Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
FOrd F-150

Ford adds hybrid tech to its venerable pickup truck line

By Jim Bray
June 3, 2021

If you drive a pickup and find its fuel mileage a tad, shall we say, anemic, would you think about embracing hybrid technology to help ease that fuel bill?

How about if the raise in mileage was only a few miles per gallon?

I suppose it would depend on how much of a percentage improvement that might be – and in a pickup truck (a genre not known for fuel mileage) even a few MPG could be a large percentage improvement.

There are other reasons to think about a hybrid now, though. Time was when buying a hybrid meant you were paying through the nose for a small and light – and gutless – little car that may have improved your gas mileage and given you an excuse to signal to the world how wonderful and green you are. I mean, I remember driving one of the original Honda Insights (the first widely available hybrid) and that little squashed bug of a car nearly had me (well, my wife…) getting out to push it up some of the mountainous hills in my neck of the woods.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

I hated hybrids back then. But that was then and now there are many compelling reasons to buy a hybrid as long as you can live with the damn continuously variable automatic transmissions with which most of them come saddled. Those reasons include increased oomph, where today's hybrids offer performance that feels very much like a turbocharger, but without the "whoosh" of a turbo coming on.

So it is with Ford's F-150 PowerBoost, which is a full hybrid powertrain that enhances Ford's 3.5 litre V-6 and is, according to Ford, the only full-hybrid powertrain available in a pickup. The company also says the PowerBoost system cranks out a lovely 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft of torque - the most torque ever offered in an F-150.

And it feels as robust as all get out! This was one of the most fun and interesting pickup truck drives I've experienced – and as a "not a pickup truck guy" I came away impressed. Not enough to run out and buy a pickup truck (I think I'd have to have a stroke first…), but enough to see why some folks would want to pick up such a pickup.

"Just because it's a hybrid doesn't mean we treated PowerBoost with kid gloves," said Craig Schmatz, F-150 chief engineer. "To earn Built Ford Tough certification, PowerBoost went through the torture testing we put all of our powertrains through. No F-150 powertrain gets a pass, we have one standard for quality and durability."

Tests of the hybrid truck included towing "fully loaded trailers over desert mountain passes in 100-plus degree temperatures, withstanding punishing terrain off-road, conquering frozen tundras, and enduring high-humidity chambers, salt baths and roads designed to destroy." Sounds like a typical day in southern Alberta – other than the 100-degree temperatures and high humidity.  

As a non-fan of trucks, I was surprised to find that this particular F-150 (the line has received major upgrades for this 2021 model year) is a pretty nice place to spend time and, like some other vehicles such as the Kia Telluride, it actually feels smaller than its is when you drive it. This, to me, is a good thing because I find such large vehicles tend to drive like I imagine an aircraft carrier would. Here, other than the typical skipping around of the live axle rear end when you go over bumps, frost heaves, etc., the thing feels quite responsive, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the hybrid's use of power and torque.
Inside, the instrument panel is dominated by a new LCD screen that emulates analogue instruments. This is a fairly new innovation on higher end cars and I generally like it quite a bit. I like an analogue tachometer, so a digital rendering of this is quite welcome, whereas I prefer a digital readout for the speed – which is a common feature now on many if not most new vehicles – so Ford's layout here was just fine as far as I was concerned.

Another nifty innovation here is the fact that, at least on Ford's sample's Lariat trim level, when you put the truck's transmission into park you can fold down the shift lever flush with the centre console and flip up a big, flat panel that turns the front row into a real – or almost real – mobile office with a flat spot large enough to hold your laptop computer. And since it only works when in Park, you won't be tempted to use the computer while you're driving.

That shift lever lets you control the truck's 10-speed automatic transmission, which works well despite shifting kind of jerkily at times. And, like the other 10-speeds I've driven, it upshifts to top gears as quickly as it can, to save fuel mileage. I guess this makes more sense in a hybrid, though I don't like this many gears in most vehicles precisely because they keep the revs low and that means when you need a shot of power you have to go down several gears instead of just a couple.

Here, there's so much torque on hand that the issue nearly works itself out. Nearly. Besides, at least it isn't a CVT!

As is often the case with Ford products, I had trouble getting the otherwise quite comfortable driver's seat to a perfect position. I'm not sure if this is an organized plot to annoy me or if my legs are too short (or my bum is too wide…) for such a perch, but at least my angst was less than with some other Fords, partially, I'm sure, because I could ameliorate the issue by using the adjustable pedals.

One thing that made life with the hybrid pickup truck more pleasant was its retractable running boards. This isn't a uniquely hybrid thing (you can get it on other F-150's as well), but this five foot six-ish guy found them a real life saver for getting into and out of this tall vehicle. Alas, they groan like a CVT transmission when they "extract" and "retract", but other than that they work just great.

Ford's new version of Sync continues the company's tradition of offering one of the best interfaces in the industry. It's touch screen-based, and very straightforward. It's more than a tad slow, but not as slow as some other manufacturers' and the fact that it works so well tends to make me cut its speed some slack.

I had one issue with the F-150's security alarm. Well, three actually, because that's the number of times it came on unprovoked, hollering its warning around our neighbourhood as if it was merely announcing its presence to all the folks on our street. And judging by how many of those neighbours had already come over to check out the hybrid, it didn't need to proclaim its presence.

Still, the "Velocity Blue" paint was quite lovely.

The F-150 4X4 SUPERCREW, the basis of Ford's test sample, is priced starting at $61,845 Canadian, but the 3.5L PowerBoost Full-Hybrid option adds $4,850 to the tab. Ford's sample also came with such stuff as a twin panel moonroof ($1,750), FX4 off road package ($9500), power tailgate ($800), and a bunch of other stuff.

All those options added together up the fiscal ante by just shy of 20 grand, which brings Ford's sample's sticker price to $81,765. That's serious lucre, though this is obviously a serious truck.

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray

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