2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost Hybrid Review: One Tank of Gas, 723 Happy Miles
No hypermiling here—this was in-city, rush-hour, highway-cruising, kid-hauling, a-lot-of-everything driving.
When it came time to finally launch the 2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost, Ford understood that getting loyal truck owners to pay attention to a hybrid pickup would be a monumental challenge. In a segment where engine displacement is worn like a Boy Scout badge of pride and big, dirty engines are considered badass, introducing a pricey and complicated new drivetrain would seem risky and awfully disruptive. Doing so would require top-notch execution, a rock-solid business case, and a genius marketing strategy. But Ford's spent the last six years convincing truckers that the EcoBoost V6 is just as capable as the venerable V8, if not more. And since V8s are essentially ingrained in American truck culture, Ford seems like it's pretty used to these uphill battles at this point.
All new for its 14th generation, the 2021 F-150 looks to build upon its impressive reputation as America's best-selling vehicle—and truck—by simply tweaking its proven recipe rather than reinventing it. One of those tweaks is launching a new hybrid truck, which will act as a sort of opening act in Ford's big electrified concert. The main act? The upcoming F-150 electric pickup.
The F-150 PowerBoost is a gasoline-powered, full-size hybrid pickup truck. And whether customers asked for it or not, the hybrid F-150 sets out to redefine efficiency and practicality, and to steal the title of the most technologically advanced pickup money can buy today.
Ford's strategy to promote the PowerBoost? Easy. Give truck owners what they want and what they've always wanted: Excess. More power, more torque, more payload and towing capacity, a longer driving range, more work- and life-friendly gadgets, and, of course, better fuel economy.
On that front: how does 723 miles to a tank and 24.2 miles per gallon combined sound?
2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost 4x4 SuperCrew XLT, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $45,500 ($65,256)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 | 10-speed modular hybrid automatic transmission | 35-kilowatt electric motor | 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery | rear-wheel drive with selectable four-wheel drive and low range
- Horsepower: 430 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 570 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
- Max Towing Capacity: 12,400 pounds
- Max Payload Capacity: 1,830 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: 24 city | 24 highway | 24 combined
- Quick Take: I didn't encounter one scenario where the PowerBoost wasn't a darling to drive, and the figures speak for themselves.
The trip odometer was nearing 700 miles—Ford's claimed estimate of how far an F-150 PowerBoost could travel on a single tank of gas—when I began wondering just how many more miles I could've driven had I actually tried to save fuel. The challenge-loving nerd in me was mad about this being a real-world driving test and not a balls-out attempt to see how much I could squeeze out of the hybrid truck by pulling every trick in the hypermiler's handbook.
Everything displayed on the 12-inch digital gauge cluster made me happy: 24.2 mpg, 36.8 electric miles driven, and most importantly, 67 miles to empty. I was on track to not only meet Ford's single tank range—carefully described as "estimated" and "approximate" in the truck's literature—but actually beat it by a couple of dozen miles.
I elbowed my son, who was sleeping in the passenger seat, and proudly proclaimed over my imaginary PA, "We're nearing the end of our journey, guys!" My son and daughter gave me this look like, "Woo, big deal, dad," while my wife simply said, "Good job." You know, the kind of "good job" you get from your significant other when they really couldn't give a crap.
Nonetheless, I was pumped, and no one was going to take that away from me. The delta between miles traveled and miles to empty reassured me that I'd cruise past the 700-mile mark for quite some time, so now it was up to my co-driver to do the rest. The goal was to get us as close to zero miles to empty without risking getting stranded on the side of the road, so I tasked my son with finding a few gas stations ahead of us along our route.
He played it too conservative at first, so we cruised past the first gas station with a solid 30 miles to empty. The next station came along, 24 miles to empty. Next one, 20 miles to empty. Even he started getting a bit excited, seeing how we were playing this weird game of cat and mouse. Suddenly, he said something I really didn't want to hear: The next gas station was five miles away, but the one after that was approximately 23 miles from our current location at the time.
I had to make a decision. Play it safe and possibly leave some miles on the table, or go for broke and squeeze the most out of the truck. It didn't take me long to decide. I was somewhere in Arkansas with my family and with a $65,000 truck that didn't belong to me, so I pulled into the station five miles up the road and parked at the pump.
My gauges read the following: 708.1 miles traveled, 24.2 mpg, 37.1 electric miles traveled and 13:36 hours traveled. And the magic number: 15 miles to empty.
What's more, it took exactly 30 gallons to top off the truck, meaning that I had used all but 0.6 gallons of fuel by the time I decided to stop (PowerBoost has a 30.6-gallon tank standard). At the rate I was driving, I would've been able to continue for another 14.52 miles before reaching zero miles to empty, putting me exactly 3.5 miles away from the next station. Had I slowed down from 70 mph, or hopped onto an access road to make better use of the electric-only driving mode, I could've made it.
This whole adventure had begun a few days earlier when Ford kindly dropped off a Velocity Blue F-150 PowerBoost with a full tank of gas at my house. Given its importance to the truck segment and the impressive mileage figures, I immediately looked up the truck's fuel capacity and estimated driving range to plan a long-distance run. Ford wants to come out swinging with 700-mile-range estimates? Fine. I'd put it to the test.
Reminiscing on an episode of Netflix's Somebody Feed Phil that focused on the best barbecue near the Mississippi Delta, it occurred to me that I could use the F-150's extra long legs to chase down some of the same food joints featured on the show.
After plotting a few waypoints on Google Maps, I quickly realized that everything lined up for a proper, mixed-driving, full-tank driving range test. And after coming up with some hard rules for getting accurate data, it was time to get to work.
- The Goal: To see how far I could travel on one tank of fuel
- The Rules: Top off the truck with fuel, reset the trip computer, and always stick to the speed limit. Most importantly—do not hypermile. Above all, I wanted to deliver an achievable, real-world figure, and not an astronomical number that only made Ford look good but wasn't attainable by regular owners.
- The Result: 723.1 miles (including the 15 miles I had left to empty)
Highway or City, PowerBoost Just Makes Sense
That 723.1 miles on one tank of fuel was impressive. Here's how I did it.
We were cruising down I-65 approaching Nashville, it was a chilly 33 degrees out and the kids were asleep in the back seat. We'd been on the road for a few hours already as we aimed to arrive bright and early at The Loveless Cafe, a Nashville institution known for its country breakfast. By the time we'd left home, I had already driven the truck approximately 80 miles in stop-and-go city traffic, so my impressive mileage average due to the truck's electric-only mode had been reduced thanks to highway speeds and rolling hills.
After downing more biscuits than I care to admit, we cruised through downtown Nashville to catch a glimpse of the popular spots before hopping on I-40 West toward Memphis. It was interesting watching the trip metrics on the all-digital gauge cluster in front of me, especially in the city, when the F-150 glided silently from stoplight to stoplight hardly ever triggering its gas engine. It almost felt like cheating from a mileage perspective, as the battery and electric motor allowed me to roam around without negatively affecting my precious mpgs. This was reflected on the gauge cluster, which showed a specific metric for electric miles driven.
Even when cruising at 35 to 40 mph, the 3.5-liter V6 would shut down while the PowerBoost system squeezed the most out of its 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery to propel the 5,517-pound truck. These brief, all-electric stints in town, plus some stop-and-go traffic, helped make up whatever efficiency was lost on the highway.
Once in Memphis, however, a real challenge arose. It was the weekend, the downtown area where we were staying was seriously crowded, and we had lots of in-city driving to do in order to visit all the places on our list over the next two days. All of these things threatened to stretch the battery's range thin and eliminated the hybrid's advantage.
See, while the battery gives the F-150 the necessary power to keep the gas engine from gulping fuel in the city, that power has a limit. Run the battery long enough or too much and it's only a matter of time until you have to recharge it. How do you recharge it? By running the gas engine.
This meant that despite most of our commutes within Memphis being short, they took a long time due to heavy traffic and we ended up relying mostly on gasoline. Of course, this knocked off a few mpgs off our average, but then again, this was the real-world part of the test in action. This kept things balanced in the long run.
More Than Just a Really Advanced Engine
Everything about the new-generation F-150 is a step up from the previous one—I'd know because I leased a 2017 XLT model nearly identical to this one in terms of equipment for three years. The all-new exterior retains some of the classic F-Series lines in the front and rear, but also instills a sense of being modern, techy, and just down with the times. It's a truck that should appeal to new and legacy truck owners alike.
The new interior, too, has been completely overhauled. Just like previous generations, it's handsome and practical, the dual 12-inch screens (gauge cluster and center console) are first-class, and the everyday usability is exactly what you'd expect from America's best-selling vehicle. It's what a full-size pickup truck should be inside and out.
Overall comfort is one of the truck's major strengths outside its powertrain. After spending over 17 hours in its cabin over the course of three days, I can attest to Ford's excellent seats, suspension, and overall ergonomics—and this wasn't even a cushy Platinum, Limited, or King Ranch. This was an honest-to-goodness XLT model with cloth seats (though, thankfully, those were heated).
The steering wheel aligned perfectly with the driver, the visibility was excellent; though the angular side mirrors were somewhat odd with their size and shape and felt more at home on a sporty crossover than a half-ton pickup truck. And lastly, it was extremely quiet, something that really stood out when it was cruising on electric-only mode.
Verdict on the 2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost
As someone familiar with F-150s and just trucks in general, I can confidently report the 2021 F-150 PowerBoost has the chops to do truck things and do them right—and it can even be a sensible city commuter that won't break your wallet at the pump.
Of course, it's not perfect, as is usually the case with most of Ford's first-released models. While everything went off without a hitch over the course of my weeklong test, it was the drivetrain's clunkiness that stood out as the only mark against it.
Take off from a standstill on battery power and you'll feel a kick in the pants when the gasoline engine activates, followed by a loud click when it shifts into second gear. The issue was intermittent and I could never figure out exactly what triggered it, but it was definitely a thing. This sort of drivetrain disconnect has existed in previous F-150 models before—non-hybrids, of course—as I clearly remember a similar issue in my truck as well as other press units I've tested. You'd think that'd be fixed in this new-gen truck.
This issue doesn't affect the performance or drivability of the F-150, but it's not something you want in a brand-new, expensive truck, either.
Aside from those occasional hard and clunky take-offs, my driving experience in the 2021 F-150 PowerBoost was refined and extremely comfortable. And at times—only when necessary—it was pretty darn quick. Lay heavy on the throttle from a standstill or even at highway speeds and the PowerBoost absolutely lurches forward with Raptor-like urgency. It's no secret that besides making it super efficient, the hybrid system really works wonders for acceleration.
When I initiated my test, I thought that paying $65,000 for an XLT model was simply ludicrous, but by the end of it, I actually walked away from it thinking it was a fair deal. There's just so much to love about the hybrid system, the cabin, the features, the technology, and even the looks of the thing. While the F-150 PowerBoost doesn't have a direct hybrid competitor right now, it's not hard to find similarly-priced full-size trucks out there.
Perhaps my specific loaner's only demerit is that it was an XLT model with cloth seats (though it had every other option you could ever need and want). Higher-trim models are indeed available, with loads of chrome or leather throughout, but for more money. Cash-wise, it wouldn't take much to spec a Ram or Silverado up to what Ford charges for its hybrid truck, of course, but going that route would net you a swankier interior and not a hybrid drivetrain, onboard generator, and better fuel economy.
It's far from cheap, but if you're looking for a truck that can work hard, play hard, and also play smart, the F-150 PowerBoost should be your top contender at the moment. Oh, and the best grub in Memphis is at Cozy Corner BBQ—it turns out Phil was right.
Email the author at email@example.com
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