Ford raises the bar for America's favorite vehicle and cranks up the pressure on Chevy and Ram with the 2021 F-150 pickup, a package full of surprises arriving in dealerships just in time for the holidays.

New from the ground up, the F-150 offers more safety features, improved ride and handling and a hybrid that saves fuel on the road and can power a worksite when parked.

Top models like the King Ranch 4x4 crew cab I tested also get luxurious materials and everything from flat-folding seats for naps to a pop-up desk for laptops and clipboards.

It's the type of vehicle American automakers do best, with new levels of security, technology and comfort.

The thought and creativity that went into the new F-150 are apparent in ways large and small. Large: The most powerful version is also the most fuel efficient, a hybrid with 430 horsepower, 570 pound-feet of torque and an EPA estimated 24 mpg in both city and highway driving. Small: A tailgate/workbench with built-in mobile phone holder, measuring sticks, receivers for C-clamps and a combined tie-down/bottle opener.

The 2021 F-150 is arriving at dealerships now, as assembly plants just outside Detroit and Kansas City, Missouri, crank up production.

Standard and available safety features

Antilock brakes

Stability control

Automatic high beams

Automatic front braking with pedestrian detection

Automatic rear braking

Adaptive steering w/evasive steering assist

Automated parallel and perpendicular parking

Blind spot and cross traffic alerts

Lane keeping alert and assist

Post-collision braking

Adaptive cruise control

Preparation for hands-free driving system

Driving impressions

The F-150 Powerboost 4WD hybrid I tested had a twin-turbo 3.5L V6, electric motor and 10-speed automatic transmission. The combination of Ford's beefy EcoBoost V6 and immediate torque from the electric motor deliver smooth, powerful acceleration. Braking is sure and predictable thanks to effective blending of the conventional friction brakes and power regeneration to charge the battery. The engine's fuel-saving auto-stop at traffic lights is unobtrusive.

The Powerboost hybrid system doubles as a generator. My pickup had the most powerful version, capable of 7.2 kW, enough power for many worksites. The bed includes one 240v and a pair of 120v outlets. In addition to plentiful power, the smooth 3.5L V6 is virtually silent compared to most portable generators.

There's no plug-in hybrid, but a battery-only version of the F-150 is scheduled for sale in 2022.

The ride is smooth even over rough surfaces and speed humps, a tribute to a new suspension that led engineers to widen the F-150's front and rear wheel tracks, one of the few dimensional changes from the old model. The steering is responsive and nicely weighted. The optional 18-speaker B&O Unleashed sound system in the loaded F-150 I tested delivered excellent clarity and separation and featured speakers in the front headrests and headliner.

There's very little wind or road noise.

The interior is spacious and comfortable. My King Ranch had etched and embossed wood trim. Optional Max Recline front seats recline absolutely flat for roadside naps, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Also foldable, but strictly for business, the console-mounted shifter retracts into the center console to create a flat surface when the truck's in park. That accomplished, you can deploy a wide, useful work surface between the front bucket seats for everything from laptops to splitting a pizza. F-150s with a bench seat have a similar work surface hidden in the center seatback.

With those features and more at my disposal, I needed to look a few things up. The electronic owner's manual was less useful than I hoped. Its search function failed to return answers to what seemed like obvious terms, and didn't seem to rank results when I hit on one it recognized. There's an abbreviated hard-copy manual, but it's highlights-only, in case the touch screen crashes or battery dies.

How much?

F-150 prices didn't rise much for an all-new vehicle loaded with safety features that didn't exist when the previous generation debuted. The base model, a rear-drive regular cab model, rose just $195 for 2021, to $28,940.

Like the previous F-150, the 2021 has aluminum body panels and a steel frame. Maximum towing capacity is 14,000 pounds. The hybrid can tow 12,400. Ford builds the F-150 with three cabs, three bed lengths and five wheelbases.

A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard, but there are six engine choices:

3.3L V6

2.7L turbocharged V6

3.0L V6 diesel 5.0L V8

3.5L twin-turbo V6

3.5L twin-turbo V6 hybrid

My F-150 King Ranch 4x4 crew cab was nearly top-of-the-line, with a $59,755 base price. Options including the hybrid system, generator, panoramic sunroof, Max Recline front seats and preparation for a hands-free driving system coming as an over-the-air update next year raised the total to $75,210. All prices exclude destination charges.

The new F-150 prices compare favorably to similarly equipped full-size pickups from other automakers.

2021 FORD F-150 AT A GLANCE

Base price: $59,755

King Ranch 4x4 Powerboost crew cab tested: $75,210 (excluding destination charges)

Hybrid four-wheel-drive, five-seat crew cab full-size pickup

On sale: Fourth quarter 2020

Engine: 3.5L twin-turbo 3.5L V6

Transmission: 10-speed automatic with integral 47-hp electric motor

Power: 430 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 570 pound-feet of torque @ 3,000 rpm

EPA fuel economy estimate: 24 mpg city/24 highway/24 combined

Wheelbase: 145.4 inches

Length: 231.7

Width, excluding mirrors: 79.9 inches

Height: 77.2 inches

Curb weight: 5,517 pounds

Towing capacity: 12,400 pounds

Assembled in Dearborn, Michigan


(c)2020 Detroit Free Press

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