(The Car Connection) — The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning marks an evolutionary milestone in the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Game changer, inflection point, ballyhooed, most important—the best superlative that can be applied to the Lightning should be only that: The Best. The Ford F-150 Lightning is The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2023.
The battery electric version of the F-150 pickup truck improves on Ford’s stalwart in the best ways: The Lightning has no tailpipe emissions, it has more storage and cargo space than the F-150, it’s quicker, cleaner, and it can tow up to 10,000 pounds. It embodies the evolution of the full-size pickup truck, at least two years before any rival full-size electric truck comes to market, yet it retains many of the hallmarks that have made the F-150 America’s bestselling truck for more than four decades. That’s how to stay ahead, and how to best the other finalists for The Car Connection Best Car to Buy 2023 award.
It didn’t come easy, however, and our internal debates ran hot, with three successive price increases inflaming our discussions to boiling over. Those price increases nearly disqualified the Ford F-150 Lightning from consideration for our award.
The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning wasn’t available for last year’s award due to the timing of the 98-kwh standard-range battery pack, and since then Ford has jacked up the price by $12,000 to nearly $54,000 on the base Lightning Pro with a 240-mile range. Ford also increased the price on models with the 131-kwh battery pack with the 320-mile range. But the base Lightning with the large pack is sold only to fleets that purchase at least five electric pickups and are certified by Ford as a fleet vehicle. This is where the Lightning can shock: the cheapest Lightning with the extended-range battery pack for non-fleet buyers is the XLT High for $81,000.
Eesh, Ford, let the people eat cake. But we won’t presume to know what range drivers need at what price threshold. We live in times that do not reflect the economic tenet of rational consumer behavior. The average price truck shoppers paid for a full-size truck midway through 2022 exceeded $60,000. That’s about the cost of a well-equipped Lightning XLT with the smaller battery pack.
The short version? It’s a damn good truck, especially for people who don’t tow that often and don’t need to truck hundreds of miles to encounter another human. Sorry, Wyoming.
The Lightning looks like an F-150 from the windshield back, with rocker creases, front window steps, a standard crew cab, and a 5-foot-6 bed that carries over from the F-150 so owners can transfer accessories between gas and electric trucks. Up front, a single light bar spans the front like a horseshoe mustache to the bumper because the hood opens up to the Lightning’s big EV packaging advantage: a front trunk that stores 14.1 cubic feet, carries 400 pounds, and contains four 120-volt outlets and two USB ports. It doubles as a cooler or power source. It’s easier to load and unload than the bed, and it’s secure. Neat.
Instead of an engine bay, a permanent magnetic motor drives the front axle and a second motor drives the rear for standard four-wheel drive. Nestled in the wider, reinforced F-150 frame are the two battery pack choices, with the large pack helping the motor make 452 hp and the larger one at 580 hp. With either pack, the motors make 775 lb-ft of torque, good enough for 0-60 mph times in 5.0 seconds or less. It’s remarkable for a 6,590-pound truck. Even unladen, the independent rear suspension keeps the truck steady and calm.
Four drive modes adjust the torque delivery, and a locking rear differential as well as an underbody girded by skid plates enable off-roading and water fording of up to 24 inches. Payload maxes out at 2,235 pounds, and we hauled a plywood load of more than 2,000 pounds in the bed without any bed sag over the axle. Towing tops out at 10,000 pounds with the extended-range battery, but range is affected by the load more than in a gas truck. In brief testing of a 9,500-pound trailer, it never strained uphill or felt like it was being pushed downhill.
Ford equips every Lightning with impressive features aligned with the price. A 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster and 12.0-inch touchscreen come standard, as does automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors.
There will be other debates about the merits of the Ford F-150 Lightning. Whatever your opinion, this truck takes us over the bridge of electrification.
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