2021 Ford F-150

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Updated: December 29, 2020

2021 Ford F-150

The Ford F-150 is a full-size pickup truck that ranges from a basic two-door work truck to a four-door luxury liner. Counting the available powertrains, cabin and bed sizes, models and trims, there are more than 40 F-150 configurations. Coincidentally, that’s about the same number of years that the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America.

To be precise, there are six powertrains, three cab sizes, three bed sizes, and six trim levels.

For 2021, the F-150 has been redesigned, with many changes, led by a hybrid powerplant for the first time: it’s a new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine with a 47-horsepower electric motor powered by a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery pack, and it gets 24 mpg. Another significant change is a 10-speed automatic transmission replacing the 6-speed. There are also subtle updates to the exterior, and modest refinements to the cabin, including a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone compatibility.

For 2021, standard active safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, and automatic high beams. There are also more optional active safety features, including the hardware for hands-free driving on 100,000 miles of mapped divided highways across North America.

A 3.3-liter V-6 equips base XL and XLT trims, but the most popular engine is a 2.7-liter turbo V-6 that’s standard on the Lariat. On the top Limited model, the engine is a 3.5-liter turbo V-6 with a towing capacity of 7 tons—it’s a version of the engine in the new hybrid. There’s also a 5.0-liter V-8 and 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that are rock-steady engines of the past.

The hybrid makes 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque, giving it awesome pull, and is mated to that 10-speed automatic. The hybrid only comes with a crew cab.

New options include a 12.0-inch touchscreen with the latest technology, front seats that can recline almost fully horizontal like a La-Z-Boy, and a power liftgate that can turn into a workspace.

That crew cab, or SuperCrew as Ford calls it, is as big as a lounge; it can seat six, with more rear leg room than most full-size SUVs. The extended cab and its rear-hinged rear doors cramps the legs of backseat riders, though there’s plenty of head room. The regular cab has a front bench seat that can fit three, and serves as the work truck. Three bed sizes range from 5.5 feet to 8 feet, which doesn’t come with the crew cab.

The 2.7-liter turbo-6 with rear-wheel drive gets an EPA-rated 20 city, 26 highway, 22 combined mpg, while the four-wheel-drive version gets 19/24/21 mpg. That’s an improvement of 1 mpg over last year, thanks to a new active air dam that deploys at speeds up to 40 mph, new active grille shutters, and more aerodynamic design tweaks.

The base 3.3-liter V-6 used mostly by fleets drops 1 mpg to 20/24/21 mpg with rear-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 gets 18/24/20 mpg; four-wheel drive improves 1 mpg over last year for 18/23/20 mpg. The 5.0-liter V-8 with four-wheel drive also gains 1 mpg, to 16/22/19 mpg.

The new hybrid with four-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 24/24/24 mpg; the EPA hasn’t released rear-wheel-drive figures for the hybrid. Available on all six trim levels, it uses a 3.5-liter turbo V-6 supplemented by a 47-horsepower electric motor powered by a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery pack. It has a 30.6-gallon fuel tank, while other engines have up to a 36-gallon tank.

For highway efficiency, however, the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 scores best, at 22/30/25 mpg with rear-wheel drive, or 20/25/22 mpg with four-wheel drive. That’s the 2020 model, as the EPA hasn’t tested the 2021 yet.

The IIHS and NHTSA haven’t tested the 2021 F-150 yet, but of course it’s a big pickup truck that will shrug off most crashes; however like most large vehicles including SUVs it can’t beat physics when it comes to rollover risk.

The XLT and above models add a system that Ford calls Co-Pilot 2.0, with blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, parking sensors, automatic emergency rear braking, and a post-collision braking system that applies brakes after impact to keep it from hitting another vehicle.

Other options include adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive steering that adjusts how much the wheels turn based on how much the driver turns the steering wheel at certain speeds, and blind-spot monitors that apply to towing a trailer.

That hands-free driving system is called Active Drive Assist, and it comes on the top Limited trim. The technology uses a camera and radar sensors to drive the vehicle for hours without driver interruption, but a driver-facing camera ensures the driver is paying attention and his eyes aren’t closed or cast down in their phone. The hardware can be purchased now through an Active 2.0 Prep Package ($995) but the software won’t be ready until mid-2021. It also includes parking sensors that can self-park the truck in perpendicular or parallel spots.

Model Lineup

The 2021 F-150 comes in XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trims.

The rear-wheel-drive XL costs $30,635 including destination fee, while four-wheel drive adds $3,500. Standard equipment includes manual windows, manual seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone compatibility, an integrated smartphone app, wi-fi hotspot, over-the-air updates, 17-inch steel wheels, a trailer mount with four-pin wiring, and automatic emergency braking.

The XLT for $36,745 adds power windows, locks, keyless entry, cruise control, blind-spot monitors and active lane control.

The $46,890 Lariat comes with the 2.7-liter turbo V-6, extended cab with 6.5-foot bed, leather upholstery, 12.0-inch touchscreen, digital instrument cluster, LED lighting, and 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels. There’s also zone lighting all around the truck to illuminate the work or camp site. Other conveniences include heated power folding mirrors, power sliding rear window, leather front seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, power-adjustable front seats, remote start, and more.

The $77,845 Limited SuperCrew comes with the new hybrid powertrain with all-wheel drive. Standard equipment includes a 2.4-kw onboard generator, front bucket front seats separated by a deep, tiered console, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, B&O sound system with 18 speakers, 22-inch polished aluminum wheels, power running boards, and a new tailgate with integrated C-clamps and bottle opener. The tech upgrades include a surround-view camera system to the Active Drive Assist hardware. If you need still more, options include a retractable tonneau cover, spray-in bedliner and a toolbox.

Exterior

The F-150 looks good. It’s familiar. It’s less blocky than the Chevy and GMC pickups, and less plain than the base Ram 1500. With 11 different grilles, 15 different colors, and 15 different wheel designs from 17 to 22 inches in diameter, the styling choices match the configuration choices.

The 2021 redesign includes a slightly wider track, from the moving of the mounting points of the suspension knuckles; but most of the other dimensions stay the same.

The daytime running lights extend into the bumper and connect with the lower fog lights, to make the front end look bigger. There’s no mistaking that light signature.

Over the roundish wheel arches, there’s a new curved metal stamp that is both sleek and subtle—there used to be black cladding there. A new character line on the rocker panels parallels a kink in the front windows. The cosmetic air intakes in the front fenders distinguish the six trim levels, while rounding of the intakes’ corners and an active air dam help improve aerodynamics.

Interior

Inside, the big dials, large buttons, and massive center console blend function with form. The centerpiece in the dash houses a 12.0-inch or 8.0-inch touchscreen, and the smaller one is flanked by blank black panels. There’s a wireless charging area under the center stack.

Higher trims balance leather with chrome, and American flags stamped in trim pieces can be found alongside a map of Detroit on door panels on certain trims, as if one needed a reminder of the F-150’s pedigree.

The center console has a hard flat work surface that flips out from the soft armrest. A sturdy gear shifter collapses into the console to enable the work surface, with storage in the deep console uncompromised. In fact, standard storage pockets abound; there’s dual glove boxes, big door pockets, and even bigger cupholders.

An available locker under the rear seats pops out from the floor and can be secured by folding down the 60/40-split rear seats. The locker can extend the full length of the floor, or be divided into just the narrower side. When not in use, it reverts to a flat floor for expansive rear cargo space or for a four-legged friend.

Two-door regular cabs have some limitations in comfort. The rear leg room in the extended cab is just 33.5 inches, less than many compact cars. The cloth front seats split in a 40/20/40 configuration, with the 20 part typically utilized as a lockable fold-down center console on XLT trims. The XL is meant for fleets and best for work. Regular cabs come with the 6-foot-6 bed on XL and XLT trims.

Bed sizes range from 5-foot-6, to 6-foot-6, or an available 8 feet on every model but the SuperCrew. Not every bed size or cab size is available on every trim.

The SuperCrew excels where the regular cab falls short, with a generous 43.6 inches of rear leg room, more than full-size SUVs.

Four-door extended cabs, or SuperCab in Ford speak, have a 6-foot-6 bed that’s standard on the Lariat and available with the XL and XLT trims—the long 8-foot bed is an option. The extended cab uses a rear hinge to open the rear doors.

King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trims move into the executive class with a huge crew cab and 5-foot-6 bed. They seat five adults better than many kitchen tables, and leather adorns everything from the center console lid and shifter knob to the steering wheel and heated and cooled front seats with at least 10-way power adjustments that become massagers on the C-Suite Limited trim.

For the ultimate in comfort and versatility, there are optional front seats that recline nearly 180 degrees. That’s like twin beds, for sleeping at rest stops on overnight drives, or even camping when there’s no time to pitch a tent or the weather is too poor. The seat cushions raise up to even out the lumps, but the lower lumbar area can still protrude.

An available power tailgate includes the F-150’s hidden step and pull handle, as well as a work surface on the tailgate with a built-in ruler, cupholder, and smartphone holder.

Driving Impressions

The 2021 F-150 gets praise here for its excellent turbo V-6 and smooth 10-speed, as well as its towing and off-road capability. The Lariat’s 2.7-liter turbo V-6 appeals to the most F-150 buyers, with 325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It can carry up to 2,480 pounds with the regular cab and tow up to 10,100 pounds in extended or crew cabs with four-wheel drive.

The base engine is a non-turbo 3.3-liter V-6 that powers the XL and XLT. It makes 290 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. With a regular cab and short box, it has a rough-and-tumble eagerness that makes up for a lack of quickness. With the 8-foot box, it can tow up to 8,200 pounds. Payload ranges between 1,765 to 1,985 pounds.

Who needs a V-8? Well, many pickup-truck buyers do. The 5.0-liter V-8 that comes with the King Ranch and Platinum models, because some truck types just can’t imagine a big pickup without a V-8. It makes 400 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, and can tow up to 13,000 pounds with any cab and any box. Payload maxes out at 3,325 pounds with the regular cab with the long box in rear-wheel drive.

Standard on the top Limited trim, the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 makes 400 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, carries the most weight and hauls the heaviest loads, with a 3,250-pound payload capacity in a regular-cab long box with rear-wheel drive, and a 14,000-pound tow rating in extended and crew cab models. Unladen, the turbo V-6 accelerates as quickly as many SUVs, and feels even quicker because of the high seating position and big bouncing body.

A 250-hp 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 makes 440 lb-ft of torque and has the same max towing capacity as the twin-turbo V-6. It gets the best highway fuel economy but can’t run with the other turbo V-6 engines. When you consider that it’s quite a bit more expensive, as is diesel fuel, it’s hard to justify, especially compared to the new hybrid.

The hybrid uses the same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 on Limited but supplements it with a 47-hp electric motor powered by a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery. The motor is packaged within the transmission so as to enable electric-only driving at some light loads and speeds of up to about 10 mph. That briefcase-size battery pack mounts on the frame under the floor at the rear of the cab, so cargo room isn’t compromised. Total output is 430 hp and 570 lb-ft, but the high torque rating doesn’t mean it can tow the most of any F-150. The hybrid only comes with the heavier crew cab, so payload maxes out at 2,120 pounds and towing at 12,700 pounds in rear-wheel drive with the 6-foot-6 bed.

The hybrid upgrades the 2.0-kw onboard generator available with the 2.7-liter, V-8 or 3.5-liter to a 2.4-kw generator that comes standard with dual 120-volt outlets in the bed for an 85-hour run time on a full tank, according to Ford. Or it could be upgraded on the hybrid to a 7.2-kw generator with four 120-volt and one 240-volt outlet for up to 32 hours of run time.

The hybrid powertrain operates seamlessly and remarkably quietly, unless in Sport mode for some simulated engine growl. When not hauling a load, the shifts on the 10-speed are nearly unnoticeable. But the system appears confused when stopping hard or accelerating hard out of a turn, with a lag that indicates it’s not as prepared for abrupt throttle inputs as a V-8. Sport mode diminishes but does not eliminate the pronounced lag.

As for handling, call it grudging. But we can’t think of any vehicle of that size that’s very willing to be pitched around. The F-150 handles like a truck.

The independent front suspension helps cushion the cabin, but with an empty bed, the 2021 F-150 has the usual bounciness of pickup trucks, on its solid rear axle and leaf springs.

There are two available four-wheel drive systems. The mechanical 4WD system on XL and XLT uses an electronic shift-on-the-fly system that Ford has used for some time in the F-150. But on Lariat and above trims, Ford employs a 2-speed torque-on-demand system that essentially acts like a part-time all-wheel drive system, shifting torque to the front wheels when the system detects slippage. Or the driver can manually override it by switching the transfer case into 4H for driving faster but with greater traction off-road, or into 4L for maximum traction at low speeds off-road, same as on the XL and XLT.

Final Word

Most F-150 buyers are experienced; they know what they’re getting, and, based on sales, they’re willing to pay for it. But the new hybrid introduces another option. It’s good, but so is the most popular 2.7-liter turbo-6, which gets the same highway fuel economy. We sure do like the new 10-speed automatic transmission that’s standard in every F-150.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection