2022 Ford F-150 Lightning First Drive Review: Thunderstruck
Any time an important vehicle arrives, there’s a desire to pick out how and where it fits into the broader market. This car is X, that truck is Y, and everything is Z. The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning defies categorization, though, because while it’s the most significant vehicle to arrive in the electric truck market this year, it sticks steadfastly, stubbornly, and fantastically to the brief that made the F-Series America’s best-selling pickup.
I’m not exaggerating. Ignore the electric motors, available battery packs, and (comically named) MegaPower Frunk, and this is an F-150 through and through. Looks like an F-150. Drives like an F-150. Feels like an F-150. It’s so familiar it’s almost underwhelming – you’ll sit there thinking “This is it? This is the Lightning?” – until you hit the accelerator and move a camper or boat like it’s not even there. The Lightning, especially with a larger battery, is an unquestionably expensive proposition. But it has all the hallmarks of the gas-powered truck that’s dominated the market for decades. That makes it a huge win, regardless of price.
Gallery: 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning: First Drive
The Lightning’s performance, though, isn’t always obvious. In fact, it’s rarely necessary. Yes, the F-150 Lightning is damn quick. The standard model, with its 98.0-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and 452 horsepower, can get to 60 miles per hour in 5.0 seconds. Upgrading to the 131.0-kWh extended-range battery ups the ante to 580 hp and slashes about five-tenths from the sprint to 60. And I’d wager both of those figures are conservative, especially in the case of the model with the extended-range battery.
Smash the accelerator pedal and the Lightning’s weight – between 6,100 and 6,600 pounds, depending on which trim/battery pack you order – transfers rearward in a predictable, controlled manner. The tires squeal a touch off the line, too, although not as dramatically as the far more powerful, far heavier GMC Hummer EV. The horizon, though, still arrives quickly. And you can experience this at any speed. The Lightning accelerates just as aggressively on highways as it does from a standstill.
The Lightning’s performance, though, isn’t always obvious. In fact, it’s rarely necessary.
But it’s the 775 pound-feet of instant-on torque, standard with either battery pack, that make matting the accelerator feel pointless. The F-150 Lightning is so confident, so manageable that, unloaded, 15 to 25 percent acceleration feels like all you’ll really need. And you won’t need much more of that even with a hefty portion of the 2,235-pound payload occupied. Hell, tack a trailer to the back and the Lightning barely breaks a sweat.
To be clear, I actively avoid towing/payload exercises on truck drives. Automakers use predetermined routes and precisely calculated loads to show their vehicles in the best possible light, and really, what’s remarkable about a vehicle doing a thing below its maximum capacity? But if EVs are the future of personal transportation (and they are), then they’re also the future of towing. So no matter how many thumbs Ford puts on the scales with this test, it’s worth exploring what moving a trailer is like on electrical power.
In short, towing and hauling with an EV is the way to go because the load has no bearing on how the powertrain behaves. There’s no transmission working overtime or peaks and valleys for the engine to fall into or crawl out of. Simply dig into the accelerator and you’re moving forward.
A bed loaded with 1,500 pounds of mulch barely phased the Lightning Pro I drove, despite it having the lowest total output in the range. The acceleration remained so strong that, had the ride quality not changed slightly, I’d have forgotten there was a load behind me. Towing a 4,500-pound camper in an XLT with the extended-range battery was wholly undramatic, too. I don’t tow regularly, but the ease of driving the Lightning gave me confidence while towing I’ve never experienced before. That said, the Lightning’s 10,000-pound max tow rating is a half-ton off the Rivian R1T.
There’s little question that towing heavy loads regularly will lead to added time at your local charging station, but it’s just too early to say how often you’ll be plugging in.
The elephant in the room, of course, is how towing impacts an EV’s range. I can’t comment on that because I was only able to tow on short, 30-minute drive loops. The Lightning does have sensors at each corner to measure the ride height and load and implement that additional info when offering a range estimate in the digital cluster. But the XLT/camper combo I tested showed about 115 miles of range despite the battery’s 75 percent state of charge. There’s little question that towing heavy loads regularly will lead to added time at your local charging station, but it’s just too early to say how often you’ll be plugging in.
The powertrain performance while towing comes standard on every F-150 Lightning, but there’s an unsurprisingly robust tech suite to make work easier, all of which we’ve seen on gas-powered F-150s. ProTrailer Backup Assist, Smart Hitch, and an on-board scale system are all available as part of a $1,950 package that’s easy to recommend if you plan on towing regularly. And even if you pass on this package, rest easy knowing Ford has subjected the Lightning to the same torture testing that’s helped make its gas-powered truck a favorite in work and recreational spaces.
The other realm of pickup trucks, off-roading, is a surprising strong point, despite the all-season rubber and a relative lack of off-road tech. Still, the Lightning proved capable on a short, technical trail that included climbing rocky outcroppings thanks to a standard locking rear differential (a physical locker, not some virtual doohickey) and a beautifully tuned accelerator pedal. Adding power to scale an obstacle requires just a slight increase in pressure on the accelerator, which is remarkably simple to modulate. I wish Ford would have added hill descent control, though, as one-pedal driving isn’t available in off-road mode.
At the same time, the silent running of an EV has a small negative impact while towing or off-roading. Without the soundtrack of a gas engine, the only sign about how much power you’re applying is whether you’re moving or stationary. In fact, silence was a recurring trait in the Lightning. Aside from the Platinum, none of the Lightning trims come with acceleration sound.
Shake Your Foundations
An EV’s lack of sound from the powertrain usually makes wind and road noise more noticeable. But even with my XLT tester operating in permanent stealth mode, this was far and away the quietest F-150 I’ve ever driven. There’s little wind noise and a small amount of tire roar over coarser pavement, but it’s tough to overstate how well the Lightning locks out the outside world. You can have a conversation at a whisper and not struggle to hear the other party.
The lack of wind noise is down to some of the aerodynamic tweaks made to the F-150’s aluminum body. Ford ditched the traditional grille for a sealed design and added a revised hood to better channel air. The running boards are sleeker, but still substantial enough to aid ingress/egress, and the underbody carries new aerodynamic shielding. Ford is declining to release the drag coefficient for the Lightning or its gas-powered counterparts due to the sheer number of possible configurations, but it has said the EV’s aerodynamics improve by four percent over a similar gas truck.
The Lightning is hardly a featherweight for dancing around a slinky bit of road – the mass on hand is simply too great – but the lower center of gravity means the Lightning’s cornering is flatter than a gas-powered truck.
The ride quality is sublime, too. Ford gave the Lightning the F-150’s first independent rear suspension and, in upgrading the frame to accommodate the battery pack, used stronger steel in the frame. The result is little of the secondary motion that’s common in body-on-frame pickup trucks, including the gas-powered F-150. The Lightning addresses bumps in a controlled, almost car-like manner, even on dirt trails.
At the same time, the things that contribute to an excellent ride provide improve handling, too. The Lightning is hardly a featherweight for dancing around a slinky bit of road – the mass on hand is simply too great – but the lower center of gravity means the Lightning’s cornering is flatter than a gas-powered truck, while the independent rear suspension makes blasting out of corners easier and far more entertaining (provided you don’t overcome the all-season rubber’s grip).
But not all has changed, here. Opt for an XLT like I did, and you’ll find a cabin that’s essentially a carbon copy of the gas-powered F-150 in terms of design. Everything you’ll find there, you’ll find here, and in the exact same place. The standard 12.0-inch touchscreen, running Sync 4, remains. The climate controls are the same. So are the seats and their upholstery, the steering wheel, and the positioning of things like the trailer brake control, ProTrailer Backup Assist knob, climate controls.
A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard on all Lightning trims, but aside from that and the frunk release button, the Lightning’s cabin is indistinguishable from any other F-150. The exception is the Lariat and Platinum, which are available with the same 15.5-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen found in the Mustang Mach-E. All this familiarity might feel disappointing for folks seeking the latest whizbangs and flashiest design, but even with the larger touchscreen, the fucntionality and familiriaty of the cabin are clearly F-150.
Opt for an XLT like I did, and you’ll find a cabin that’s essentially a carbon copy of the gas-powered F-150 in terms of design. Everything you’ll find there, you’ll find here, and in the exact same place.
Speaking of exceptions, the Lariat and Platinum are the only Lightning trims available with BlueCruise. That’s in keeping with the gas-powered F-150, where BlueCruise is an option or standard on all trims north of the Lariat, but it still feels a little disappointing considering the Lightning’s forward-thinking nature. In practice, BlueCruise remains an impressive package, even though I experienced more ping-ponging in a lane than in previous tests (or with a SuperCruise-equipped Hummer EV).
Smarts and performance totally soften the blow of charging the Lightning, which trails both the GMC Hummer EV and Rivian R1T. The Hummer EV has a substantial advantage thanks to its 800-volt electrical architecture, which allows DC charging at a rate of 350 kilowatts and the ability to juice its far larger battery from 20 to 80 percent in just 24 minutes. By comparison, the F-150 Lightning’s 150-kilowatt peak takes 41 minutes to go from 15 to 80 percent. The Rivian R1T, meanwhile, adds 140 miles in 20 minutes – the Lightning can only manage 54 miles in half that time.
Still, the Lightning’s range is highly competitive, and its home charging times are nothing to sneeze at. The standard-range battery can cover 230 miles on a charge regardless of trim, and takes 10 hours to recharge on either a 48-amp circuit or with Ford’s Charge Station Pro and an 80-amp circuit.
The 131-kWh battery will cover 320 miles in the Pro, XLT, and Lariat trims, and 300 miles in the Platinum. That 320-mile figure ties the dual-motor Rivian R1T with the $6,000 “Large” battery and is a mere nine miles behind the GMC Hummer EV’s huge 200-plus-kWh pack. Charging takes 13 hours at 48 amps or a scant 8 hours on 80 amps. I’d love to draw some conclusions on range and targeting from my test in the new Lightning, but the time was too limited – keep an eye out for our friends from InsideEVs to figure out just how far the Lightning will go and how long it’ll take to recharge.
Like the standard F-150, the Lightning features ProPower Onboard. It’s standard on every trim with 2.4 kilowatts of juice on the Lightning Pro and XLT. A 9.6-kW version – 2.4 kW more than Ford offers on any hybrid-powered F-150 – is an option on those two and standard on the Lariat and Platinum. And if powering your worksite or tailgate party isn’t enough, the Lightning can power your house, if need be.
That 320-mile figure ties the dual-motor Rivian R1T with the $6,000 “Large” battery and is a mere nine miles behind the GMC Hummer EV’s huge 200-plus-kWh pack.
Intelligent Backup Power takes a fairly substantial investment – you’ll need the $1,310 Ford Charging Station Pro on an 80-amp circuit and a further $3,895 for the Sunrun Home Integration System, which includes an inverter, a transfer switch, and a small secondary battery that steps in during the small period between the power going out and IBP coming online. That $5,205 price doesn’t include any additional work, such as upgrades to your existing electrical box, but considering the expense of a whole-home generator ($5,500 to $13,000, according to Home Depot), the Lightning and IBP are something of a bargain.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
What I can come to a conclusion on is the F-150’s value argument. The base F-150 Pro, available for $41,769, including a hefty $1,795 destination charge, is a screaming bargain. Yeah, the 230-mile range is disappointing in the grand scheme of EVs and the charge rate isn’t great, but the 7,700-pound tow rating of the standard battery and the impressive performance it still allows, combined with a $26,000 savings over the next closest electric pickup truck (the $67,500 Rivian R1T) makes the Lightning Pro very hard to ignore.
Value becomes a murkier proposition higher up the ladder, though. The most contentious setup is the $54,769 XLT, which requires a whopping $10,000 for the extended-range battery plus a $9,500 prerequisite package. The package is full of good stuff, from the maxed-out ProPower Onboard package to upgrades to the Co-Pilot 360 active safety system (but not full-tilt BlueCruise, which is optional on Lariat and standard on Platinum) and heated front seats with a heated steering wheel. But there’s no getting around the fact that the cheapest F-150 Lightning with something as common as heated seats costs $74,269.
The base F-150 Pro, available for $41,769, including a hefty $1,795 destination charge, is a screaming bargain.
If you really want to assault your pocketbook, the $92,669 Platinum is on hand. It is exceedingly well equipped – the only options are smaller items like bedliners, mudflaps, and the Max Recline seat. You’ll find BlueCruise and the extended-range battery as standard, as well as heated and ventilated multi-contour seats, an upgraded 18-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system, and a large sunroof.
No, the sweet spot here is the $69,269 Lightning Lariat (which is good, because the Pro and XLT are sold out). Yeah, it also requires $10,000 for the larger battery, but includes BlueCruise, the Charge Station Pro, and a large sunroof in that price (on top of everything available on the XLT). Spending $80,000 on a pickup truck is a hard pill to swallow, but the competitive range, striking drivability, impressive equipment roster, and unique ability to keep your house running during a blackout are a fine combo.
The Lariat is where I’d spend my money, but I couldn’t fault anyone that bought a Lightning in any trim. Not because it’s somehow revolutionary – the electric motor and available battery packs are, to be frank, common nowadays. Considering the 400-volt architecture and modest charging speed, one could even argue the all-new Lightning is a bit behind the times. But the Lightning works not because it’s a ground-breaking EV, but because it simply feels like an F-150. There’s an intense familiarity that makes this EV easier to adjust to than any other. For a customer base that’s so fiercely, fanatically loyal, that’s exactly what Ford needs.
Lightning Competitor Reviews:
- Chevrolet Silverado EV: Not Rated
- GMC Hummer EV: 9.5 / 10
- Rivian R1T: Not Rated
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