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Ford F-150 Lightning Winter Ride-Along Proves This Truck Is Ready for Every Season

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Roadshow got to ride along in the Lighting during winter testing to see how it performs. According to them it " feels like a truck that can do just about anything. It builds on the current-generation F-150's all-around excellence while providing immense capability and improved handling in adverse conditions, including nasty winter weather."

To see how this battery-powered F-150 handles winter's worst, Ford invited me to Michigan's remote -- and frigid -- Upper Peninsula for some exclusive passenger-seat time in the truck. And yes, you read that correctly, passenger seat time. Ford wouldn't let me climb behind the wheel when the truck was revealed last spring and I was barred from the captain's chair again. Still, there is plenty you can glean from an extended ride-along.

For starters, the Lightning is a stable and planted pickup, even when driven in a way you'd never do on public roads. Cameron Dillon, a powertrain calibration engineer at Ford, demonstrated how agile this all-electric pickup is by sliding it around a groomed snowfield. This gigantic -- and slippery -- surface gave him plenty of space to get the truck sideways, which he had no trouble doing.

"I laugh, because my brother, he always tells people that for my job I just come up north and drift cars around," Dillon said while drifting the Lightning. "So, there's some truth to that for sure." Dillon's been working on fine-tuning how this truck puts power to the pavement -- or in this case, to hard-packed snow and ice -- to make sure it responds intuitively and precisely to driver commands.

What's particularly interesting about this demonstration is that our steed has not been treated to any special modifications to increase its performance. "So, everything [we're] doing today, this truck is strictly production," noted Dillon, which means owners will be able to switch traction and stability control off at the push of a button if they want to get squirrely.

"So, what we're doing to change the response of the vehicle is strictly shifting the power from the front and the rear, to change how the vehicle is behaving," explained Dillon, "[and] the heart of it is, these controls are active all the time." Even from the passenger seat you can tell this truck's electric drivetrain reacts immediately to inputs, since there are no camshaft phasers to deal with, ignition timing to adjust, turbo boost to manage or even a transmission; all the normal complexities associated with internal combustion are gone.

The Lightning features a pair of three-phase, fixed-magnet AC electric motors, one at the front and another at the rear. This gives the truck up to 563 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque when fitted with the extended-range battery pack, which should be able to go up to 300 miles between charges. The standard battery assembly is estimated to offer 230 miles of range with a still-potent 426 hp and the same measure of torque. For particular gnarly situations, the Lightning also offers a locking rear differential.

Dillon's demonstration illustrated how this all-electric truck responds in at-the-limit situations that customers hopefully won't experience on the street -- 'cause you shouldn't drive recklessly on public roads. Naturally, engineers learned important lessons tuning the Mustang Mach-E's all-wheel-drive system and applied those to this project to make sure the Lightning is smooth and intuitive.

On-road performance
Driven more normally on a small, snowy road course, the Lightning feels exactly like a conventional F-150 -- but better. Thanks to an independent rear suspension, there's no rear-end shimmy or shake when rolling over irregular surfaces, something you often get with live-axle setups. Joel Bloch, a vehicle integration engineer, explained that Ford went with this setup to meet certain packaging requirements and to help accommodate a full-size spare tire. .

Bloch explained engineers were also able to deliver those improved road manners without impacting the truck's payload or towing performance. The Lightning is estimated be able to haul 2,000 pounds of cargo and drag trailers weighing up to 10,000 pounds, legit numbers to be certain.

"The truck feels very planted, you feel very in control, especially on low-mu (low-grip) surfaces," Bloch said while snaking the Lightning around a lower-speed road course. Indeed, this rig is remarkably car-like and extremely rigid, free of any rattles or jiggles. "I think you definitely feel the fact that the vehicle is a little heavier than a gas F-150 is today," he acknowledged, "but that weight just feels very controlled and planted as you're going around turns no matter what the surface is."

Cold-weather range anxiety
Of course, husky curb weights are a major issue with EVs and so is cold weather, which can have a significant impact on range. When asked how frosty conditions impact the Lightning's performance, Bloch didn't have a precise answer. "I think something that all automakers are going to struggle with is really publishing a value on that. We do know that, based on the physics of the battery pack, you're going to experience a degraded range number in cold ambient conditions," he said, an issue that is in no way unique to Ford. "The really big thing that we're focusing on is educating customers on how they can improve that," Bloch added. He encourages drivers to plug into Level 2 chargers whenever possible to precondition the battery. Route planning on long trips is super important, too.

Trailering will also have a major impact on how far this all-electric truck can go between charges. Helping customers tow with confidence, Bloch explained the Lightning intelligently estimates range based on how you're currently driving and your history. Speed is also factored in, as is route planning. You can even set up unique towing profiles in the infotainment system so the truck learns how efficient a specific trailer is, because dragging a small rowboat is totally different than pulling an overloaded camper. But regardless of its impact on range, Bloch said, "The F-150 Lighting towing is quite possibly one of the greatest experiences from a performance standpoint ... it's going to be amazing." The instant torque of those electric motors should move nearly any load almost effortlessly.

One potentially significant downside to driving a Lightning in cold weather, however, is the truck's resistive heater, a power-hungry device that works like a hairdryer. This design is not as efficient as newer heat pumps, but Bloch explained Ford went the resistive route because of packaging. Remember, even though there are significant differences, the Lightning is still essentially an F-150. Starting with an existing vehicle instead of a clean-sheet design -- like the Rivian R1T and GMC Hummer EV Pickup -- comes with benefits and trade-offs. "I think using our proven capability of the F-Series lineup, honestly, gives us more credit than a lot of the ground-up EV manufacturers," Bloch said. Ford's manufacturing teams already know how to build hundreds of thousands of F-Series truck each year, something that will allow them to get the Lightning out to customers in large volumes faster.

Lightning strikes soon
Based on my time in the passenger seat, this new Lightning feels like a truck that can do just about anything. It builds on the current-generation F-150's all-around excellence while providing immense capability and improved handling in adverse conditions, including nasty winter weather. Lightnings are expected to start shipping this spring, something the development team is psyched about.

"I personally am super excited to get these trucks out into customer hands," Bloch said. "I think they're absolutely going to love them."
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