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2022 Ford F-150 Lightning first ride review: Electric brawn, bright future

An early ride sitting shotgun reveals a surprising amount about Ford's game-changing electric pickup truck.

The reborn 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning may just revolutionize America's truck market. Revealed on Wednesday, this battery-powered rig looks and feels great, offers tons of clever features, is incredibly capable and should knock drivers' socks off when they see its low price. There's still a lot we don't know about the Lightning EV, and we haven't driven it just yet (President Joe Biden beat us to the punch), but we did get a chance to ride shotgun in an early tester, giving us a great idea of what's to come.

The Lightning features a standard dual-motor powertrain that provides mandatory full-time four-wheel drive. That's right -- there's no two-wheel-drive model just to max out range. Two battery sizes will be offered when the truck hits showrooms next year. Models fitted with the smaller pack should offer a range of 230 miles, while examples featuring the larger one ought to go 300 miles between charges. These numbers are lower than some of the Ford's upcoming rivals, but real-world performance will be the true yardstick for electric-truck performance, so we're not put off by comparisons to some of the Lightning's flashier would-be rivals from Tesla and GMC -- at least not yet. Like most EVs, this F-150 Lightning is the smooth, silent type, but we'll tell you what it feels like in motion, both on-road and off, as well as with a trailer in tow.

Excellent on-road performance

Driven normally, as observed keenly from the passenger's seat, this Lightning is a paragon of refinement. Its ride is smooth and planted, and that prodigious low-end torque means it has no trouble accelerating when a little extra oomph is called for. On top of that, the Lightning offers loads of midrange grunt, which is exactly what you need while towing or overtaking slower-moving traffic.

Give it the spurs and the Lightning can sprint from a standstill to 60 mph in the mid-4-second range, which isn't as quick as some competing EVs, but you know what? It doesn't matter, not one iota. Sure, a Tesla Model S Plaid might outrun this Ford (hitting mile-a-minute velocity in a claimed 2 seconds), but the Lightning is still plenty speedy, fleet enough to make your organs squirm when you go full-throttle (full-potentiometer?) at launch. If you're really in a hurry, according to Ford, this truck tops out at a heady 105 mph.

Despite being shaped like a slightly weathered brick (a building block that also happens to be the most aerodynamic F-150 ever built), the Lightning remains luxury-car quiet inside, even at 80 mph. Wind and tire noise are scarcely noticeable, at least on Ford's bowling lane-smooth test track. Driven out in the real world, where there are potholes and expansion joints, this rig may be a skosh louder inside, but still, its overall refinement is tremendous.

This all-electric F-150 is also blessed with weight distribution that's much closer to 50:50 than a gas-powered model. With that ginormous battery pack underneath its floor, the Lightning also has a significantly lower center of gravity, meaning it should handle noticeably better than other F-150s.

This all-electric truck's frame is massive, providing a solid foundation and helping shield the sensitive battery pack.

Nick Miotke/Nate Reed/Roadshow

A stable towing platform

When properly equipped, the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning can haul up to 2,000 pounds and tow a whopping 10,000 lbs. Naturally, the same things that make this all-electric truck a strong performer in everyday driving also make it an excellent towing platform.

Ford eagerly demonstrated the Lightning's schlepping abilities at its Michigan Proving Ground. With a claimed 6,000 pounds in tow, 60% of the truck's max, it felt solid and secure. Never did it feel like the trailer was controlling the truck. Of course, it might be a different story if I were behind the wheel, but I suspect this all-electric F-150's curb-crushing heft helps keep everything planted. Ford hasn't released an estimated weight for this truck, but it's got to be significantly huskier than a standard, combustion-powered model.

Showing off its raw grunt, my test driver took the Lightning up a 25% grade, which doesn't sound that steep until you see it filling the windshield. With 3 tons in tow, the truck had no trouble tackling this rather daunting hill, easily putting it in the rearview mirror, all while emitting nothing more than a whirr. Any gasoline- or diesel-powered truck would have been straining to do the same, generating all kinds of unwanted noise and tailpipe emissions in the process.

Craving more 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning news? We've got you covered:

Ford F-150 Lightning sneaks into view during Biden visit to Blue OvalTo ensure that the Lightning can manage grades like that day in and day out, Ford says the truck's cooling systems have been optimized. The battery pack and electric motors should have no heat-related durability concerns or face any thermal throttling, even in extreme conditions.

The Lightning comes with a range of driving modes, including one tailored for towing and hauling. This setting should adjust myriad parameters to make trailering just a little less stressful. One of the most obvious things tow-haul mode does is help keep the truck's speed under control while going down hills. Since there's no transmission to downshift or engine to rev, this feature uses regenerative braking to help keep the speedometer needle from maxing out on declines, sending recuperated energy back into the battery for use while climbing the next hill. And unlike a combustion-powered truck, this process is basically silent.

Despite its generous proportions and hefty weight, the Lightning feels pretty amazing off-road, at least from the passenger's seat. 

Nick Miotke/Nate Reed/Roadshow

Built for the trail

Disconnect the trailer and head for the dirt and you'll probably be impressed by the Lightning's off-road performance. In addition to standard full-time four-wheel drive, it also comes with a simulated locking rear differential for added traction in rough conditions.

The 2022 Lightning was tested to the same durability standards as regular F-Series trucks. Ford says no exceptions were made for this rig just because it happens to be electric. Case in point: the all-important battery pack. This sucker is protected by steel and shielded by skid plates, which can take a beating -- as one test driver was eager to demonstrate, deliberately bashing the truck's belly every chance he had.

One of the Lightning's four drive modes is tailored for off-road use. It adjusts the accelerator mapping, antilock braking system and power delivery to help the truck excel in nasty conditions. But what really impresses is the Lightning's fancy new independent rear suspension setup. Driven aggressively over ruts and across washboard surfaces, this truck is remarkably planted. Sure, its probable Godzilla-like weight helps keep things on an even keel, but even when pushed hard, the Lightning's rear remained where it should, never stepping out or shimmying from side to side like a live axle would do when subjected to the same abuse. Beyond that, the truck felt rock-solid, as stiff as any unibody vehicle, free of any judders or jiggles, rattles or shakes, which was seriously impressive.

Reserve one today

After just a few minutes in the right-front seat, I was blown away by this new Lightning. Its performance is strong, it has loads of capability and the truck is so refined you might think it was built by a luxury brand. If you like what you've seen so far, you should be able to reserve a new Lightning right now. Just go to Ford.com and plunk down a $100 deposit. 

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