- I tested a 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck, in the upscale Lariat trim level with a SuperCrew cab, a 4×4 drivetrain, and a terrific 400-horsepower V6 engine.
- The new F-150 is the 14th generation of a full-size pickup truck that’s been part of Ford’s bestselling F-Series franchise since the 1980s.
- Pickup trucks have become wildly popular in the US, with Ford and Detroit rivals Chevy, GMC, and RAM duking it out for customers.
- How good is the new F-150? Very, very good. Ford has improved on a pickup that was already incredibly capable and compelling.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Here’s the thing about the almighty Ford F-150: you know it’s part of the F-Series of pickups, long America’s bestselling vehicles, and you know that Ford has truly put its heart and soul as a company into making sure it stays on top.
That’s meant risk after risk. For the previous generation, rolled out in 2014, Ford re-engineered the chassis to use more lightweight aluminum and brought a turbocharged six-cylinder engine into the picture. That was generation 13, and for generation 14, which debuted earlier this year, Ford has continued to push forward.
And it had to. Competition in this segment is fierce. Both Chevy and RAM have kept the pressure on, and even Toyota and Nissan can’t be counted out. Since 2014, I’ve driven all the full-size pickups on multiple occasions, and I’m here to tell you, Silverados and RAM 1500s and even Tundras and Titans have their virtues.
But then you get a crack at the all-new F-150, as I did for a couple of days recently, and within a few hours — nay, minutes — of driving around in America’s truck you have no difficulty avoiding these temptations. Get thee behind me, GMC Sierra!
This is how it works. The Silverado and mechanically similar but more premium Sierra woo you with their motors. The Silverado, in particular, seems like it might be better prepared to get all beaten up than the F-150, depending on trim level.
The RAM 1500 can be outfitted with a fairly luxurious interior and has a plush ride, not to mention a robust Hemi V8 engine option, and both the Tundra and the Titan promise outstanding reliability and perhaps even a nice price if you want to haggle with a dealer.
One knows all this. My own tendency is to look quite favorable at the Nissan, and as a Toyota owner, to think seriously about the Tundra and its bulletproof reputation.
Then I fire up an F-150 and, well … nice try, everybody else.
Two days with the 2021 F-150, 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat edition, stickering for something like $70,000 (Ford didn’t provide pricing, so that’s ballpark), and I ask myself how the heck Chevy and GMC manage to sell roughly as many if not more full-sizers as Ford every year.
Just so, so good
OK, choice and competition are wonderful, and the truck-buying public has this dynamic marketplace to thank for half-tons in the USA being as well-considered as, I don’t know, budget hatchbacks in France or red sports cars in Italy.
But doggone! Saddling up in a 2021 F-150 proves that Ford ponders pickups in the same way that Beth Harmon studied the Sicilian defense. That Picasso evaluated the color blue. That Apple designer Jony Ive considered flatness or Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf idealized tick-tock.
Wall Street believes that something like 110% of Ford’s total net worth is tied up in the pickup franchise, and the 117-year family business grasps this insight. Therefore, the 2021 F-150 is just so, so frickin’ good.
A huge amount of this F-150 is indeed all-new, but it isn’t obvious. What’s notable is the refinement of the previous generation coupled with a welter of cool new features.
But first, the basics. The F-150 starts at just under $30,000, but that’s for the two-door XL, the work truck. My Lariat 4×4 Supercrew, in “Iconic Silver” exterior paint with a “Baja Tan” interior, was optioned to the nines and configured at about $68,000.
Under the hood, there’s a 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6, making 400 horsepower with 500 pound-feet of torque, mated to a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission with a locking rear axle.
Max towing capacity is almost 14,000 pounds, and my pickup had a 5.5-foot box, a “short bed” that’s not ideal for hauling lengthy 2x4s, but that for most customers is plenty of capacity for everything from schlepping dirt bikes to toting camping gear.
All-terrain tires were wedded to 20-inch wheels, and my tester had a bed liner, a power tailgate with a work surface, and Ford’s Pro Power onboard electric system. Bling was handled by an exterior chrome package.
Inside, this F-150 had a premium, purposeful treatment, with leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, and a leather-wrapped, multifunction steering wheel. Storage was considerable, as it was with the previous generation. But this pickup has a shift that can fold down to accommodate a folding interior work surface that stows in the center console; it’s large enough to support a good-size laptop.
Moving up to SYNC 4 infotainment
The 12-inch center infotainment touchscreen showcases Ford’s SYNC 4, among the best in the business for its clear graphic organization and ease of use. Bluetooth pairing is a snap, there are USB ports to connect and charge devices (but also regular outlets), GPS navigation and voice-recognition worked flawlessly in my testing, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. I enjoyed a superb Bang & Olufsen audio setup in my F-150 Lariat.
What I was able to take away from the two-day drive-around was both how roomy the F-150 continues to be: the cabin basically blows away most SUVs, with the exception of stuff like the Ford Expedition or Lincoln Navigator. My family is getting taller as adolescence progresses, and rear legroom in the truck is glorious.
Up front, it’s like you’re riding in a pair of primo recliners, with a wide range of seat positions on offer. What full-size pickup owners justifiably adore is the high driving position, but in the F-150 (as with other half-tons) you need to contend with some substantial blind spots caused by the pillars and side-view mirrors.
That’s easy enough to get used to, however, and then you can enjoy the smooth driving. Even if you aren’t used to pickups, the F-150 is so manageable that it’s unlikely to intimidate. That’s a boon for newbie-type customers, who could be coming from midsize crossovers or minivans.
So, an outstanding pickup truck, this all-new F-150. But c’mon — that’s hardly news! Ford has been executing this vehicle for decades. It wasn’t going to screw up. Ultimately, it took the already stupendous F-150 and tweaked it in so many ways that it’s now just about everything anyone could want, from ranchers to suburbanites with ambitious home-improvement projects or boats to tow.
The EcoBoost six can motivate the F-150 from 0 to 60 mph in the five-second vicinity, frisky for a vehicle that weighs 5,000 pounds. Fuel economy for my tester wasn’t reported by Ford, but the EPA gives it as 20 mpg combined and I wasn’t able to drain much gas from the tank in two days. That’s reasonable for the full-sizer with this level of capability.
Ford offers smaller six-cylinder engines, as well as beefy V8 and segment-leading hybrid six (25 mpg!) as well as diesel for those customers who have major-league towing requirements.
So, if you’re on the fence about getting a half-ton, should you take the plunge and drive this nation’s most beloved set of wheels?
Depends. A Ford F-150 with a back seat is one heck of a good vehicle for family life, and I have three kids and a dog. I generally aim to secure a press pickup in this segment when I have to drive to upstate New York every summer to drop off my clan at their camp, and that’s because there’s no compromise on gear — the bed takes care of that.
A no-compromise vehicle
But there’s no compromise anywhere else, either. Three adults can sit happily for several hours in the back, and nobody wants for device-charging options. Wifi connectivity makes for an easy journey.
However, if you have more modest requirements, even the magnificent F-150 might be more truck than you need. The F-150 is a driveway filler (and too big for older garages), and the legit 4×4 setup is more off-roading oomph that you’d want to deal with in run-of-the-mill bad weather.
If you’re coming from a minivan or a large SUV, I’d say give the F-150 a test drive and see what you think. But otherwise, Ford’s Ranger midsize pickup is an excellent and in many ways more practical alternative.
On the other hand, if the king of the full-size pickups is on your wishlist, the 2021 F-150 has without question put itself right back on the top of the hill.