2021 Ford F-150 First Drive Review: Wealthy Work Horse

First Drive / Comments

Everything about America's best-selling vehicle is better than ever.

At face value, it may appear that the fourteenth-generation Ford F-150, new for 2021, isn't much of a departure from the outgoing model. Early rumors of the truck switching back to steel, or at the very least a mixed-material body, turned out to not happen. Fears of plopping a four-cylinder engine into this full-sized 4,000-plus pound pickup also didn't happen. In fact, all of the engines from before are present and accounted for. The sheet metal isn't exactly something from Tron, either. It's rather contemporary, actually. So, did Ford simply play it safe with the 2021 F-150 to maintain its status as the best-selling truck on the market?

No, not really. Because while there's plenty of familiarity from before with this next-generation truck, there's revolution found in just about every nook and cranny. And the changes are so much more than a new fancy touchscreen. The 2021 F-150 continues to demonstrate that Ford owns work for a reason. And we recently visited the Ford Proving Grounds in Michigan to figure out why that is.

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Exterior: Familiar, Formidable, Ford

There was nothing wrong with the way the thirteenth-generation Ford F-150 looked. Arguably, it still looks just as new today as it did when it first came out in 2014. But evolution happens, and we're pleasantly charmed by the direction that Ford took the exterior styling of the 2021 F-150. Every facet of the truck seems to have been sculpted, stamped, and seamed with precision and purpose. Especially on more high-end trim levels such as Platinum, King Ranch, and Limited. Each of them has further developed into their own unique characters. For example, the 2021 F-150 King Ranch gets a two-tone look with earth-toned brown accents, and the 2021 F-150 Platinum enjoys judicious use of chrome, highlighted by a bezeled tailgate. Meanwhile, the 2021 F-150 Limited - the most luxurious trim level - lets everybody know you got the big one by proudly displaying 'LIMITED' atop the front fascia.

There are eleven grilles to choose from based on the trim level and packages. Eleven. And the amount of wheel options available through the lineup could eclipse a Belle Tire. These levels of customization will help each 2021 F-150 customer call their truck uniquely their own, even though Ford will flirt with selling 900,000 of them annually.

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Front-End View Ford
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Interior: Just Missing Some Throw Pillows

The cabin of the 2021 Ford F-150 is where the truck really starts to separate itself from the likes of Chevrolet, GMC, Ram, Toyota, and Nissan. On entry-level trims, the interior is geared for use on the job site, while the F-150 Limited raises the bar for what it means to have a luxury pickup truck.

Starting with the more basic F-150 XL and XLT trims: for just $165, customers can opt for a sliding tray table that doubles as a flat work surface, or the perfect setting for devouring a sandwich. For use on the job site, this feature transforms the F-150's interior into a mobile office and is further enhanced by the available onboard Wi-Fi.

As for the F-150 Limited, even the iconic GMC Sierra Denali falls short. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if Ford's luxury pickup was using the same high-end leather and materials from the highly acclaimed Lincoln Navigator. And since Lincoln won't be making pickup trucks again anytime soon, this is the next best thing. Yes, it's that nice of a place to be.

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Then there's the big party trick: the Max Recline seats. Available for 2021 F-150 pickups with motorized seat controls, these La-Z-Boy captain's chairs have the ability to recline so far back that the rear seats need to be folded away just to make room. Combined with the plush cushioning and leather of the F-150 Limited, the Max Recline seats are relaxing enough to resemble sleeping on an international first-class flight. All that's missing is a deployable footrest. And throw pillows. And a blanket. But it's certainly a start to making this pickup truck more livable than ever before.

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Center Stack Ford

Interior Technology

The full amenities of the cabin can't be fully explained without diving into the layers of cutting-edge technology that the 2021 Ford F-150 offers. For the first time in a production truck, Over The Air (OTA) updates are standard. Just a few of the many benefits this provides include increased technology longevity of the truck, the ability for customers to download potential calibration updates, and less need for customers to take their new truck into dealerships to fix what could otherwise be solved OTA.

High-end trim levels such as the 2021 F-150 Limited gain a 12-inch touchscreen, which should make for a great first impression for anybody cross-shopping with high-end Ram 1500s - our current truck interior benchmark. In the aforementioned 12-inch display is an array of information, and, should anybody get lost in all of this information, the owner's manual is fully digital, complete with tutorial videos that display crisply and cleanly in high definition.

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Infotainment Setup Ford
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There's no shortage of active safety alerts, crash mitigation systems, lane keep assists, trailer guidance displays, and other gizmos that more self-reliant customers may likely never use; but they're nevertheless present. The only thing the 2021 Ford F-150 is missing that caught our attention is a lack of a head-up display.

The self-reliant among you may also perk up the news of the class-exclusive ProPower onboard generator system. Available on all trim levels is a 2 kW system, but there's an even better one. The 7.2 kW optional inverter generator system available on the 2021 F-150 PowerBoost hybrid is strong enough to run three average American homes every day: perfect for the job site, great for camping, and great if a storm knocked out the electricity on your block. And it runs almost silently compared to the racket of emergency power generators found at the local hardware store.

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Engine, Performance & MPG: A Buffet Of Power

As mentioned, the 2021 Ford F-150 keeps a familiar formula under the hood. A familiar 3.3L V6 PFDI Engine with auto start/stop technology is the base engine in this new truck, followed by the 2.7L EcoBoost V6 that will be shared with the all-new Ford Bronco. A 3.0L PowerStroke diesel V6 also makes a return. As we ascend up the trim level range, more engine options become available. A 3.5L EcoBoost V6, and 5.0L Coyote V8 would be the range-topping engines, except Ford introduced something of even higher proof: the PowerBoost hybrid.

With a 35 kW electric motor powered by a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery paired with the mighty 3.5L EcoBoost, the 2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost is the most powerful F-150 of the lineup so far, with 430 horsepower and 570 lb-ft of torque, fully usurping the rest of the range's 250-400 hp ad 265-500 lb-ft. This powerful F-150 is also the most fuel efficient, with EPA ratings of 24/24/24 mpg city/highway/combined, but the rest span anywhere from 19-22 mpg combined on regular gasoline.

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Driving Impressions

To demonstrate that the 2021 F-150 is built (Ford) tough, we were granted access to the very off-road trails that the company uses to shake down its more rugged products, such as the Super Duty Tremor or even the upcoming Bronco. Muddy ruts, steep hills, tight trails, and loose gravel greeted us with dirty smiles. Of course, we smiled right back as the 2021 F-150 - this one being an FX4 package - happily charged through each and every obstacle like it was ordering a pizza.

Making it look easy from the cockpit of the new F-150 FX4 was an electronic-locking rear differential, which locks the rear axle completely for enhanced traction at both wheels. The FX4 package also adds Hill Descent Control, off-road-tuned shock absorbers, skid plates, and "FX4 Off-Road" decals. The 360-degree camera that this particular model was equipped with was also very helpful when we could no longer see the obstacles in front of us, giving off-road specific views to navigate tricky terrain.

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On the road, we enjoyed the smoothness of the F-150 PowerBoost Hybrid. A typical tradeoff with hybrid systems is that their NVH levels are not as smooth as either gasoline and/or fully electric vehicles, as the gasoline engine is constantly working in tandem with the battery system to produce optimum output at any given time. Sometimes these systems feel like the gas and electric power units are fighting each other. But in the F-150 PowerBoost, they feel to be working with each other. It's definitely the smoothest hybrid we've ever sampled, which could invite some customers who are on the fence with electrification to dip their foot in and see what it's all about.

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Pricing: How Much You Got?

Ford continues to close in on the $100,000 mark with the 2021 F-150. Especially with the range-topping F-150 Limited. But at the base level, things remain a bit more grounded. The MSRP of the 2021 F-150 XL starts at $30,635 including destination, just $195 more than the 2020 model. Up top, the 2021 F-150 Limited SuperCrew starts at a whopping $73,165. An F-150 Limited SuperCrew PowerBoost that we sampled came in at $79,890 with a few options: that's Mustang GT500 money. And it's actually more than the base price of the mighty Lincoln Navigator, while seemingly feeling just as posh from the inside.

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2021 Ford F-150 Seat Reclined Ford
2021 Ford F-150 HVAC and Charger Ford
2021 Ford F-150 Digital Cluster Ford

Verdict

Yes, the 2021 Ford F-150 can certainly run quite the tab on higher trim levels. But as we've been told time and again, and as we've seen with growing ATP statistics and white-hot demand, customers don't seem to mind. With that said, the 2021 Ford F-150 is just as tactical and practical as it is opulent. Even the most tech-savvy of truck buyers are going to be impressed by its near-endless features, party tricks, and innovations; while the most elite of customers are sure to be wowed by just how luxurious the interior of this new full-size truck can get.

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2021 Ford F-150 Tailgate Ford
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