The Ford F-150 Lightning was named MotorTrend’s 2023 Truck of the Year on Tuesday, making it the second electric pickup in a row to win that award.
MotorTrend’s panel of judges lauded the F-150 Lightning as “the best-riding, best-handling, and best-driving F-150 yet.” Unlike other versions of the F-150, the Lightning has independent rear suspension instead of a solid axle connecting the back wheels. That tends to make for a smoother ride and better handling in curves.
The Lightning is also very powerful. Even in its base Pro version, one of two models MotorTrend tested, the electric motors can produce up to 426 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, a measure of pulling power. That’s similar horsepower to Ford’s V8-powered trucks and much more torque.
The Lighining’s lack of a big engine allows for innovative features like a large storage and work area under the hood. The truck also has 10 120-volt electrical outlets and one 240-volt outlet powered by its big battery packs. Besides powering tools at a work-site, people can even power their homes during a blackout — which is also possible with Ford’s hybrid trucks.
The F-150’s win, a year after the same MotorTrend award went to the Rivian R1T, highlights the growing recognition of battery-powered trucks as standouts in their category. It’s also another sign that electric power is making its mark among America’s most popular type of vehicle. Large pickups, and the Ford F-series in particular, are the best-selling vehicles in the United States.
“The truck gets everyone, male or female, everyone because the truck is, of course, in-built in American culture,” said Darren Palmer, Ford’s vice president for electric vehicles, in a recent CNN interview. “So the truck gets love, love, love everywhere.”
Given the performance and flexibility that electric power offers, battery-powered pickups might seem like a shoo-in for awards like this, but they do face one serious challenge, said Ed Loh, head of editorial for MotorTrend. Electric trucks are great for towing because they can easily handle even very heavy trailers, Loh said, but pulling that weight reduces driving range before the truck needs to recharge.
“It’s similar to how fuel economy plummets in a gas or diesel pickup when towing a heavy trailer, but the difference is the robust, pervasive fueling infrastructure that supports all gas-powered vehicles,” said Loh.
Chargers are not only harder to find, but most of them are also not designed to work well with trailers, Loh pointed out. Most EV chargers are situated so that drivers have to pull up with either their front or back ends facing the charger rather than alongside it, as they do at gas pumps. It’s a space-efficient way to have a lot of cars charging one at a time but it doesn’t work well for vehicles pulling trailers.
The MotorTrend Truck of the Year award, like its Car of the Year and SUV of the Year awards, is open only to models that are all-new or substantially redesigned for the given model year. That means the Ford and Rivian trucks were not competing against one another. Instead, the finalists for the 2023 Truck of the Year Award were the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 2500 Rebel, GMC Sierra and the Toyota Tundra. One or two versions of each truck were chosen to represent the different models in the competition.
Just because the award has now been won twice in a row by electric trucks doesn’t mean internal combustion powered trucks will never stand a chance, said Loh. It depends on the competitive field in a given year and the level of excellence and innovation, he said.
The F-150 Lightning was a unanimous winner among the MotorTrend’s seven jurists. That wasn’t true last year when the Rivian won, though, said Loh. The Ford Maverick, a small pickup engineered like a car, nearly took last year’s award, he said.
Following the Maverick’s huge market success, other automakers are now rushing to develop competitors, said Loh. That shows internal combustion trucks still aren’t stuck in a rut.