2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost King Ranch: All hat, no cattle

The hype is strong for this PowerBoost King Ranch F-150. This is the first real full-on attempt to create a hybrid pickup truck. In an era where fuel economy and emissions regulations are ever-tightening, the popularity of full-size trucks and SUVs continues to grow. In addition, the physical size of these vehicles continues to expand as well.

Larger physical size. The demand for more electronic gadgets. Governmental regulations requiring more safety features and systems. The curb weight of these vehicles continues to climb. Can added weight and the complexity of a hybrid system offset some of this? Will it change the driving experience of a half-ton pickup? That is what I wanted to find out.

2021 Ford F-150 King Ranch PowerBoost

The (lack of) value for money

The as-tested sticker price for the King Ranch F-150 PowerBoost was, wait for it, $76,909. That is right a Benjamin shy of seventy-seven grand. For a HALF-TON pickup truck. To put this into context, I went on Ford’s website and configured a King Ranch F-250 4×4. That build had almost $11,000 optional 6.7-liter PowerStroke diesel, and it came out within $1,000 of the same price!

The sad point is, the F-250 is not only is a far more capable pickup truck, it also gets the same or better fuel economy as this PowerBoost F-150.

Spring all the money for a King Ranch package, or the Platinum, and you expect a very nice interior. What you get is an average interior. Time was in the past, you ordered a King Ranch package and the leather felt like thick saddle leather. Now it feels like industrial-grade leather. Oh, by the way, the leather used in the King Ranch is the same as in the Platinum, it’s just colored differently.

You will also still find plenty of hard plastics in and around the interior of this F-150. Most of the door card is hard plastic. There is no lining in the pockets of the doors where you might place a water bottle or other objects, so you will always hear them rattling around. The center console is awash in hard plastics. There is a trim piece that looks like metal on the center console and around the vents, that is plastic with an appliqué. The “wood” trim is hydro-dipped plastic. 

That metal finish is just plastic.

The top of the dash is scratchy hard plastic. The top of the doors is trimmed in something that feels like thinly padded vinyl. I think you get the point. That’s not to say it’s as abhorrent as the current Chevy Silverado interior. No, it’s FAR better than that. The problem is that this interior would be fine at $50k, not at nearly $80k.

If I were to price out what it would take to upgrade the materials of the interior to equal the asking price of this truck, you are looking at somewhere between $2,500 and $3,500 in material cost. This would fix the quality of leather, the deletion of most of the plastics, and replacing with other materials. Real wood veneers, not hydro-dipped plastics. The costs add up quickly. That said there is PLENTY of margin in these upper trim levels to justify the improvements.

Inside

Like the Bronco Sport I recently reviewed, this F-150 King Ranch too was a very early build, sub 300 off the line, according to the VIN. And, like the Bronco Sport, there were a few QC issues — though mostly related to the infotainment system. The one consistent build quality item I ran into is the left rear door often needed to be re-closed two or three times for the alert on the dash to go away.

The SYNC system had a few hiccups. Even though the audio system was on and playing when I turned the truck off, the system was turned off when restarted. The wireless Apple CarPlay worked intermittently. Sometimes it connected just fine, other times it would not connect at all. Shutting off the vehicle, opening and closing the door sometimes helped it to reset and reconnect but not always. The overall sound quality was sufficient, though I’m not sure I’d bother with the upgrade to the B&O system. That seems like a branding exercise rather than an upgrade in actual audio quality.

One of several times when wireless Apple CarPlay would not work.

Thankfully, like the Bronco Sport, Ford keeps your previous selections for seat heating and cooling along with the heated steering wheel selected when you restart the vehicle. It was the final days of Winter when I had the F-150 in for review, and it was still in the low to mid-twenties in the morning, so having the heated seat and wheel already selected was a kindness.

Spending more getting less

Price aside, my other major issue with this example other than the interior is the drivetrain. The reason you’d buy a hybrid is for better fuel economy. My experience with this PowerBoost (and some anecdotal evidence from asking around) is that this hybrid system IN THE REAL WORLD provides no benefit.  All my fuel economy numbers were also gathered in 2WD mode, I never selected 4WD or AUTO mode. My real-world fuel economy numbers were 16 MPG city and 21 MPG highway. The official EPA numbers are 24 mpg for city, highway, and combined. But again, do a Google search for “real world PowerBoost fuel economy” and my results aren’t far off from what everyone else is actually getting.

Why the discrepancy?  Well every OEM knows exactly how to calibrate their drivetrains for the EPA test. And, the EPA’s fuel economy test is not run in a real-world situation. The test is also not run on standard pump gas. The dirty little secret is EPA tests are done with a specific blend of 100% gasoline, no ethanol added. The gas you get at the pump has 10% ethanol as an additive. The ethanol blend decreases your fuel economy compared to 100% gas that you may get from a marina or MoGas down the street.  Every OEM optimizes its systems to get maximum results based on the fuel and the test cycle. It’s the whole “don’t hate the player, hate the game” cliché, but here it’s true.

This also applies in Ford’s case to their 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine.  What the EPA states the fuel economy is, and what the real-world results are, most often are quite different. Towing, the EcoBoost gets worse fuel economy than the 5.0-liter V-8.

“Feature” or foible?

One curious item with this PowerBoost example. When the start/stop system activated to shut off the engine, even though there was a battery to draw power from, the electric power steering seemed to also deactivate and the fan speed for the HVAC system dropped. As I haven’t driven another example of this drivetrain, I’m not sure if my experiences can be chalked up as one more early production foible or a legitimate calibration issue.

Stepping onto the soapbox

The F-150 has six engine choices: the 3.3-liter naturally aspirated six-cylinder, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, the 3.5-liter PowerBoost, the 5.0-liter V-8, and the 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel (which is being discontinued). Three of these options should just go away.

While the 3.3-liter engine exists mostly as a fleet option to keep running costs down, this one can go away. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost can go away as well. While marketed as something that gives you V-8 power with V-6 fuel economy, what EcoBoost does is give you worse fuel economy than the V-8 and more running costs. As previously mentioned the PowerBoost doesn’t deliver on any of its promises. It’s more expensive and more complicated than any other engine choice available, and it gives perhaps the worst fuel economy of all.

For what 70% of people buying the F-150 need — be it consumer, fleet, or contractor work, the base 2.7-liter EcoBoost does the job with room to spare. For those who need to tow or haul more, the V-8 delivers. Full stop. It has better real-world fuel economy in normal conditions — and especially when towing — compared to Eco/PowerBoost options.  Finally, for those who need the best in fuel economy or a more pleasant towing experience, there is the 3.0-liter Power Stroke. This is the engine Ford chose to drop, but it’s one of the ones I think they should have kept.

There, we just saved Ford hundreds of millions of dollars in production costs and simplifying the product line.  

Followship vs Leadership

Someone once said: “If I had asked people what they want, they would have asked for a faster horse.” That, someone, was Henry Ford. And yet Ford, like almost every other OEM seems to be obsessed with giving what consumers ask for in focus groups.

Seems everyone who has been hired in these marketing research groups forgot some of the first lessons of their college marketing courses. Consumers will almost always give you the answer they think the company is looking for. These focus group questions also tend to ask questions that lead to a predetermined answer or don’t offer enough leeway to give an accurate answer.  I may have graduated from a second/third tier directional state college, but even I learn that basic lesson in my marketing classes.

What are the issues?

In the case of the F-150, it has become so large (because customers always say they want more room) that not one, but TWO models had to be brought online to fill the need of the marketplace. The current F150 is now the size of a two-generation old SuperDuty, and the Ranger is very similar in size to the ’80s-era F150s. Everyone thinks they need to tow 10,000 pounds. If they tow, it’s rarely about 6,000 pounds. And yes, while it’s nice to have some headroom in your towing capacity if you are approaching 9,000 or 10,000 pounds to tow, you are far better off — and far safer — with a 3/4 ton truck, because of suspension brakes and frame strength.

Let’s add to that the aforementioned multiple choices of engines, eight trim levels three cab sizes, and the various bed lengths — the D-Day landings at Normandy took less logistical gymnastics to pull off as it does to configure and build an F-150.

It is time Ford and others got away from The “Cheesecake Factory Menu” theory of product offering and went to the “In-N-Out Burger Menu” theory.  Just do a few things, do them very well, and at a reasonable price. Customers will still flock to you.

The Ford F-150 has become so large that not one, but TWO models had to be brought into the Ford truck lineup to fill the need of the marketplace. 

The bottom line on the F-150 King Ranch

In “normal times” the purchase price of this King Ranch F-150 might not be as much of an obstacle since every month is “Truck Month” at your local dealership. There would be thousands of dollars in incentives on the hood for purchase or lease. But these are not “normal times.” In the summer of 2021, we are looking at another six to nine months of a microchip shortage that is critical to almost every vehicle produced today. As such, inventories will be very tight, and you are unlikely to get any deal on any new lease or purchase. Take that into account when you are shopping.

If you view the F-150 King Ranch as a luxury vehicle, it is pretty good. The ride is pleasant, the cabin is quiet, you have all the safety systems and current tech you could want. The stying refresh is fine. I don’t hate it, but it also doesn’t do anything for me other than delineate a model year change.

The interior materials are exactly what you expect for an American luxury vehicle (outside a select few Lincoln’s): not up to the standards of Europe or Asia at this price point, truck notwithstanding.  

The hybrid system is a gimmick. The battery power system is one that no contractor or camper is going to use, is just extra cost and extra weight. It all looks good in marketing materials, and on comparison spec sheets. In the real world, it’s pointless as it offers no benefits.

If you are in the market for an F-150, do yourself a favor: Go drive a $50k – $55k XLT with the V-8. Then, go drive an EcoBoost or a PowerBoost in a higher trim level. You tell me if you can find where all that money went, other than to The Blue Oval’s bottom line. If you want a truck to do truck things, the V-8 XLT is the truck you want and need. If you want a truck as a lifestyle statement and doing truck things doesn’t really enter into the equation, then, by all means, the PowerBoost F-150 King Ranch, Platinum, or Limited might make you happy.

3 Comments

  1. Because I’m an enormous pedant, based on what Fuelly users report, the 3.5 Ecoboost and 5.0 get virtually identical real world fuel economy (both right about 16MPG), and the F-250 with diesel is about 14.5. I haven’t driven a 5.0L one since the Ecoboost first came out, but as I remember, the EB had the edge in low-end torque (as you’d expect), while the V8 had to be revved out a bit (not bad, just not as suited to mission). Couple that with the 2.7 and 3.5 sharing architecture while the 5.0 is the last vestige of a 30-year old family, and if anything, I could see a stronger argument for dropping the V8 altogether (at least from a cost/manufacturing perspective). That said, I recognize that dropping any V8 option in a quarter ton truck is total suicide.

  2. “If you want a truck to do truck things, the V-8 XLT is the truck you want and need.”

    This has basically been my steadfast philosophy on the F150 since they retired the 300 inline six.

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