Six engines, including a hybrid powertrain available across the six trim lines, provide truck shoppers a choice for every season, plus two. Outputs don’t really change, but options do. Fortunately, a 10-speed automatic transmission doesn’t muddle the options, or gears.
The 2021 F-150 gets double points for its excellent turbo V-6 and smooth 10-speed, and another point for its off-road chops and towing capability. A point gets deducted for the grudging handling characteristic of any vehicle so big and tall. We settle on a strong 7.
How fast is the Ford F-150?
The base 3.3-liter V-6 powers the XL and XLT trims with 290 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. With a regular cab and short box, it has a rough and tumble eagerness that makes up for a lack of quickness with a desire to please. With the 8-foot box, it can tow up to 8,200 pounds. Payload ranges between 1,765 to 1,985 pounds.
The Lariat’s standard 2.7-liter turbo V-6 appeals to most F-150 buyers with 325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It can carry up to 2,480 pounds with the regular cab and tow up to 10,100 pounds in extended or crew cabs with four-wheel drive. What V-8?
A single 5.0-liter V-8 standard on King Ranch and Platinum trims carries over in the F-150 lineup because V-8 and pickup goes together like bacon and eggs for some shoppers. Output isn’t much better than the small turbo V-6 at 400 hp and 410 lb-ft but it can tow up to 13,000 pounds with any cab and any box. Payload maxes out at 3,325 pounds with the regular cab with the long box in rear-wheel drive.
Standard on only the top Limited trim, the 3.5-liter turbo V-6 making 400 hp and 500 lb-ft carries the weight and hauls the heavy load best overall, with a 3,250-pound payload with a regular cab long box with rear-wheel drive, and a 14,000-pound tow rating in extended and crew cab models. Ford calls it best in class but we’re not going to get into that. Unladen, the turbo V-6 accelerates as quickly as many SUVs but it feels even quicker relative to the high seating position and big bouncing body.
The 250-hp 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 makes 440 lb-ft and has the same max towing capacity as the turbo V-6. Aside from excellent highway fuel economy, the diesel engine pales to Ford’s turbo V-6 options. Factor in a gallon of diesel costing at least $.20 more on average annually than gas, and a diesel upcharge of up to $3,800 more on F-150 models, and the turbodiesel just doesn’t make much sense in most cases. That upcharge is also $500 more than the hybrid upgrade and the hybrid is much more efficient around town and when using the on-board generator.
The new hybrid uses the same 3.5-liter turbo V-6 on Limited but supplements it with a 47-hp electric motor powered by a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery. The motor is packaged within the transmission so as to enable electric-only driving at some light loads and speeds of up to about 10 mph. That briefcase-size battery pack mounts on the frame under the floor at the rear of the cab, so cargo room isn’t compromised. Total output is 430 hp and 570 lb-ft, but the high torque rating doesn’t mean it can tow the most of any F-150. The hybrid only comes with the heavier crew cab, so payload maxes out at 2,120 pounds and towing at 12,700 pounds in rear-wheel drive with the 6-foot-6 bed.
The hybrid upgrades the 2.0-kw onboard generator available with the 2.7-liter, V-8 or 3.5-liter to a 2.4-kw generator that comes standard with dual 120-volt outlets in the bed for an 85-hour run time on a full tank, according to Ford. Or it could be upgraded on the hybrid to a 7.2-kw generator with four 120-volt and one 240-volt outlet for up to 32 hours of run time.
The hybrid powertrain operates seamlessly and with remarkable quiet, unless switched into Sport mode for some simulated engine growl. When not hauling a load, the shifts on the 10-speed are nearly unnoticeable. But the system appears confused when stopping hard or accelerating hard out of a turn, with a lag that indicates it’s not as prepared for abrupt throttle inputs as a V-8. Sport mode diminishes but does not eliminate the pronounced lag.
Is the Ford F-150 4WD?
Yes. It comes with rear-wheel drive, or two available four-wheel drive systems. The mechanical 4WD system on XL and XLT uses an electronic shift-on-the-fly system that Ford has used for a while in the F-150. But on Lariat and above trims, Ford employs a 2-speed torque-on-demand system that essentially acts like a part-time all-wheel drive system shifting torque to the front wheels when the system detects slippage. Or the driver can manually override it by switching the transfer case into 4H for driving faster but with greater traction off-road, or into 4L for maximum traction at low speeds off-road, same as on the XL and XLT.
Without hauling anything, the 2021 F-150 has the familiar bounciness of pickup trucks with a solid rear axle and leaf springs. Even though the 10-speed shifts seamlessly and the independent front suspension helps cushion the cabin, the F-150 handles like a truck.
Review continues below