The 2021 Ford F-150 ushers in the latest generation of F-150 pickups, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely new. Reliability and durability are major pickup selling points, so things that aren’t broken don’t get fixed. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for a redesigned truck to use carryover engines and transmissions from the previous model, and that’s exactly the case with this 2021 Ford F-150 XLT and its 2.7-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission.
Though small in traditional truck terms, the 2.7 packs a punch. With 325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, it’s nearly as powerful as the traditional 5.0-liter V-8 Ford also offers. Since both were getting the job done just fine, neither was changed for 2021. As a result, their performance pretty much stayed the same, too.
Stand on the gas, and the 2.7 will scoot this Crew Cab truck to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. Not only is that 0.2 second quicker than a 2018 version we tested, it’s a tenth of a second quicker than a 2021 F-150 with the 5.0 V-8. What’s more impressive is this 2021 Crew Cab XLT is slightly heavier than the 2018 Super Crew Lariat we tested. The quarter-mile result also improved, but only by a tenth of a second. Still, the truck was traveling 2.6 mph faster, which could be down to different tires and better aerodynamics. The 2021 F-150 employs several tricks such as grille shutters and a power-extended air dam along with static aerodynamic improvements.
Whatever the aero tricks may or may not be doing for straight-line performance, they don’t help EPA-estimated fuel economy. The 2.7 still returns 19/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined, same as the 2018 truck did.
A combination of tires and suspension improvements is the likely source of the new truck’s improved handling performance. The 2021 F-150 pulled 0.79 average lateral g on our skidpad, up from 0.76 g for the 2018. The 2021’s lap time on our figure-eight handling test likewise improved, in this case by 0.5 second to 27.9 seconds.
This dovetails neatly with our subjective impressions, in which we found the new F-150 to ride and handle noticeably better than the old one. The previous F-150 was the most truck-like of the Big Three pickups. The Chevrolet Silverado handled better and rode about the same; the Ram 1500 rode better and handled about the same. The current F-150 nicely splits the difference, handling nearly as well as the Chevy and riding nearly as well as the Ram.
We’re similarly pleased with the carryover engine and transmission. The performance improvements may not be enough to feel from the driver’s seat, but the 2.7 wasn’t lacking in driver fulfillment to begin with. It’s always been a Goldilocks of an engine, with its turbochargers providing a pleasant burst of torque when you put your foot down. Unless you’re planning on maxing out your truck’s payload or tow ratings on a regular basis, this is all the engine you need to get most jobs done.
Getting jobs done is a bigger focus than ever on the latest F-150. Ford has all kinds of new optional features meant to help you do real truck stuff, and critically, most of them aren’t gimmicks (except maybe the bottle openers in the tailgate tie-downs). The why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-before crowning achievement is the optional Pro Power onboard generator system, which is available on every trim level and with nearly every engine. Sure, trucks have had power outlets in the cab and in the bed before, but too often they’ve been connected to dinky inverters that couldn’t handle pumping up an air mattress at the campsite, much less running power tools at the jobsite. This 2.0-kilowatt system is enough to run two power tools such as a saw and an air compressor simultaneously.
Other handy features include the optional collapsible shifter and fold-out worktable in the cab. When the shifter is up, you get an extra bin that’s just the right size for your phone. After it noisily motors down and you fold out the table from the armrest, it’s great for a right-hander to take notes or sign documents and even better for eating off of (though not when you’re moving, because the shifter won’t retract unless you’re parked, for safety and control reasons).
Also useful is the optional tailgate work surface. The integrated phone/tablet stands are definitely handy, but the measuring stick only works if you can lay what needs measuring on the tailgate. The pockets for attaching C-clamps to the tailgate are similarly clever, again so long as your item fits the workspace.
Back inside the cab, Ford has evolved the interior design rather than starting from scratch. It has enhanced the old design and made it more functional. The centerpiece is the optional massive infotainment screen, which looks the business but seems like it needs a software update to fix its laggy response time (Ford claims it has twice the computing power as before, so it’s likely not a hardware issue). And Ford has done far better in embracing color and higher-finish materials than Chevy, following the lead set by Ram with its class-leading interiors.
Ford clips both its key competitors in tech. The optional Co-Pilot360 suite of advanced driver assistance systems is well ahead of what Ram and Chevy offer, as is the truck’s ability to accept over-the-air software updates. That will soon bring owners the ability to download Amazon Alexa into their truck as well as BlueCruise, a hands-free highway driving system similar to Tesla’s Autopilot with Autosteer and Cadillac/Chevrolet’s Super Cruise (for a fee, of course).
Ford may not have chosen to update key components like the 2.7-liter engine and 10-speed transmission for 2021, but the decision was born out of practicality, not laziness or lack of funds. Indeed, much was spent elsewhere on this truck, and as a result it drives better and offers far more advanced technology and clever, useful features than ever. The 2021 F-150 2.7 EcoBoost may not be entirely new, but you wouldn’t know that by driving it.
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