What do you want your Ford F-150 hybrid to be? Do you want a seat-pinning 570-lbs. of torque and 430 horses that rival a Raptor off the line, or a family hauler that will tow your boat while still beating most large SUVs in fuel economy? Perhaps you’re looking for a 4x4 that can chew 700 miles of dirt in the oil fields in West Texas before a fill up? Or maybe you need a mobile metal shop to power your plasma cutter, TIG welder, and air compressor?
The long-anticipated 2021-MY Ford F-150 hybrid is all those things. But first, it might be best to dispense with the hybrid label entirely. Yes, this optional powerplant combines a twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine with a 35-kW electric motor, good for a 47-hp boost to make it the highest output powertrain in the F-150 lineup. But let’s face it, the word “hybrid” never connoted any benefit anyway. Call this combo what Ford wants us to — PowerBoost — because that’s essentially how it serves the above scenarios.
PowerBoost is the big news with the new F-150, though the latest model comes with other work-specific new features, including five optional cameras to help steer a trailer in reverse, trailer theft alert, and over-the-air updates. Interior upgrades include a lockable rear under-seat storage and a deployable flat work surface, made possible by a transmission shifter that collapses into the center console. Also, the front seats fold flat to nearly 180 degrees, though you may want to keep that from some in your workforce.
A major added benefit for fleets is PowerBoost’s Pro Power Onboard functionality, which delivers 2.4 kilowatts of exportable power to outlets in the cabin and cargo box for onsite mobile power needs. Ford says the optional 7.2-kW output provides up to 18 times more exportable power than the nearest competitor — good for powering enough tools to frame a house.
Specin’g the F-150 PowerBoost
The PowerBoost powerplant can be had on all trim levels with the SuperCrew cab for $1,900 to $4,495. (In our XLT test model, the upcharge was the full $4,495.) Is it a worthy option for fleets?
That’s a chunk of change, but put in context, any engine upgrade will cost you. With six engines, three cabs, three boxes, and a choice of rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, F-150 pricing overall can vary by tens of thousands of dollars — though Ford’s online configuration tool provides reasonable apples-to-apples comparisons. (Spec alert!)
From a pure economics-to-performance perspective, the V-6 EcoBoost engines — both the 2.7 liter and 3.5 liter — offer a reasonable sweet spot for fleets. (Complaints of real-world performance of EcoBoost engines compared to published figures duly noted.) Configuring a 2021 F-150 XL SuperCrew as an example, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost is the standard engine, offering 22 mpg combined for the 4x2 with 2,480 lbs. of max payload, while towing up to 10,100 lbs.
For an extra $1,400 the 3.5-liter EcoBoost brings an impressive 400 hp and 500 lb.-ft. of torque along with class-leading max payload of 3,250 lbs. and max towing of 14,000 lbs. Fuel economy is a combined 20 mpg for both the 4x2 and 4x4 models.
Turning to the PowerBoost, the hybrid option adds $3,300 in this configuration. PowerBoost gives the ability to tow 12,700 lbs., though with a slightly lower 2,120 lbs. of payload capacity. But it shines with best-in-class fuel economy — a combined EPA-estimated 25 mpg for the 4x2 and 24 mpg for the 4x4.
Meanwhile, the 3.0-liter Power Stroke Turbo Diesel V-6 will run an additional $3,800. For that upcharge, the diesel “only” gets you 1,840 lbs. of payload, 12,100 lbs. of max towing, and a combined 23 mpg. Is it blasphemy to finally turn our backs on a diesel powerplant for true work applications?
F-150 PowerBoost Test
Our PowerBoost test truck was a 4x4 SuperCrew XLT with 5.5-foot bed. If you’re going to test a work truck, you put it to work — in our case, finding a place to recycle 55 boxes of our company’s old magazines. The boxes weighed 31.5 lbs. each for a total payload of about 1,732 lbs., not too far from the maximum available payload of 2,120 lbs. We kept that payload for a couple of days to test performance and miles per gallon.
We managed a few local errands, mostly city driving in Los Angeles, before taking off for the mountains to find some snow after the first winter precipitation. We hit Mt. Wilson, a 5,700-foot gain from almost sea level in West L.A. The truck took winding Route 2 with more horses to give and the payload almost an afterthought. The 4x4 came in handy at the top as we navigated a narrow, icy turnaround amongst 100 other snow-goers with the same idea. The way down gave us full confidence in the truck’s electrically boosted brakes.
The next day in L.A., finding a recycling center that took 1,732 lbs. of colored glossy paper with bindings and plastic wrap wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished eventually. On the two-day excursion with payload the truck accumulated 122 miles and achieved an extraordinary 19.2 average mpg.
Two more days of unladen driving (but with a family four) saw a mix of L.A. slow-and-go on streets and freeways, including a run up Pacific Coast Highway for some sand-dune sledding in Malibu. Those two days netted 126 miles and 25.1 mpg, besting the EPA’s estimated 24 mpg for the 4x4.
In all driving scenarios, gearing through the 10-speed automatic transmission was seamless, with the switch from electric to gas power imperceptible. Even with the payload, I was able to creep along in traffic in electric-only mode at 8 miles an hour. The trip meter breaks out electric-only miles from total miles traveled: For the second 126-mile trip, I went 33.3 miles with the electric engine only, though I’d guess at least half those miles were coasting.
Lead footers take note, gunning it will instantly drop the mpg, but you’ll have more power from a stop then you’ve most likely ever experienced in a pickup.
The Verdict for Fleets
While electric purists will continue to quibble about the added weight and complications of the dual propulsion technologies of hybrids, we’ll let those purists have the floor when pure EVs are ready for primetime. It’ll be a while.
The all-electric F-150 is slated to arrive in 2022, though expect at least an extra year after that before widespread fleet use. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for hybrid’s bridge technology. But you can hardly call the performance of the F-150 PowerBoost — delivering class-leading fuel economy with the most torque of any F-150 ever — “settling.”
From the get-go, PowerBoost’s ability to act as a mobile generator for on-site work applications should be enough for many fleets to make the leap.
Environmental sustainability should also factor into corporate fleets’ decision-making. While hybrids don’t grab headlines like the coming all-electric models, they’re more practical at this point and can quietly — yet substantially — improve a fleet’s overall carbon emissions.
The question is how the hybrid powerplant will hold up over time.
Traditionalists will point to diesel’s proven resale value and long engine life, attributes the PowerBoost will have to prove. While standard hybrid-electric powerplants in Prius models, for instance, regularly surpass 250,000 miles in taxi fleets, how a 35-kW electric motor holds up in real-world payload and towing torture tests is a valid question.
In a preemptive strike, Ford made sure to market the extreme tests the PowerBoost was subjected to before launch. Ford says PowerBoost was tested “towing fully loaded trailers over desert mountain passes in 100-plus degree temperatures, withstanding punishing terrain off-road, conquering frozen tundras, and enduring high-humidity chambers, salt baths, and roads designed to destroy.”
As well, Ford added a unique durability test specifically for PowerBoost, using a hydraulic actuation machine to violently shake the powertrain’s lithium-ion battery to replicate hitting potholes and washboard roads. According to Ford, 82 hours on this machine is equivalent to 10 years of mechanical torture. “This thing is like a mechanical bull on steroids,” a Ford engineer noted.
If these claims hold up after hundreds of thousands of miles, it’ll give fleets and leasing companies the peace of mind of high residual-value retention, the Valhalla for the full-size truck segment.