I’m driving a pickup truck by Texas hill nation. The buzzards are circling overhead, the highway is empty as a moonlit prairie, and all’s proper with the world.
Or no less than it must be. There’s a noticeable lack of engine noise coming from below the hood of my truck. That’s as a result of there isn’t any engine, solely an unlimited, empty area. Ford calls it the “Mega Energy Frunk,” which is a really dumb title for a really cool characteristic, one truck house owners have been clamoring for for years: safe cupboard space.
The benefits of the frunk are simply one in every of many noteworthy issues concerning the F-150 Lightning, Ford’s hotly anticipated electrified pickup truck. And sure, the F-150 Lightning is probably going crucial electrical automobile but to reach, blah blah blah. I’m certain by now you’ve heard all of the the reason why this plug-in pickup is so essential for Ford, for the auto trade, for America, for our local weather, and many others. Ford electrified the most well-liked automobile in America due to course they did.
That mentioned, there have been just a few issues that stunned me — and even disenchanted me — about this truck. There are actually tradeoffs to electrifying one thing as well-liked and beloved because the F-series. However fortunately, the nice outweighs the unhealthy, and there’s nothing concerning the Lightning that left me feeling something however optimistic concerning the shift from soiled, gas-powered autos to zero tailpipe emissions.
Most individuals who purchase a Ford F-150 Lightning (those that are fortunate sufficient to truly get one) received’t have many alternatives to drive it up near-vertical rocky paths, or by knee-deep puddles of mud, and even on twisty floor roads whereas towing an 8,000-pound motorboat. However that’s what I received to do over the course of two days in and round San Antonio, Texas, the place Ford summoned members of the media to expertise the F-150 Lightning for the primary time.
And the expertise was (apologies upfront for this one) enlightening.
On floor roads, the F-150 Lightning handles like a really sporty truck, very similar to its namesake. (A working joke over the course of the two-day journey was that Ford missed out on a chance to revive the unique Lightning as a smaller, sportier electrical pickup.) That mentioned, it’s simple to overlook you’re driving a 6,500-pound automobile because of the truck’s low middle of gravity. The truck’s pouch-style lithium-ion battery cells line the ground of the automobile, which isn’t distinctive to electrical autos — virtually each EV in the marketplace has the same structure — however feels distinctive for a pickup truck.
The near-instantaneous torque — 452 horsepower in the usual vary, 580 horsepower for the prolonged vary — can be typical for an EV however completely ludicrous for a truck the dimensions of the F-150. I’ve pushed a number of EVs however not a number of vehicles, and the mixture of energy, acceleration, and dimension of the F-150 Lightning was thrilling — and even slightly unsettling.
For context, the V8 turbocharged diesels that Ford places in its Tremendous Obligation vehicles (assume F-250 to F-450) prime out round 475 horsepower. These engines do make 1,050 pound-feet of torque, which is greater than the 775 pound-feet the Lightning can do. Nonetheless, the F-150 Lightning’s means to leap from 0–60 mph in slightly greater than 4 seconds is really astonishing. Over two days of driving, it by no means actually received outdated.
Whereas it was a blast rocketing alongside the Texas again roads, I discovered myself slightly nervous about how F-150 Lightning house owners will deal with the moment acceleration in denser settings, just like the suburban communities the place most F-150 house owners stay. That torque will be surprising, particularly for first-time EV house owners. Fortunately, the brakes seem like greater than as much as the duty of bringing the F-150 Lightning to a full cease with room to spare. It dealt with completely on each straightaways and twisty roads.
Whereas not as humongous because the Hummer EV, the F-150 Lightning remains to be girthy, 35 p.c heavier than its gas-powered equal, because of that 1,800-pound battery. Right here’s the place issues get difficult for the F-150 Lightning’s environmental bonafides. Heavier autos are inherently extra polluting than lighter ones, no matter whether or not they emit any tailpipe emissions. All autos produce non-exhaust emissions from a wide range of sources, together with rubber tires, highway mud, and brakes. That is very true for electrical autos, because of the added weight from their batteries.
We don’t know but how a lot non-exhaust emissions the F-150 Lightning will create, however we’re prone to discover out quickly sufficient.
Battery capability and charging
By way of vitality capability, I discovered that I used to be getting round 2.3 miles per kilowatt-hour of battery utilization on floor roads and highways. The bottom model of the truck, which begins at $40,000, is rated at 230 miles (370 km) of vary and 68 MPGe (miles per gallon equal), which is the EPA’s unit of measurement for an EV’s vitality consumption stage to check with gas-powered autos. If you need the larger battery pack with 300 miles of vary, Ford makes you purchase a bunch of different choices that carry the value as much as $74,000.
Clearly these vary numbers drop whenever you load up the truck mattress with cargo or connect one thing heavy to the hitch. (Extra on that later.) However finally, I discovered the vary and vitality utilization to be ample for many driving eventualities.
For many EV-curious shoppers, vary nervousness is giving strategy to charging nervousness. Ford didn’t present us with any alternatives to cost the F-150 Lightning, so I can’t communicate to the time it takes to repower the battery. Charging remains to be a sore spot for many EVs. The reality is, except Ford invests in constructing out its personal devoted community (which it’s not), there’s solely a lot the corporate can do to make the general public charging expertise higher.
Ford’s band-aid answer is that it has coalesced a handful of disparate unbiased public charging networks into what it calls the FordPass Charging Community. All of those chargers present up within the FordPass smartphone app as if they’re one giant community, and Ford is even working with some in order that house owners don’t must create new accounts or obtain different apps to begin charging. It’s a fantastic concept in idea, nevertheless it wants extra work.
At house, a 120-volt outlet will trickle 3 miles per hour into the battery, whereas a 240-volt outlet can add round 14 miles per hour. The actual standout charging characteristic is unique to the prolonged vary variations: Ford is promoting a brand new 80-amp house charging station that not solely totally costs the F-150 Lightning in eight hours however permits house owners to simply energy their whole house for round three days — and even as much as 10 days with minimal utilization — within the occasion of an influence outage.
The power to attract energy from the battery pack isn’t restricted to those excessive eventualities, although. All the base trims of the F-150 Lightning can put out 2.4kW of onboard energy, and the costlier Lariat and Platinum trims provide a complete of 9.6kW of onboard energy. The costlier F-150 Lightnings even have 11 built-in energy sockets — seven within the cab and mattress, together with a 240V outlet, and 4 within the entrance trunk — plus a handful of USB ports.
Ford started taking part in with this concept of turning a automobile right into a cellular generator of kinds with the F-150 hybrid, however the larger trims of the F-150 Lightning will provide much more onboard energy, they usually received’t use fuel to generate it. That’s not solely a fantastic characteristic for anybody who wants energy on the go, nevertheless it may very well be an enormous profit for fleet operators or small companies seeking to go inexperienced.
On my first day driving the F-150 Lightning, I received to expertise Ford’s hands-free driver help system, BlueCruise. This characteristic comes commonplace of the Platinum trim stage and can value additional to improve for Lariat trims. F-150 house owners who go for the $1,595 Ford Co-Pilot 360 Lively 2.0 bundle should buy BlueCruise for a further $600.
I used to be excited to check out this characteristic as a result of this was Ford’s long-awaited reply to Normal Motors’ Tremendous Cruise, which is taken into account the gold commonplace for Degree 2 superior driver help methods. (Tesla’s Autopilot doesn’t permit for hands-free driving, although its Full Self-Driving beta system does.)
These methods work in live performance with quite a lot of distinct options, like adaptive cruise management, computerized emergency braking, lane-keep help, blindspot detection, pedestrian monitoring, and cease signal detection. On sure divided highways (Ford says it really works on “over 100,000 miles”), F-150 Lightning drivers can take their arms off the steering wheel and ft off the pedals, whereas infrared sensors mounted within the sprint monitor their eyes to make sure they keep centered on the highway forward.
As quickly as you enter an authorised space, a notification seems on the gauge cluster informing you that BlueCruise is accessible. I discovered the system very simple to interact and disengage, which wasn’t all the time the case with different Degree 2 methods. After you recover from the preliminary urge to slam on the brakes each time a automotive merges into your lane, you finally get to take a seat again and benefit from the comfort of the system.
Like different automakers, Ford markets BlueCruise as an lively security characteristic, however I see them extra as comfort options designed to take a few of the stress out of lengthy freeway journeys and stop-and-go site visitors.
I used BlueCruise for about an hour of driving, and I solely needed to disengage it twice: as soon as when the system appeared to be steering towards a row of yellow barrels that mark the barrier between the freeway and the off-ramp and one other time when one other automobile merged dangerously in entrance of me. In any other case, it labored like a attraction.
Contained in the F-150 Lightning will probably be a well-known world to many truck house owners — with just a few caveats. F-150 house owners will acknowledge pleasant options such because the gear shift that folds down to permit for an expanded workstation within the middle console, with sufficient area for a laptop computer, a pad of paper, and even your lunch. For individuals who spend a number of time of their vehicles — whereas charging, maybe — the 2 entrance seats can fold again just about completely flat. I didn’t try a nap, however I used to be tempted.
The middle stack touchscreen — commonplace 12-inch panorama or elective 15.5-inch portrait type — is the center of the inside. The portrait-style touchscreen is much like what’s discovered within the Mustang Mach-E and can seemingly change into an elective characteristic for all F-series vehicles within the close to future.
The display screen runs Ford’s Sync 4A, which is the most recent model of the automaker’s infotainment system that debuted within the Mustang Mach-E. It just about operates in a two-pane structure, with the highest two-thirds devoted to navigation or media controls and the underside third for local weather and different automobile features. It additionally options wi-fi Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you happen to’d slightly simply work with the apps in your telephone. That mentioned, Sync 4A works fairly seamlessly, with minimal lag when switching between menus.
There are 4 drive modes: regular, sport, tow/haul, and off-road. On floor roads, I caught to regular, sometimes switching to sport when it appeared match. The graphic show within the instrument cluster let me know the way a lot energy I used to be sending again to the battery by regenerative braking, which was helpful data to see. The F-150 Lightning doesn’t characteristic a heads-up show, although Ford’s engineers hinted that it may very well be coming to future fashions.
So I’ll simply come proper out and say it: I suck at driving giant autos. And when these giant autos are connected to different equally giant autos, my expertise are questionable at greatest. Whereas towing a 24-foot-long speedboat out of a vineyard parking zone, I virtually obliterated a metal-and-plastic signal standing exterior the doorway. I’m wonderful admitting this. It’s good to know your limitations. I took some consolation from the safety guard who advised me I wasn’t the one one to do that.
Maybe I used to be paying too shut consideration to the wealth of data offered on the gauge cluster to note the signal being crushed below the wheels of the boat behind me. Ford went the additional mile in taking a number of the guesswork out of towing, enabling house owners to create a profile primarily based on the thing being towed. Within the case of the 8,000-pound boat, I might see that the added weight would shave virtually 100 miles off my vary, from 250 miles on a full cost to 161.7 miles.
The expertise of driving the F-150 Lightning whereas towing a ship felt fairly uneven. (Pun meant!) I might really feel the load tugging on the steering wheel whereas accelerating alongside a windy highway. In different phrases, it wasn’t easy, nor ought to it’s. It’s necessary for drivers to pay attention to the load that they’re towing.
Alternatively, hauling lower than a thousand kilos of plywood was fairly easy. After about quarter-hour, I virtually forgot the wooden was strapped down within the mattress of the truck. Ford says the usual vary variations of the Professional, XLT, and Lariat trims can tow a most of seven,700 kilos, whereas the prolonged vary variations can take as much as 10,000 kilos. The payload is rated for both 1,850 kilos or 2,235 kilos, relying on the trim stage.
One other confession: off-roading within the F-150 Lightning was very, very enjoyable. I drove over giant, seashore ball-sized rocks, down extraordinarily steep loose-gravel roads, and thru a number of deep puddles. The truck dispatched every problem with relative ease. (Shout out to Ford’s spotters who made certain I didn’t drive off a cliff.)
The course included two giant holes into which I used to be directed to steer the truck’s entrance and rear driver-side tires. I used to be now caught — or so I believed. Switching on the F-150 Lightning’s electronic-locking rear differential, which is housed within the rear axle and, when activated, permits each wheels on a selected axle to show on the similar pace, did the trick. I even tried it with out the rear differential activated, and whereas it took slightly extra effort, it nonetheless made it out. Previous F-150’s featured ELD as a bodily knob; within the Lightning, it’s positioned in a submenu of the touchscreen.
Naturally, off-roading is extra energy-intensive than regular driving. Ford accounts for this with its off-road driving mode, which gives real-time vary estimates and unbiased entrance and rear suspension. The software program components in not simply climate and site visitors circumstances, nevertheless it additionally makes use of an onboard scale to measure the load of any payload or towing weight.
When can we experience the lightning?
Based mostly on my restricted time with it, the F-150 Lightning is a good truck. It handles nicely, options a number of cool tech, and can exceed the expectations of anybody who likes towing, hauling, or off-roading. (Ford insists this contains 80 p.c of its prospects.) Sadly, most individuals received’t get to expertise the F-150 Lightning’s distinctive charms — no less than, not this 12 months.
The variety of electrical F-150s Ford deliberate on making in its first few years of manufacturing has been a little bit of a shifting goal. At first, the corporate was solely concentrating on 40,000 autos yearly, ultimately telling suppliers it anticipated that capability to rise to 80,000 by early 2023. Now, that quantity has risen to 150,000 vehicles by mid-2023 — although it’s unclear what number of will attain prospects this 12 months.
The corporate is utilizing a “wave-by-wave reservation course of” to tell prospects after they can go surfing to spec out their Lightnings. Earlier this 12 months, Ford stopped taking reservations after having collected 200,000 refundable $100 deposits for the Lightning because it debuted in Could 2020. (Reservations are nonetheless closed as of the publication of this text.)
The challenges of ramping up manufacturing on a hotly anticipated EV will not be distinctive to Ford. All the auto trade is struggling to fulfill demand for electrical autos, particularly as excessive fuel costs have shoppers casting about for extra reasonably priced choices. Components are in brief provide, particularly supplies for lithium-ion batteries. With a beginning value of $40,000 and as acquainted a nameplate as F-150, Ford is uniquely positioned to gobble up that demand — if it will possibly simply make sufficient vehicles.
Whereas stopped at a site visitors gentle north of San Antonio, a person in a Ford Escape pulls up subsequent to me and asks how I’m liking it. I inform him, “I’ll present you,” and as quickly as the sunshine turns inexperienced, I punch it, blasting forward to the subsequent gentle. Finally, the person catches up and lets out a whistle of approval.
“I’d like to get my arms on that truck,” he grins.
Buddy, good luck to you.