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2021 Ford F-150

2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 25, 2020

Buying tip

The 2021 Ford F-150 goes on sale in fall 2020.

The 2021 Ford F-150 full-size pickup is equally exciting for what’s available and what’s to come.

The 2021 Ford F-150 full-size pickup upgrades the venerable light-duty truck well into the connected-car era. In some cases, beyond. 

Far removed from granddad’s farm truck, the new F-150 brims with tech-heavy features such as over-the-air updates, an 8.0-inch or larger touchscreen on every truck, more computing power, and an integrated smartphone app that’ll display nearly all the truck’s cameras on a device planted firmly in your hand.

The 2021 F-150 also sets the table for the truckmaker’s electrified future. The new truck is available with a full hybrid powertrain—the first offered by Ford in a pickup—ahead of a fully electric version due soon. 

Review continues below

True to its farm roots, the 2021 F-150 boasts work-friendly upgrades such as an in-vehicle generator with multiple power plugs in the bed, a workbench tailgate, fold-flat center console, and airplane-style fold-flat front seats in case the job lasts longer (but you can’t). 

The 2021 Ford F-150 goes on sale in fall 2020. Ford’s not talking prices, but will offer it in XL, XLT, Lariat, Platinum, King Ranch, and Limited trims with myriad options available for all, including powertrains, bed lengths, cab configurations, and convenience features. 

Style and performance

The 2021 F-150’s makeover is from the inside out, mostly. The interior sports new touchscreens in the center of the truck and hard knobs and buttons for vehicle functions and climate controls. The interior of the trucks still covers the considerable ground between work-spec XL with its vinyl seats and hard-wearing plastics to cowboy-Cadillac Limited with its leather upholstery and a pole position at the valet lot. 

All trucks share a functional layout with big controls and gauges, especially trucks equipped with a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. Broader themes from prior F-150s carry over into the new truck like you knew they would. Blocky controls. Big space. Lots of storage cubbies. 

Outside, the 2021 F-150 is a dead-ringer for the truck it replaces. The looks subtly change from trim level to trim level, including up to 11 different grilles, but the basics are all there: hood, cab, box in the back with acres of vertical space. 

The new F-150 is adorned with all the hallmarks from the last truck, which include a kinked window line, C-shaped headlights and taillights, large wheel arches, and squared-off shoulders. The new look is more hewn compared to the old truck but also clearly related. Evolution not revolution, and all that. 

Under the hoods of F-150s are engines that are nearly as varied as the owners who drive them. Six engine configurations are available in the F-150, all mated to 10-speed automatics, with rear- or four-wheel drive. Specific rear axle ratios are available if you’re into that, too. No two trucks need to leave the factory alike.

The base engine is one that shoppers won’t encounter often. A 3.3-liter V-6 is fitted into XL trucks and not much else. Ford hasn’t yet said how powerful that engine will be in 2021, although the 2020 version made 290 horsepower. Its trick is low running costs and a low barrier for fleet buyers to get a Ford truck. 

The next step up is our preferred pick for many retail buyers who need a truck but don’t need overwhelming power or towing figures, also known as “most of us.” A 2.7-liter turbo V-6 returns and is comparable to other automakers’ small-displacement V-8s. Ford’s mum on power specs for now, but the 2.7-liter V-6 was rated last year at 325 hp and could tow up to 8,500 pounds or carry up to 2,500 pounds in the bed. Gas mileage? Up to 20 mpg combined with four-wheel drive. Not too shabby. 

A naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 is slightly updated with cylinder deactivation to save fuel this year. Although it’s a big-displacement workhorse that was rated last year at 395 hp and rated to tow up to 11,200 pounds, time and tech have caught up to it. The V-8 has been surpassed in nearly every respect by the turbo engines, but “V-8” plus “pickup” is still a formula that some truckbuyers count on. We get it. 

A 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 will be available for long haulers. Last year, it returned up to 30 mpg on the highway but it didn’t tow any more (up to 11,400 pounds in 2020), wasn’t tops for torque (440 lb-ft last year), wasn’t as refined as the rest of the F-150 options, and it has been an expensive proposition. Different strokes, we suppose. 

A 3.5-liter turbo V-6 may be the strongest of the bunch—at least before we start talking batteries. Last year, it was offered in two different outputs with up to 450 hp and 510 lb-ft in some trucks and could tow up to 13,200 pounds in others. Ford hasn’t yet said how powerful the 3.5-liter V-6 will be and if there will still be two versions, but it may not be the top dog. 

A new 3.5-liter turbo V-6 paired to lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor may take the crown. Ford says it plans for the hybrid F-150 to tow up to 12,000 pounds or more, offer the most power, and offer a 700-mile EPA-rated range from a 30.6-gallon fuel tank. That maths out to about 23 mpg combined, which is hardly world-beating stuff—even several versions of the 2020 F-150 were rated higher—but it’s progress. We’ll have to wait for official figures from the EPA, but Ford’s keyed us into scant details—including many numbers. The 3.5-liter turbo V-6 pairs with a 10-speed automatic transmission that’s supplemented by a 47-horsepower electric motor fed by a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery tucked underneath the floor. Hybrid pickups are available in SuperCrew configuration only but offered in all trim levels. 

An all-electric version of the F-150 is in the mail, although Ford is quiet on when it will get here. 

Like its predecessor, the F-150 rides on a fully boxed frame with coil-over shocks and a double-wishbone up front and Hotchkiss setup with leaf springs in the back. The truck will ride on a variety of wheels that measure 17 to 22 inches tall. It may be easier to predict winning lotto numbers than ride and handling in every trim—try before you buy. 

Comfort, safety, and features

The 2021 F-150 whistles a familiar tune for comfort. Three bed configurations, three cab sizes, six trims, choose your fighter. A two-door regular cab is available and work-ready. It’s paired to a 6-foot-6 or 8-foot bed and measures up to 227.7 inches from nose to tail. 

A four-door extended cab is slightly more useful for work, thanks to more in-cabin storage behind the first row. Second-row riders won’t get much leg room—just 33.5 inches—so it’s a better occasional seat rather than a family vehicle substitute. The extended-cab versions pair to a 6-foot-6 bed or 8-foot bed and are as long as 250.3 inches. 

The full-size four-door, which Ford calls “SuperCrew,” is the most popular and probably the truck you’re looking for, even though we’re not Jedis. It’s a family vehicle for many truck owners and offers 43.6 inches of rear seat leg room. It pairs with a 5-foot-6 bed or 6-foot-6 bed and measures up to 243.5 inches long. (In case you need to check the specs of your garage.)

Considering the breadth of the lineup, the 2021 F-150’s tale of interior material quality may be longer than “War and Peace.” Based on our experience, most F-150 trucks are finished to a high standard for durability and quality, and luxury trims are convincingly uptown—although your mileage may vary relative to the price. New this year is a fold-flat table inside that requires a trick shifter, and airline-style fold-flat front seats. Neat.

The F-150’s bed also adds new touches to help with hard work. The first is a new available tailgate designed with a stamped ruler and brackets ready for a C-clamp. (There’s a bottle opener in case a tailgate breaks out in the middle of the workday.) 

The second is an in-bed generator that can power small tools or TVs. Power outputs vary between 2.0-, 2.4-, and 7.2-kw, although the latter two are available on hybrid trucks only. (Diesel and 3.3-liter V-6 trucks don’t offer it at all.) 

Lights around the truck and in the bed help, same goes for a kick-motion power running board near the bed that makes reaching into the truck easier. 

Every F-150 is equipped with automatic emergency braking and automatic headlights, while XLT and higher trucks add a raft of safety features that include blind-spot monitors, active lane control, reverse automatic emergency braking, and driver alert. 

What’s more, F-150 Lariat and higher trucks can be equipped with a driver-facing camera that, next summer, enables hands-free driving on specific highways and interstates. It’s a first for any full-size truck, although Ford hasn’t said yet how much it will cost. (Open up that wallet twice, too. Once for the hardware prep package now and again for the self-driving software later.)

We’re still in the dark for how much the F-150 costs and the fine print on what shows up where. We’ll update this space with specifics on features by trim level when we hear more. The broad strokes? XL and XLT get an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone compatibility software. Lariat and higher sub in a 12.0-inch landscape touchscreen. Wash-and-ready vinyl are standard on base trims, while top models drape leather around their plush buckets. 

The 2021 Ford F-150 goes on sale in fall 2020.

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