Come to any racetrack paddock and you’ll see pickup trucks of all ages, trims, brands, and colors lined up across the asphalt. For those who elect to tow their track car to events (or have no choice, if it’s not street-legal), pickups are an obvious tool for the job. Ford’s F-150 is one of the most popular, both in the paddock and in the new-car market in general, selling over 780,000 units in 2020 alone.
Ford introduced the all-new 2021 F-150 to the world, and then to us, last year. And finally, following that quick 15-minute introduction in September, I was able to spend a week with the newest and torquiest F-150 in the lineup, the 2021 Ford F-150 with hybrid PowerBoost drivetrain.
What Is It?
This is the all-new 2021 Ford F-150. Per usual, Ford offers their half-ton truck in a variety of cab and bed sizes to fit every need. Mine came in “SuperCrew” cab size (the largest) with a 5.5′ bed (the smallest) which is the most practical, should your hauling needs involve more people than dirty things. Ford offers six trim levels, from the most basic XL to fully-loaded seat-massaging Limited, and I was sent the third-highest (and still very, very well-equipped) Lariat.
Drivetrain offerings are similarly vast, starting with a naturally-aspirated 3.3 liter V6 and 5.0 liter V8, two turbocharged EcoBoost V6s, and a 3.0 liter PowerStroke turbodiesel. New for 2021 is Ford’s PowerBoost hybrid drivetrain, which starts life as a twin-turbocharged 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, and gets an electric motor sandwiched between that EcoBoost and the standard-everywhere 10-speed automatic transmission.
Given the PowerBoost hybrid is new and hot this year, my 2021 F-150 was so equipped, alongside the high-spec 502A equipment package. 502A adds nearly $7,000 to the sticker, but includes bending LED headlights, a pretty-dang-good Bang & Olufsen sound system, and Ford’s full suite of CoPilot 360 driver-assistance technology – among many other items. Ford also added the Sport appearance package, FX4 off-roading bits, trailer tow goodies, folding interior work surface, and the highest-output Pro Power Onboard generator option to my loaner.
MSRP of my 2021 F-150 Lariat came in around $72,000 – a tough pill to swallow given the Lariat trim starts under $50,000 and the most basic F-150 XL is a $28,000 sticker. Regardless, the truck I drove was an incredibly nice place to spend time, and the key features – PowerBoost, Pro Power Onboard, Sync 4 – are all available on the lower-trim variants.
The PowerBoost Drivetrain – Yes, Really, a Hybrid Pickup Truck
The 2021 F-150 is not the first hybrid pickup truck to hit the market. GM sold hybridized GMT900 Silverados, Sierras, and their SUV counterparts for several years in the late-2000s. But where GM stuck huge “HYBRID” decals down the doors and on the back window, Ford took a different approach. The only emblem is one that reads “PowerBoost” on each front door.
PowerBoost is Ford’s don’t-call-it-a-hybrid name for its hybrid drivetrain. The 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 is augmented with an electric motor producing 47 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. Total system output is 430 horsepower and 570 lb-ft, an increase of +30 horsepower and +70 lb-ft over the gas-only 3.5.
Propelling the F-150 PowerBoost is a mix of a 30.6 gallon gas tank (a unique size for the PowerBoost trucks) and a 1.5 kilowatt-hour battery, both mounted under the truck’s cab and bed. Unloaded, it is indeed possible to drive the F-150 entirely on battery power – even at speeds of 50 miles per hour. And doing that is supremely cool, if a bit strange at first. In most cases, though, the gasoline engine will run as well, scooting the F-150 along at a very reasonable pace. The sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour – however relevant – is claimed at just 5.3 seconds.
PowerBoost is offered on every trim level of F-150, though you must get the SuperCrew cab and 5.5′ bed. Compared to the cost of the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, PowerBoost adds $1,900 to the MSRP no matter the trim you choose.
While Ford leads with power, torque, and capability figures in marketing PowerBoost, let’s not forget that it’s an honest hybrid system. Fuel economy is estimated at 24 miles per gallon in both city and highway driving, an increase of +6 city and +1 highway compared, again, to the 3.5 EcoBoost V6. Six miles per gallon may not sound like much, but it’s roughly 38 percent better than that 18 MPG figure. I tested the F-150 PowerBoost during a snowy, icy, cold week for the DC area and saw about 22 MPG in straight highway driving and roughly 19 around town.
Handoff between electric and gasoline power was generally smooth and seamless, with no big indication of electric operation beyond a “0.0” on the digital tachometer, unless you went looking in the gauge cluster and Sync 4 menus.
Towing and Hauling with the 2021 F-150 PowerBoost
As mentioned, Ford’s focus with PowerBoost is partially on capability. While neither tow rating or payload are “best in lineup” for the hybridized F-150, neither number is disappointing. Ford rates the F-150 PowerBoost (in four-wheel drive spec) to tow 12,400 pounds and carry up to 2,120 pounds of people and things.
The payload rating, of course, assumes you choose an XL trim with no options. Actual payload of my loaded-up Lariat-almost-a-Platinum ended up at just 1,324 pounds according to the doorjamb sticker. If you’re towing a heavy trailer with lots of tongue weight, don’t put much in the bed (or have friends) or you’ll be overloaded.
As for towing with the F-150 PowerBoost, it was effortless. That’s the standard I’ve come to expect with any EcoBoost-powered Ford truck, really. The twin-turbocharged V6 makes gobs of power and torque and doesn’t really seem to run out of breath. Ford’s 10-speed automatic has plenty of ratios on hand for hills, and the Tow/Haul software logic is impressive on long downhill grades.
Where the PowerBoost system impressed with a trailer, though, was its ability to function as its own turbocharger of sorts. Leaving a stoplight, I’d put my foot down and feel the smooth surge forward of the turbos. Then I’d glance down at the turbo boost gauge and see it sitting at 0 psi, or close to it. That electric motor was picking up the slack, allowing the turbos to come online a bit less often and – yes – saving a tiny bit of fuel in the process.
Disappointingly, you can’t tow a trailer in Tow/Haul mode purely on electric power. I suspect Ford’s engineers do this to avoid over-stressing the hybrid system, but it would have been a fun party trick.
Pro Power Onboard – Your 2021 F-150 is a Generator
In the past, heading to the track with an enclosed trailer was a crapshoot. You might be able to find a power pole in the paddock, but some tracks are remarkably short on shore power for those of us camping in our trailers. The solution was to either go without power (and thus, heat, air conditioning, charging of devices) or to bring a heavy, expensive, and noisy generator with you. The F-150 PowerBoost changes the game here.
Pro Power Onboard is a generator setup, offered on every trim of 2021 F-150 no matter the engine choice. But with the PowerBoost hybrid system, Ford offers a $750 upgrade that provides a 240 volt, 30 amp outlet in the bed. This outlet can provide up to 7,200 watts (7.2 kW) of power and, assuming a full tank of gas, provide that power for 32 hours straight.
I wasn’t able to test Pro Power Onboard during my time with the F-150, but the power coming from the system would easily run a trailer’s air conditioning and other electrical demands.
Other Impressions of the 2021 F-150 with PowerBoost
Ford is claiming the 2021 F-150 is “all new,” but if you’ve spent time in the outgoing model – sold from 2015 to 2020 – it’ll feel heavily evolutionary. That’s not a bad thing. The cabin is a very nice place to spend time, the seats are comfortable, and the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system is pretty good. Sync 4 replaces Sync 3, with a larger touchscreen and snappier performance.
On higher trims (Lariat and up), gone are the two analog dials for tachometer and speedometer (with accompanying screen in-between). Ford’s swapped this out for a fully-digital gauge cluster, though I found the lack of customization disappointing. The cluster screen seems dedicated to showing animations of F-150s in various colors when drive modes are changed. Otherwise it shows two large dials, four small dials up top, and various information in the center… just like the more analog setup. What’s the benefit of the fully-digital cluster, then?
Braking on the F-150 with PowerBoost has been changed from hydraulic-assist to a “brake by wire” electric system. This was likely changed to support the hybrid system, as engineers can dial in the amount of pedal feel and feedback, no matter if regenerative braking or “normal” service braking is slowing the truck. Pedal feel is not good, with an overly-stiff, wooden pedal that does not inspire confidence at lower speeds and leads to the driver providing too much input, with the truck responding in kind and stopping abruptly. This feel improved with the trailer attached, presumably due to the trailer weight and trailer brakes helping slow the rig.
Ford has also come up with a solution to a problem that nobody really… had. They introduced a folding “work surface” that comes out of the center console (on bucket seat trucks) or center seat (on bench seat trucks). If you have the popular buckets-and-console arrangement, you’ll have a console-mounted transmission shift lever, as in the outgoing F-150. The shifter would prevent the work surface from folding out – and instead of simply using the rotary shifter found in the Expedition, Shelby GT500, and Fusion, Ford developed a folding console shifter that powers up and down at the press of a button.
I’m sure some owners will find it super neat, but the folding shifter on my truck wiggled when in any gear, and the motor that moved it up and down sounded a bit sickly. It strikes me as an overly-macho solution for buyers who tie gearshifts to their personal sense of self. Just use the rotary dial, y’all.
Ford’s F-150 has never been a bad choice for track day dorks like yours truly – or anyone else needing a truck, for that matter. The PowerBoost hybrid system is a fantastic addition, with benefits for a wide variety of buyers. Where I’d appreciate more fuel economy in city driving, someone else will see the Pro Power Onboard generator as the leading reason to choose the PowerBoost drivetrain over others.
Selling PowerBoost as a “capability-first” offering is smart on Ford’s part, as is its availability in every trim level of 2021 F-150. We’ll be curious to see how many hybrid F-150s leave dealer lots this year, compared to those with gasoline-only engines under the hood.