By Chuck Giametta
What changes will make the 2021 Ford F-150 different?
A full redesign with fresh styling, a modernized interior, and new powertrains — including electrified options. The first all-new F-150 since model-year 2015 will retain cabs and beds made of aluminum and a lineup spanning no-frills work trucks to leather-trimmed luxury liners.
Expect little-changed dimensions and relatively minor bodywork alterations. Do anticipate bigger-than-ever infotainment screens with next-generation software, more upscale amenities, and an innovative folding gearshift. A plug-in-hybrid that can travel short distances on electricity alone and a pure-electric F-150 are in the pipeline, too.
Should I wait for the 2021 Ford F-150 or buy a 2020?
Wait for the ’21 to get the latest looks, features, and functionality. As America’s perennial No.-1 selling vehicle, this half-ton pickup is Ford’s most important product, worthy of its best of engineering resources. Unprecedented competition from the Ram 1500, upgrades to the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Ford’s fumbled rollout of the 2020 Explorer SUV magnify the need to get this redesign right. Waiting for the ’21 makes you the potential beneficiary of that imperative.
Buy a 2020 F-150 if you want a truck that still looks contemporary and offers configurations, powertrains, and features to meet any need. And if you’re a fan of the off-road Raptor, you may have to wait until model-year 2022 or even ’23 for a redesigned edition. So buying a 2020 model might be you’re only choice for a while.
Discounts and incentives should be generous on any 2020 F-150, as dealers press to clear inventories before the redesigned models arrive. Be aware, though, that the coronavirus pandemic could disrupt Ford’s initial plan to launch the ’21 F-150 in the second half of 2020. If you need a new pickup, a 2020 F-150 is a bird in the hand.
Be it a holdover ’20 or an all-new ’21, the F-150 formula won’t change. It’ll return two-door Regular Cabs, extended SuperCabs (the ’21 likely retaining rear-hinged back doors that don’t open independently), and SuperCrew crew cabs with four conventional doors. Depending on body style, 5.5-, 6.5-, and 8-foot cargo beds will return. And where an engine would ordinarily be, the F-150 EV (electric vehicle) will have a “frunk,” a watertight, illuminated “front trunk” with multiple power points. Some reports say it’ll be made more accessible by a grille engineered to drop down or fold open.
Ford could expand already-abundant trim levels, but the fundamental F-150 roster should begin again at the entry-level XL and ascend through XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited grades. If Ford holds to tradition, introduction of the redesigned F-150 Raptor, a four-wheel-drive (4WD) model designed for sporty off-road use, will follow in a model year or two, leaving the 2020-spec version your only choice.
Will 2021 Ford F-150 styling be different?
Yes, but not dramatically. The new F-150 will reprise the outgoing truck’s handsome squared-up forms and its trademark beltline dip at the front roof pillars. The biggest changes will be to the front. Expect a higher hoodline and model-specific grille variations, including a move away from horizontal double-belt bars and “c-clamp” headlights. Look for stacked rectangular headlights, reshaped taillamps, new colors and graphics, and fresh wheel designs. Some sort of split or segmented tailgate would match Ram and GM offerings. When it arrives, redesigned Raptor exclusives will again include bulged fenders and unique grille, wheels, tires, and trim.
The most sweeping updates will come in the cabin. Ford needs to close the gap with the upscale, tech-forward interiors available on the Ram and stay ahead of GM’s Silverado and Sierra upgrades. Anticipate fancier materials, including richer leather and more of it, plus expanded use of real wood on King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited models. (Carbon fiber trim is a possibility for the next-gen Raptor.) Passenger space will remain generous, although more rear legroom would help the SuperCab match top rivals.
Most if not all ’21 F-150 grades will get a configurable digital gauge cluster. And while Ram employs a dashboard twist knob to change gears and GM a traditional steering-column stalk, Ford seems to have a solution that retains the current truck’s front-center-console shift lever while freeing up valuable real estate between the seats. Some ’21 F-150 models should get a shift lever hinged at its base, with a thumb release that allows it to fold down, creating a semi-flat platform suitable for, say, a laptop.
The 2021 F-150’s dashboard will retain its basic layout. Vertical air vents will flank a central infotainment screen. Below that will be generously sized knobs for audio and climate systems, each supplemented by rows of square buttons. Expect 4WD engagement via a sizable knob right of the steering column.
The portrait-oriented 12-inch infotainment display available on upper trims has become a celebrated Ram selling point. The ’21 F-150 answers with a choice of 8-, 12-, and 15.5-inch touchscreens, nearly square in shape and capable of presenting multiple data points simultaneously: think maps, apps, vehicle data, and audio info.
Helping populate the new screens will be Ford’s Sync 4 software, with double the computing power of Sync 3 and better at combining conversational voice recognition with internet search results. Ford touts Sync 4’s machine-learning ability to make suggestions based on previous inputs. Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Sync AppLink compatibility is new, too.
Any 2021 Ford F-150 mechanical changes?
Mostly by addition of electrified options. Expect the F-150 plug-in hybrid to build on powertrain engineering introduced with the 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring crossover. It’ll team a twin-turbo 3.0 V-6 with an electric motor, a combo that nets 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque in the Lincoln. Harvesting an initial charge from the grid, look for an F-150 EV range of no more than 20-25 miles on battery power alone – and that with an empty bed and no trailer — before it automatically switches to conventional-hybrid mode.
Ford previewed the F-150 EV in a video of a prototype towing a row of rail cars – a 1.25-million-pound load, according to the automaker. It’ll pitch the EV as fun to drive and capable in deep snow, too. Little is known about its drive system, but Ford is quite aware the coming Tesla Cybertruck and GMC’s revived Hummer EV pickup promise top models with up to three electric motors, some 1,000 horsepower, and a 500-mile range.
The F-150 EV may share some technology with the Rivian R1T, a pickup from an American startup manufacturer in which Ford holds an interest. Due in fall 2020, the R1T uses front and rear motors to achieve 4WD. The top-line R1T promises 754 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 3.0 seconds, and at least a 400-mile range; it could have an $80,000-plus starting price. With bodywork little different from a standard F-150, however, the F-150 EV won’t mimic trends set by the uniquely styled R1T, Cybertruck, and Hummer.
The F-150 plug-in and EV will join a roster of carryover engines updated to varying degrees. It’ll start with a 3.3-liter V-6, which made 290 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque for model-year 2020. Also available: two EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6s, a 2.7-liter (325 horsepower, 400 pound-feet for ‘20) and a 3.5 (375 and 470). A naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 (395 horsepower, 400 pound-feet) will return, along with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 (250 horses, 440 pound-feet).
Along with the 2020 F-150 Limited, the current-generation Raptor uses an EcoBoost 3.5 V-6 with 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. That High Output 3.5 might again be the standard engine for both the redesigned Limited and the carryover Raptor. Looking ahead to the redesigned Raptor, a new option might be a version of the supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 that makes 760 horses and 625 pound-feet of torque in the Mustang Shelby GT500. That V-8 would be Ford’s counterpunch to the expected 2022 Ram 1500 Rebel TRX with its 700-plus horsepower supercharged Hellcat V-8.
That future V-8 Raptor could use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All other ’21 F-150s except the EV will have a 10-speed automatic; the EV would incorporate a one-speed automatic. Given Ford’s rail-car demo, the EV will likely boast extravagant tow ratings, while gas models should again top out around 13,200 pounds, the diesel V-6 around 11,400.
Four-wheel drive will be standard on the EV and Raptor and optional on other models in place of rear-drive. Expect the basic 4WD setup to be part-time, and not intended to remain engaged on dry pavement. Uplevel trims will again offer full-time 4WD, which can apportion power to all four wheels as needed and on any surface. All 4WD systems will again include low-range gearing for off-road use. Redesigned or not, the ’21 Raptor will return a unique setup that can optimize power and traction for extreme off-roading.
All 2021 F-150s will retain a steel frame. An independent-front/solid-axle-rear setup will again be the default suspension, updated in pursuit of improved ride and handling. Some sources say the redesigned Raptor will replace rear leaf springs with coil springs. And an air suspension, adjustable for height and ride comfort, is likely for the plug-in and EV models and a probable option for upper trims.
Will 2021 Ford F-150 fuel economy improve?
Expect minor improvements for carryover powertrains thanks to technical advances and maybe even lighter curb weights. The plug-in hybrid and EV models will usher in unprecedented F-150 efficiency. For reference, here are 2020 F-150 EPA ratings:
Models with rear-wheel drive rated 19/25/22 mpg city/highway combined with the 3.3-liter V-6, 20/26/22 with the 2.7-liter turbo V-6, 17/23/19 with the 5.0-liter V-8, and 17/23/19 with the 375-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. With the turbodiesel V-6, ratings were 21/29/24 mpg.
Four-wheel-drive ratings were 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined with the 3.3-liter V-6, 18/23/20 with the 2.7, 16/22/18 with the V-8, and 15/21/18 with the 375-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. The 2020 Raptor rated 15/18/16 mpg and the turbodiesel V-6 20/25/22.
The High Output 3.5-liter V-6 – and any V-8 Raptor — are apt to require premium 91-octane gas. All other gas-only F-150s would use regular-grade 87-octane fuel, with certain versions of the 3.3-liter V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8 capable of running on E85 Ethanol. Ultra-low sulfur fuel should be required for the diesel, which probably will again employ a urea-based exhaust-treatment fluid that needs periodic replenishing.
Instead of 20-25 miles on battery power, some early conjecture pegs the plug-in hybrid’s electric-only range at little more than 10 miles. That wouldn’t be very useful. But the plug-in would have other virtues – ready torque, in particular. And Ford could perhaps set it up to electrically power job-site tools or camping accessories. A rough estimate puts EPA ratings around 50 mpg-e (miles per gallon of gas equivalent) on battery power and around 20 mpg city-highway combined running as a conventional hybrid.
Leveraging the platform it’ll share with other F-150s, Ford may well position the EV as a “budget” alternative to its bespoke electric-pickup rivals. If it is indeed priced substantially less, that could compensate for more modest performance and range. Still, it’ll need to be competitive with at least the entry-level versions of the others in this class, which suggests 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds or so and at least a 250-mile range.
Will the 2021 Ford F-150 have new features?
Yes. In addition to features already mentioned, don’t be surprised if Ford introduces such items as hands-free parallel-parking assist and a reclining rear seatback for crew cabs. Telematics with more app-based remote control of functions, such as cabin pre-heating and vehicle-status monitoring, are possible as well. So are more creative cargo-bed storage solutions, such as built-in bins or boxes.
Autonomous emergency braking that can bring the truck to a stop to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian should be standard across the board. Other returning driver assists, standard or optional depending on model, will include full-speed adaptive cruise control that maintains a set following distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go traffic. Blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection and lane-maintaining automatic steering will again be available. Semi-autonomous driving with lane-centering steering may be among new driver assists. Enhancing the returning surround-view camera with “see-through” trailer capability is also likely.
Will 2021 Ford F-150 prices be different?
They’ll increase, probably modestly for most carryover models, with the plug-in hybrid and EV set to be the costliest F-150s ever. Few vehicles will again span a broader price spectrum. Estimated base prices here include Ford’s destination fee, which was $1,695 for the 2020 F-150.
With rear-wheel drive and the base engine, figure 2021 F-150 starting prices of around $29,000 for the XL trim, around $34,000 for the XLT, and around $45,500 for the Lariat. Estimated base prices are $55,700 for the ’21 King Ranch, $58,500 for the Platinum, and around $70,000 for the Limited. Expect the ’21 Raptor to be priced from about $57,000 with the V-6.
Depending on the trim level, the 4WD should again add $3,400-$4,650 to rear-drive models. Optional engines and bed sizes, and of course extra-cost features, would add thousands more.
A rough estimate prices the 2021 F-150 plug-in hybrid at around $60,000 to start. If Ford positions the EV as a value proposition versus the competition, it could start around $60,000 but reach near $100,000 if, like its rivals, it offers a range of battery capacities and multiple motors.
When will the 2021 Ford F-150 come out?
The 2021 F-150 release date was supposed be in June 2020, with the plug-in hybrid likely introduced later in 2020. Most sources say the EV was slated for a calendar-2021 launch as a ’21 or ’22 model. And the latest reports peg the next-gen Raptor as a 2022 or ’23. All these release dates — particularly for the main roster of redesigned models — are subject to disruptions in production and other delays associated with the coronavirus pandemic.