home and keeps them from being crushed.

The first- and second-row seats are suitably comfortable, even for extended periods of time and standard trig-zone climate control makes finding the right in-cabin mix easy. Bottle holders in the pockets of the front doors are exceptionally large, fitting even bulky water bottles.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder's front row seats are comfortable.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In front of the driver is a standard tachometer, speedometer, and 7.0-inch driver information display. Buyers can upgrade to a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and head-up display but they're not reason enough to upgrade to the top-tier Pathfinder Platinum on their own.

Nissan packs the new Pathfinder with a host of desirable features that make living with the Pathfinder easier including one-touch auto up/down windows, a wireless phone charger, grocery hooks in the rear cargo area, USB ports in all three rows, second-row sunshades, rear door keyless entry, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a motion-activated lift gate.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is priced to start at $33,410 for the two-wheel drive S base model and $35,310 for the four-wheel drive S base model. The model tops out around $50,000 with destination and delivery included, which seems fair when comparing the Pathfinder to other vehicles in the market.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

If you're thinking of purchasing a Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, or Highlander, do yourself a favor and schedule a test drive of the new Pathfinder when it arrives at a dealer lot near you. You may just be surprised how seamlessly it fits into your daily life compared to the competition.

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