What is it?
Arguably the most exciting electric vehicle on the market today – at least in the USA. While most brands are pushing down the electric SUV path (think Tesla Model Y, BMW iX3, Hyundai Ioniq 5, etc), Ford has opted to build an electric version of its hugely popular pickup truck – the F-150.
But the F-150 Lightning isn't just a regular F-150 with the internal combustion engine removed and electric motors dropped in. Instead, Ford has radically redesigned the Lightning to take advantage of all the benefits an electric vehicle can offer.
A great example of this is what's under the bonnet, where Ford has managed to package the front electric motor under the floor and therefore use the space where the engine would be as a secure storage area. Officially Ford calls it the ‘Mega Power Frunk' (as in ‘front trunk') as it has multiple power outlets and USB ports so the area can be used by tradespeople, campers or anyone who needs an extra workspace when they're on the road.
It is this kind of clever design that characterises the F-150 Lightning and has made it a sell-out hit in the US. While Ford Australia has locked in the F-150 with the V6 EcoBoost engine for 2023, it hasn't made any official commitment to the Lightning, but Torquecafe was part of a small group of Australia media that were given the opportunity to test drive the Lightning in Detroit recently.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Ford hasn't gone racing with an electric car yet, but it did build the rather bonkers Mustang Mach-E 1400 to experiment with high-performance electric motors and batteries. It was a joint project between Ford Performance and RTR, the race team and custom car building operation led by drifting legend, Vaughn Gittin Jr.
The ‘1400' in the name refers to horsepower, which comes from seven electric motors, which allows the experimental vehicle to push the limits in a variety of settings – drifting, drag racing or circuit racing.
What's under the bonnet?
Underneath the Mega Power Frunk there's an electric motor on the front axle and a second mounted on the rear axle. These two motors provide 337kW of power and 1050Nm of torque with the Standard Range battery, while the models fitted with the Extended Range battery make 433kW and 1050Nm.
The Standard Range battery has 98kWh of usable energy which is enough for a driving range of 370m, but the Extended Range has 131kWh of energy which stretches the range to 480km.
For a dual-cab ute that weighs nearly 3000kg the performance of the Lightning is mind-blowing. Ford claims its 0-60mph (0-96km/h) time is just 4.0 seconds and based on our experience it feels very believable, it launches forward with ferocity despite its immense size.
But what's even more remarkable is how quiet it is. There's very little outside noise that penetrates the cabin, making this working-class ute feel more like a luxury car when you're inside.
How does it handle?
While the performance and refinement is more performance/luxury car, the Lightning is built on the same ladder frame chassis as the regular F-150 so the ride and handling is more inline with what you expect from a pickup truck.
On smooth roads it's fine, but the rudimentary chassis set-up means any bumps in the road can unsettle the big ute and make the ride feel busy. It's not unpleasant though, and the ladder frame chassis does have its benefits.
With the Extended Range battery and the Max Trailer towing package, the Lightning is capable of towing up to 4500kg and has a maximum payload in the tray of 2267kg. However, in some models – namely the high-grade Platinum – only has an 885kg payload and 3500kg towing capacity, which is on par with the smaller, already-available-in-Australia Ranger.
Overall the driving experience of the Lightning is quiet and relaxed, but with its capability it should have appeal if it makes it to local showrooms.
Where would you most like to drive it?
Hopefully in Australia sometime in the near future. The catch is the demand in the US makes any international, right-hand drive expansion unlikely in the short-term.
What's the interior like?
Incredibly spacious and surprisingly hi-tech. We drove the top-of-the-line Platinum model and it came fitted with a digital instrument display and a huge 15.5-inch touchscreen running Ford's latest SYNC4A infotainment system.
This new system is a leap forward from the current system and makes for a ute that feels very cutting-edge and contemporary. The lack of physical buttons could be a turn-off for many though, with all major controls except audio volume, adjusted via the screen.
The space is the other ‘wow factor' in the F-150, with so much room in the front it once again feels more like a luxury SUV than a workhorse vehicle. Both those in the front and back have ample room and the F-150 is perhaps one of the few vehicles on the market today that is big enough to take five adults in genuine comfort.
In addition to the 400-litre frunk, there's the tray out the back that makes it a practical ute but includes some more clever design touches, including a tailgate that doubles as a workbench (complete with rulers, C-clamp slots and cup-holders) and a pop-out step and handle that makes it easy to climb into the tray when needed.
How much does the Ford F-150 Lightning cost?
This is a moot point, because not only is the Lightning not even available in Australia yet, but the US prices keep changing. Since we drove it in the US in September Ford has announced a price increase, blaming the rising cost of materials.
The US range now begins at US$51,974, which is a significant jump over its original, headline-grabbing introductory price of US$39,974.
Of course, given the price of US-style utes in Australia, if and when the F-150 Lightning makes it here we'll almost certainly be looking at a six-figure asking price for it.
Would I buy one?
In a heartbeat. The F-150 Lightning is one of the most impressive cars I've driven in recent years. It may not be the most energy efficient electric vehicle in the world, but as a vehicle in its own right it's one of the most exciting and enjoyable machines on the road with immense appeal.
There's a glimmer of hope too that it may find its way down under eventually. Ford's head of the region that includes Australia has said that if the upcoming F-150 EcoBoost local right-hand drive conversion program proves successful it could open the door for more models to get the same treatment. Fingers crossed the Lightning is the next model on the priority list…
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning price and specifications
|Dual electric motors
|337kW (Standard), 433kW (Extended)
|Single-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
|370km (Standard), 480km (Extended)
18-inch alloys (Pro), 20-inch alloys (Platinum)
|4.2 seconds (estimated)