2021 Ford F-150 First Drive: Now With Even More Torque

Adam Tonge
by Adam Tonge
2021 ford f 150 first drive now with even more torque

Ford Motor Company’s 2021 Model Year is full of new trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. The one hundred and seventeen-year-old company has a renewed focus on these profitable categories while no longer offering a sedan in North America. The Bronco, Bronco Sport, and Mustang Mach-E expand Ford’s vehicle portfolio while adding new segments for the brand. These are all very important products for the future of Ford Motor Company. However, none of those vehicles provide the company with the same level of revenue as the other new vehicle in the 2021 lineup; the 2021 Ford F-150.

It’s safe to say that the F-150 is Ford’s most important product. It has been the best-selling vehicle in America since 1977 and is in a segment where average transaction prices are near $50,000. In 2014, in order to create a more capable and more fuel-efficient truck, Ford moved the thirteenth-generation F-150 to an all-aluminum exterior. But between that release and today, the full-sized truck segment has become even more competitive. General Motors released an all-new Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 and FCA introduced a brand new RAM 1500.

The RAM 1500 has attacked the full-sized marketplace with a large touchscreen, more luxury features, and a fantastic interior. RAM has even become America’s fastest-growing brand. The 2021 F-150 gives Ford an opportunity to catch up to the competition and possibly pass them. The new truck comes with a number of new features, a new engine, a new interior, and a brand new design. But is it a better truck than the GM twins or the RAM? Ford invited The Truth About Cars to take the new 2021 Ford F-150 for a socially-distanced drive near their Michigan Proving Grounds to find out.

Walking up to the 2021 F-150, the exterior seems more evolutionary than revolutionary. The outgoing truck looked great so there is no need to deviate from success and heritage. It’s hard to tell, but Ford says that every exterior panel has been redesigned. The 2021 Ford F150 features an updated headlamp design, new hood, and new bumpers. In order to differentiate trims, there are now eleven grille options plus new tailgates. There are a number of functional exterior upgrades as well. LED headlamps, LED tail lamps, an optional onboard generator, and extended power running boards that allow for better bed access are the most notable additions. Ford also spend significant resources on aerodynamics. The 2021 F-150 has new active grille shutters, an active air dam, and an updated cab and tailgate that all work together to improve fuel consumption.

The new hotness continues inside the cabin with a completely designed interior. There are new materials, color choices, and additional storage. Sync4 is now standard as well. XL and some XLT trimmed F-150s receive the 8-inch touchscreen. XLT high series and above receive the all-new 12-inch center touchscreen. There is also an available 12-inch digital gauge cluster. Ford has also added more standard driver-assist technologies as well as an optional hands-free driving suite called Active Drive Assist. Other features include an interior work surface, built-in 4G LTE modem for over-the-air updates, and a hotspot.

Ford wanted me to drive a high-end F-150 Limited with the brand new PowerBoost engine first. However, I wanted to spend some time with the volume trim. So first up was an F-150 XLT SuperCrew with four-wheel drive and the 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 in 302A spec.

302A is Ford package lingo for XLT High; better known as the truck the dealer wants to lease you. This particular truck had an eye-watering MSRP of $60,311 that includes a $1,695 destination and delivery fee. The more important number; the thirty-six-month red carpet lease payment with $2,000 down and 10,500 miles a year, is yet to be determined. I was told that this trim level accounts for 40 percent of F-150 volume. It’s no surprise because this package adds a significant amount of content that is found on higher trim trucks. Most notably are heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a twelve-inch center screen, LED box lighting, a 400W exterior outlet, Class IV trailer hitch, and remote start.

The 2.7-liter turbocharged powertrain is unchanged from the previous generation, still making 325 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. All that power is sent through Ford’s ten-speed automatic transmission. The interior is pleasant yet basic. It is a step up from the outgoing truck, but do not expect a wild color palette. There are better materials used throughout the cabin, and the layout is intuitive. While the truck has a prominent twelve-inch touchscreen, the buttons and knobs are easy to use and in the right places. I also found it very easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat.

Heading out onto rural Michigan roads, the 2021 F-150 seems quieter than the previous generation truck. The turbocharged engine has ample power and the suspension soaks up the bumps and potholes littering Michigan’s neglected roads. This truck doesn’t carve canyons, but that isn’t the point. It is made for the roads of America. The F-150 excels when the cruise control is set and the driver is navigating the wide-open expanses of North America. I would be comfortable driving this truck cross country or to the grocery store. This isn’t just a work truck anymore. While the F-150 can certainly be used for work and has millions of units in fleets, this truck is now our full-sized Ford sedan.

In this trim, the Ford F-150 makes a case that you would be foolish to lease another vehicle. Ford spends considerable time and money making sure truck customers will be happy. There is room for a family of five, even if that family is all over six feet tall. The interior has every cup holder and power port you could ever need. It also has a rear seat that flips up with a flat load floor. This truck also came equipped with the Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist 2.0 driver assistance suite that adds adaptive cruise, evasive steering assist, intersection assist, and navigation. It has every feature and option a family could want while prioritizing space and comfort.

Next, I was able to get some seat time in a 2021 Ford F-150 King Ranch SuperCrew with the brand new 3.5-liter PowerBoost engine. This engine is now the most powerful engine in the F-150 lineup. It generates 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. or torque. That is the most torque ever offered on an F-150. This is a full hybrid engine that pairs the 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6, a 35-kilowatt electric motor, and a modular hybrid transmission integrated into Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission.

Selecting this powertrain also adds a 2.4-kilowatt or 7.2 kilowatt Pro Power Onboard power source. Pro Power Onboard brings generator levels of power to wherever you take your truck. Our King Ranch tester featured the 7.2-kilowatt system that is accessible through in-cabin outlets, four 120-volt 20-amp bed outlets, and a 240-volt 30-amp bed outlet. This level of power will allow an F-150 owner to run multiple tools at the same time with steady power without surges or unstable voltage. I have asked Ford if they plan to offer a drop-in hot tub accessory, but they do not comment on future truck bed spa accessories.

On the road, the PowerBoost powered F-150 King Ranch is a luxury vehicle with a bed. The powertrain is extremely smooth and quiet, with power whenever you need it. It doesn’t have the audible burble of GM’s 6.2-liter V8 or the Hemi powered RAM, but it is more linear and direct. It is what you’ve come to expect from Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, but now with 14 percent more torque! I owned a hybrid for seven years so I prefer the braking on the PowerBoost equipped trucks to those with more conventional powertrains. They are less touchy than some conventional brakes while providing excellent stopping power. Regenerative braking also captures energy while extending the life of pads and rotors.

The F-150 King Ranch features a much more luxurious interior filled with brown and tan leather with dark wood. King Ranch badging can be found in numerous places, including the center arm rest. That center arm rest folds down into a flat surface that can be used for doing work or eating a bowl of soup. This particular truck was painted in the fetching Rapid Red metallic. The only improvement Ford could have made to the exterior was adding the two tone paint with the color keyed wheels. All of this luxury, power, and badging comes with a price. The test vehicle had an MSRP of $75,740, which includes a destination & delivery charge of $1,695. That is more than two 2021 F-150 XLs with the regular cab, short bed, and 5.0-liter V-8 engine. Ford isn’t struggling to find buyers though. The F-150 is America’s best-selling vehicle over $50,000.

The 2021 Ford F-150 is an evolutionary step from the previous generation truck. It looks similar, it features most of the same powertrains, and it features the same aluminum exterior construction. That alone wouldn’t leap frog some of the trucks RAM is building. However, Ford took its existing formula, and made it better. The interiors, which was the thirteenth generation F-150’s biggest gap to the current RAM 1500, have been significantly improved. I find the interior dash to be better laid out than the competitors.

Ford has also added a number of features to the F-150; an onboard generator, more standard driver-assist technologies, work surfaces on the tailgate and interior, over-the-air-updates, and zone lighting to differentiate it from its competitors. Ford also gives you more choices when it comes to engine, cab, bed, and trim configurations than GM or RAM. While I need more seat time to declare it the new king of Truck Mountain, if I were buying a full-sized truck, the 2021 Ford F-150 is where I would start my search.

[Images: © 2020 Adam Tonge]

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  • CKNSLS Sierra SLT CKNSLS Sierra SLT on Nov 26, 2020

    Just to clear up a point about towing and engine braking. As a rule you go DOWN the mountain in the same gear you went UP the mountain. Anyone toasting their brakes towing a trailer down the mountain is not downshifting correctly and/or has mis-adjusted trailer brakes.

    • DenverMike DenverMike on Nov 26, 2020

      The old fogeys say that. It assumes the grade coming up the mountain is the same one going down. Or you're backtracking. Or that you're not going up the mountain (empty) to pick up a heavy load. My diesel pickup with 700+ lbs/ft of torque likes to pull heavy loads up a 7% grade at 2250 RPM in 4th gear and 45 MPH. That's its sweet spot and it keeps the temps low. It could do it much faster, but I don't see the point. But 2250 RPM doesn't give much engine braking. I have no exhaust brake, but there's nothing wrong with using the (service) brakes within reason.

  • Petey Petey on Nov 26, 2020

    Its true about the lack of engine braking with the turbo motors, but its not a issue if you just slow down before the top of the hill and use the correct gears going down. Of course if your towing really heavy it might be more of a white knuckle event, but if your towing heavy, maybe you have a HD truck instead. Its also not a issue on flat grounds because we all know tugging around a few thousand pounds will create more then enough drag as it is.

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