2021 Ford F-150 revealed: New hybrid, extra tech and more practicality

America's favorite truck has its long-anticipated upgrade, with the new 2021 Ford F-150 making its debut today. Now in its fourteenth generation, the new F-150 promises more usable functionality along with a host of new tech features, the option of hands-free assisted driving, and a hybrid engine available for the first time.

There's no mistaking it for any other pickup, certainly. The exterior is an evolution of the old model, rather than a revolution, emphasizing things like the power dome hood, wrap-around bumpers, and dropped shoulder-line. Ford has emphasized the new truck's stance by pulling out the wheels 3/4-inch and raising the front fender, while the mid-section of the doors has been tucked in.

The light signature is updated, too, with a distinctive C-clamp daytime running light. There'll be 11 grille options in total, plus 13 different wheels in sizes from 17- to 22-inches. Three headlamp systems will be offered, from halogen reflector, through LED, to LED projector with dynamic bending to curve around corners.

Despite the sharper lines, Ford says this is actually the most aerodynamically efficient F-150 to-date, with a 3-percent improvement over the outgoing truck. Helping there are active grille shutters on all models, plus a new active air dam which drops down under the front bumper automatically, depending on speed and terrain.

Practicality rules the roost. The door handles, for example, are set into larger indentations in the 2021 F-150: that's to make them easier to grab even if you're wearing bulky gloves. Some existing owners complained that it was tricky to reach into the bed from the sides, so Ford is offering power running boards which auto-deploy when you get near with the key, or can be manually deployed with a kick-switch.

The tailgate, meanwhile, now has cleats on the side, to act as tie-down points for longer items. New clamp pockets are built in, too, and there's a Tailgate Work Surface option that adds a fully flat bench with integrated rulers, phone holder, and places for cups and pens. It should be more useful even at night, too, with Ford reworking its exterior lighting so that the bed lights now illuminate all the way to the end of the tailgate. Add the Zone Lighting package, and individual sections of exterior lights can be turned on or off either from the infotainment system or via the FordPass app.

A bigger infotainment screen and more flexible cabin

Arguably the biggest complaint about the old F-150 was its dashboard, with Ford's compact touchscreen looking positively tiny compared to what rivals were offering. That's been amended with the arrival of SYNC 4, and larger dashboard displays across the range from entry-level F-150 XL, through XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited.

An 8-inch touchscreen replaces the old 4.2-inch for the XL and XLT, while everything above that gets a 12-inch panel instead. It's landscape orientation, which Ford says was preferable in its customer research as it leaves space for physical controls and buttons. There's also a new 12-inch digital instrumentation cluster available, with new full-color animations for things like drive modes.

The infotainment system is SYNC 4, which we'll also see this year on the Mustang Mach-E electric crossover. It taps a whole new electronic architecture underlying the 2021 F-150, in which every module can be upgraded with new functions and features. Ford will be able to do over-the-air (OTA) updates – which will either happen invisibly in the background or, if they're larger, allow the owner to schedule when they're installed in the next period of downtime – that improve performance as well as do preventative maintenance.

SYNC 4 has twice the computing power of the old infotainment platform, and Ford has moved all development for it in-house. There's improved natural-language voice recognition, along with more use of hands-free functionality for safety. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included.

With navigation, there's traffic and construction information, plus Yelp reviews. The Premium Navigation package adds active guidance and rerouting, enhanced points of interest with real-time searching and gas prices, and real-time weather reports. A Tow Tech Package adds not only a 360-degree camera, trailer brake controller, and blind spot coverage for both the F-150 and whatever's being towed, but smart trailer navigation that delivers routes specific to towing needs, and special tow-friendly POIs.

An eight-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system is available from the F-150 XLT up, while the 18-speaker B&O Unleashed system – which adds headliner and front headrest speakers – is optional on the Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum, and standard on the Limited.

As with the exterior, the cabin is full of thoughtful features. A Max Recline Seat option allows both front seats to recline neatly 180-degrees, while the seat base lifts and the shoulder panel tilts up 10-degrees. Available on the Platinum, King Ranch, and Limited models, it promises to be the perfect spot for a mid-job nap.

In the rear, the flat load floor now gets a new full-width, lockable bin, that folds down when not in use. It can be opened from either side of the truck, and has dividers to split up the space inside. It joins a new dual glovebox, and more space in both the center console and the door panels.

Some of the practical options demanded clever thinking in areas owners were unwilling to compromise. The Interior Work Surface option is a fold-out table in the center console, available with both the bench and captain's chair configurations, with space for a laptop or paperwork. Since F-150 fans prefer console shifters to buttons or knobs, though, Ford redesigned the lever so that it can fold down flat when the work surface is opened out.

New views have been added to the exterior cameras, and the F-150 can automatically bring up the relevant perspective when you approach an object outside. If it all sounds complicated, the good news is that there's a searchable full user manual available through the infotainment system, complete with how-to videos. You'll also be able to operate a lot of the features from the updated FordPass app, which can handle lock/unlock, remote start, climate, location, and a trailer light check and trailer theft alarm, among other features.

Engines - and the first ever F-150 Hybrid

When it comes to the engines, for the most part Ford hasn't upended things. There'll be six powertrains in total, including a new hybrid.

A 3.3-liter V6 kicks things off, with both 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 upgrades. There's also a 3.0-liter Power Stroke V6 turbocharged diesel, and a 5.0-liter V8, naturally-aspirated just like F-150 fans like it, but now with cylinder deactivation. All are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and will be rear-wheel drive as standard; 4x4 with either an open differential rear axle or electronic locking rear differential will be available.

Ford isn't talking power or torque yet, nor payload or towing capabilities. What the automaker will say is that it's targeting best-in-class figures for all four.

Coming within the next two years, there'll be an all-electric F-150. Before that, though, there'll be the first hybrid version of the truck, the F-150 PowerBoost. The hybrid system will be available on all trims, XL through to Limited, in SuperCrew form.

It pairs a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 gas engine with a 35kW (47hp) electric mother, the latter integrated with the 10-speed modular hybrid transmission. A 1.5 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery is packaged between the frame rails, below the load floor; that means, Ford says, that neither bed nor cabin space are compromised.

As with the other engines, Ford isn't talking specifics for power from the hybrid yet. What it will say is that it's targeting around 700 miles of EPA range on a tank of gas, along with at least 12,000 pounds of maximum towing capacity. Torque and horsepower will be "best in class" the automaker promises.

Three cabs, a generator, and Active Drive Assist

Just as before, Ford is using a boxed, high-strength steel frame with a high-strength aluminum alloy body. There'll be Regular Cab, SuperCab, and SuperCrew body styles, with 5.5-foot, 6.5-foor, or 8-foot beds. Regardless of that combination, all 2021 F-150 will be built in the US, at Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant and Kansas City Assembly facilities.

The fourteenth-gen has been an opportunity to try some new features, too. Pro Power Onboard integrates a generator into the truck, offering 2.0-kilowatts on the two EcoBoost and V8 gas engine models, and 2.4kW or optionally 7.2kW on the PowerBoost hybrid. There are outlets in the cabin, plus two 120-volt 20-amp outlets in the bed for the 2.0kW and 2.4kW systems, while the 7.2kW system gets four 120V 20A outlets and a 240-volt 30-amp NEMA L14-30R outlet too.

The generators work whether the F-150 is stationary or driving, and Ford says you'll get up 85 hours from the 2.4kW system on a full tank, or 32 hours with the 7.2kW system.

Ford's other big tech addition is around active driver assistance and safety. Ford Co-Pilot 360 2.0 is standard across the range, with pre-collision assist with auto emergency braking and pedestrian detection, a reversing camera with dynamic hitch support, and auto-on/off headlamps with auto-dimming. Intersection Assist – which can automatically brake the truck for a fast-moving oncoming vehicle when you're trying to make a left turn – is available, as is Active Park Assist 2.0 which can maneuver the F-150 into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot.

Arguably most exciting is Active Drive Assist. Announced earlier this month as an option on the Mustang Mach-E, it's Ford's new hands-off driver assistance system. Operating on over 100,000 miles of divided highway across the US and Canada, it will center the F-150 in the lane and keep pace with traffic, without the driver needing to put their hands on the wheel. A head- and gaze-tracking camera will make sure you're still paying attention, mind.

As with the Mustang Mach-E, Active Drive Assist won't be available until summer 2021. Ford will offer the Active Drive Assist prep kit as an option on the 2021 F-150 from day one, however, with all the hardware for the system. A paid OTA or dealer-installed software update when the functionality goes live next year will then enable it.

Plenty is riding on the new 2021 F-150

It's hard to understate just how important the F-150 is to Ford. Not only has it been the automaker's perennial best-seller, not to mention the most popular vehicle in the US for decades, it's a source of no small amount of pride for the company. There's a big audience of F-150 fans eager to see what's coming next, yes, but that's also a big group to please.

The truck segment is only getting more competitive. As well as new models from some of the more traditional automakers, there are plenty of upcoming options promised from a new cohort of EV manufacturers. Each would love to coax F-150 purists out from behind the wheel, and Ford is trying just as hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

A lot will depend on price, of course. Ford will confirm that closer to the 2021 F-150's arrival in dealerships this fall. However there's also the degree to which it simply feels like an F-150 should. For that, we'll have to wait until we get behind the wheel ourselves.