First impressions: 2021 Ford F-150 test drive

Nov. 23, 2020
The new Powerboost system — with additional horsepower, better mpg, and on-board generator — makes the hybrid-equipped Ford F-150 a tough act for any pickup to follow.

Ford representatives made a big mistake at the recent test drive opportunity here, and I told them so. They never should've let my first spin of the day to be in a 2021 King Ranch Series F-150 equipped with the new PowerBoost hybrid powertrain, because it simply was going to be impossible to top that initial impression gleaned from about an hour behind the wheel as I meandered around the ranch country north of Dallas. And a lap around the off-course Ford built for the socially distanced and masked-up demo day just reinforced the notion that the PowerBoost hybrid system is going to be a tough act for any pickup to follow.

And Ford itself bills the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 lineup as purpose-built to be “the toughest, most productive F-150 ever,” with improvements to the perennial best-seller that raise the standard for all light-duty trucks.

Indeed, the F-150 boasts an array of features to increase productivity, new connected vehicle innovations such as over-the-air updates, and the available PowerBoost with Pro Power Onboard — an integrated power generator that's the real game-changing feature of the hybrid package.

“We see it as our duty to deliver not just what our customers want and need, but what they might have never thought possible,” said Craig Schmatz, Ford F-150 chief engineer. “The F-150 will be tougher than ever and, with fully connected over-the-air updates, it opens up a much wider range of potential enhancements—from system upgrades to feature offerings.”

So, flip though the photos above for more details from my afternoon with the new F-150 lineup, or read on for Ford's more thorough new product description. (Window stickers with the included options and MSRP for the vehicles featured in the gallery are available here: King Ranch Series F-150 w/PowerBoostLariat Series F-150 w/PowerBoostLariat Series F-150 w/3.5-liter EcoBoost; and XL Series w/ 3.5-liter EcoBoost.)

Durability

The F-150 starts with a durable, proven foundation — a fully boxed high-strength steel frame with a high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloy body. Every panel of the exterior is redesigned while maintaining its signature look, including an updated headlamp design, new power dome hood, and wrap-around bumpers. Higher front fenders, a tucked-in midsection, and larger-diameter tires pulled out three-quarters of an inch create a stronger, more powerful stance on and off the road, according to Ford.

The interior is completely redesigned to elevate truck owners’ experience with style, comfort, utility, and technology. Featuring enhanced materials, new color choices, and more storage, it is built around the functional needs of truck customers.

F-150 introduces an all-new 12-inch center screen — standard on XLT high series and above — that allows customers to split the screen and control multiple functions simultaneously, including navigation, music, or truck features. The landscape design strikes a balance between demands for technology accessibility and the greater convenience of physical buttons. An 8-inch touch screen, standard on XL and XLT standard and mid-series trucks, means every customer gets touch screen functionality and better rearview camera vision. Both screens feature access to the new digital owner’s manual, which can help all customers find the information they need more easily, including how-to videos for additional explanation.

An available new 12-inch digital gauge cluster features a large information-on-demand area, along with truck-specific graphics and animations that respond to the all-new F-150’s selectable drive modes and can display off-roading data and turn-by-turn navigation.

Power

No other full-size light-duty pickup can match the new F-150’s maximum conventional towing or payload, according to Ford, and no other truck provides the electrified power and capability of the 3.5-liter PowerBoost full hybrid offering the most horsepower and torque in the F-150 lineup.

When equipped with the proven 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and Max Trailer Tow Package, F-150 is rated for conventional towing at a maximum 14,000 pounds, a gain of 800 pounds over the 2020 model.

PowerBoost full hybrid trucks are rated at a maximum of 12,700 pounds of conventional towing — the most towing ever offered by any full hybrid pickup. Maximum payload increases to 3,325 pounds — more than 1,000 pounds over F-150’s closest full-size light-duty competitor — with gains across most trim levels and configurations. PowerBoost-equipped trucks debut with a maximum payload of 2,120 pounds for the Crew Cab 4x2 model with 6.5-foot box.

“Just because it’s a hybrid doesn’t mean we treated PowerBoost with kid gloves,” Schmatz said. “To earn Built Ford Tough certification, PowerBoost went through the torture testing we put all of our powertrains through. No F-150 powertrain gets a pass, we have one standard for quality and durability.”

The all-new class-exclusive 3.5-liter PowerBoost full hybrid is the most powerful option in the F-150 lineup, making 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only does this powertrain deliver the most torque ever in an F-150, its standard Pro Power Onboard brings unmatched exportable power, 2.4 kilowatts of standard power and an available 7.2 kilowatts — enough to power 28 average refrigerators.

Power is accessible through in-cabin outlets and up to four cargo bed-mounted 120V 20-amp outlets, with a 240V 30-amp outlet on the 7.2-kilowatt version. The system even provides power on the move to charge tool batteries in between jobs.

F-150’s 5.0-liter V8 gets a bump of 5 horsepower and 10 lb.-ft. of torque, to 400 horsepower and 410 lb.-ft., while the proven 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is now rated at 400 horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. — a jump of 25 horsepower and 30 lb.-ft. of torque.

Productivity

Creating a go-anywhere office, F-150’s new optional Interior Work Surface is meant for signing documents, working on a 15-inch laptop, or enjoying a meal when parked. Knowing many customers prefer a console shifter, Ford has created a stowable unit for F-150, which easily folds into the center console with the push of a button and allows full access to the large work surface when in park.

Available lockable, fold-flat rear storage adds a vault to the F-150 that extends the width of the rear seats. It’s as easy as lifting the bottom cushion of the rear seat, dropping valuables in, and locking them away for safe keeping.

Every F-150 comes standard with new cleats mounted to the sides of the tailgate to act as tie-down locations for extra-long items in the bed. New clamp pockets are built into the tailgate of every truck, so customers can hold materials down for precision work. An available flat Tailgate Work Surface also includes integrated rulers, a mobile device holder, cupholder, and pencil holder.

Customers can keep going into the night with exclusive available Zone Lighting. This allows occupants to turn on and off individual sections of exterior lights through the SYNC 4 screen or remotely with the FordPass app on their phone, so they never have to work, camp, or do anything in the dark.

The F-150 is the only light-duty full-size pickup to offer available Trailer Reverse Guidance and Pro Trailer Backup Assist, according to Ford.

Connectivity

The F-150 is North America’s first full-size pickup with standard over-the-air updates, helping customers’ trucks stay at the forefront of purposeful technology. These updates are bumper-to-bumper and can include all-new functions and additional features throughout the life of the truck, Ford reports. They can support preventative maintenance, reduce repair trips, provide improved performance, and ultimately result in more vehicle up-time. The majority of updates will be completed in under two minutes and can be performed at times customers choose.

All-new SYNC 4 builds on more than 10 years of SYNC innovation by helping minimize distractions with hands-free voice control as well as core features such as making phone calls and selecting music. With twice the computing power of the previous-generation system, new SYNC 4 can wirelessly connect smartphones without the USB cord for seamless integration of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility as well as SYNC AppLink apps like Waze and Ford+Alexa.

Ford offers complimentary technology including 911 Assist that automatically alerts emergency responders in the event of an accident, and FordPass, a mobile device app that allows Ford drivers to start or unlock their vehicle from a distance, as well as control new truck-focused features like Zone Lighting, Trailer Theft Alert, Trailer Light Check, and Pro Power Onboard.

Driver-assist technologies

The F-150 offers the latest driver-assist features as part of Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0. More features are now standard on XL, including Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection to help avoid a possible collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian, rearview camera with dynamic hitch assist, auto high-beam headlamps, and auto on/off headlamps.

F-150 also adds 10 new driver-assist features and is the only pickup to offer Active Drive Assist, which allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states and Canada. Its advanced driver-facing camera tracks head position and driver eye gaze to enable hands-free driving when available. 

The Active Drive Assist prep kit contains the hardware required for this feature, while the software to enable functionality, expected in the third quarter of the 2021 calendar year, will be delivered by over-the-air update or dealer visit. Separate payment will be required to activate full functionality at that time.

Other new available features include Intersection Assist, which detects oncoming traffic while the driver is attempting a left turn. The F-150 is also available with Active Park Assist 2.0, which handles all steering, shifting, braking, and accelerator controls during a parallel or perpendicular parking maneuver while the driver holds down a button.

The all-new 2021 Ford F-150 goes on sale this fall. It is built and assembled in America at Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri.