Thursday Jun 08, 2023

The Ford F-150 Lightning Is the 2023 MotorTrend Truck Of The Year

The Ford F-150 Lightning Is the 2023 MotorTrend Truck Of The Year

Some vehicles change the automotive world by being radically different inside and out. Others change it by being different where it counts and familiar where it helps. With pickup trucks being the bestselling vehicles in America by a wide margin, converting them to EVs has the potential to make an outsized impact on everything from air quality to gas prices to global warming—but only if truck buyers want them. The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning is the first EV pickup to appeal directly to the existing truck market, doing its job so convincingly that it’s our 2023 MotorTrend Truck of the Year.

While a whole cadre of first-time truck buyers will be drawn to the Rivians of the world, a much smaller segment of the traditional pickup truck market will be interested in making the switch. Beyond their differing expectations of what a truck should do and what it should be used for, there’s enormous brand loyalty among truck owners. Convincing those consumers to switch not only to an EV but also to an entirely new brand is a monumental task.

As much as vehicles like the Rivian R1T and GMC Hummer EV reimagine the pickup truck as an expression, they make less effort at appealing to longstanding truck buyers who may not necessarily see a need for a rethink when today’s pickups are better than they’ve ever been. The Ford F-150 Lightning successfully bridges the gulf between the powertrain of the future and the pickup of today in a way no other EV truck on the market has accomplished.

Advancement in Design

EVs in general have looked different since their inception. Partly driven by aerodynamic efficiencies and partly by marketing realities, they’ve long been immediately identifiable as something new, for better and for worse. The F-150 Lightning leads a new breed of electric vehicles specifically designed not to scream, “I’m green,” as they roll silently down the road.

It is, in our estimation, a clever move rooted in a deep understanding of the target buyer. Electric pickup trucks to date have all been lifestyle vehicles aimed at people with a lot of disposable income to spend on outdoorsy hobbies. Rivian and GMC (and eventually Tesla) have identified white space in that market, but they’ve also left a far larger white space for the Lightning to fill.

In building an EV truck that looks just like any other gas- or diesel-powered pickup on the market, Ford gambled traditional truck customers will be more receptive to the kind of pickup they’re familiar with and have relied on for years. In this case, Ford’s advancement in EV design was to not push the exterior radically forward, thereby giving customers a palatable alternative to every other EV truck on the market. It’s the first and (for now) only electric truck for “truck people.”

Coming and going, the Lightning looks mostly like the traditional new F-150s on the road, job site, or trail. Only the de rigueur EV light bars front and rear, its solid “grille,” and its aerodynamic wheel designs give it away, and even then only to those who know what to look for. People who want to call attention to its powertrain will be able to point to those defining features; those who don’t won’t have trouble deemphasizing them. In other words, the customer decides.

Efficiency

Electric pickups are still a small pool of what’s available on the market, but even in that context the Lightning stands out. Although its EPA efficiency ratings are nearly identical to the Rivian R1T’s, that doesn’t tell the full story.

Properly equipped, the Lightning goes slightly farther than an R1T while using a slightly smaller battery. More impressive, the Lightning is a physically larger vehicle, and its aerodynamics are adapted from a standard pickup’s rather than designed from scratch to cheat the wind.

The Lightning makes the most out of every kilowatt-hour it pulls out of the grid, as well. Although the R1T reaches a significantly higher peak charging rate, the Lightning takes only a few minutes longer to charge thanks to its ability to maintain higher charging rates for longer periods.

The Lightning does all this while having a greater payload capacity than the R1T, as well as a larger and more usable bed and a roomier interior. And although the two are almost equally efficient on paper, when it comes to truck stuff, the Lightning does it better. We can also compare it to the only other electric truck on the market, the GMC Hummer EV pickup. There’s little point, though, as the Hummer is the least efficient electric on the market regardless of class.

Trim assembly worker Denzel Johnson with the Ford F-150 Lightning, the 2023 MotorTrend Truck of the Year, at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center (REVC) in Dearborn, Michigan.

Engineering Excellence

Although it might not look it from the outside, the F-150 Lightning is a trove of engineering accomplishments. At its base is a classic ladder frame redesigned to accommodate both a large battery pack and independent rear suspension—a frame and suspension that also still must support thousands of pounds of payload, thousands more pounds of towing capacity, and the ability to withstand punishment off-road.

Not only did Ford meet those requirements, but in doing so it also created the best-riding, best-handling, and best-driving F-150 yet. The independent rear suspension allows the truck to ride as well as any other full-size pickup, empty or loaded down. Handling is improved compared to a standard F-150; the truck is sharper and more responsive, thanks in part to the low center of gravity afforded by the battery.

That battery also opens up a number of new and useful technical possibilities. Chief among them is the substantially more powerful ProPower Onboard system with eight standard 120-volt outlets and an optional 240-volt outlet capable of putting out 9,600 watts—enough to power a job site or an entire home. Similarly, the available 80-amp Charge Station Pro home charger offers bi-directional power transfer, allowing it to power an average American home for several days during a power outage. Ford’s partnership with SunRun that bundles the charger and a home backup battery is a boon to shoppers looking to get the most out of their switch to EVs. (Solar panels are also available.)

For businesses, Ford’s Pro commercial division also provides software to schedule charging remotely to take advantage of lower power costs and ensure trucks are charged and ready at the beginning of a shift, regardless of time of day. To maximize efficiency, the trucks can also be programmed to preheat or cool both the battery and the interior while plugged in so no energy is wasted on either when you start driving.

Cathy Johnson and Ramon Harbour of the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center install an electric motor unit in a Ford F-150 Lightning.

Performance of Intended Function

We tend to think of pickup trucks as Leatherman-type universal tools appropriate for any job, from cross-country towing to everyday commuting. The enormous variety of sizes, classes, and capabilities makes that generally true, but as with all tools, specific types of trucks are often intended for and better suited to certain tasks.

In evaluating the F-150 Lightning, we must acknowledge Ford intended this specific model to do a slightly more limited range of jobs. Simply put, the Lightning is not intended to be a long-distance tow vehicle. This is not a failure of Ford engineering but rather a technical limitation of today’s battery technology and charging infrastructure that should improve. It’s a frustrating limitation because the Lightning’s instantaneous torque, regenerative braking, and improved ride and handling make it very good at towing heavy trailers—just not for as many miles as gas-powered models achieve.

Towing aside, the Lightning performs its intended functions better than any other F-150 model. It drives better both empty and loaded down with cargo, it’s more efficient, and it’s significantly cheaper to charge on home or business 240-volt power than a gas-powered truck is to fuel. It has significantly more lockable storage and can export 25 percent more power through its 120-volt and 240-volt outlets than any other F-150. When not loaded down, its range and charging speed are as good as the competition, and its route planner for road-trip charging is excellent.

Best of all, Ford’s decision to repurpose the existing F-150 bed for the Lightning means nearly every accessory designed for a gas-powered F-150, be it for work or play, will attach to the Lightning just the same. Favorite brands and preferred vendors alike can sell you the exact same parts as before to customize your Lightning to your business or your lifestyle. Everything shy of powertrain parts and rear suspension components will bolt right on. There’s little to no waiting for new parts to be developed specifically for the Lightning, though the electric truck does offer new and unique possibilities for outfitters that could make the Lightning an even more useful tool.

MP&L (material, planning, and logistics) seat transporter Jeffrey Lindsey passes in front of a Ford F-150 Lightning at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

Safety

Every F-150 Lightning comes standard with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 2.0 suite of active and passive driver aids, including lane keeping, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, reverse parking sensors, and automatic high-beams.

Beyond the basics, Ford offers a number of optional safety features for both work and play. A 360-degree camera system is always helpful when maneuvering in tight spaces, and onboard scales help drivers ensure they aren’t overloading their trucks. (The scales were removed on 2023 models because of chip shortages, though they could return on future model years.) Ford’s offering of trailering aids are likewise useful to both the worker and the weekender.

On the bleeding edge, Ford also offers the Lightning with its BlueCruise hands-free highway driving technology. Relying on multiple sensing technologies and high-definition maps and GPS, BlueCruise is one of the better-performing hands-free driving technologies on the market, and its driver-monitoring camera reliably keeps the driver focused on the road ahead and not on their phone while using the system.

Value

When it comes to electric trucks, there’s just no beating the Lightning on price. Even following recent price hikes, it remains the least expensive electric truck on the market by nearly $20,000. What’s more, buyers don’t give up essential tools on lower-priced models.

Dual-motor all-wheel drive is standard on every truck, along with an electronically locking rear differential. Eight 120-volt outlets are included to power your job site, and every F-150 Lightning comes in the four-door SuperCrew cab style for maximum space while hauling co-workers. Elsewhere inside, the pickup features a standard 12.0-inch infotainment screen with built-in navigation and route-planning software to keep the truck charged on longer trips, plus the Co-Pilot 360 2.0 safety features. The truck also features a full center console and front bucket seats on all models.

The hike in base price was disappointing, but it’s worth noting even after a $12,000 increase, a base Lightning still compares favorably to a similarly equipped F-150 XL work truck. Building a four-wheel-drive SuperCrew XL with bucket seats and power outlets and the most powerful and efficient gas engine available will cost you about $52,000 for a slower, less efficient truck that doesn’t tow or haul significantly more than a Lightning.

Truck of the Year

Pickup trucks, more than any other vehicle type, are typically bought for what they’re capable of doing should the need arise. They’re the ultimate multitool, able to haul people as comfortably as cargo and trailers. They commute as easily as they go off-road, move furniture as easily as they haul lumber. No serious truck owner is going to give up that kind of versatility just for the ease of refueling at home or the ability to hit 60 mph quicker.

The Ford F-150 Lightning doesn’t require those buyers to make big compromises. In fact, it means only that they not tow for long distances. In return, it offers a host of features no gas- or diesel-powered truck can match. Be it for the campsite, the job site, or the homestead, the Lightning offers up a world of new possibilities for truck owners all while saving them money at the pump and likely at the repair shop, too. It’s a bargain many are going to find exceedingly easy to live with.

Our unofficial criterion for awarding any electric vehicle is that it cannot be only a good EV or a good vehicle; it must be both. For a tool like a truck, this is even more important. The Ford F-150 Lightning is both, and it’s just the type of pickup we need to make the coming electric revolution work for most everyone.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro, Platinum Specifications
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front- and rear-motor, AWD
MOTOR TYPE Permanent-magnet electric
POWER (SAE NET) 452, 580 hp
TORQUE (SAE NET) 775, 775 lb-ft
WEIGHT TO POWER 13.5, 11.9 lb/hp
TRANSMISSIONS 1-speed automatic
AXLE RATIO, F/R 9.72:1/9.61:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO 17.4:1
TURNS LOCK TO LOCK 3.2
BRAKES, F; R 14.0-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc
WHEELS 8.5 x 18-in, 8.5 x 22-in cast aluminum
TIRES 275/65R18 116T Michelin Primacy XC (M+S), 275/50R22 115T General Grabber HTS 60 (M+S)
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE 145.5 in
TRACK, F/R 68.1/68.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 232.7 x 80.0 x 78.3 in
GROUND CLEARANCE 8.4 in
APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE 24.4/23.6 deg
TURNING CIRCLE 47.6, 48.0 ft
CURB WEIGHT (DIST F/R) 6,081 lb (52/48%), 6,882 lb (50/50%)
SEATING CAPACITY 5
HEADROOM, F/R 40.8/40.4 in
LEGROOM, F/R 43.9/43.6 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 66.7/66.0 in
PICKUP BOX L x W x H 67.1 x 65.2 x 21.4 in
CARGO BOX VOLUME 52.8 cu ft (+14.1 cu ft, frunk)
WIDTH BET WHEELHOUSES 50.6 in
CARGO LIFT-OVER HEIGHT 35.5 in (35.0 in, frunk)
PAYLOAD CAPACITY 2,169, 1,668 lb
TOWING CAPACITY 5,000, 8,500 lb
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 1.5, 1.7 sec
0-40 2.2, 2.3
0-50 3.1, 3.1
0-60 4.2, 4.0
0-70 5.5, 5.1
0-80 7.1, 6.5
0-90 9.1, 8.2
0-100 11.6, 10.8
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 2.2, 1.8
QUARTER MILE 12.9 sec @ 103.8 mph, 12.7 sec @ 104.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 125, 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73, 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.5 sec @ 0.64 g (avg), 27.1 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 6,150 (fr), 6,100 (rr) rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE $53,769, $98,699
PRICE AS TESTED $59,014, $99,024
AIRBAGS 6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY 3 years/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 5 years/60,000 miles, 8 yrs/100,000 miles battery
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 5 years/60,000 miles
BATTERY CAPACITY 98, 131 kWh
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON 76/61/68, 73/60/66 mpg-e
EPA RANGE, COMB 230, 300 miles
RECOMMENDED FUEL 240-volt electricity, 480-volt electricity
ON SALE Now

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