The electric Ford F-150 Lightning is the best version of America’s best-selling truck

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

The Ford F-150 Lightning may be the best pickup the company has ever made. All it needed was to make it completely electric, something that not too long ago might have seemed off-brand for a traditional truck company like Ford.

New automakers have so far paved the way for electric trucks. Tesla unveiled the prototype of its futuristic electric Cybertruck in 2019 but has yet to put it into production. Rivian released its electric pickup, the R1T, which won the 2022 MotorTrend Truck of the Year award. But the electric pickup really hit the mass market last month when Ford began production of the F-150 Lightning at his famed Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan.

It’s fast and powerful, and it drives better than any F-150 I’ve been in before. All that, and it does things you never imagined a truck would do, like providing a workspace that also functions as an underhood beverage cooler. (The front storage compartment is waterproof and has drain plugs.) It can even power your whole house for days if you need it.

It’s a real truck, not a toy for campers and not some weird design exercise. It is now in production by a company that already knows how to produce vehicles in large numbers. Ford plans to make 150,000 of these trucks a year, which equates to about 20 percent of all F-series trucks sold by Ford last year. The Ford Lightning is an all-electric version of America’s best-selling truck. To find out what truck owners really want and need, Ford only had to talk to its own customers. It wasn’t diving into foreign territory. I recently got to drive several versions of the truck in very different scenarios at a two-day event around San Antonio, TX.

In fundamentals, this new F-150 doesn’t stray too far from its siblings. At a glance, if you don’t notice the charging port on a front fender and the fake charging port on the side, you might not notice it was anything other than of another F-150. On top of that, there are additional lights that run through the nose of the truck and the tailgate, and the grille has no holes on it. As I drove through the South Texas countryside, I wondered how many people in all the other vans around me realized how different this one was from theirs.

The F-150 Lightning has no front engine. Its huge square hood covers a massive storage space instead. To drive the point home, at the event in Texas, Ford representatives filled one with ice and served cold drinks. There are outlets in the storage space for powering and charging electronic devices, as well as other outlets in the bed of the truck.

With one electric motor driving the front wheels and another at the rear, permanent all-wheel drive is standard in all versions of the Lightning. That features a stripped-down work truck with few amenities, a range of 230 miles, 426 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque, and a starting price of around $40,000. That’s not much different from the price of a four-wheel-drive V8-powered F-150 XL work truck that has a similar 400 horsepower and just 410 pound-feet of torque.

This is a true work truck that isn’t positioned as luxury camping gear like, say, the Rivian R1T. As with other F-150 models, of course, the Lightning can be offered with luxury equipment and prices reaching six figures.

I’ve spent time in Lightning pickup trucks towing heavy trailers and hauling heavy loads on highways and on narrow, winding country roads. The truck does these things very well and can, in In fact, accelerate down a freeway ramp while towing a 5,000 pound trailer with remarkable ease. (The truck can tow up to 10,000 pounds, according to Ford.) Electric motors provide instant response with smooth acceleration and are, of course, virtually silent.

What surprised me the most, though, is how much better the Lightnings handle than the gas-powered F-150s. This is largely due to the improved weight balance thanks to the heavy batteries distributed between the front and rear wheels rather than a large engine under the hood. The Lightning also has independent rear suspension, rather than a solid, stiff rear axle like other F-150s do, so a bump on the side does not affect immediately the other side. This, combined with the power delivered smoothly by electric motors that never need to change gears, make the Lightning a remarkably civilized road cruiser. It’s also very quick, especially for a full-size truck, when the throttle is pressed.

Off-road, climbing dangerously steep and muddy trails, the Lightning proved, once again, to be remarkably capable. Perhaps unsurprising considering the trail was chosen by Ford to show the truck but, to Ford’s credit, the truck I drove climbed slippery rocks on the same tires I drove on the Interstate. Electric motors, with their smooth and fast transmission of power to the wheels that can use it, are ideal for slippery jobs.

In addition to doing everything gas trucks can do, but better and faster, the Lightning offers a number of additional features. First, there’s that huge “frunk,” or front trunk, with outlets and lights inside. Then there’s the fact that when plugged into a home charger, it can automatically provide backup power to the home in the event of a power outage. This is in addition to the fact that it can also operate power tools on a job site.

Of course, towing and hauling (and hard acceleration when towing and hauling) uses a lot of electricity. Without carrying a heavy load, an F-150 Lightning can travel 230 or 320 miles on one charge, depending on the battery size the customer orders. Hard work eats away at the truck’s range about as much as it depletes the range of a gas-powered truck, according to Ford.

However, gas trucks can go further on a tank to start – the V6-powered F-150 can go up to 520 miles, according to the EPA – and filling a tank takes less time than recharging a battery. This will be a serious problem for some buyers. However, most pickup truck owners probably drive much less than 200 miles in a typical day and could easily charge overnight. The only problem now is that The Lightening will be hard to get for customers who haven’t placed an order before. Ford stopped taking orders from retail customers due to high demand.

Much of what’s great about the F-150 Lightning will likely also be great about future electric trucks, like the Chevrolet Silverado EV and Ram 1500 EV. Smooth performance and high power are largely inherent in electric drive systems. But the F-150 Lightning marks a real turning point in America’s long love affair with pickup trucks.

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