By on November 19, 2020

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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53 Comments on “2021 Ford F-150 First Drive: Now With Even More Torque...”


  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting. When I was truck shopping 5 years ago, the first number I wanted to see was payload. What’s the payload of the King Ranch hybrid F-150?

    While turbocharging can push an amazing amount of horsepower and torque out of these small engines, they don’t help with engine braking . . . which varies directly with displacement. For “truck” use (i.e. hauling a load or pulling a load), engine braking is an important characteristic.

    So, at least some of these vehicles are moving very far away from “truck” purposes, even though they look like trucks.

    And, BTW, the 6.2 liter engine in my truck is quite linear in its power delivery. By contrast the 3.5 liter turbocharged Ecoboost Fords that I drove had the non-linear power delivery that seems to be characteristic of turbocharged engines.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      2120 lbs

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The Coyote V8 is better suited for “truck” uses, over all, even if the others turbo V6s have it in towing and acceleration. It’s a direct competitor to the GM 6.2 and 5.7 Hemi.

      Plus you can get the Coyote on the base truck, column shift, jumpseat/armrest, etc, with a wide selection of axle choices, similar to the 5.7/Ram.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I had a rental EB 3.5 F150 a few years ago while my F150 5.4 supercrew was in the body shop. I quite enjoyed the power characteristics of the EB 3.5. There is a considerable amount of torque right off of idle. It stays close to that peak for a long time. Revving the engine too high was counterproductive since you’d fall off the torque curve. I do agree that there isn’t much in the way of compression braking. I wasn’t a fan of the EPS and I did not like the E-locker. A limited slip would have been nicer for the winter.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “For “truck” use (i.e. hauling a load or pulling a load), engine braking is an important characteristic.”

      For a 1/2 ton PU??? Not even a consideration unless maybe your towing something heavy enough to require tandem axles over Vail pass regularly.

      But then I would have proper brakes on the trailer to the point that it stops itself.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Maybe you’ve never towed a 7600 lb. GVWR Airstream travel trailer. A few months ago, as I was heading out of Jackson, WY on the 10% grade state Rt. 22, I smelled the distinct odor of someone’s overheated brakes. That driver probably wished for a little more engine braking, assuming he/she had some idea of what he/she was doing.

        The issue with towing something bigger than a pop-up camper is not stopping, but maintaining a reasonable speed on long down grades without frying the service brakes . . . on both the tow vehicle and trailer.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Engine braking isn’t everything. The trailer should be able to stop itself and help stop the tow vehicle.

          With limited traction, too much engine braking and the trailer will jackknife on you. Or on a sharp curve, it’ll want to push the tow vehicle’s rear-end over the double yellow.

          It takes a combination of both. But never try to conserve the trailers brakes. In theory you want put more wear on them than the tow vehicle’s brakes, since they’re cheaper to service/repair.

        • 0 avatar
          Old_WRX

          DC Bruce,

          Completely correct about the importance of engine braking in hauling a load. Trailer brakes should be able to do their share in an emergency stop. But, on a long downgrade any heavily loaded vehicle has to use primarily engine braking. If they don’t you’re going to have hot brakes and then no brakes. Big trucks will generally go down a grade in the highest gear that does not require use of the service brakes. I can’t imagine that the average pickup/trailer rig anywhere near the GCWR is going to be any different.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Big trucks use a Jake or exhaust braking and they’re so effective that it’s possible to go down a long and steep grade without touching the service brakes except when traction is poor.

            That’s not possible with 1/2 ton pickups towing a considerable load on long steep grade. Brake applications are just part of the deal.

            “TFL Truck” tested the top three (Big 3) 1/2 tons down 1-70 starting at the Eisenhower Tunnel at 50 MPH with a 9,200 lbs trailer. It’s a 7% grade for 8 miles.

            All 3 trucks required 10 firm brake applications for the run when they reached 60 MPH, bringing them back down to 50.

            The pickups were set on “Tow Haul” mode, and allowed the truck’s computers to decide the downshifts. All came with the “Max Tow” option with rear-end gears between 3.42 and 3.92.

            Obviously using the manual/paddle shifter would’ve had somewhat better results, but still their computers ran them up to around 4,500 RPM before needing brake application.

            Of course it’s not advised to ride the brakes.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            youtube.com/watch?v=TgtBH2xOObE&t=3s

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I long for the days of the 300 c.i. straight 6, a column shift and a bench seat.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      As a tailgating at the ball game or grab some plywood at Home Depot truck? Sure why not. But as a daily driver, which is what most of these trucks are used for? Ummm no way.

      I agree these monsters (in both size and cost) are complete overkill, but clearly the days of a simple & basic truck are long gone.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @JMII – crewcab 1/2 tons are the new sedan. A pickup in many respects is a better investment than most vehicles due to the versatility. My truck is a DD and it gets used for virtually every other function under the sun.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      You have still have the latter two.

      I miss body panels you can touch without denting a lot more than I miss 140 horse motors.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “I long for the days of the 300 c.i. straight 6, a column shift and a bench seat.”

      Said no one ever that’s bought a new PU in the last 20-30 years.

      Seriously bench seats suck which is why people who buy PU trucks w/them have their employees drive them.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Seriously bench seats suck”

        Why? On these trucks the 40/20/40 bench and buckets have the exact same outboard seats. The only difference is if you get the console or middle jumpseat/storage box combo. It isn’t like the bench option is some flat thing from the 1970s.

        And FWIW you can still get a bench+column shifter up to the Lariat trim if someone so desires.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          It’s like a bench seat with the center “20” a jumpseat. It’ll fold into an armrest, but they still suck.

          The good new is it’s in a fixed location, separate from the buckets, meaning it can be unbolted and ditched.

          Why? I like to build custom carpeted and “bar height” work/breakfast tables, big enough hold a laptop, lunch and more. It can be deep, secure storage too, or sub box, or both.

          But it’s not possible with the factory console/shifter.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            You’ll be glad it’s not 1992 and there are no more “bench seats”. They didn’t recline and were basically a padded bus-stop bench.

            Today even the most basic work trucks have the same bucket seats as the Big Horn, King Ranch, Limited, High Country, Denali, etc.

            The only difference is the fabric/skin, console/shifter instead of jumpseat in between, power movement vs manual, and heat/cool/massage options obviously.

            But inside, the buckets are the exact same build/padding/etc.

            Yeah what a great time to be ALIVE!

        • 0 avatar
          nrd515

          I haven’t sat on a bench seat in a pickup for a long time, but last time I was shopping for one, a couple of minutes sitting on one made me tell the salesman, “Nope, no bench seat for me!”. I doubt they’ve gotten any better.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “I doubt they’ve gotten any better.”

            What didn’t you like about it? My friend has a bench seat Silverado and my father has a bucket seat Ram. Honestly, I see hardly any difference at all from a comfort perspective. I’m 99% sure that the outboard seats are the same with either option on every MY2021 half-ton.

            It’s just a case of if you want a little more storage versus if you want the jump seat. The way commenters are responding it makes me think there is something I’m missing here.

        • 0 avatar
          tobiasfunkemd

          I have a 2019 F-150 XLT Supercrew 4×2 with the 2.7 Ecoboost. I actually wanted the bench seat – at 6’8″, I was tired of my knees hitting the center console and full-size pickups were the only option available. If driven delicately, I’ve been able to pull 27 mpg in Cali freeway driving. Someone wiser than I in the commentariat here at TTAC wrote “you can either have the eco or the boost, but not both”. Truer words have never been written. FWIW, I got it for $33k out the door, decently equipped. Full size trucks can be had for non-WTF pricing, but you have to be ruthless in eliminating vehicles with unneeded options.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @Carlson Fan. Agreed. I don’t understand the desire to own an underpowered uncomfortable vehicle. My 2010 F150 is vastly superior to my 1990 F250 or any truck my dad had.

        • 0 avatar
          Imagefont

          I had a 76 F250, supercab with an 8 foot bed. That’s before Ford started putting soft, compliant suspensions in 3/4 ton trucks, as they do today. I enjoyed that truck, it’s was actually fun to drive. It’s VIN indicated it was built with a 300 I6 but mine had a transplanted 302 in it. The 300 I6 was quite reliable, simple, lots of low end torque. Trucks aren’t sports cars even though most people drive them too fast.
          I’ve rented plenty of F150s over the years and I dislike the engine options. In particular the V8 does not feel particularly powerful. The transmission is always hunting for the right gear. Large displacement engines that make a lot of torque right from idle are a pleasure to drive in a truck, which is what all the turbo V6’s are trying to emulate – with the unavoidable turbo lag at a stop light.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            What was the axle ratio? I doubt a rental company will order it the way you want it.

            The ratio or final drive is what gives a truck its character. Too economical (low #) and it dilutes the power and spreads the shifts apart.

            All are too eager to upshift, which makes it worse. You might try disconnecting the battery for a half hour, when you rent one, so it can unlearn all the previous driver’s style of driving.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Imagefont – I found turbo lag minor and any lag wasn’t appreciably different than that of my 5.4 F150. In some cases the traction control system does too good of a job off the line. My 5.4 is in some respects similar to the EB3.5 where it isn’t a “foot meets floor” type of motor. Both engines don’t like to rev and feel more responsive to a steady throttle input where you ride the torque curve.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “Both engines don’t like to rev and feel more responsive to a steady throttle input where you ride the torque curve.”

            I don’t know about the old 5.4L but current turbo engines are kind of like that. My Stinger “torque surfs” better than my Charger RT but if you’re driving it hard the NA V8 was more responsive.

            I guess it depends what kind of driving experience you’re looking for. I’d probably go with the Coyote personally.

        • 0 avatar
          nrd515

          My first truck was a Dodge Power Wagon with a 2 barreled 360 in it with a claimed 165HP. It was slower than hell and as soon as the warranty was done, it got a cam, headers, an intake and a 4 barrel carb. At that point, it was an ok driver, but still nothing to be thrilled over. The nostalgia for old gutless trucks confuses me.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            What were the axle ratios (f/r)? Stock tires? It sounds like it was just geared wrong for performance/hauling/towing.

  • avatar
    Dan

    $60K sticker for an XLT is eye watering. Even with the usual invoice – 5000 in rebates that’s still 50 OTD. For plastic seats and the base motor. You’d think that all of that Zimbabwe dollar printing we’re doing has consequences.

    As far as the truck I like the onboard generator idea but I never got used to the unpleasant noises my 2016 makes and my next truck will have a V8 again, period. If Ford has the sense to put the 7.3 in a half ton I’ll buy it, failing that it’s probably back to Ram.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “If Ford has the sense to put the 7.3 in a half ton I’ll buy it”

      The prevailing internet rumor is that Ford is going to drop the Coyote and 6.2L and change to a 6.8L pushrod engine based on the 7.3L design. This would go in the F-Series and Mustang.

      I’d say it makes sense for Ford to consolidate down to 1 gasoline V8 family, the HD trucks will probably be the final V8 things on the road so it has a bit of a future, and a (MPFI?) pushrod engine should be cheaper to build than a DOHC/SOHC design. Crazy that the last Mustang with a V8 might use a 413CI pushrod motor.

      cnet.com/roadshow/news/ford-6-8-liter-v8-engine-godzilla/

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        I’d buy that for a dollar!

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I was never a fan of the high revving nature of the Coyote. It did eventually double the HP of the old Windsor “5.0”, but never came close to doubling its torque. That would take 600 lbs/ft.

        The DOHC makes better use of less displacement, except the Coyote is bigger and heavier than the GM 6.2 for around the same output and fuel consumption.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    An XLT with cloth seats and the 2.7L is $60K?

    I’m not usually one to complain about pricing, but that was loaded Lariat or King Ranch territory not that long ago.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Truck prices are just like gasoline prices: people will pay anything to have it.

      But it’s an easy “no” for me since I have no use for a truck, while obviously many others do.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Playing with the Build and Price tool, it looks like there may be more overlap of the trims than there used to be. An XLT still starts at $35K ($40 for a crew cab). A Platinum starts under $60K.

        I revise my criticism, because it’s a good thing to offer more features ala carte on a lower trim.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I spent more on an XL, STX package than the base XLT no problem. The dealer built a (demo) truck with every possible XL/STX option, plus bedliner, and it looks like a base Lariat/FX4 with color-key chrome delete and others.

          It’s shame only pickups can be had this way, and only from the Big 3.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece Adam.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m sure it won’t matter to Ford, and maybe some other trims would pique my interest, but I don’t really care for this one.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    If it wasn’t obvious that trucks are the North American version of an S-Class, it should be now.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “This truck doesn’t carve canyons, but that isn’t the point.”

    Interestingly, according to C&D specs, this F150 (specifically the hybrid version) almost exactly mirrors the performance of the 1983 Lamborghini Countach, except with double the mileage.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Yowzer $60k?? It was only a few years ago I had a 2016 Silverado LT Z71 with leather and the 5.3. That thing had an MSRP of around $43, but was like $10k less after incentives.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      Rare to find a Chevy around that year in LT trim w/leather seats.

      Looking at 2014-2016 GM 1/2 ton PU trucks, my biggest complaint is the only way to get leather seats is in an LTZ Chevy or SLT GMC. And I will never spend money again on a PU w/cloth seats.

      I had salesman at a Chevy dealership tell me how quickly new trucks in LT trim sell if they have a leather interior.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Amazing how much the Ram still tromps this.

    Pathetic refresh, exterior only slightly changed. Interior is better but still lacks the quality of the Ram and overall the design isn’t anything spectacular. Powertrains continue to be lackluster.

    This is a mediocre refresh at best. Ram still is the king of the hill.

  • avatar
    johnnyz

    I order a 2021. I had to have adaptive cruise control, once you have it you cannot go back.

    I like leather too. Ended up going Lariat for the leather, then tried to add the cc. Problem is they make you add the 360 camera for the cc. Add that up and you are getting close to the cost of 502A premium Lariat package… Led bending headlights, auto wipers, heated steering wheel… There goes $6920.

    3.55 locker. 3.5 motor. 4×4. Sunroof.

    Gets expensive real quick.

    Get this for $995 you can get the active prep package. Which will allow auto driving features later. I said no getting too pricy.

    Suppose to be delivered bef X-mas. Iconic silver over black.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Ugly squinting headlights; UGLY.
    Next, mediocre front bumper.
    Is this vehicle a fish that lives at a depth of one mile that doesn’t need eyes?

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