Gasoline-electric hybrid pickup trucks have always been a good idea, and it’s frankly disappointing it’s taken this long for an automaker to build a good one. As good as the 2021 Ford F-150 XLT Powerboost is, though, it’ll be even better when the last few programming wrinkles are ironed out.
We’ve driven and tested several variants of the latest F-150, and we know it’s a well-executed truck. We’ve even tested a Powerboost hybrid model already and found it’s as quick as the outgoing F-150 Raptor while delivering far higher towing and hauling capability. In terms of functionality, Ford’s hybrid pickup hits all the targets, but not every one is a bullseye.
Take the powertrain itself. It allows this full-size truck to hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, yet it’s also efficient, netting 24 mpg across the board with four-wheel drive, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA also claims the F-150 PowerBoost can travel up to 624 miles before needing to refuel. It’s a heck of a thing to spend a week driving all over Southern California in a truck this quick and see the gas gauge still sitting on three-quarters of a tank. This is the one-two punch of the modern hybrid truck: It’s not only quick as a fox, but it saves you money on gas and requires fewer trips to the gas station.
The wrinkle is in the F-150 PowerBoost’s driving experience. The 35-kilowatt electric motor is theoretically capable of moving the truck on its own, but with only 47 hp, it takes an extremely light touch to keep the truck in its EV mode. Do more than breathe on the accelerator, and the gas engine kicks on. And although the combined output of the gas engine and electric motor is smooth, the transmission isn’t always. It struggles with low-speed, light-throttle situations, such as heavy traffic, where its shifts are clunky enough that you worry it might hurt something. We found the problem to be intermittent, but when it happened, there was no missing it.
Then there’s the braking. Ford has been building hybrid vehicles for nearly two decades, so we can’t see much of an excuse for the funky left pedal of this truck, not when other Ford hybrids perform just fine. This brake pedal has all the hallmarks of hybrids of yesteryear, with vague initial engagement followed by way too much engagement when the regenerative braking gives way to the mechanical binders.
We also intended to evaluate how much the electric motor’s torque helps with towing, only to be thwarted by another bug, this one in the trailer brake controller. No matter what we did, the integrated trailer brake controller would not activate the trailer brakes—even with the gain all the way up. We verified the issue was with this F-150 by hitching the trailer to another truck, where the trailer brake controller and trailer brakes worked fine.
Those are all software issues, which means these can—in theory—be fixed with the kind of over-the-air software updates this truck is capable of receiving, so hopefully, this will be remedied soon. Similarly, we hope a software update can speed up the truck’s infotainment system, which had a tendency to respond slowly to inputs. It also occasionally froze up completely for several seconds.
Get past those new-tech teething issues, though, and you can tell Ford got the fundamentals right. We felt the previous-generation F-150 was the truckiest of the Big Three full-size pickups. The Chevrolet Silverado handled better, and the Ram 1500 rode better. The F-150 felt the most like a traditional truck. This new model, though, neatly splits the difference between the Chevy and the Ram. It handles nearly as well as the former and rides nearly as well as the latter.
The stats are there, too. With up to 2,120 pounds of capacity, the hybrid’s maximum payload figure falls right in the middle of the F-150 range. Same with towing, where its 12,700-pound maximum is on the higher side of the scale.
There are plenty of new technologies that work great, too. Our test truck was fitted with the gamut of Ford’s Co-Pilot360 advanced driver assistance technologies, and we were impressed with the performance of the F-150 PowerBoost’s adaptive cruise control and active lane centering. Both are nearly good enough now to allow you to take your hands off the wheel. And you’ll actually be able to do that safely (while still paying attention to the road) when Ford’s BlueCruise software is uploaded over the air to trucks with this system installed.
Then there’s the truck’s coup de grâce: the Pro Power Onboard mobile generator system. It’s available on most F-150 models, but the PowerBoost hybrid gets a more powerful version as standard and offers a seriously powerful optional system. The basic 2.4-kilowatt system gets you two 120-volt outlets pushing 20 amps each, more than enough to run two power tools simultaneously, as our Frank Markus discovered running a space heater and an electric chain saw at the same time.
Go for the 7.2-kW system, and you get four 120-volt outlets at 20 amps each plus a 30-amp, 240-volt NEMA L14-30R outlet, which—together—offer enough juice to run half a worksite. This is one of those features that’s so smack-your-head obvious it’s hard to believe no one else invented it before 2021. Sure, we’ve had 120-volt outlets inside cars and trucks for a while now, but these are only good for charging batteries. You’d be lucky if you could blow up an air mattress at the campsite without popping the breaker. Pro Power Onboard is the most useful feature installed on a pickup truck in a decade.
Tricks of the Trade
There are other neat tricks, too. The phone and tablet holder integrated within the tailgate is handy, as are the bottle openers. The measuring stick molded into the tailgate is also nice if you forget your measuring tape, though it’s useful only in limited situations.
Far more handy is the fold-out worktable in the center console. Drop the shifter out of the way and whip the worktable open, which creates the perfect space for right-handed people to do the likes of taking notes on a call or writing up an invoice. It’s awkward to type with your body twisted at the waist and the steering wheel in your left elbow, so don’t plan on doing a ton of laptop work on this center console tray. It’s far more useful as a lunch table, with more than enough room for the driver’s and passenger’s burgers, fries, and drinks. The only thing that would make it better would be if the shifter weren’t so slow (and loud) to raise and lower. Given how quietly electric motors can operate, you almost have to wonder if Ford intentionally made this thing sound like industrial machinery.
That’s the story of the whole truck, though: great ideas executed well but still in need of a little more polish. Ford talks a big game about how well it understands its customers and why that keeps the F-Series trucks on the top of the sales charts, but the proof is in the product. The latest F-150 isn’t just more of the same; there’s fresh thinking that’s tailored to the truck customer. Once Ford has the bugs worked out, the F-150 PowerBoost hybrid will be unstoppable.
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