Review update: 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid generates value through its generator

“Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands,” Steve Jobs said in the biopic of the same name. Like Jobs, Ford’s leading the pickup race with the innovative 2021 F-150 Hybrid while the other truck makers are hacking to keep pace.

Ford spokesperson Dawn McKenzie told me that customers didn’t ask for a generator to be integrated into their pickup truck, but Ford did it anyway. That may not be artistry, but it’s certainly leadership.

Don’t be fooled. The 2021 Ford F-150 isn’t new, but it didn’t need to be. It’s heavily updated with a long list of powertrain options, features, and the latest technology. In short, it’s leading the pack, again.

It wins on a lot of fronts. It bests every full-size truck competitor with a TCC Rating of 6.6 out of 10 thanks to its Baskin Robbins-like configuration options, hybrid powertrain, and standard advanced safety technology. But, it gets expensive real fast, the interior still isn’t as nice as the Ram 1500, and some of the neat tricks might cost you later.

I spent a week with the 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid taking the kids to school, picking up groceries, and running errands to learn where this innovator hits and misses.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Hit: Its killer app is a generator

The 2021 Ford F-150 is effectively a rolling generator and that’s why someone can choose it over the competition without a second thought. Hybrid models can be optioned with a 7.2-kw generator with four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets, and a twist-lock NEMA L6-20 240-volt, 30-amp outlet for $750. That price is laughably low if you’ve ever shopped for a generator. A stand-alone Honda generator that produces over 2 kw costs more than $1,500. The F-150 Hybrid Lariat costs $1,900 extra over the non-hybrid F-150 Lariat with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine and comes standard with a 2.4-kw generator. Turbocharged non-hybrid models can be had with a 2-kw system for $995. You can’t beat that, and no other truck for sale today can either.

Miss: Neat tricks

My F-150 Lariat tester had the $165 interior work surface option that has the gear selector collapse into the console at the touch of a button, allowing the center console armrest to fold out to create a large work surface. The work surface is textured in a way that allows ballpoint pens to write on paper on it. Slick. But the power-folding gear selector motor sounded strained on my test truck, and the motor sounds like a bunch of marbles being thrown around a tumbler.

The power tailgate will go back up at the push of a button, but the motor pulling it back into place sounds as if it’s working for dear life. Both these power features make rather unpleasant noises on a truck that costs $70,960. A column-mounted shifter like the one found on lesser trim F-150s would solve this gear selector problem, though McKenzie told The Car Connection that Ford’s customer research showed a console-mounted shifter was preferred. Maybe having your cake and eating it too isn’t the best idea long term? At least put smoother, more powerful motors in these things.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Hit: Hybrid power

The 2021 Ram 1500 is available as a mild hybrid that boosts torque off the line or smooths out the start-stop system. It can’t power the truck on battery power alone, unlike the F-150 Hybrid. The twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 spits out 400 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque on its own. A 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery pack juices an electric motor that’s sandwiched in the 10-speed transmission, taking total output to 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than the outgoing Raptor and everything else on the market other than the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX and its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 and 702 hp.

The F-150’s power comes on quickly with instant torque from the electric motor as the two turbos quickly spool to life. Mash the accelerator and the F-150 Hybrid will throw you back into the seat. In most driving situations it’s smooth as butter, but a few times, when the transmission was cold or driven hard, the power handoff from the electric motor and the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts were rough enough to shake the driveline. A simple over-the-air software update—this truck’s capable of such wizardry—could easily recalibrate and take care of the rough shifts and power transitions.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Miss: Ram’s still nicer

My well-optioned Lariat tester had a sticker price of $70,960, which is luxury vehicle money. The interior of the 2021 F-150 is head and shoulders nicer than the 2020 model; the door panel uppers are now wrapped in soft-touch synthetic leather, the injection modeling lines are finished off, and there are double door seals. But Ford isn’t fooling me with that brushed plastic pretending to be metal. The leather-trimmed seats, while extremely comfortable, aren’t as nice as the hides found in a mid-trim Ram. And that electronic folding gear selector wiggles forward and back on day one while in gear. The interior fit, finish, and materials shame the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500, but they still play second to the Ram 1500.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Hit: Great technology implementation

The 2021 F-150 can be had with a 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and 12.0-inch digital gauge cluster. I would opt for the analog gauge cluster that features an 8.0-inch information display as I like analog gauges for being clean and easy to read. Unlike other automakers, however, Ford didn’t simply make the digital gauge cluster look like analog gauges. The F-150’s digital gauge cluster hosts useful informational graphics, overlays, and the right data shown in large easy-to-read fonts.

The 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is the more traditional horizontal layout rather than the vertical layout found in the Ram. Despite this, it has split screen side-by-side functionality to display Apple CarPlay and other vehicle systems, which is terrific. It’s easy-to-use, well laid out, and looks nice. It’s on par with Ram’s available system and makes the infotainment systems in the GM trucks look hopelessly antiquated.


2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Miss: Efficient to a point

Don’t be confused by the fact that this hybrid is a truck, not a Prius. The four-wheel-drive 2021 F-150 Hybrid has EPA fuel economy ratings of 24 mpg city, 24 highway, and 24 combined. Those are pretty respectable numbers for a full-size pickup truck, which has ratings of 18 mpg city, 23 highway, and 20 combined with the same engine without the hybrid components. But in the real world, I averaged 18.5 mpg over the course of 274 miles of suburban driving with temperatures in the teens. The temperatures did the battery and powertrain no favors, but in reality this is still a heavy truck at 5,517 lbs. In the right temperatures, and with a light foot, one might see 24 mpg. But I quickly realized that the true feature, aside from powering the onboard generator, is the hybrid system’s ability to power fill for the turbos on launch, allowing you to avoid spooling the turbos that sucks down the gas.

A week with the 2021 Ford F-150 showed me that this isn’t a new truck, and that’s fine, it didn’t need to be. Ford took America’s bestselling vehicle and made it smarter, nicer, and more useful to live with, all while showing the competition and their redesigned trucks how innovation is done.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid

Base price: $71,890
Price as tested: $70,960
EPA fuel economy: 24/24/24 mpg
The hits: Rolling generator, great infotainment system, terrific digital gauge cluster, strong hybrid powertrain
The misses: Ram’s interior’s still nicer, neat tricks aren’t refined, don’t expect the hybrid to be a Prius pickup truck

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