I was laying flat on my back getting a gentle massage as I looked up at the clouds and the occasional seagull passing by overhead. For a moment, I could imagine I was at spa by the beach. But in reality, I was inside a Ford F-150 pickup truck in a parking lot in the Bronx.
The illusion was nice while it lasted. The brand new 2021 Ford (F) F-150 4x4 SuperCrew Limited hybrid I was in had almost every available optional feature, putting its total price at nearly $80,000. (Without options, it would have been about $74,000 because the Limited version already includes a lot. The cheapest F-150s start at under $30,000.)
The price, at least, matched the luxury experience I was having. This truck had a glass roof and front seats that reclined all the way back to function as cots. The seats also had a customizable massage feature so my bed was giving me a back rub as I looked up at the sky.
This F-150 also had all the necessary technology hardware so that, when the software is finally ready around a year from now I could take my hands off the steering wheel on most major highways and let the truck largely drive itself.
My phone rang. It was my editor telling me to look at a story we’d been working on. Beach buzz killed, I whirred my seat back to its upright position and reached for my laptop. I pressed a button and the F-150’s gear selector folded down flat. Then I pressed another button on the center console’s extra-thick lid and flipped it open so that it created a desk between the front seats.
I plugged my laptop into a power outlet in the back of the center console and got to work. Twisting sideways to reach that center desk wasn’t the most comfortable way to type but moving the driver’s seat back a little helped. And it was certainly better than wedging my MacBook between my gut and the steering wheel as I would in most vehicles.
The F-150 has some other neat features, too, like a long storage bin that unfolds from underneath the back seats. It gives you a place to put stuff so it’s not rolling around the cab and under the seats. It’s hardly unique – both the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado offer similar storage bins – and the differences come down to which one is deeper and which ones allow you to fold the seats down while the bin is in use. (In the F-150 the bin has sides that unfold and when they are up, you get a nice deep storage bin, but then you can’t use the back seats.)
The storage bins are just part of the escalating battle among full-size pickup manufacturers to make today’s pickup trucks more comfortable and more useful for things besides hauling large heavy stuff. Companies like Ford spend countless hours watching real truck owners use their trucks in real life. Researchers observe owners’ frustrations as they try to sleep, work and store stuff where it won’t get stolen. That sort of work has led to innovations like the Ram truck’s RamBoxes – lockable storage bins inside the walls of the truck bed – and the GMC Sierra’s MultiPro tailgate that unfolds into steps, a desk, a mini tailgate inside the tailgate and more.
To compete, the F-150’s power-operated tailgate also has a fold-down step (a feature Ford has offered for years) built-in rulers, places to clamp stuff and a cubby for pens. It’s useful but not state-of-the-art like GM’s fancy tailgate.
Trucks these days are available in an enormous variety, from the basic work trucks your county parks department buys, to ones like the Limited model I was in. All the F-150 lacked was a microwave oven and a bathroom. With that, I might never have had to leave that parking lot in the Bronx. Come to think of it, the Limited model I was driving was also the new F-150 hybrid, so it had a cluster of electrical sockets in the bed connected to the truck’s big batteries. The lack of a microwave was my fault. I should have brought one.
On the road, the hybrid system worked amazingly well, smoothly shifting between its turbocharged V6 engine and battery power as I drove home on the highway. It’s not a plug-in hybrid – it generates all its own electricity – but it is the most powerful as well as the most fuel-efficient F-150. With the same EPA-estimated 24 miles per gallon in both city and highway driving, it gets about four more mpg, on average, than the comparable non-hybrid version.
Beyond that, the experience would be familiar to F-150 owners. It’s a big, tall truck, wallowing in turns, bounding through big bumps. If there’s such a thing as a “driver’s pickup,” the F-150 isn’t even trying for that. This truck drives like a truck.
When I arrived back home I dropped the power-operated tailgate and popped open a bottle of winter ale on the latch tabs designed just for that purpose. They were also designed to hold the tailgate closed, of course, and to function as tie-down tabs for long items. It’s a small detail, but by looking after its owners like that Ford can probably count on continuing to be the best selling truck in America for a good while longer.