A pickup of sultanic proportions

The modern market knows no bounds when it comes to packing pickups with features befitting of proper premium vehicles – and price tags to match.

Swathes of leather upholstery, massaging seats, and more speakers than the average home theatre have launched trucks into the stratosphere of what seemed unimaginable even, say, 25 years ago. Peel it all back, however, and at their core is the kind of workhorse capability that popularized pickups in the first place.

That’s as true of the 2021 Ford F-150 Platinum as any other. This isn’t even the top of the F-150 heap when it comes to luxury – that title belongs to the Limited trim – and yet it leaves little to be desired, with a cabin that looks and feels like it would fit in a revived Lincoln pickup with little more than a few badges swapped out. So I did what anyone with access to an $88,000 truck would: I took it on a backwoods camping trip.

User Friendliness: 10/10

In case my sarcasm was lost in translation, allow me to make it abundantly clear that I don’t genuinely believe the average truck like this will be taken this deep off the beaten path. I was, however, deeply intrigued by what the overhauled F-150 has to offer, including its onboard inverter – a $1,300 upgrade in a gas-only model like this but standard with the available hybrid powertrain.

The short story goes like this: an annual camping trip with friends would be made infinitely better with access to quick, reliable power. Not that this motley crew of miscreants is the glamping type, but sometimes a jolt of electricity can come in handy – like, say, if we wanted to watch a movie or two by the bay. After some failed attempts to use a standalone generator over the years, it was time to right past wrongs.

And it was incredibly easy to do exactly that. With 2,000 watts of output to work with, it was as simple as plugging in the requisite equipment (projector, speakers, and media player) and pressing the power button. All told, the movie night setup drew just 200 watts of power – a far cry from the whopping 1,200 watts needed by the kettle I brought. (I’m standing firm that a few comforts from home don’t make me a glamper.)

Power usage can be monitored via the massive head unit inside or through a smartphone app that also provides a real-time look at remaining fuel, tire pressure, and oil life, as well as access to remote start, lock, and unlock functionality. And that’s just the tip of the technology iceberg, with an intuitive infotainment interface that’s among the best out there at the moment, and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity.

Features: 10/10

All that stuff runs through a 12-inch touchscreen on the dash, while a second 12-inch digital display sits in place of a conventional gauge cluster. Additional tech includes a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, an 18-speaker stereo, a self-parking system, and Ford’s trailer back-up assist that uses a dash-mounted dial to simplify the experience when parking a trailer.

Outside, so-called zone lighting uses the head-, tail-, and cargo lights, as well as ones mounted under the door mirrors to provide visibility around the truck after dark, while power-deployable running boards and a power tailgate with a retractable step make accessing the cab and bed as easy as it gets. A ruler and clamp points on the tailgate and tie-down cleats in the bed round out the functionality features found around back.

Safety: 9/10

Safety features are as advanced as they are abundant, with steering-responsive headlights, automatic high-beams, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view monitor to supplement the government-mandated back-up camera, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.

The cruise control features conventional, adaptive, and intelligent settings, with the latter two featuring progressive computer involvement. Adaptive simply maintains a prescribed distance from a preceding vehicle, while intelligent chips in with traffic sign recognition that will slow the truck down should the speed limit change. Both work well with the lane-keep assist to keep up with the flow of highway traffic, with the truck remaining centred between lane markings and chipping in with some steering assistance around bends should two hands remain on the wheel.

Comfort: 9/10

That’s not the only feature that comes in handy on the highway, with the F-150 Platinum’s massaging front seats working for hours on end. They feature five preset programs with three levels of intensity – outstanding after a couple nights in the great outdoors. And best of all, instead of shutting off after, say, 30 minutes, the seats will keep massaging until they’re told otherwise or the truck is shut off.

Even without the massage functionality running this truck’s seats are supremely comfortable, with thick cushions and all kinds of adjustability up front, as well as three-stage heat and ventilation. There’s also a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, while the climate control system is of the dual-zone automatic variety.

What should’ve been a four-hour drive to our camping spot north of Bancroft, Ont., turned into a nearly seven-hour ordeal after a blown alternator left another truck in need of parts for a roadside repair, putting the long-term comfort of this truck to the test – which it passed with flying colours. The cabin itself proved quiet and cozy, while the supportive seats gobbled up the extended drive time with ease. Even without the optional adaptive dampers ($530) ride quality was impressive across ribbons of broken pavement and bumpy trails, with only the truck’s 20-inch alloy wheels causing problems as they jostled and bounced around on the former, pulling at the suspension in a way that emphasized their unsprung weight.

Power: 9/10

Standard under the hood of the F-150 Platinum is a burly 5.0L V8, though it can be swapped out for an expensive-but-efficient gas–electric or diesel power, or this truck’s gas-only twin-turbocharged V6. It’s the same engine that serves as the basis for the hybrid (that’s the one I would buy if I were in the market for an F-150) and delivers 400 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque – the latter substantially more than what the V8 provides, but less than the hybrid.

The 3.5L is as smooth here as it is in the hybrid, with no troublesome turbo lag down low to worry about. It’s paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that’s prone to the occasional clunky shift, though it was far less problematic here than in past trucks I’ve tested, while the four-wheel drive system has high- and low-range settings, as well as an automatic one that runs in rear-wheel drive until it senses the need for extra traction.

Driving Feel: 8/10

After rendezvousing northwest of Toronto our ragtag bunch took the scenic route, heading east, then north, and then east again along winding country roads that would’ve been far more fun behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5, the asphalt twisting and turning around lakes and between acres of farmland as far as the eye could see. And yet the F-150 was a perfectly apt companion in its own right, providing all kinds of cruising comfort and more than enough guts to get around slow-moving vehicles when small windows of opportunity presented themselves.

Steering feel could stand to be better – not that I expect a truck to drive like a sports car, but a stronger sense of which direction the front wheels are pointed is always appreciated. Instead, the setup here feels slightly disconnected from what’s happening beneath the truck, with little resistance despite sharp response. Brake performance, however, is progressive and predictable, confidently bringing the F-150 and all its amenities to a halt.

Practicality: 10/10

The access trail to our beloved camping spot isn’t an especially challenging one, but it’s home to at least a few onerous obstacles. A steep climb up a rock-covered hill, some the size of basketballs and bigger, and off-camber undulations and washouts make ground clearance and low-end grunt advantageous attributes. They also happen to be characteristics this truck has in its favour, and the F-150 Platinum made quick work of even the most challenging sections.

The hill climb was handled with particular ease, the engine barely cresting 2,000 rpm as the four-wheel drive system provided enough traction to climb up and over even the largest rocks in the pickup’s path. While the F-150’s width is such that a couple of three-point turns were required to make it around the sharpest of corners on the narrow trail, never was there a moment it felt overmatched – not even through a water crossing that was rocker panel-deep.

This being a crew cab, there’s ample space inside that four or even five of us could’ve travelled there and back together in comfort. With the pandemic still simmering, I made the trek alone, though the light but incessant rain the morning we left saw me pack the cabin with my stuff rather than the bed. With the rear bench flipped up, everything – a trio of coolers, dry goods, supplies, camping chair, cot, a tent big enough to stand up in (OK, maybe I’m just a little bougie after all) – fit behind the front seats with ease.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

Given virtually the entire 350-km drive to the trailhead was done on the highway, and that all my gear was stashed in the massive cabin due to the rain, I was hoping for better results than the 10.7 L/100 km I averaged on the way there. That’s slightly worse than its official highway rating of 10.2 L/100 km, though better than the combined 12.0 it’s supposed to be good for.

Running the truck a few times throughout the weekend to use the generator mode, including for about two hours during our makeshift movie night, saw that average spike to 14.0 L/100 km, though it dropped during the drive home and settled at 12.4 L/100 km after the 670-km round-trip.

Value: 7/10

The hybrid is still the F-150 to buy in my books, though it does add somewhat significantly to the cost. The 2021 Ford F-150 Platinum starts at $83,300 before tax but including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,995; opting for the V6 on its own knocks $300 off the asking price, while the gas–electric setup adds $2,200. (The diesel, meanwhile, is a $4,700 upgrade.)

This tester’s Smoked Quartz paint added $450 to the price tag, while the panoramic sunroof ($1,750), 2.0-kW inverter ($1,300), FX4 package ($950), spray-in bedliner ($600), and console work surface ($200) pushed the total sticker to $88,250 before tax. That’s quite the stack of cash – especially without any available incentives – though competitors like the Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado, and GMC Sierra can easily cost as much in comparable trims. And while Ram’s half-ton is the self-proclaimed “most luxurious light-duty truck ever,” this F-150 could give it a serious run for its money.

Styling: 9/10

Slab-sided though the F-150 – or any truck, for that matter – may be, this Platinum version looks good to my eye. The subtle blue paint and brushed aluminum finishes on the wheels, grille, and tailgate work well together, with only the flashy mirror caps, door handles, and front bumper and fender garnish in need of body-colour treatment in the name of cohesion. Yes, the redesign introduced for 2021 bears more than a passing resemblance to previous iterations of this truck, but that’s OK with me.

Inside, caramel leather makes for a warm and inviting space, while matching stitching on the doors and dash is a nice touch. Most of the trim pieces inside suit the overall vibe, with some bits of wood and varying plastics working well. It’s only the textured silver stuff framing the centre console that looks out of place, shimmering in the light like a cheap sequined dress.

The Verdict

Between my luxurious chariot and the oversized tent complete with a carpet at the door, I earned the nickname of sultan this year – a deserved one in hindsight, but I have no regrets. The journey to and from our remote oasis is half the fun, but with each passing year the antics take their toll. Between finding and chopping firewood and completing trailside repairs (this time it was a twisted upper control arm on a friend’s Jeep that needed to be removed and whacked with nothing more than hand tools) – it’s all part of the experience, yes, but it also makes those massaging seats a godsend.

There’s something sort of outrageous about taking a truck like the 2021 Ford F-150 Platinum deep into the woods for some backcountry camping, but it’s certainly up to the challenge. Because if you look past the price tag, or the massaging seats, or the speakers in the headrests and headliner, it’s the kind of pickup that gets stuff done with confidence, composure, and capability.

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.5L   Model Tested 2021 Ford F-150 Platinum 4WD
Engine Cylinders Turbo V6   Base Price $81,305
Peak Horsepower 400 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 500 lb-ft @ 3,100 rpm   Destination Fee $1,995
Fuel Economy 13.5 / 10.2 / 12.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $88,350
Cargo Space 1,765 L  
Optional Equipment
$4,950 – Panoramic Sunroof, $1,750; 2.0-kW ProPower Onboard Inverter, $1,300; FX4 Off-Road Package, $950; Spray-in Bedliner, $600; Smoked Quartz Paint, $450; Interior Work Surface, $200; 3.5L EcoBoost Engine, -$300