Electric pickup trucks are not ready for long-distance towing. I say that after spending a week with a 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning and finding it an effortless, wildly good tow vehicle. Confused yet? Keep reading.
‘Normalcy’ is the F-150 Lightning’s big appeal. Where Rivian’s R1T reimagines the pickup truck, Ford’s approach focuses on people who find the idea of a “regular F-150 powered by batteries” appealing.
The F-150 Lightning’s Normalcy
Perhaps the best part of the Ford F-150 Lightning is that it looks just like any other Ford F-150. My XLT-trim tester was even painted some boring color of silver that made it blend right in with every other car and truck in the DC metro area. Exactly one person noticed the truck in the week I was driving it, a woman who worked on green energy policy and knew exactly what it was thanks to the unique front-end treatment that most passersby missed.
Inside, it’s more of the same. The cabin is all regular-spec F-150, which is a good thing. I preferred my XLT’s smaller Sync4 touchscreen, which still measured in at 12″ but left physical buttons and knobs below for frequently-used controls. Stepping up to a Lariat or Platinum adds the 15″ all-screen setup found in the Mustang Mach-E. Ford’s power-operated folding shifter is also found here, something I love less given a rotary shift knob could accomplish the same goal with less complexity. The sound system is fine, the heated cloth buckets are comfortable, and there is no sunroof to be found because XLT.
F-150 Lightning Towing: The Specs That Matter
But we’re here to talk towing, so let’s dive in to some specs. My F-150 Lightning test truck was an Extended Range model, rated at 320 miles of range from a 131 kWh battery pack. That battery sends power to two electric motors, one on each axle, for a total of 563 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque. Ford rates the F-150 Lightning to tow 10,000 pounds when equipped with the big battery and Max Trailer Tow package, which is how mine came.
I was missing the Tow Technology Package, though, which meant I had to employ a Tekonsha Prodigy RF brake controller to operate my trailer brakes. Come on, Ford, make the trailer brake controller part of the package that allows ten thousand pounds on the hitch.
My towing test saw me leave my trailer’s storage lot – conveniently located near an Electrify America charging station – and head south and west toward Summit Point Motorsports Park. It’s an actual route I take several times a year to go racing, and it’s a hilly route that would work the truck and its batteries. Conveniently, diverting toward the end of the route would put me at a Sheetz with another bank of Electrify America DC Fast Chargers to ensure I made it home.
I’d watched the TFL Truck boys tow a very tall camper with their F-150 Lightning, and Tyler Hoover of Hoovie’s Garage tow a Ford Model A on an open aluminum trailer. Both seemed to have substantial range issues, but every trailer and towing scenario is different, and I wanted to see how the Lightning would perform for a typical weekend racer.
My 20-foot aluminum enclosed trailer was loaded up with my BMW Spec3 racecar and plenty of spare parts, for a total weight of 6,800 pounds (ish). The trailer is 27′ long from hitch to tail and is roughly ten feet tall from asphalt to roof – shorter than the camper that TFL towed and thus producing less drag.
I had been averaging about 2.3 miles per kilowatt-hour while driving the F-150 Lightning unloaded, which I knew would be cut about in half with the trailer attached. That’s basic math – and it happens when you tow my trailer with a gas- or diesel-powered vehicle, too. I’d also read Motor Trend’s article claiming the Lightning’s long-range battery holds the equivalent energy to just four gallons of gasoline. How far could you tow with four gallons of gas?
The F-150 Lightning Towing Experience
With the battery at 80% state of charge, I hit the road. My destination was only 60-some miles away, which I knew would be well within the Lightning’s range. I used the built-in navigation system, which showed my estimated state of charge upon arrival. The truck also re-calculated its remaining range as soon as I plugged the trailer’s wiring in to the seven-pin connector, offering a warning that I had to drive a few miles for the most accuracy.
Towing itself was no sweat. I left the truck in its normal drive mode, as it kept one-pedal regenerative braking active. Switching to Tow Mode disables the one-pedal aspect, instead moving to a “blending braking” scenario that can still dump power back into the battery pack but requiring your foot on the brake pedal to do so. Power was ample and acceleration was breezy. Leaving a stoplight or a toll booth was an eye-opening process of “oh, it just goes” with no gears in the way or delay as power builds.
Uphill grades were the same experience. Rock your right ankle forward a bit more and maintain speed up whatever hill, no sweat. Downhill was even more impressive, though. Where an ICE-powered truck would require downshifts to engine brake and maintain speed (while not burning up the actual brakes), in the F-150 Lightning I simply lifted my right foot either partially or all the way. Regenerative braking did its thing and kept my speed where I wanted, sending excess energy and heat back into the battery and actually adding range back to the “guess-o-meter” on the dash.
Stability was also no problem; it never is with this trailer and any F-150, really. The Lightning is only available as a crew cab with 5.5′ bed, and that mandates a 145-inch wheelbase. Save for the “ooh wow” electric drivetrain elements, towing with the Lightning was as easy as towing with the F-150 PowerBoost I sampled last year. The Lightning is roughly 1,500 pounds heavier than the burliest gas-powered F-150, weighing in at 6,590 pounds. Does that contribute to stability? Perhaps, though I can’t say I felt much difference.
Rolling in to the Sheetz, I had just enough range left to (theoretically) turn around and go home without charging. But, I had an ’80s cover band show to attend that night and had exactly zero interest waiting on the side of the highway for a tow truck if I ran out of juice. So, I plugged in.
This Doesn’t Quite Work… Yet
The F-150 Lightning quickly ramped up to its maximum 150 kW charging speed, and I didn’t need all that much time to get back to 80% SOC, maybe half an hour. The issue, though, is that the Sheetz wasn’t really set up to accommodate trailers hooked up to vehicles being charged. I stuck out into the path of travel, though there was still room for people to get by and use the gas pump closest to the truck. This “parking space style” of charging is the norm and it is a massive road block for electric trucks being used to tow anything much distance.
Beyond charging station layout, having chargers along highway routes with properly fast charging speeds is also crucial for adoption. Could I take the F-150 Lightning to VIR with my trailer? It’s a 250-mile route that would require a stop or two, and the chargers along that route are only rated at 50 kW, which would add far too much time to the journey to be practical.
And of course, the biggest elephant in the room is that “4 gallons of gas” thing. Energy density is just not there with current battery technology. Towing a trailer – especially an enclosed car trailer or a camper – adds a ton of aerodynamic drag, which is the enemy of range and efficiency. The Lightning dropped from 2.3 mi/kWh to roughly 0.9 mi/kWh in my testing. Expected, but 117 to 120 miles of towing is not enough realistic range if you’re looking to road-trip to, say, a world-class racetrack 250 miles or more from your home.
What the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning did make me feel was excitement. It’s a fantastic truck if it meets your needs. And if your needs dictate more towing than is really feasible today… my hope is that the industry and technology will eventually “get there” for more distance between charges with a trailer hanging off the back of the truck. The Lightning provided the best towing experience I’ve had, ever, thanks to the drivetrain. And that is indeed very exciting.
To watch my entire towing journey, check out the video below.