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The 2021 F-150’s exterior is not radically redesigned and except for a slightly stretched wheelbase, it has virtually the same dimensions as the current F-150. (Ford)

Hybridization the highlight of Ford’s all-new 2021 F-150

A first-ever hybrid model and a spectrum of novel electronic and work-related features lead the 2021 remake of the country’s best-selling vehicle.

Ford this week unveiled an all-new version of its F-150 fullsize pickup, highlighted by a first-ever full-hybrid variant and the promise – but not yet specifics – of class-leading figures for the metrics that matter most to pickup customers. Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stall the launch of Ford’s crucial profit machine, with the new 2021 model coming to showrooms this fall from Ford plants in Dearborn, Mich. and Kansas City, Missouri.

Being Ford’s and the U.S.’s best-selling passenger vehicle, few risks were taken with the 2021 F-150’s design, even if there is a selection of 11 new grilles.  and chief designer Ehab Kaoud said in a session revealing the new pickup to the media that the 2021 F-Series is “all-new, inside and out.” That includes carrying over the current-generation F-150’s pioneering use of aluminum for the body, which rides on a fully-boxed, high-strength steel ladder frame. The new aluminum bodywork may be difficult to differentiate from the current model’s, but Kaoud said changes are substantive enough that the new pickup “is the most-aerodynamic F-150 ever,” with active grille shutters and an active front air dam that help contribute to a 3% reduction in aero drag.

Crucially, although Ford claims in a press release accompanying the 2021 F-150’s reveal that it “targets the most towing, payload, torque and horsepower of any light-duty full-size pickup,” no specifics were presented for any of those segment-governing metrics. Craig Schmatz, F-150 chief engineer, did confirm there is a range of six powertrain configurations and provided some details of the truck’s chief new powertrain feature, a full-hybrid variant centered on a gasoline engine/electric motor combination Ford calls PowerBoost. “We have upped the ante again,” for the fullsize-pickkup segment, Schmatz summarized of the new F-150 lineup.

Another dimension
In terms of size, the 2021 F-150 has only small differences in a few critical dimensions compared to the current F-150. This probably is a good thing, as some current owners and others believe that fullsize pickups have reached the size limit to remain usable as everyday transportation. Wheelbases have increased less than a half-inch. A 2021 F-150 SuperCab with the 6.5-foot (2-m) cargo bed has a wheelbase of 145.4 in. (3693 mm), compared with the 145-in. (3683-mm) wheelbase of the current model. SuperCrew’s wheelbase with a 6.5-foot bed now is 157.2 in. (3993 mm). The same 0.4-in. (10-mm) wheelbase increase applies to all cab/bed configurations, including the Regular Cab, which comes only with 6.5-foot. and 8-foot (2.4-m) bed lengths.

Overall length for new 2021 F-150 is reduced by 0.2 in. (5 mm) across the board. A 2021 SuperCab with the 6.5-foot bed now is 231.7 in. (5885 mm) overall; the SuperCrew with the same bed is 243.5 in. (6185 mm) long. Overall width (without mirrors) for all new 2021 models remains the same as the 2020 F-150: 79.9 in. (2029 mm). The new pickup nonetheless may impart a slightly wider look, however, as Kaoud noted the decision to slightly “pull out” the wheels. For or all three cab styles, front track width is increased 0.3 in. (8 mm) for the 2021 model to 67.9 in. (1725 mm) and rear track width is increased by 0.7 in. (18 mm) to 68.3 in. (1735 mm).

Cargo bed dimensions remain the same for the new 2021 models except for width between the wheelhouses, which is increased by 0.5 in. (13 mm) to 51.1 in. (1298 mm). This increase is small enough that Ford indicates cargo box volume for the three bed configurations is unchanged from the current model. With scant exterior-dimension difference between the new 2021 F-150 and the current models, the totally restyled cabin’s space also is effectively unchanged. For all three cab styles, front-passenger head, shoulder, leg and hip room mirror the current F-150. Rear-seat occupants in the SuperCab and SuperCrew work with the same legroom and marginally more shoulder room – but 2.1 in. (53 mm) less hip room.

First-ever hybrid
The 2021 F-150 lineup encompasses four gasoline engines and a 3.0L V6 turbodiesel, all of which are available in the current F-150 range. The PowerBoost hybrid variant, a first for the F-150, uses the 3.5L twin-turbocharged V6 backed by Ford’s previously-revealed modular hybrid transmission (MHT), which clutches a modestly-powered 35-kW (47-hp) electric motor, in the P2 position, to the 10-speed 10R80 automatic transmission that backs most F-150 powerplants. Finishing off the system is a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack situated under the cargo bed.

Perhaps indicative of Ford’s primary intention for the PowerBoost system, PowerBoost is central to one of the 2021 F-150’s signature new options, Pro Power Onboard, a vehicle-integrated generator and inverter to provide electricity to operate power tools and other work- and leisure-related devices. Schmatz said the PowerBoost hybrid option will be offered on all trim levels of the 2021 F-150.

Pro Power Onboard is available with the Ecoboost and V8 gasoline engines, but the generator’s output is a maximum 2 kW. For PowerBoost-equipped models, the standard output is raised to 2.4 kW, with an optional maximum output of 7.2 kW. An inverter converts the DC power from the generator and high-current battery to AC power available at outlets in the cargo bed and cabin.

Although the PowerBoost hybrid’s 35-kW electric-motor is significantly more than the maximum of 12 kW available from the mild-hybrid setup in the competing FCA Ram 1500’s eTorque belt starter/generator, 35 kW nonetheless is a modest amount of propulsion “assist” for a vehicle weighing on the order of 5000 lb. (2268 kg). PowerBoost adds the ability to recover braking energy and also enables engine shutoff. It also and may provide performance- and efficiency-enhancing “torque fill” to supplement the engine and transmission in certain driving situations. And Ford said PowerBoost enables a driving range up to 700 miles (1127 km) on a single tank of gas, while Schmatz added that the setup is expected to offer best-in-class towing of at least 12,000 lb. (5443 kg).

But much of the 700-mile range figure can be attributed to the fact that PowerBoost models are fitted with a 30.6-gal. (116-L) fuel tank, compared with the 23-gal. (87-L) and 26-gal. (98-L) tanks for “standard range” F-150s. And current F-150s fitted with the PowerBoost’s turbocharged 3.5L V6 are capable of towing 12,000 lbs., or nearly that much, without a supplemental hybrid system.

Meanwhile, the “conventional” portion of the F-150 lineup will offer the choice of Ford’s 3.3L normally-aspirated V6 (2020 SAE power rating: 290 hp/265 lb-ft); the 2.7L turbocharged V6 (2020 rating: 325 hp/400 lb-ft); the 3.5L turbocharged V6 (2020 power rating: 375 hp/470 lb-ft); the 5.0L V8 (2020 power rating: 395 hp/400 lb-ft) and the 3.0L Powerstroke V6 turbodiesel (2020 power rating: 250 hp/440 lb-ft). All powertrains now are backed by Ford’s 10-speed 10R80 automatic transmission. The current F-150 still employs a 6-speed automatic for the base 3.3L V6.

ADAS, electronics and work features
Some of the fun of new-pickup launches comes from the inevitable clever features and innovations the development teams have discovered, often from extensive research of pickup owners. Ford spent more than 1,000 hours with owners and took 18,000 photos and 600 hours of video.

The most impactful electronic feature for the 2021 F-150 might be the one that isn’t usable until next year: Ford’s new Active Drive Assist “hands-off” driving-assist. The company already confirmed the technology will be available for the coming Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle. Active Drive Assist enables use for some 100,000 miles of divided highways in the U.S. and Canada. It will make the F-150 the first fullsize pickup to offer such a system, Ford claimed.

For now, however, the vehicles are fitted only with the required hardware; around the third quarter of 2021, the enabling software will be available for an over-the-air (OTA) download or via a dealer visit. Ford also claims the 2021 F-150 will be the first fullsize pickup with standard OTA updates. The cabin also offers two unique new comfort-and-convenience designs: optional Max Recline seats on high-trim models with backrests that fold nearly 180 degrees and cushions that create back support while laying flat for the “ultimate comfort during downtime.”

Further to what chief engineer Schmatz referred to as creating a cabin as a “refuge” space is the Interior Work Surface, an option that comprises a gearshift that power-folds into the console, allowing a flat cover to fold over the entire center console to provide a fully flat and smooth work surface for using a laptop (research indicates one-third of owners operate a laptop in the cab) or eating. The option is available with either bench or captain’s-chair front-seat configurations.

For outside work, new power-folding extended running boards provide a handy step when reaching into the bed from the side of the truck, while several new integrated tailgate features such as tie-down cleats and C-clamp pockets make the tailgate a more efficient work surface.

The 2021 F-150 of course offers a bevy of handy trailer-towing electronic aids. Trailer Reverse Guidance – already available for the F-250 line – provides multiple camera views while reversing and center touchscreen guidance on directional steering. And speaking of the central touchscreen, standard size now is 8 in. (203 mm), up from the previous 4.2 in. (107 mm), while the upgrade screen is a whopping 12 in. (305 mm) and fitted in the more-traditional landscape orientation, which designers said consumer research “unanimously” favored.

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