Ford has revived the infamous Lightning name. Originally attached to the SVT F-150 Lightning in the 90s, it is now the designation for the all-electric F-150 line coming in 2022.
The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America for over 40 years and is the best-selling truck in the world. If even a fraction of the F-150 market share switches to this new model, it could make this the most important EV on the stage since the Tesla Model S.
The Lightning is not a single trim in the F-150 lineup, but rather an entire line within the F-series trucks with 4 separate trims: Commercial Base (information TBD), XLT, Lariat, and Platinum. It will start at $39,974 and extend up to $90,000 when fully optioned.
The range is stated to be 230 miles (Standard Range) and 300 miles (Extended Range), but battery capacity has yet to be unveiled. I had the privilege to preview a few pre-production prototypes and test vehicles, demonstrating their capabilities via ride-alongs in their various elements. Here’s what I found…
The first ride-along took us on Ford’s High-Speed Loop, a 5-mile loop where the outside lane can be traveled at 200mph throughout the loop due to the high bank turns. This is where they did the high-speed testing for Ford GT, but we definitely did not hit 200. We started with a 0-90mph pull, and as per any EV, it was impressive.
I’ve experienced countless acceleration bursts in an EV, but this exceptionally high seating position and 6,500-pound vehicle surprised me. It felt effortless, and 90mph felt slower than it would in a lower seating position. The torque curve felt fairly steep at the beginning, losing some of the acceleration as we approached highway speed.
Upon arriving on the banked turn, and while weaving between lanes, I was surprised again, this time from a handling perspective. It felt more planted and balanced, in part helped by the new independent rear suspension, a first for F-series vehicles. The battery sled being centrally located and at the bottom of the vehicle helps with weight distribution and provides a low center of gravity.
We cruised at 65mph, and then suddenly executed a passing maneuver like you would on a highway. That was perhaps the biggest improvement over the standard F-150! No turbo lag or waiting for multiple down-shifts of the transmission to bring engine revs up, it simply jumped up to the speed you wanted in order to pass.
Then we turned on Sport mode. Normal was already the fastest I had ever experienced in a truck, and Sport mode takes it a step further, with a more aggressive pedal-mapping for the acceleration and a tighter more direct steering feel. They wouldn’t confirm whether or not it actually improves the 0-60 time, but it certainly made it more engaging. With aggressive cornering, there is still body roll, as physics still has its place, but the front suspension has also been improved to help with the extra weight.
Off-road Validation Loop
I next went on a network of trails called the “Off-road Validation Loop” where Ford tests all of its off-road-capable vehicles. It started on a gravel road, but I was given the same introduction as the High-speed Loop, in the form of a sudden pull of acceleration. We hit 60 within seconds, following the gravel curves with ease and controlled accelerated slides. I couldn’t help but hope for “PROFESSIONAL DRIVER ON A CLOSED COURSE” to appear in the windshield for comfort’s sake, but I could immediately feel the driver’s prowess on the course.
The F-150 Lightning is very off-road ready, with even the base trim coming with many of the things from the “FX4 Off-Road Package” that standard F-150 trucks can be optioned with. This includes an electronic-locking rear differential, 4x4, hill descent control, full length skid plates, and all-terrain tires. The ground clearance was plenty for the course, and there were many mud-filled ruts I expected to bottom out on. We did scrape some hilltops, but the skid plate took the punishment with no audible complaints.
All Lightning models have dual electric motors, giving it the 4x4 capability. They also output up to 563HP and 775 lb. ft. of torque, but the Off-Road mode selector helps dial that back in order to retain as much traction possible in any given terrain. We had moments of 3 wheels on the ground, but the electronic differential locked the grounded wheel to pull us free every time. Perhaps the most noticeable part of taking this beast in the wilderness was the silence. At one point we paused, rolled down the windows, and listened to birds where you would normally hear the whine of cooling fans and low drum of an idling engine.
Next, I climbed into a towing rig, an F-150 Lightning equipped with a 3-ton trailer. Somehow, 0-60mph with 6,000 pounds in tow still felt faster than a standard ICE F-150, and it also felt effortless. Without turning around, I’d forget about the trailer. I’m sure there would be more feedback if I had been behind the wheel, but I was just a bewildered passenger. Braking was a slower, hefty process akin to typical towing, but much of that energy could be captured via regenerative braking.
We used the Tow/Haul driving mode, which improves the towing experience downhill. It gives immense regenerated braking while controlling downhill speeds automatically, similar to the way ICE F-150’s would keep the engine in gears with higher RPMs, assisting in controlling speed on hills. Before I could even inquire about the effects on range, the driver noted that towing in an ICE vehicle dramatically affects gas mileage. EV towing is the same, but Ford put research and development into the smart features of the truck to assist the driver’s confidence in any way possible.
“Power my Trip”, like the Mach-E, takes into account any environmental factors to plan for a trip and its associated charging. F-150 Lightning features smart scales, measuring the weight of payload and hitch. This information, paired with hill grades, external temperature, and learned driving style patterns will route you accordingly. You’ll ideally leave the origin with the trailer and SYNC 4A will incorporate any necessary charging stops to your journey to get you to the destination.
Ford had a delicate balancing act on their hands while developing the Lightning. If they make it a dramatic new EV design, they could lose dedicated F-150 fans. If they make it nothing but an electrified F-150, they won’t have anyone in line to upgrade and it won’t be interesting enough to bring in buyers from outside the original market share.
Then there’s the case of reusing the name that once represented the fun, wild side of Ford trucks. I was fortunate to have a 2001 F-150 Lightning in the family. The new reincarnation is faster, bigger, and more capable. It’s a better vehicle, there’s no question, but it also loses some of the personality of the original.
After experiencing all four driving modes in their element with these prototype vehicles, I’m fairly certain Ford has a winner on their hands. They focused heavily on the needs and wants of their customers and made it as practical and fun as possible within the parameters of the best-selling F-series pickups. It may not have as many party tricks or the wild, unique style of other EVs, but it has a compelling price, adequate range, and 117 years of production experience over much of the competition. Ford has sold over 1,000,000 electrified vehicles since 2004, and I think this will help that number explode.