2021 Ford F-150 Review: The Truck is More Impressive Than the Tech
Ford redesigns the best-selling F-150, and the result is a terrific truck offering hit-and-miss technology.
Ford builds the single most popular vehicle in America, and it has for decades. The F Series full-size pickup dominates the sales charts while the 2021 Ford F-150 is the light-duty member of the family. Primary competitors include the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500, with GMC, Nissan, and Toyota also fielding alternatives.
Redesigned for 2021, the new Ford F-150 comes in Regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew cab styles paired with short, standard, and long cargo bed sizes. Depending on the configuration, trim levels include XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited. A multitude of engines are available, including a powerful new hybrid powertrain called Powerboost. A four-wheel drive system (4WD) is optional.
Highlights of the 2021 F-150 include class-leading towing and payload ratings, a slew of new technology upgrades, enhanced storage solutions, and work-site functionality. A new Tremor off-road package is coming later in the model year.
Ford provided our test truck. It was a SuperCrew, with a short cargo bed, Lariat trim, the Powerboost hybrid powertrain, and 4WD. Options included the following packages: 502A High, Lariat Sport Appearance, FX4 Off-Road, Tow Technology, and Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep. Additionally, the test truck had a spray-in bedliner, power tailgate, power deploying running boards, interior work surface, partitioned locking fold-flat storage, and a twin-panel sunroof. The grand total came to $68,960 plus the $1,695 destination charge.
FAMILIAR FLANKS, IMPROVED INTERIOR
If you glance at the new F-150 and can’t tell what’s different, you’re probably not alone. The redesigned truck uses familiar styling themes rendered in a more aerodynamic form that adds character compared to its rather plain predecessor.
As was true of the previous generation’s truck, the new F-150 uses high-strength, military-grade aluminum body panels affixed to a robust steel frame. This approach saves weight, allowing the 2021 F-150 to offer superior payload capacity. The maximum payload rating with the Powerboost hybrid powertrain is 2,120 lbs.
In addition to a spray-in bedliner, our test truck’s cargo bed had a power tailgate with an inner work surface panel and tailgate step with a handle. A Pro Power Onboard outlet offers 2.4 kWh of power.A 7.2 kWh version is also available. An exterior Zone Lighting system for the new F-150 offers after-dark illumination that you can activate using your FordPass smartphone app.
A new interior emphasizes improved storage, utility, and technology. Quality switchgear and tight panel gaps are the rule, and there is a strong sense of purpose and symmetry to the cabin. The test truck’s bright silver trim looked inexpensive, but the saddle brown dashtop trim matched the door panel material and seat stitching to lend the otherwise dark cabin some class.
The control layout is excellent; Ford uses a combination of buttons and knobs placed exactly where you expect to find them. Storage is everywhere, including a new upper compartment located above the traditional glove box and shelving built into the door panels.
Comfort is also outstanding. The test truck offered heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Shaped to improve outward visibility, the front windows proved helpful during an off-roading trip.
Back seat room is positively huge. As a plus,the test truck had heated rear cushions. Flip the rear seat cushion up and the optional locking and compartmentalized storage is readily accessible. Available power running boards make it easy to climb aboard the F-150.
SUBSTANTIAL SYNC 4 INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM
Optional with XLT trim and standard on other versions of the 2021 F-150, the new Sync 4 infotainment system with the 12-inch, landscape-mounted touchscreen display is noteworthy. It offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, responds immediately to input, and includes an impressive, enhanced voice recognition system. However, the screen does suffer from glare and the delicate font can be hard to read against the white background.
Sync 4 pairs with a new 12-inch digital instrumentation display to give the F-150’s cabin a high-tech look. Two different Bang & Olufsen (B&O) premium sound systems are available, the top offering called B&O Unleashed. It supplies 1,080 watts of power through 18 speakers, including ones mounted in the truck’s headliner and front seat head restraints. The test truck had the less impressive B&O setup, but it was nevertheless much better than what you’ll find in some competitors.
Ford equips every 2021 F-150 with Co-Pilot360 2.0, a collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) that includes collision warning, automatic braking, lane keeping, and blind-spot monitoring systems.
Co-Pilot360 Assist 2.0 is an option that builds on the standard features with adaptive cruise control having stop-and-go capability, lane-centering assistance, intersection assistance, evasive steering assistance, and a speed-sign recognition system.
Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 is the top ADAS offering, equipping the F-150 with Active Park Assist 2.0 autonomous parking capability. As part of a future over-the-air software update in late 2021, Ford includes a new Active Drive Assist hands-free driving system. Active Drive Assist works only on limited access highways under specific driving conditions and still requires a driver to pay close attention at all times.
Ford also offers useful trailering technologies for the new F-150. Pro Trailer Backup Assist helps to take the guesswork out of reversing with a trailer attached to the truck, while Trailer Reverse Guidance provides multiple camera views and offers steering guidance as you’re reversing the trailer.
F-150 HYBRID PROMISES MORE THAN IT DELIVERS
When you shop for a 2021 F-150, six different engines are available, including a V6, V8, a couple of twin-turbocharged V6s, a turbo-diesel V6, and a Powerboost hybrid powertrain.
Our test truck had the Powerboost hybrid powertrain. It’s based on a twin-turbo 3.5L V6 engine and adds a 35 kW electric motor that’s integrated with the 10-speed automatic transmission. A 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery powers the electric motor, and a regenerative braking system recharges the battery.
Together, these components generate 430 hp and 570 lb.-ft. of torque. The EPA says the F-150 Powerboost should get 25 mpg in combined driving with 2WD (24 mpg with 4WD). During our testing, the truck averaged 21.5 mpg.
Effortless acceleration is the standard for the F-150 Powerboost towing up to 12,700 lbs. However, the hybrid drivetrain has its quirks. As you approach a stop sign or light, the gas engine shuts off to conserve fuel. After coming to a stop, the electric motor moves the truck while the gas engine restarts;though sometimes there is a lurch as the extra power comes online and the transmission upshifts.
In situations where you’re approaching a light, stopped traffic, or difficult terrain, the gas engine will shut off. But if the light turns green and vehicles ahead start to accelerate, or you need more power after getting through a rough patch, there is often a delay in response after you push down on the accelerator. This can happen when you round corners or curves, too.
Fortified with the FX4 Off-Road Package, our test truck performed well at a local off-highway vehicle park, romping through mud puddles and tackling narrow, eroded trails. As we knew from driving over poor pavement, the F-150’s underlying structure feels rock solid on terrain.
Braking is sometimes inconsistent. The pedal feels sticky in the way that regenerative systems can. Steering effort levels are a bit too high, but the wheel feels comfortable in the driver’s hands and there is no slop or play on-center. The faster you drive, the softer the F-150 can feel resulting in significant body motion over pavement undulations taken at speed. Around town and when driving off-road, the truck is firm and communicative, as is expected.
Although Co-Pilot360 technologies are impressive, in use they can cause some frustration. Sometimes the driver must wrestle with the lane-centering assistance system to make corrections or override inputs. The lane-departure warning system issued a false alert as two lanes narrowed to one. The speed-sign recognition system also applied a limit specific to commercial trucks to our pickup, unnecessarily slowing the vehicle to 55 mph.
SKIP THE TECH FOR AN IMPRESSIVE TRUCK
When it comes to the 2021 F-150, Ford hasn’t messed with what makes this truck a success. Based on our testing, truck buyers seeking maximum efficiency may prefer the turbo-diesel V6 engine, though at $3,800, it’s a far more expensive option for the F-150 than the 3.0L turbo-diesel inline-six in the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra costing $995.
Similarly, there is some aggravation related to the F-150’s Co-Pilot360 technology. Yet through Sync 4, you can fine-tune settings or turn features on and off depending on your preferences.
Sticking to the more common and affordable powertrains and avoiding some of the fancier technology is likely to make a typical truck buyer happier with the new 2021 Ford F-150. Overall, it is a terrific light-duty pickup and deserves to keep its position atop the sales charts.