Payne: Muddin’ in the Ford F-150 Lightning EV

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 12, 2023

Holly Oaks — It’s only fitting that the last vehicle I tested in 2022 was a Ford F-150 Lightning at Holly Oaks ORV Park on New Year’s Eve.

Lightning was the talk of the pickup world in 2022 as the first volume electric vehicle — beating to market its Detroit Three competitors and the Tesla Cybertruck. Like the love child of a Tesla and F-series, Lightning strikes with instant, stealthy torque while offering a frunk the size of a Manhattan apartment. It comes with all the shortcomings of range anxiety, too. From pricing to towing to charging, Lightning helped us evolve our understanding of electric vehicles’ place in the world.

Pickups are Swiss Army knives, and I had the opportunity to test the Lightning’s tools throughout the year. I drove the base $45,284 Pro model in Texas ranch country in May, then its top-drawer $94,004 Platinum edition on a road trip up north in October. The last challenge? Off-roading. So I headed to Holly Oaks in a mid-range, Avalanche White $86,199 XLT on the last day of the year.

My road-trip experience taught me that Lightning is best-suited for metropolitan truck duty.

Charging is a chore on third-party charging networks. More significantly, Lightning drinks electrons when towing — getting just 30% of range when hauling 5,000 pounds, according to TFLTruck.com tests. That means the long-range 320-mile model may not make it the 120 miles between, say, Electrify America fast chargers on I-75. And even if you get to a charger, a truck ‘n’ trailer may not fit the space.

The handsome interior of the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV.

Holly Oaks is an off-road park gem for many reasons — including that it’s just 50 miles north of Detroit, making for easy access to the state’s biggest urban population.

In May, I described Lightning as “fast, affordable and frunk-adelic.” Scratch affordable. Ford’s base Pro went from $39,974 to $55,974 by year’s end — a 40% price hike and about $22,000 north of its gas counterpart. Like most EVs, Lightning is aimed at luxury buyers. I still think it’s the coolest EV this side of Tesla.

My XLT tester starts at $65,269, but the long-range 320-mile battery adds a whopping $17,500 for a starting sticker of $82,769. When I headed north to Holly on a cold, wet 40-degree Dec. 31, I thought I might need every bit of it. EV battery range is a moving target.

The night before a trip to Holly Oaks for some off-roading, the F-150 Lightning XLT is charged to its full range of more than 300 miles.

Using my home 240-volt charger, I filled the Lightning XLT to 316 miles overnight, then headed out for morning exercise at my local athletic club. A seven-mile round-trip later and my range indicated 290 miles. What?

The range suck would continue on my 34-mile trip to Holly Oaks. At 75 mph in the rain, I took 67 miles off the battery. Still, this variability isn’t much concern within Metro Detroit’s 300-mile radius. Fast-charging stations abound and the Ford’s navigation system is quite good at locating them. It filters chargers by type, and I located an EVgo charger on my route (Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills) should it be needed.

Range in an EV can be tricky as vehicles try to predict range based on use case. Driving up I-75 at 75 mph the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning got just 50% of predicted range.

Of course, gas trucks have no such worries given their superior energy efficiency, but once you’ve figured out an EV’s radius, the driving experience is superb.

The Lightning has a ridiculous standard 775 pound-feet of torque (horsepower increases to 580 from 452 with the extended battery), and driving is effortless. The Ford overtook on the highway like, well, Lightning — ZOT! — with a jab of my right foot.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV puts out a whopping 775 pound-feet of torque, which is good for flinging mud off-road.

The rest of the time I sailed along on adaptive cruise control (which centers the truck in lane while maintaining a gap from cars ahead) in luxury — listening to Sirius XM while cloth seats cradled my big frame. Luxury is a relevant term in Ford trucks, and a similarly-priced Limited gas model would land me in posh blue-leather seats with Blue Cruise self-driving capability.

I met a couple of Jeep Wrangler 392 Rubicon buddies at Holly Oaks. Rain had turned Holly’s 176 acres into a pigpen and they were licking their chops at the challenge. Their steeds were armed for off-road battle with 37-inch all-terrain tires, skid plates and 13-inch ground clearance. I would have to be more circumspect with the Lightning’s more casual wardrobe: 33-inch all-season tires, no skid plates, 8.4-inch ground clearance.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV plays with a Jeep Gladiator with 37-inch Recon package for off-roading.

Expect more from the Lightning Tremor that is surely coming, but I still had fun without chasing my mates up 40-degree inclines or through rock-barbed trenches. Using a modified version of F-150’s tough ladder frame (batteries snugged between between the rails), Lightning was plenty competent over Holly’s heaving terrain. I selected OFF-ROAD mode, which locked the rear differential for better traction.

Lightning clawed up Mt. Magna’s Potato Salad Hill — the 8.4-inch ground clearance (the same as a Bronco Sport) proving useful. It navigated tight Darlene’s Ridge with easy torque. And on sandy flats, it made for a willing four-wheel-drift partner (though I couldn’t turn all the nanny systems off).

Got mud? The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV after a day at Holy Oaks ORV Park.

Like tracking my Tesla Model 3, off-roading is hell on range. Nine miles around M1 Concourse’s test track (six laps on the 1.5-mile course) in the Tesla sucks 50 miles of range. My seven-mile, two-hour Holly adventure took 70 miles off the Ford’s battery. That’s some serious electron-guzzling.

With 151 miles of range, a mud-caked pickup and a smile as wide as Lightning’s signature front LED light, I headed home. Along the way, I topped up on electrons at that EVgo station. My experience with third-party fast chargers has been, um, spotty, and EVgo would be no different.

Located in the front of Great Lakes’ mammoth parking lot, the stalls were cramped (no room for trailers here). Two of the four chargers were 350-volt capable and I plugged in. It didn’t work.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV charges at EVgo Great Lakes Crossing next to a GMC Hummer EV.

The second 350-volt charger was more welcoming, and I gained 75 miles in 20 minutes (a long way from a gas F-150’s 400 mile fill-up in 3 minutes) while I made a DQ run inside the mall. When I returned, a Hummer EV was alongside and successfully sipping from the other 350-volt charger.

The last leg of my journey brought one more surprise. At 70 mph, Lightning took just 27 miles off the battery over 36 miles as the onboard Intelligent Range software tried to predict range according to the day’s wide variety of driving styles.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning comes with a 5.5-foot bed.

EVs are complicated. But if you drive locally and have deep pockets, Lightning is a treat.

2023 Ford F-150 Lightning

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

Price: $57,669, including $1,695 destination fee ($86,199 XLT big battery 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, 4.5 seconds for extended battery (mfr. as tested); payload, 2,235 pounds; 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: Looks sharp, go-anywhere toughness

Lows: Range limited, gets pricey

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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