Huge tech updates make this the most advanced pickup on the market.
The world loves to paint pickup shoppers as old-fashioned grandpas with beer bellies and deep skepticism of modern technology – Abraham Simpson pining for the glory days in real life, essentially. But Ford seems to think that the stereotype just isn’t true, that thoughtfully integrated technology can make a truck owner’s life much happier. And after spending time in the redesigned (and award-winning) 2021 Ford F-150, we agree.
A modernized infotainment package, revised styling, new powertrains, and additional productivity features plant the new F-150 firmly in the modern era, with driver aids that wouldn’t feel out of place in a luxury car coming along for the ride. Even volume models like this F-150 XLT SuperCrew 4x4 seen here get in on the action. There are a few problems, mostly related to Ford’s inane pricing and options strategy and its newfound desire to cheapen all of its vehicles’ interiors, but overall, the F-150 holds up as one of the best trucks ever.
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If the redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 looks familiar, that’s because it shares most of its dimensions – and indeed its basic structure – with the sales champ that preceded it. However, none of its exterior panels are interchangeable, giving the F-150 a whole new personality that’s less aggressive and much more modern.
Up front, the LED headlights and foglights of our XLT tester get a C-clamp–inspired light signature that’s visually bisected by the front fascia trim. The new truck retains a distinctive stepped beltline, doing wonders for forward visibility and establishing a link to F-150s of old. Otherwise, the body sides are smoother and less cluttered (save the bulky faux vent on the front fender).
On our XLT tester, a Sport Appearance Package bundles an attractive dark-finish grille with black accents and body-color bumpers and door handles. This pack includes 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, but our truck came with 20s painted the same dark gray as the grille. Draped over Iconic Silver bodywork with black “sport cloth” upholstery, this truck is Terminator-chic – cold, metallic, technological, and imposing.
The interior’s styling gets a more comprehensive update than the exterior, thanks in part to a rounder center stack and gauge binnacle – the old F-150 was much more angular inside. The door panels are new as well, with the window switches moved from their old perches atop the windowsill to a more natural lower location. The F-150’s paddle-style interior door handles remain, though the cutouts are larger, to allow gloved hands to fit the space more easily says Ford.
The fresh design is done in class-average materials. Mid-level models get flimsy-feeling plastic throughout, cheapening the interior a bit too much. That concern also applies to the power-stowing center console shift selector – it folds flat when parked to create room for the unique Interior Work Surface console desk, but it lets out concerningly plasticky grumbles when moving up or down. Working in the XLT Sport’s favor are sophisticated door panel inserts that mimic the historical road map of Detroit, Michigan, Ford’s ancestral home. An American flag motif also appears on either end of every F-150’s dashboard when the door is open.
Comfort and space are a non-issue in the 2021 F-150. Since it shares most of its interior dimensions with its predecessor, that means it boasts 43.9 inches of front legroom (beating the Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra) and 43.6 inches of rear legroom (beating the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Toyota Tundra), as well as competitive headroom and best-in-class shoulder room front and rear. That said, nearly every crew-cab pickup in this segment offers space for four fully grown adults with room to spare.
Front-seat occupants will appreciate the supportive power bucket seats that come with the XLT Sport package, as well as cavernous front armrest storage, large cupholders, and a small cubby in front of the shifter for odd items (on some trims, this space is a wireless charging pad). A heated steering wheel and front seats were a godsend on a 38-degree morning – this is a truck for the Midwest, make no mistake. Rear-seat passengers will find plenty of space, decent seat comfort, a fold-down center armrest, and huge door pockets, but unlike the Ram 1500, the rear seat doesn’t recline or adjust, and it’s not heated on this model. Pity.
One of Ford’s party tricks is the aforementioned Interior Work Surface. On models with the bucket seats, the front armrest cover is actually split in two, with a hinge that allows the top half of the cover to flip forward over the center console to create a flat, desk-like surface. However, we don’t think the feature would be very useful to someone who doesn’t regularly need to write with a pen and paper. More interesting to us would be the Max Recline bucket seats available as a $350 option on King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited models – we hope this useful creature comfort spreads to the XLT and Lariat soon.
The optional tailgate step now includes a few new handy features. So equipped, the tailgate gets a ruler, pencil holder, and clamp mounting points – Ford added these to the truck after learning that owners were using C-clamps at the jobsite, which would occasionally slip and damage the tailgate. Reconfigurable cargo tie downs improve functionality that much more.
Every F-150 comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Ford’s new Sync 4 infotainment software, and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but this XLT Sport came with the “High” option pack, ditching the base screen for a massive 12.3-inch display with embedded navigation and wireless smartphone connectivity. In our week with the truck, it automatically connected to CarPlay seamlessly, but it did occasionally glitch and require a restart to work correctly again. Ford isn’t alone in this – wireless Carplay often gives us fits.
Also included on our tester is a large, 8.0-inch productivity screen between two analog gauges, with simple functionality that allows the driver to keep tabs on instant fuel economy, auxiliary gauges, steering angle, off-road pitch and roll angles, audio, and navigation. Ford’s steering wheel controls make using the instrument panel screen a bit challenging, though. It’s best to set the screen to one feature and leave it there, rather than toggle through the menus while driving.
Conversely, the huge center touchscreen is very easy to operate on the fly, owing to large on-screen buttons and a horizontal design that keeps eyes up. Ergonomic analog climate controls show up beneath the display – physical buttons for the win. Ford’s infotainment is more advanced than the Ram 1500’s Uconnect 12 system thanks to Sync 4 and its attendant over-the-air software updates, and its widescreen display looks more impressive to this author’s eyes than the Ram’s portrait orientation.
An optional Pro Power Onboard generator runs outlets that appear in the bed of the F-150. Our example fed 2.0 kilowatts to two 120-volt outlets, which is enough to run a one-person jobsite or tailgate party, but other powertrains offer 2.4 kW or 7.2 kW (the latter getting one 240-volt and four 120-volt outlets).
We had somewhat low expectations of this example’s EcoBoost 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6, but to our surprise, it held up very well in every traffic scenario we threw at it – quick onramp acceleration was effortless, and turbo lag was all but nonexistent. With 325 horsepower and 400 pound-feet on tap, we shouldn’t have been surprised. In this case, a reasonably smooth 10-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels (rear-wheel drive is standard), although it would sometimes dispatch a jarring downshift for no apparent reason.
We didn’t load the F-150 down much in our time behind the wheel – a solid-wood desk one day and an assortment of mechanic’s tools the next – so you could say we used it like a typical lifestyle owner might. It served its position very well, insofar as engine and transmission performance were concerned.
We can’t say the same of its suspension performance. Whether empty or (slightly) laden, the front end bobbed around on undulating pavement, feeling underdamped, while the leaf-sprung rear axle occasionally shuddered over uneven roads. Ram’s buttoned-down chassis works better in regular commuting thanks to its rear coil springs, to say nothing of its available air suspension.
Even if handling isn’t the F-150’s strong suit, it still boasts stout brakes. A few trips down a steep grade revealed zero fade, and as we learned in our first drive, it can handle those sojourns even with a trailer or lots of payload onboard. And thanks to an optional 360-degree camera and rear parking sensors, it’s relatively easy to wrestle this full-size truck around town or in a tight parking lot. Big windows and a low beltline help, too.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Ford F-150
All F-150 trims XLT and above now come standard with Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0, which includes active safety features like front and rear automatic emergency braking, lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, and reverse sensing (the suite is also optional on the base XL). Our tester featured Co-Pilot360 Assist, which adds navigation-linked adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, lane centering, and intersection monitoring.
Taken as a whole, the 2021 F-150 we drove worked faultlessly on the highway, keeping the truck well-centered between the lane markers even on curves. It also managed stop-and-go conditions well, maintaining a safe distance between the leading vehicle and accelerating and braking smoothly. Although it doesn’t offer the hands-off functionality and lane-change assist of, say, Cadillac’s Super Cruise, Co-Pilot360 Assist does an exemplary job of casting a wider safety net and reducing driver fatigue. Later this year, both the F-150 and the Mustang Mach-E will offer Active Driving Assistant, a truly hands-free foil to the Caddy.
Ford says the 2021 F-150’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine will deliver 19 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, and 21 combined in four-wheel-drive form, which just crests our 20-mpg combined target for half-ton pickups and earns a perfect 10. Our real-world testing backed that rating up. With lots of freeway driving, we saw indicated numbers closer to 25 mpg. In a week of mixed driving, the instrument panel claimed 22 mpg, impressive real-world numbers for a full-size truck.
The four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Silverado 1500 achieves 19 combined with a 5.3-liter V8 or 20 combined with a turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four. A comparable Ram 1500 matches the Ford exactly when equipped with a mild-hybrid V6, while the more powerful mild-hybrid V8 gets 19 combined. Lose the electrification and the V8’s number falls to 17 mpg.
The 2021 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 starts at a reasonable $43,805 in SuperCrew, 5.5-foot bed form. But as with any Blue Oval product, options add up rapidly, resulting in a gasping price-as-tested of $62,311, a 29-percent increase. Some of the biggest wallet-lighteners here are the $5,730 “High” equipment group, which adds a larger infotainment display with Sync 4, heated and powered front seats, remote keyless start and entry, and other niceties. A $1,495 panoramic moonroof shows up, as does a $1,090 trailer-tow package and a $1,195 charge for the 2.7-liter EcoBoost. The coordinating Sport Appearance pack is a reasonable $300, but optioning 20-inch wheels demands another $1,395.
Ford at least deserves some credit by making most options a la carte instead of requiring customers to step into a higher trim level. For example, this XLT Sport offers many of the same features that would be available on a King Ranch or a Platinum (a panoramic roof, advanced driver-assist tech, an onboard generator, and a big infotainment display), perfect for buyers who want the toys but don’t need leather or wood. Still, at more than $62k, the XLT feels a bit unspecial, especially when a Ram 1500 Limited – equipped with a standard V8 and optional adaptive cruise – is only a few grand more.
By playing with the online configurator a bit more judiciously, it’s possible to build a well-equipped F-150 XLT 4x4 for about $50,000, which feels more palatable to the average truck family than this pricey, sporty tester. Whatever the cost, the 2021 F-150’s mission brief was to integrate sophisticated technology and thoughtful workplace solutions into the nation’s best-selling vehicle family, and in that vein, it’s an unqualified success.
F-150 Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Ford F-150 Review
2021 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew 4x4