It’s funny to see people tout Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year (COTY) award because they’ll be sure to mention it when it has something to do with their favorite car, but they’ll use the award as a weapon to point out, “What does Motor Trend know? The Chevy Citation won the COTY award!” Of course, the award is not based on how a particular vehicle fared in terms of terms of reliability and durability but, rather several metrics that include design advancement, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value and performance of intended function.
Last month, the COTY was awarded to the Genesis G90, and it now is joined by the 2023 Truck of the Year: Ford F-150 Lightning.
You wouldn’t be the first person to think, “Isn’t this the truck that had problems towing?” and, yes, Motor Trend wrote about its struggles. However, Motor Trend feels the F-150 Lightning is the “first electric pickup to appeal directly to the existing truck market,” and that must carry some weight in this new world order of automobiles. Seeing that full-size trucks like the F-150 are the biggest-selling vehicles in the United States, Motor Trend does have a point. To wit:
“As much as vehicles like the Rivian R1T and GMC Hummer EV reimagine the pickup truck as an expression, they make less effort at appealing to longstanding truck buyers who may not necessarily see a need for a rethink when today’s pickups are better than they’ve ever been. The Ford F-150 Lightning successfully bridges the gulf between the powertrain of the future and the pickup of today in a way no other EV truck on the market has accomplished.”
Based on Motor Trend’s criteria, here’s what the editors and supporting cast had to say:
Advancement in Design
The F-150 Lightning is part of a breed of EVs that pretends to be normal vehicles. Look at the Rivian and it’s more for the “lifestyle vehicle” set, but the Lightning eschews that for being just another pickup, albeit one with the latest technology. A traditionalist will be more likely to embrace what appears traditional.
Yeah, we know — fuel economy sucks for full-size pickups, and when new fuel economy methodology was enacted in 2008, the numbers appeared even worse than they did before. In terms of the F-150 Lightning’s efficiency, Motor Trend said this: “Properly equipped, the Lightning goes slightly farther than an [Rivian] R1T while using a slightly smaller battery. More impressive, the Lightning is a physically larger vehicle, and its aerodynamics are adapted from a standard pickup’s rather than designed from scratch to cheat the wind.” The COTY awards generally are objectively scored and not compared to others, though you can see the magazine’s thinking here, especially when the Lightning has a greater payload capacity, larger bed and more spacious interior.
Motor Trend feels that Ford handled the Lightning’s engineering with aplomb by redesigning the ladder frame to accommodate the battery pack and independent suspension while also meeting the demands of payload and other requirements de rigueur of a vehicle of this type. The Lightning also comes off as “the best-riding, best handling and best-driving F-150 yet.” Credit for that may go to the low center of gravity that the battery has afforded. Plus, the battery system allows for plenty on-the-field charging opportunities, including the ability to charge a home for several days during a power outage (though what does one drive when the battery is depleted after an Xbox marathon?).
Performance of Intended Function
“In evaluating the F-150 Lightning, we must acknowledge Ford intended this specific model to do a slightly more limited range of jobs,” says Motor Trend. That means the Lightning has a specific purpose that may meet the needs of some, but not all, pickup truck consumers as there are limitations with the current technology. The Lightning may not be for everyone, so Ford focused on everyone else. To that point, the Lightning is more efficient than your typical F-150, has more lockable storage, “can export 25% more power through its 120- and 240-volt outlets” and even has a route planner for on-the-road charging. And since the Lightning is outwardly conventional, most accessories for the F-150 fit the Lightning.
The Lightning comes standard with the latest “suite” of active and passive driver aids. Ford also offers what’s called the BlueCruise, a hands-free driving technology that relies on sensing tech and high-def maps and GPS. Let’s hope that someone towing for 100 miles (or less) keeps his/her hands on the wheel.
Apparently, the F-150 Lightning undercuts the EV competition by $20,000. That’s after a substantial price hike ($12,000?!). Motor Trend says a SuperCrew XL with bucket seats, power outlets and the most powerful and efficient gas engine available will run you $52,000 for “a slower, less efficient truck that doesn’t tow or haul significantly more than a Lightning.” Base price starts at $55,974 and goes all the way to $96,874 (with $7,500 in potential savings from tax incentives).
In sum, Motor Trend feels the average truck buyer doesn’t have to make many compromises in considering the F-150 Lightning aside of towing long distances, but its payoff is a “host of features no gas- or diesel-powered truck can match.”