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Driven: 2021 Ford F-150 Looks the Same, Packs New Ideas and Hybrid Power

Ford’s bread-and-butter money-maker is shockingly useful.

Aaron GoldcontributorManufacturerPhotographer

LEBEC, California—The most interesting thing about the new 2021 Ford F-150 isn't the engine or the new interior or the new safety features. It's a nondescript set of power outlets, hidden around back in the bed, consisting of four standard 120-volt, 20-amp plugs and one big-momma 240V/30A. Electrical outlets in cars are nothing new, but Ford's optional Pro Power Onboard system can supply up to 7.2 kilowatts, fed by the new Powerboost hybrid powertrain. According to Ford, that's enough power to run a plasma cutter, a TiG welder, a chop saw, an air compressor, an angle grinder and a work light—all at once—for up to 32 hours until the gas tank runs dry. Power outage at the homestead? No problem! Break out a few extension cords and the 2021 Ford F-150 can literally keep the lights on, not to mention the fridge, the TV, and maybe an air conditioner or two.

Now, we are not suggesting power outlets are the most notable thing about the 2021 Ford F-150. (We're not saying they're the least notable thing, either.) Personally, I point them out because they are metaphor for what makes Ford's trucks so great: Ford engineers look at the pieces they already have and figure out what else they can do with them. We have a motor on the steering column and radar on the back bumper? Great, let's make a truck that steers your trailer in reverse. We've got enough electricity to help move a 2-and-3/4-ton truck? Great, let's use it to power a metal shop or a house.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid Test: More Than Just a Pretty Set of Power Outlets

There's a lot more that's new here in the 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid we tested besides the power outlets, even if it's not all very obvious. Take the sheet metal, which is all new from bumper to bumper—but if you can tell the outgoing Ford F-150 from a 2021 F-150 at a glance, then you're a way bigger Ford know-it-all than most people are.

Ditto for the interior, which looks very much like that of the outgoing truck, though there are more functional changes than first meet the eye. One favorite is the optional 12-inch center screen—a traditional landscape layout, yes, but Ford has done a nifty split-screen layout that makes it easy to switch between, say, tunes and navigation. (Yes, a lot of automakers do split-screens, but now Ford does it better.) Pop the truck into reverse and you see both the backup camera and the 360-degree birds-eye camera on the screen—both big, bright, and crisp. Very nice.

The new (optional, again) digital dash is a bit of a disappointment. Most of it's great: Razor-sharp graphics, Disney-smooth animation, and lots of nifty other animations, especially when you change drive modes or when the navigation system gives you next-turn directions. But the gauges themselves, meaning the speedo and tach, are boring and unadorned, much as they are in Lincoln's SUVs. Call me finicky (because I am), but I preferred the chrome-ring analog gauges in the volume-selling XLT trim.

As it happens, an XLT was the first iteration of the F-150 I drove. For a low-level, cloth-upholstered pickup truck, I thought the 2021 Ford F-150 XLT's cabin was pretty darn nice, with high-quality plastics and fabrics. But then I saw the price tag for this nicely equipped example: $61,000. Yikes!

Driving the 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid and V-8

A big part of the price jump is the new PowerBoost hybrid drivetrain, which adds $4,495 to the cost of a 2021 Ford F-150. (The 7,200-watt power-plug setup adds a further $750; a two-plug, 2,400-watt setup is standard with the hybrid.) Expensive? Well, consider that Ford adds electrical assistance not to its base engine, but to the top-of-the-line 3.5-liter, twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6. Total system output is 430 horsepower and 570 lb-ft, an increase of 30 hp and 70 lb-ft over the EcoBoost engine alone; stomp the accelerator and it's muscle-car quick. Fuel economy is 24-mpg city and highway, compared to 18/23 for the non-hybrid EcoBoost.

Where the hybrid system really showed its advantage was while towing. I took out a hybrid F-150 with a 5,500-pound Airstream trailer, a burden with which I am familiar—at home I tow a two-horse trailer which is about the same weight when loaded. I have spent most of my career avoiding the cliché, "It drove like the trailer wasn't even there!" but, well, that's what it felt like, particularly at low speeds. The 3.5 EcoBoost has always been a great towing engine (and so is the smaller 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6), but that low-end electric boost really makes the trailer disappear.

Next, I took a spin in a one-from-the-top Platinum trim truck, this time equipped with Ford's 400-hp, 410-lb-ft, 5.0-liter V-8. Gosh, I thought to myself as I drove, I remember when any pickup truck worth its salt had an eight-cylinder engine. Nowadays, five of the 2021 Ford F-150's six engines (3.3, 2.7 turbo, 3.5 turbo, 3.5 turbo hybrid, and 3.0 turbodiesel) are V-6s, and the V-8 really is a special treat—it rumbles and howls like a 5.0 Mustang, loud enough to make the bigger 350 V-8 in my 27-year-old Chevy pickup cower in a corner. And the V-8 wasn't the only special treat in this high-end F-150: It had massaging seats upholstered in hi-luxe leather, and a panoramic glass roof that stretched nearly corner-to-corner. Then again, with a price tag approaching $71,000, it had damn well better make me feel special.

So how did the 2021 Ford F-150 drive? Just fine, thanks. Truth be told, all the full-size pickups drive so well today, it becomes difficult to dissect the experience as you might with a sporty sedan. The new F-150 is smooth and quiet, with just enough suspension stiffness to remind you you're driving a pickup truck and not an SUV, even as the upscale cabin fittings try to convince you otherwise.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid Test: Lots of New Stuff, but It's the Big Picture We Like

There are about a dozen other talking points I know Ford would like to see mentioned as part of this test, such as the lie-flat power seats and a transmission shifter that collapses into the center console (intentionally, that is, not as a consequence of poor build quality) so you can unfold the armrest into a writing desk. There's the power tailgate, with a molded-in ruler (English and metric) and C-clamp spaces so you can use the tailgate as a work surface.

The aerodynamics are better, there's lockable storage under the crew cab's rear seats, and of course you can still get that nifty steer-the-trailer-in-reverse thing. You can use your phone to turn on individual exterior lights, transforming the 2021 Ford F-150 into the world's most expensive flashlight. Let's see—Bang & Olufsen stereo, tons of new driver-assistance features, best-in-class towing and payload of 14,000 and 3,325 pounds, respectively (when equipped right, of course) ... It's a list that will no doubt keep Ford's marketing mavens in busy employment until the next F-150 is due in 2027, or at least until the electric F-150 appears, which shouldn't be too much longer.

But what really struck me is the maturity of the whole design. Ram is making its pickups over-the-top nice in an effort to atone for years of trucks with crappy interiors. GM, meanwhile, is trying to masquerade what cutting edge tech it has in what looks like the same truck you've been buying for years, pushrod V-8s and all.

Ford, meanwhile, feels like the manufacturer with nothing to prove. It just keeps listening to its customers, coming up with more useful and creative features, and packing them into a truck that just works. I suppose, if you had an inescapable urge to wax poetic, you could call the new 2021 Ford F-150 the bright shining light of the full-size pickup market—and in hybrid form, it's the one bright shining light that comes with a place to plug itself in.


2021 Ford F-150 Highlights

  • New for 2021
  • New hybrid and diesel powertrains
  • Max payload 3,325 lb, max towing 14,000 lb

2021 Ford F-150 Pros

  • New hybrid powertrain is very quick
  • Quiet ride and good-for-a-truck handling
  • 12-inch center screen is excellent
  • Lots of features and abilities truck users will value

2021 Ford F-150 Cons

  • Digital speedo/tach are a little dull
  • It remains to be seen how much the hybrid power will help real-world fuel economy
2021 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 SuperCrew PowerBoost Specs
PRICE $45,500/$61,251 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.5L twin-turbo DOHC 25-valve V-6 + electric motor/430 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 570 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE 24/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 231.7 x 79.9 x 77.2 in
WHEELBASE 145.4 in
WEIGHT 5,517 lb
0-60 MPH 5.3 sec