Payne: Ford F-150 Lightning EV is fast, affordable and frunk-adelic

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 16, 2022

San Antonio, Texas — Ford F-150 trucks are Swiss Army knives. Their capabilities include trailer towing, mulch hauling, rock-crawling, stream-fording and drag-racing BMWs. They can also conquer the Baja 1000, host UM tailgate parties, offer mobile workspaces, provide first-class transit to the opera, and comfortably seat the Detroit Pistons’ starting lineup.

So offering an electric pickup option doesn’t seem like a stretch.

Like Raptor, hybrid, V-8 and Ecoboost models that have come before it, Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 Lightning EV is an impressive beast. Though its lack of towing range will limit its market, Lightning’s affordable price will tempt many to its electrified talents.

On a remote road in San Antonio ranch country, I set launch control in a Lightning Pro. Mat the brake, mat the accelerator pedal. The 6,500-pound truck let out a short GRUNT like a bull pawing the earth before a charge. I released the brake. To the moon, Alice!

The Lightning bolted forward, four wheels chirping as they channeled instant, 775 pound-feet of torque (ahem, 225 more than a $700,000 Ford GT supercar) to the pavement via twin electric motors. The thrust buried me in the vinyl seatback. With 98-kWh battery below decks, 50/50 weight distribution and independent rear suspension (IRS), the beast is stealthy and solid.

With a new box frame carrying a 98 kWh or 131 kWh battery, the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning is all electric with motors front and rear.

Sixty miles per hour blew by in just 5 seconds, quicker than a turbo-4-powered Mustang coupe. This in a base $45K pickup with utility that would put a comparably priced electric Mustang Mach-E SUV to shame.

Press a button and the hood rises automatically (no finger-cramping, manual hood latch here) to reveal … space. With the engine gone, cargo room measures 14.1 cubic-feet, more than a Fiesta hatchback. It’s a pickup owner’s dream come true: SUV-like storage in front to complement a 5-foot-5-inch bed in back. My tester swallowed two carry-on bags, a briefcase and backpack. Two golf bags will also fit. The hood automatically closes just like a … what to call it?

A hatchfront? Front boot? Front trunk will do. Or “frunk” as Tesla popularized the term years ago. It’s Lightning’s signature feature.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning frunk carries 14.1 cubic feet of cargo - about the same as the boot of a Ford Fiesta.

Significantly, Lightning lacks F-150’s signature towing prowess. Capable of towing up to 7,700 pounds, the Pro’s 230-mile range is plenty for metro commutes — but when I asked the truck to travel from San Antonio to Detroit, it told me the 22-hour trip in a gas truck would require 33.5 hours by EV with 15 fast-charging stops totaling 7.5 hours.

Option the bigger battery in upper trims and its 320-mile range won’t do much better. Tow 5,000 pounds and range drops by two-thirds. Tow your camper to Yellowstone? Fuhgeddaboudit. For my Airstream-towing friends Chris and Tom, this is a deal-killer even as they marvel at Lightning’s Tesla-like performance.

A 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Platinum towed a 5,000-pound horse trailer effortlessly. Smooth power delivery -- though range will suffer.

This is no Tesla Cybertruck, however.

Where the radical Cybertruck aims to redefine pickup design, autonomy and speed — just as Model S3VY siblings remade their segments — Lightning is content to blend in. That’s a change from Ford’s other EV icon, the Mach-E, which aped Tesla’s Model Y specs ‘n’ screen to gain cred among compact EV buyers.

By contrast, Ford dominates the affordable full-size truck space — and Lightning is first to market. The F-150 Lightning, which Ford officially launched April 26, is the Dearborn automaker’s most important product in its bid to overtake Tesla as the EV market leader.

Happen upon a Lightning and it looks little different from an internal-combustion-engine F-150 (which are everywhere in Texas, where 1-in-5 F-series are sold). No bolt graphic on the front grille. No LIGHTNING stamped in the tailgate. You might notice its lack of tailpipe.

Heck, my favorite base Pro didn’t even have the horizontal front/rear LED lightbars found on XLT, Lariat and Platinum trims. Surely owners would like a little more visual pizzazz for their first EV truck?

The interior of the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro features a 12-inch screen, digital instrument display, wireless smartphone connectivity and bottomless console space.

Fortunately, Ford didn’t skimp on other details that have made F-150 America’s best-selling pickup.

Think signature Ford windowsill dip for better visibility, roomy rear seats, commanding driver’s position, all-digital displays, 12-inch center touchscreen. With the touch of a button, the gearshift disappears, converting the console into a desktop workspace.

The Pro complements its Tesla-quick acceleration with coveted EV attributes like one-pedal driving and liquid-smooth, 7,700-pound towing ability. Even the F-150’s first independent rear suspension complements the unique EV experience by smoothing out bed flutter and eliminating that bane of pickups: crow-hop in tight turns.

Standard goodies include navi system, blind spot-assist, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, auto headlamps and drag strip parachute (kidding about the last one). Storage space abounds in the console, doors, the twin glove boxes. Out back, my truck bristled with four 110-volt plugs and one 240-volt plug (courtesy of the must-have, $1,070 Pro Power Onboard upgrade — more on that later) so I could run a rockin’ tailgate party off the truck’s battery — just bring jumbotron, fridge, cooker. The 240 plug will even recharge your buddy in a stranded Mach-E.

The bed on this $45K 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro is optioned with Pro Power Onboard to make the truck a mobile generator.

The market is flooded with $45K EV utes right now — none can hold a candle to this kind of utility. A $60K Volvo C40 Recharge in my driveway recently had the same 230-mile range and interior features, and would fit in the Ford’s frunk.

The Lightning’s unique attributes fade in upper trims.

With ICE models, walk up the  trim ladder and you gain multiple engine options beyond the base F-150’s 3.3-liter V-6: twin-turbo 2.7-liter V-6; twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6; 3.5-liter hybrid; 5.0-liter V-8. Not Lightning. Upper trims feature the same twin-motors, same IRS, same 775 torque (with horsepower boosted from 452 to 580).

I drove a $75K XLT with cloth seats and adaptive cruise control and a $94K Platinum with a Mach-E-like vertical 15.5-inch touchscreen. Rich Ford customers will buy them because they’re the it thing — but they pale in value to, say, a loaded, $68K F-150 Lariat Hybrid that can charge your tailgate party with the same box plugs. There’s plenty of electric pickup competition north of $80K, like Rivian R1T, GMC Hummer and (coming) Chevy Silverado EV.

Give me the affordable tool. F-150 has always excelled in tech, and my truck nerd friends will geek out on Pro Power Onboard. Wire it into your house like a generator and it’s a Google Nest on wheels.

Charge it overnight on off-peak rates, then power your house the next night during peak rates. When the power inevitably goes out — welcome to southeast Michigan — Lightning can power your home for days. Geeking out yet?

With some 200,000 orders in the books, Lightning’s $7,500 tax credit is already toast. Good. EVs need to stand on their own four feet, and my $45K Lightning Pro is a fine example of how they can.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning offers palatial rear legroom.

The truck’s range and towing limitations are evidence of electric vehicles’ narrow appeal, but Lightning knows its niche in the lineup. It’s for those who want Tesla performance that’s Built Ford Tough. Call it a Swiss Army e-Knife.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup truck

Price: $41,769 including $1,695 destination fee ($45,284 Pro, $75,814 XLT and $94,004 Platinum as tested)

Powerplant: 98 kWh or 131 kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 452 horsepower (standard battery) or 580 horsepower (extended-range battery); 775 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.0 seconds standard, 4.5 seconds for extended battery (mfr.); payload, 2,235; towing, 10,000 pounds

Weight: 6,015-6,813 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe 68 MPGe standard range battery, 70 MPGe long range; range, 230 miles (standard), 320 miles (extended)

Report card

Highs: Frunk-adelic; awesome torque

Lows: Bland exterior; tow-range limited

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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