The Ford F-150 is the best-selling pickup in America for a reason: It just works. Whether on the job or at play, the F-150 has long been the reliable stalwart in this segment, even in the face of tough competition like the Ram 1500. This year marks the introduction of the 14th-gen F-150, bringing with it some innovative features and new technologies that should keep it at the head of its class for years to come.
Arguably the biggest news this year is the availability of an onboard generator, something that came in handy earlier this year when a good chunk of Texas was without power. My test truck has a 2-kilowatt generator with two 120-volt, 20-amp outlets, which is perfect for tailgating or running smaller tools on a job site. A 2.4-kW generator is standard on F-150 PowerBoost hybrid models, and a larger 7.2-kW generator is optional, with four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets, and one 240-volt, 30-amp plug. Ford says you could set up a mobile welding shop with this much juice.
More innovative tricks are found inside the F-150. The gear selector can fold flat into the center console, making way for a fold-down surface that provides 15 inches of flat work space. I love the new Max Recline seats, too -- as someone who routinely puts in 12-hour days behind the wheel, being able to lay down at nearly 180 degrees to have a quick snooze is delightful. The reclining seats are super comfortable too, with the cushions rearranging themselves to make a flat surface with no dip between the seat back and bottom cushions.
The F-150's shape and size doesn't really change this year, even though all the sheet metal is new. Drivers will mostly notice the newly designed stacked headlamps bisected by a horizontal line running across the fascia. Those are set off by LED fog lights and daytime running lights. Higher-level trims like the King Ranch pictured here get lots of exterior chrome and include 20-inch polished wheels and metallic trim across the tailgate, proudly proclaiming that you are indeed the king of the ranch. Overall, the F-150 is a nice-looking truck, and a little more buttoned-up and tidy than its predecessor.
You really can't beat the Ford F-150 as far as configurability is concerned. Available with six powertrains, three cab options and three bed lengths, there's a wealth of customization to be had. And that's before you dig into the six different trim levels and two- and four-wheel drive options.
Regardless of which options you select, the F-150's powertrains don't disappoint. New for this year, Ford offers the PowerBoost hybrid, which we've already tested. This time around, I have the 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 gas engine, but you can also get the F-150 with a 3.3-liter V6, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 5.0-liter V8 and 3.0-liter diesel V6.
The gas-only 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has 400 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque which is plenty of power for everyday driving, and the truck has plenty of gutsy midrange punch for highway passing. The 10-speed automatic transmission is a dream, with smooth, imperceptible upshifts and easy downshifts that can jump three or four gears at a time when power is needed.
The PowerBoost hybrid adds $2,500 to the F-150's bottom line, but it's definitely the engine I'd get, especially when you consider it's rated to return 24 mph with four-wheel drive. The normal 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is EPA-estimated to return 20 mpg, though during a week of testing, I only saw 17.5 mpg.
As for ride quality, well, the F-150 drives like a truck. That is to say it can be a little bouncy and floaty, especially with my tester's FX4 package with off-road tuned front shocks. It's par for the course here, but if you want a nice-riding truck, the Ram 1500 with its coil-spring setup or optional air suspension is the one to buy. Nice as the Ford is, Ram's truck is much more comfortable over the long haul.
The F-150's towing and payload specs depend on configuration. A longer-wheelbase truck with rear-wheel drive will tow more than a shorter-wheelbase pickup with four-wheel drive. My truck with the tow package, short bed and four-wheel drive can handle 11,000 pounds, but depending on your spec you can tow anywhere from a paltry 5,000 pounds to a whopping 14,000 pounds. However, if you're going to tow that much on the regular, it's usually better to upgrade to a heavy-duty truck which will have the bigger brakes and sturdier frame to make towing 14,000 pounds easier. Sure, the F-150 will do it, but you'll enjoy the experience more in a bigger truck.
As for payload, my tester can handle 2,100 pounds in the bed, but again, you can haul more or less depending on configuration, anywhere from 1,705 pounds to 3,325 pounds. As for the competition, the Ram 1500 can tow a maximum of 11,650 pounds and haul 2,320 pounds in the bed. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 can tow 13,300 pounds and carry 2,280 pounds of payload.
Ford upped its trailer technology game for 2021, as well. There's a new reverse guide with five cameras and a little graphic that tells you which way to turn the steering wheel, since that can often be confusing. (Remember, backing up a trailer means turning the wheel to the left to move the trailer to the right.) You can also just use the Pro Trailer Back-Up Assist, where you turn a dial in the direction you want the trailer to go and the truck handles the guesswork for you. The Ram 1500 has a similar feature.
However, Chevrolet has cameras available all over the Silverado, including one that allows drivers to sort of see through their trailer and know what's behind them. There are four available hitch views, six available driving views and five available parking views. If you even get this close to hitting something in the Silverado, you'll know about it -- or at least be able to see if happening.
The F-150 got a major tech upgrade, including a 12-inch display. Running Ford's new Sync 4 infotainment system, this infotainment system is faster and more powerful than the outgoing tech and drivers can use a split-screen feature to control multiple functions at the same time. Sync has always been pretty easy to use, and it just gets better with this upgrade. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are here and they're a breeze to set up.
My tester also has a 12-inch digital gauge cluster with some cool graphics and more information than you could ever need. I choose to keep it simple with my speed front and center but I could include drive mode graphics and navigation information, to name a few.
Most F-150 trims get Ford's Co-Pilot 360 2.0 suite of driver's aids standard, including front and rear emergency braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring. My tester goes big with adaptive cruise control, lane centering and a new intersection assist that can mitigate an imminent crash when turning left into oncoming traffic.
Ford is also getting into the hands-free driving game with a late-availability Super Cruise-like system called Active Drive Assist. On certain mapped and divided highways the F-150 will allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel, although a driver-facing camera makes sure your eyes remain on the road. Expect it to come to the F-150 later this year through an over-the-air update.
The F-150's cabin gets a nice upgrade, though the Ram 1500 still takes the cake in terms of overall comfort and refinement. Loaded F-150s can be had with open-pore wood, as well as heated, cooled and massaging front seats. There are also plenty of storage places including a center console that can hold Roadshow's favorite snacks: a six-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and a Costco-sized box of Cheez-Its with plenty of room left over.
The power-deploying running boards and handles on the A-pillars make hauling my butt up into the truck easier, and adjustable pedals help both short and tall people find a good driving position. Having found mine, however, it is a bit difficult to reach the center touchscreen without leaning forward quite a bit. This is a big truck, y'all.
The F-150 range covers a huge swath of prices. A base XL starts at $30,635 (including $1,695 for destination), but a fully loaded Limited can reach above $80,000. Personally, I'd stick with a midrange Lariat. It's no fancy-pants model, but it's also much less expensive and still well equipped. I'd add the extra driver's aids but I would most like skip the package needed for the Active Drive Assist as it ends up adding nearly $7,000 to the bottom line. I'd add the trailer tow package and the hybrid powertrain which gives me the 2.4-kW generator. And of course, the Max Recline seats. I'm all in at $58,8155 including $1,695 for destination. Meanwhile, the King Ranch you see here comes in around $76,000.
With new features, lots of powertrains, great tech and tons of capability, the F-150 continues to offer tons of choice for a wide variety of truck customers. All things considered, the F-150 is definitely positioned to keep its best-selling truck crown for years to come.