2021 Ford F-150 Has the Right Features for the Right Time

2021 Ford F-150 interior

Cars.com photos by Joe Wiesenfelder

By Joe Wiesenfelder

Our first opportunity to drive the redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck is still a few weeks away, but I welcomed the opportunity to check one out in person now that auto shows are on indefinite hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, eliminating our usual opportunity to poke around a static vehicle. 

The 2021 F-150 is a handsome enough vehicle, certainly modern but not as easily distinguished from its predecessor as the restyled 2019 Chevrolet Silverado was from the 2018. There are more differences inside the F-150 and under its skin, and I was resigned to settle for some of these for the time being.

Related: We’ve Got 2021 Ford F-150 Power, Towing and Payload Specs

2021 Ford F-150 center console

The truck I checked out was a Limited trim, which was equipped with the available Interior Work Surface feature that lets you convert the center console into … a work surface. The key to this — in addition to a center armrest designed to flip forward 180 degrees and provide a smooth, hard surface — is a gear selector lever that motors downward, flush with the console at the press of a button ahead of the P in the PRND indicator. (Notably, the transmission must be in that setting.) The whole thing is very simple, but elegantly so, and since I had my work-issue laptop with me, I propped it up. I can see how useful the feature could be — especially because, unlike some features, you don’t seem to sacrifice anything else to get it. Granted, while in use, it blocks access to the storage space below, but that’s temporary and no different from using an armrest for the same purpose.

Other highlights included the 12-inch touchscreen (measured diagonally), which is truly a sight to see. It’s supplemented by a row of real buttons above it for important features that sort of mirror the home row of onscreen menu buttons at the bottom. Compared with the vertically oriented touchscreen in the Explorer SUV, I think this application is better for many reasons. For one, it’s integrated. Some folks (not me) loathe a screen that looks like it was added after the fact, and that describes the Explorer’s. Also, too often a vertical screen has a lot of surface area but drives too much of it low; the F-150 keeps it all up pretty high. And perhaps the biggest flaw of some “portrait” oriented screens is that they’re not wide enough, and that results in relatively small representations of the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto displays we’ve come to rely upon.

2021 Ford F-150 touchscreen

Both this touchscreen and the available 12-inch instrument display feature nicely executed graphics that manage to be high-quality without being too intricate and busy. At their best, they’re video-game quality, and this type of imagery is now an integral part of a vehicle’s interior styling and our impression of its quality, right there with more conventional aspects like materials quality and the feel of switches and levers.

As for those other aspects, I’d characterize this F-150 Limited as good but not great — but please bear in mind that it’s a pre-production vehicle and things can change by the time the real thing hits the pavement. We’ve long raved about the interiors of the Ram 1500’s top trim levels, and this sample didn’t have the finishes of those trucks. Neither did the F-150 have the Ram’s terrific aroma, but the windows were open the whole time to minimize COVID-19 risk for the journalists who came to check it out, a sign of the times. Another sign, of all times: The American flag incorporated into the outboard side of the F-150’s vents was a crowd pleaser, no matter how small the crowd.

2021 Ford F-150 door

The backseat of this crew cab was plenty roomy, and what immediately stood out was how much storage space the doors provided — very family-friendly. Despite my fixation on these door panels, I still managed to bash my knee on the cupholder outcropping when getting out. I can’t imagine this was a coincidence. Mark my words: People will be maiming themselves on this thing for years to come.

I’d hoped also to check out the front Max Recline Seats, which are designed to fold almost perfectly flat (including the bottom cushion rising to meet the backrest) for napping purposes, but this pre-production truck wasn’t so equipped (though eligible). The feature is available on the King Ranch, Platinum and Limited trims.

2021 Ford F-150 Pro Power Onboard

Speaking of wishing to check things out, if only I’d thought to bring an angle grinder or some other high-current tool or appliance. The Limited on hand was a hybrid with the most robust Pro Power Onboard generator option, which provides two 120-volt, 20-amp outlets along with a 240-volt, 30-amp outlet.

We’ve heard electric-car advocates suggest for years that they might provide a good backup for a home in case of a power outage, or even should be made available to supplement the electrical grid during high-demand periods. All of these suggestions have sounded like grasping at straws in attempts to give an underperforming product genre secondary appeal; the appeal has been too low and the shortcomings too great. But providing generator power to a hybrid looks like a much more attractive value add in a pickup truck given the likely use. I think it’s brilliant.

To that end, some of the other additions might seem a bit gimmicky, but sometimes little surprise-and-delight features sell, especially in vehicle classes as mature as this one. I’m saddened to recall that when the pandemic began, we instructed our staff not to write too much about it in their reviews because we want our evaluations to last longer than we expected the crisis to and we didn’t think people needed to be reminded. Here we are seven months later. It’s with that in mind that I point out how useful some of the F-150’s options strangely seem for today’s circumstances. Whether you’re hiding from your kids’ home-schooling efforts or looking for a makeshift office or a place to nap or consume some takeout once the outdoor seating options become too cold, a vehicle like the 2021 F-150 with options that help you work, eat and sleep in it might be perfectly timed.

2021 Ford F-150 Limited

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Editor's note: This story was updated Oct. 27, 2020, to clarify that the Interior Work Surface feature is what lets you convert the center console into a work surface.

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