The pickup truck wars are the most hotly contested battleground in the automotive marketplace. With the recent surge in demand for pickups and SUVs, the battle for sales has become a much more important priority for Ford, GM, and Ram. Ford has been the king of the hill for over three decades, and the F-150 has confidently held off challenges from GM and Ram. But the game is constantly evolving, and Ram in recent years has made several key moves that put it within striking distance of potentially rewriting the pickup sales hierarchy. Ford engineers didn’t want that to happen and made some evolutionary changes to the 2021 F-150.
Evolution Not Revolution Rules Styling Changes
Ford knew that one of the key pillars that have helped the F-150 continue its streak of sales successes is that customers love familiarity. That helped influence the styling direction that Ford designers chose to take for the new model year. While it does share a few traits with the outgoing 2020 model, Ford claims that this version of the F-150 is the most aerodynamically efficient model ever offered.
Some of those shared traits are mainly limited to the core shape, but the front fascia incorporates new headlights and a bigger front grille that actually comes with active grille shutters to help improve the truck’s ability to cut through the air. The side profile has been tweaked slightly, with the running boards on our tester being power deployable. The boards themselves even come with an incorporated kick sensor that allows them to be deployed hands-free, a nice concession for family buyers that might have their hands full of groceries and stuff.
The truck’s rear sees its own suite of changes, with the taillights moving the reverse indicators to the center of the unit and the lights themselves having a more aerodynamic look to them. The truck still uses all-aluminum body panels, but Ford designers incorporated numerous “C” shaped design elements in various spots, including the mirror housings and even the headlights themselves. Compared to some of its rivals, the Ford definitely has the edge over the aging Chevrolet Silverado. However, it won’t be for long since Chevrolet is giving the truck a redesign to help remove some of the wrinkles. The Ram 1500, on the other hand, is a bit different of a proposition when the two are compared back to back. The 1500 also has a distinct identity, but unlike the Ford, the Ram’s looks are more flexible, and they allow the truck to fulfill a wide range of roles better, especially when you climb up the trim ladder.
An F-150 Interior That’s Worth The Price Tag
When you first hear that Limited models like our tester have a sticker that crosses the $80,000 barrier, you might be asking where the bulk of the cost comes from? The answer makes itself known once you have a chance to slip inside the cabin. The two-tone leather seats in our tester come with built-in heat, cooling, and massage features. Range-topping Limited models like our tester come with Ford’s Perfect Position seating that offers a vast array of adjustability. However, the split between the upper and lower backrests can irritate sensitive lower backs (mine included.)
The seats here also go a step further and can actually transform into a bed to allow owners to actually sleep comfortably in the truck. They will have to fold the back seats all the way back to pull off this feat, but it’s worth the effort with bed mode being very comfortable for long naps. As a bonus, the fore-mentioned seat climate and massage controls all work in this mode which helps the trick seats outshine any Serta mattress.
But when you’re not catching up on your sleep, the rest of the interior manages to excel in other ways. The 12-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, for example, packs a lot of information into every single pixel, and the menu layout here is very intuitive and easy to master. Thankfully, the screen does not house all the controls with essential dials and switches for the volume, climate control, and more being hard analog buttons. Ford’s reputation for excellent passenger room also manages to shine through with the SuperCrew configuration in our right, offering limo-like amounts of room for both front and rear passengers. Our tester also featured a wireless charging pad, a fully digital instrument cluster, and adjustable pedals.
Ford knows that while trucks have played an increased role in being a family vehicle, they still have to do truck stuff, and it has also added several features aimed at the job site. The center console and the gear shifter all fold flat to help create a flat workstation for laptops, while the rear seats have handy storage bins underneath for hauling materials and other needed items.
F-150 Brings Green Performance That’s Eager To Please
Buyers looking to purchase a 2021 F-150 can choose over six different engines, but some trims restrict engine availability. In this case, our range-topping Limited arrived with the 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged Powerboost hybrid V6, which produces a solid 400 hp and a stout 500 lb-ft of torque. Those figures help make short work of towing large boats or trailers while also making our tester a very spirited steed when not burdened with large loads. We first experienced this engine a while back at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds, but this was our first long-term exposure to this revolutionary engine.
But while towing was not on the menu this time around, we made up for it by testing the F-150’s road trip chops. We started with a brief warmup run to the thumb area, with the truck being chosen for our periodic trek to collect spring water. Our route to the spring had winding backroads and plenty of straights, which allowed the engine to reveal its confident personality and the ability for it to work quietly in the background on long straights. Shifts from the 10-speed automatic were smooth, and we observed very little gear hunting.
The real test came later in its stay when we embarked on a long road trip to Northern Michigan. While torrential rain and deteriorating road conditions forced us to abort our original stop at the legendary Legs Inn restaurant, we settled for a consolation prize. We traveled out to The Lumberjack Restaurant in Westbranch, Michigan. Our 146-mile journey on I-75 revealed that while the large chrome wheels do let some tire roar into the cabin, the truck otherwise delivered the goods, with ride quality being very smooth and the handling being very crisp despite the over boosted steering. Braking in our tester was also stable, with the F-150 having minimal nose dive during higher speed stops.
The F-150 also offers a commendable view of all sides of the road, which helped us avoid trouble halfway into our journey when we spotted a speeding Cadillac in the fast lane. A quick lane change (tough in a pool of slowing traffic) proved to be wise, with the renegade Caddy eating the freeway barrier shortly afterward in the same spot where we were a few moments earlier. Thankfully the driver of the wrecked Cadillac wasn’t seriously hurt. As for the food at the Lumberjack, it was delicious, and we definitely recommend it for any travelers making their way up to the Grayling area.
Adding the hybrid engine also means getting Ford’s Pro Power Onboard generator system which supplies power to various devices through several outlets mounted on the bed wall. Ford claims that the setup is great for owners that need a reliable power source when camping or in remote areas. However, a surprise power outage towards the end of its stay allowed us the chance to try it out, with the truck being tasked with powering a box fan and serving as a temporary charging station for phones until the power came back on. That’s only a small glimpse of its potential, though, with the 7.2-kilowatt setup having the juice to power heavy-duty tools, construction equipment, and even outdoor equipment if necessary.
Pricing for the 2021 Ford F-150 Limited starts at $74,250, which puts it right in the running with other luxury trucks in its segment. Our tester came with a light coating of optional equipment (almost everything else is standard) which helped push the final sticker up to $79,145, including the $1,695 destination charge. Add in various fees, and the price crosses the $80,000 barrier, which definitely puts it in the same territory shared with Land Rover SUVs and other bespoke rides with more badge cred. It also makes it more expensive than the Silverado High Country and the Ram 1500 Limited though the Ford has a clear edge over the Chevy in a few categories.
While that figure may also seem insane for an F-150 when you consider that the Platinum and Raptor are noticeably cheaper, it all starts to make sense once you look at the broader picture. The Raptor has a more powerful 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6, but it’s less efficient and is really meant to be enjoyed out on the beaten path versus being tasked as an urban commuter.
On the other hand, the Platinum is a trickier comparison when it’s viewed alongside the pricier Limited. It may lack the standard equipment that defines the Limited, but not only is this trim the highest one available with the 5.0 liter V8, but it’s also the highest rung in the ladder for the 3.0-liter diesel though that engine’s days are numbered with Ford confirming that the slow-selling oil burner is being axed after 2021.
Either way, the 2021 F-150 has the goods to appeal to a wide range of tastes. This truck has everything a buyer can ask for, from the work-focused XL and Lariat to even luxury-filled beasts of burden like the Platinum and Limited. With the 2022 F-150 Lightning entering the market soon, the F-150 will have the opportunity to truly cover every possible niche in the truck market while also getting a head start on Chevrolet and Ram. Recently announced updates for the 2022 model would help get the ball rolling with those trucks debuting new towing technology.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.