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2021 Ford F-150 Review: The Power(Boost) of Choice

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost edition.

You might not know it from looking at it, but the 2021 F-150 is being called an “all-new” truck by Ford. Indeed, you have to look pretty closely to see why – there are 11 grille styles, some new wheels, some detailing around the side grilles (finished in a classy matte black on my tester), new colours and the DRLs are new but otherwise, it’s a familiar shape.

The reasons this continuity makes sense are twofold: first of all, the F-150 has been the biggest-selling passenger vehicle in North America for around 50 years now and Ford’s never going to be one to rock the style boat too much, for fear of alienating its loyal customers. Secondly, ask any designer and they’ll tell you that SUVs and pickups – especially pickups – are some of the hardest things to style. Plus, there’s always the soon-to-be-released F-150 Raptor if you really want to kick things up a notch (or seven) in the styling department.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, front
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, front

Another big notch in the “all-new” column is the addition of my truck’s Powerboost Hybrid powertrain, bringing the total available engines to six: two turbocharged sixes, a naturally-aspirated six, a turbodiesel six, a V8 and the hybrid which, at 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque, is the most powerful F-150 you can get until they announce the Raptor’s power figures, which will likely eclipse those of the Powerboost.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, interior

While the exterior styling may be evolutionary more than revolutionary, the interior is much more of a departure, especially considering its power-folding shift lever. What that means is that with the press of a button, you can fold the console-mounted shifter into a small storage bin, so that the armrest and environs can be transform into an entirely flat work surface perfect for a laptop, tablet or sandwich while on the job.

It’s a great feature, though I wonder if it would have made more sense to be able to fold it mechanically with the release of a pin or something along those lines. I guess there is the lingering fear in the back of my mind that this electric motor is just another source of maintenance. I also wish that if left in “flat” mode after you park and lock, it would automatically deploy once you start up again. That’s assuming, of course, you’ve left the folding work surface stowed.

Other new interior bits include SYNC4 infotainment, displayed across a massive 12-inch touchscreen display with Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay; a new digital gauge cluster with one of the more unique instrument clusters you’ve ever seen; optional fold flat front seats; and even headrest speakers for the B&O audio system on higher trims. There’s also more use of high-class materials for the various panels, and lastly, this is one roomy cabin.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, first row
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, first row

My truck’s SuperCrew cab gets a flat floor in the back for great legroom and gear storage (there’s also lockable under-seat storage) while size-wise, it’s almost identical to the second row of the Expedition SUV with which it shares a platform. There’s actually more legroom in the pickup. Put simply: it feels massive inside the F-150 and does justice to the “SuperCrew” name.

Speaking of crews and work surfaces: the interior system is one thing, but Ford has also paid special attention to the bed. It has all the requisite anchors and accessory rails, but it also gets bonuses like power-retracting side steps that extend beyond the back of the cab, so you can use them to help access the front of the bed.

The tailgate is power-operated on my Lariat tester and when it’s open, it becomes a workbench complete with etched-on ruler, c-clamp mounts, holders for your phone, table and coffee and a smart bed access system. It’s a two-step process to open first the step then the hand-hold, but once done, it provides the easiest access of any pickup bed I’ve come across…which is pretty much all of what’s currently out there so yeah, Ford’s system is a good one.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, bed
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, bed

The piece of magic is not even the piece de resistance when it comes to the bed, though. That’s something called Pro Power Onboard (PPO), which is a fancy name for an on-board power generator. It comes as standard on any truck with the Powerboost hybrid powertrain, but can be added to any truck in the lineup as long as you’ve got either the 5.5-foot bed (seen here) or 6.5-foot bed; it’s not available with the 8-foot bed. On gas-powered trucks, it’s a 2.0-kW generator, but on the Powerboost hybrid’s battery allows for a 2.4 kW as standard and can be optioned up to 7.2 kW which means not only can you power a bandsaw at the job site or a television at a nice socially-distanced tailgate party, you could probably also power a house. Or a tiny village.

Well, maybe not a village. But the bottom line is that not only do you have power generation wherever you go (there are four 120V outlets and one 240V outlet), you don’t have to waste precious bed space to accommodate a separate generator. It’s a great addition that adds a ton of functionality.

Speaking of functionality: while the PowerBoost is the most powerful F-150 you can get (for now), it does give some away capability in terms of towing and hauling to the EcoBoost. The latter can tow 14,000 lb and haul 3,250 lb, while the former drops to 12,700/2,120 when similarly equipped.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, profile
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, profile

It does drive a treat, though. Power comes on nice and smoothly and the transition from EV power to gas power is subtle. There’s no real vibration as the gas engine comes online, just a smooth transfer of power and gutsy progress down the road ahead.

There are eight drive modes to choose from, including Eco at one end of the performance spectrum and Sport on the other, interspersed with Tow/Haul, Mud/Rut, Slippery and so on. These play with the various electronic driver aids, the transmission and the engine to provide optimal progress over any terrain and under any form of duress. Some of the modes relies more on the gas engine while others – Eco, for example – turns more to the EV motors. Power is transferred to all four wheels, meanwhile, through the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the gas trucks get. It’s a fantastic powertrain, no question..

While Ford doesn’t offer any form of adaptive suspension and the rear suspension is still a leaf-spring set-up, it is of the two-stage variety to help meter out the bumps and undulations typical of the types of city streets, the job sites and the forestry roads F-150s normally traverse.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, three-quarters rear

What of the PowerBoost hybrid?

Well, it costs $4,850 to upgrade from the Lariat’s 2.7L V6, and that’s the least-expensive way you can get into the hybrid. I absolutely lover the power it delivers and I also love the fact that it gets the more powerful PPO options, but the 12.7L/100 km I experienced is a 3.0L jump over what Ford claims for it, and as is often the case with hybrids of almost any stripe, you’ll have to drive a lot to earn back the savings in fuel. Driven more conservatively – and for a longer spell than I did – I’m sure the advantages would come more into focus, and I wonder if many buyers will just be happy with the extra power it delivers. The 3.5L EcoBoost will likely remain the big seller of the F-150 lineup, but this hybrid is a very compelling alternative and one that I think folks that use their trucks as a family hauler as well as a gear lugger will appreciate.

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, front grille
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, front grille

We like

Well-equipped, roomy interior
Pro Power Onboard generator
Hybrid powertrain a unique choice
    
We like less

Average looks
Hybrid loses a bit of capability to non-hybrid trucks
Can get pricey

The competition

Chevrolet Silverado
GMC Sierra
Ram 1500
Toyota Tundra

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, PowerBoost badging
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, PowerBoost badging

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Photos:D.Heyman
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