Ford F-150 Lightning jolts pickup truck market

Ford Motor Company has taken the lessons learned in producing the best-selling vehicle in North America for half a century and combined them with the powertrain of the future.

The full-size F150 Lightning pickup truck does not have an engine. It has electric motors, powered by a giant battery packaged between the frame rails where driveshafts, transfer cases, fuel lines and exhaust systems reside in a conventional pickup.

 

The result is an electric edition of the most popular vehicle in the country – a big, heavy, fast and extremely powerful pickup.

The F150 Lightning shares much of its appearance, architecture, and interior with the latest generation F-Series pickup, introduced in 2021. But beneath that familiar skin lies a whole different animal.

Production of the electric truck began last year. There is only one body style – a four-door, five-passenger SuperCrew with a 5.5-foot cargo bed.

It is available in four trim levels and two powertrain configurations – both feature two electric motors, one driving the front wheels, and another driving the rears for a true four-wheel-drive configuration The wide and flat lithium-ion battery pack comes in two sizes offering a standard (386-km) or extended (515-km) range.

The first sign this is something different comes up front. With no need for a radiator, and associated grill to let in cooling air, the Lightning has a unique closed-off front end bracketed by extremely effective LED headlights.

 

Ford F-150 Lightning
Photo: Ford Canada

 

Without an engine and transmission, the area under the hood is free to become a frunk – a front trunk. The well-finished, 14-cubic foot space is complete with a 115-volt outlet and a drain at the bottom.

 

Ford F-150 Lightning’s ‘Frunk’
Photo: Ford Canada

 

The first time someone witnesses you loading groceries or other stuff into that space might draw a comment. Someone asked me if I was feeding the engine as I was unloading a Sobeys cart full of groceries into the frunk.

Another dead giveaway this is something different happens when you press the starter button. Nothing happens. At least nothing you can hear. The silence is deafening.

 

Inside the Ford F-150 Lightning
Photo: Ford Canada

 

A close eye on the instrument system does show activity, but you’d never know it from the seat of your pants or your ears. You will notice a big difference when you step on the gas pedal – oops throttle. The power is instantaneous, and plentiful.

 

Torque is what moves vehicles, and the Lightning has gobs of it.

Fuel-burning internal combustion engines have to build revs to 2,000 – 5,000 rpm to produce maximum torque.

Electric motors produce maximum torque at rest, from 0 rpm. Touch that right-hand pedal and this 7,000-lb vehicle leaps forward like a cat jumping unto a window ledge. With 580-horsepower and 780 lb. ft. of torque this truck goes from rest to 100-km/hr in a mere four seconds. It would be right at home on a drag strip.

Yes, you read that correctly – 7000 pounds. That’s with only one small body aboard!

 

One downside of electric vehicles – weight. Other downsides? Speed, weather, towing all affect battery range.

The size and number of batteries necessary to provide the power and range required brings weight, a lot of it. The other downside is the need to recharge those batteries as they are run down, and the dismal lack of a reliable charging network.

The F150 Lightning can do anything the regular truck can, much of it even better. But there are serious drawbacks.

Ford and Transport Canada give the F150 Lightning with the extended range (131 kWh) battery pack a range of up to 483-kilometres. I beg to differ. The best I managed was 345 km, much of it at low speed in and around town.

Paying a little more attention to the use of my right foot, it could have crept up to maybe 375. BUT, highway speeds, cold weather and/or towing are the enemy. Each will eat into range. Combined, that can be a serious bite!

At highway speeds, on Maritime roads where hills and long grades are common, the range is close to 300. If the temperature drops below the freezing point, expect range to follow – below 300. Independent tests have shown range plummets to less than 200 km when towing a medium-size trailer.

 

One more problem – charging.

The 400-volt battery pack may be capable of accepting a 150-kW charge – if you can find one. There aren’t any in eastern Canada. The more common rate, when you locate a working Level 3 charging station is in the 50-kw range.

The more likely scenario is the truck being recharged overnight while parked at home. A 120-volt Level 1 household outlet will provide 30-50 km of range if plugged in overnight. A 240-volt Level 2 charger will allow a full recharge over the same time frame.

 

Now the good news. The Ford Lightning is almost a sport truck in the way it drives and handles.

That 700-kilo mass of batteries situated way down low between the front and rear axles gives it a very low centre of gravity and a 50/50 weight distribution. There is very little body-roll and the double wishbone rear suspension helps keep those wheels and tires in the game, instead of hopping and jumping about like a regular pickup with a solid rear axle.

I didn’t get to try this truck in winter conditions. But I did locate some sand-covered pavement and was able to enjoy the traction available from a precisely controlled four-wheel-drive system.

 

Cold-weather testing for the Ford F-150 Lightning
Photo: Ford Canada

 

All that power is available the instant you touch the accelerator. Great for launch on grippy surfaces. But when there is no grip, the electric motors, thanks to their elaborate control systems, are never allowed to overcome available traction. Acceleration on any surface is smooth, silent and extremely well-controlled.

Bonus! In addition to a number of 120-volt outlets allowing you to operate power tools, and appliances or recharge electric bikes or your electric mower or snow blower, the F-150 Lightning’s big battery pack will power an entire home if the power goes out!

The F-150 Lightning is the quietest, smoothest, best-handling pickup yet. If you can accept the issues related to range, recharging, and price, it might simply be the best yet.

 

FACTS & FIGURES – 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning Lariat 4X4 SuperCrew

 

PRICE

Base: $90,000

As tested: $111,350 including freight

 

INFOTAINMENT

Wireless charging pad, Sync 4A, Satellite radio

 

SAFETY

LED headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, blind spot information system with cross traffic alert, lane keeping system, pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, post-collision braking, reverse braking assist, reverse sensing system

 

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Boxlink cargo management system, power tailgate lock, power sliding rear window, 30-cm screen, B & O audio system, power adjustable pedals, power heated front seats with lumbar support, ventilated driver’s seat with memory, power tilt & telescope steering wheel, universal garage door opener, 360-degree camera, dual zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry with keypad

 

OPTIONS

Lariat BEV Series Equipment Group 511A, $18,600 (Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0, partitioned fold-flat storage, Tow technology package, integrated trailer brake control, twin panel moonroof, tray style floor mats with carpet, $250; max trailer tow package, $1,120; mobile power cord, $650; spray-in bedliner, $600

 

MECHANICAL

Front and midship permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, combined output: 580 hp and 775 lb-ft of torque. liquid-cooled 131 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, onboard 19.2 kW charger, direct drive transmission

 

DIMENSIONS

Length, 5,885-mm; wheelbase, 3,696-mm, width, 2,438-mm; weight, 6,892 lbs

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