You don’t have to be a particularly astute observer to notice that we live in a time of great change. Take the electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup. Which I did, a few weeks back, driving a ruby red example of this enormous (in size and, one assumes, importance) change agent from New York City to Boston, a burgh in which I once passed three surprisingly cheerful years attending law school. Cheerful, in large measure, because I managed to squeeze in an average of 25 baseball games each of those years, visiting the friendly confines of Fenway Park — a venerable old haunt packed with knowledgeable if deeply partisan and sometimes boisterously rude fans.
Fast forward many years and the Sox were back home for a heated three-game series against their eternal arch nemeses, the New York Yankees, a matchup that highlighted even more change. What better destination for me to visit with my youngest son Milo and my old college pal Richard Hart? In the Lightning, to see how it works as a family road-tripper.
As every red-blooded American now knows, the Lightning may look like other F-150s, but it has two transverse-mounted electric motors, one for each axle, doing the work of the V6 or V8 gas engine in conventional models. Buyers can choose one of two battery packs: the standard offering with 230 miles of promised range, or an extended-range alternative, an eye-watering $10,000 option said to be good for 320 miles. That sounds like an awful lot of money, because it is. But in the context of the $94,004 sticker price on the vehicle I tested — a top-of-the-line XLT SuperCrew Platinum Lightning that included Rapid Red paint, spray-in bedliner and Max Recline front seats, but didn’t include a dealership “market adjustment” on that price — maybe it’s a bit more palatable. (For those with more Spartan tastes, a shorter-range Pro model starts at under $42,000. And if you’re willing to forego the Platinum’s additional gizmos and niceties, an extended-range XLT can be yours at a tick under a $75,000.)
Like most modern pickups, the Lightning — as of today, only available with four doors, a 5-foot-5-inch bed and a 145-inch wheelbase — is enormous. Its ICE F-150 brethren’s big, bluff, macho hood is still hanging around, surviving the electrification process. A spacey LED accent light — de rigeur for modern EVs, evidently — outlines the garage door-sized, entirely cosmetic grille, serving as a subtle tip-off for what lurks within. The hood that otherwise hides a gas engine here shields from view a front storage compartment the marketing mavens like to call a “frunk.” Though not quite as large as you might suppose, it provides useful storage space for keeping your luggage away from prying eyes. The capacious cabin, large enough for five of the largest people you’ve ever met, is living-room comfortable and decked out with all the cupholders and USB ports a person could want. Not your grandfather’s truck, not even your father’s truck, it’s perfectly acceptable for traversing the Interstates at extra-legal speed in quiet comfort, with air-conditioning well up to the task despite temperatures during our journey hovering in the high 90s.
Pull away from the curb and your initial impressions congregate around the smooth and striking silence that comes standard in EVs, with effortless power and locomotive-like torque, not surprising with this extended-range machine’s total of 580 hp and 775 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is vivid when you stomp on it: Zero to 60 takes around 4 seconds, making it the fastest pickup I’ve ever driven – with power always there, and then some, when you need it. Regenerative braking helps slow the 6,855-pound giant without much need for the friction brakes, though these seem up to the task when called on. There are moments when the Lightning doesn’t seem so big and heavy.
But then, too, there are moments when it seems extremely big and heavy. Navigating tighter bends on the highway at speed, for instance. Body roll is held in check, in part, by the batteries — which are mounted between the frame rails underneath the truck’s floor — but still remains pronounced. And because it’s such a heavy mother, the feeling of extreme weight transfer comes along for the ride. Hit a bump mid-corner and the optional 22-inch wheels, which do nothing for ride quality, help underscore your awareness that you’re guiding close to 7,000 pounds of metal and electrochemistry around. This much weight comes with great responsibility. Make no mistake, should cruel fate intervene, you won’t merely tap lighter vehicles or other things you’re not supposed to hit. If you don’t flatten them first, you’ll drop-kick them into the next county.
The Lightning’s sheer mass makes itself known in other equally frustrating ways. Making your way through tight city streets can be a nerve-wracking exercise. Navigating strange parking garages and charging stations, you feel like a novice tugboat captain. Speaking of charging, which under ideal circumstances is easy and quick enough — Electrify America, for one, has been improving steadily — the process uncorked a whole new set of issues for this veteran EV user. For instance, if I was forced to back into a charging spot, the plug didn’t always reach the almost-20-foot-long Lightning’s single charging port, located on the front passenger fender. For owners of non-Tesla EVs, charging is already the most significant hassle of EV life. Confronted with charging challenges like these, I couldn’t help but look longingly at the ID4s, i3s, Bolts, Polestars and XC40s parked alongside me at charging stations, reasonably-sized machines that presented no such headaches.
Worse still, at six feet, seven inches high, the Lightning couldn’t fit in many Boston parking garages where EV chargers were located under six-foot-five ceilings. When people talk about infrastructure investments to accommodate the nation’s growing EV fleet, they better throw in another trillion or so for raising the ceilings of indoor parking structures. Report from the field: We need 7-foot clearance in parking garages now. In fact, with the way things are headed, maybe we should just get out in front of this thing and raise them to 10 feet.
Three night games at Fenway made the hometown fans happy as the Sox beat the first-place but suddenly sagging Yankees two out of three. As always, in moments of high anxiety or low excitement, Sox fans entertained themselves by chanting thoughtful epithets like “Yankees suck.” And the many Yankees fans in attendance responded in kind. But unlike years past, when such displays evoked feelings of violence, they now scanned as performative art, a give and take, call-and-response kind of thing. Generally friendly overtones suggested a cooling of tensions and the faintest hint of mutual respect. Perhaps the fact that the Red Sox have finally broken free of the Curse of the Bambino, winning the World Series four times since 2004, has made the difference.
Likewise, not having been at the park in a while, I was surprised as well to see a big “Black Lives Matter” sign officially adorning a left-field mezzanine wall for all to see. Racial tolerance was sorely absent at the Fenway of my memory — I remember the great Smokey Robinson getting booed, and hearing the N-word shouted in this very ballpark when he sang the Star-Spangled Banner at the 1986 World Series. Sox management, and rump elements of their fanbase, were known at the time for racial intolerance. So even if today’s BLM sign feels a bit cynical, it beats the “Whites Only” signs that adorned some of the hotels and dining establishment the Sox organization frequented during the team’s spring training visits to Florida during my lifetime.
So change has come to Fenway and we’re all for it. Same with the great American pickup, which has a ways to go, but has moved squarely towards a better future. Much about the Lightning marks improvement: At 70 MPGe, it uses decidedly less energy than its gas-powered compatriots, and is clearly cheaper to run. Our roughly 500-mile round trip cost about $55 in charging fees, versus what might’ve been closer to $250 in gasoline.
Yes, we look forward to the full electrification of more sensibly-sized pickups that weigh less. We look forward to EV pickups with two-door cabs, and ones that can tow without killing their range so completely. And we look forward to cheaper electric cars and trucks generally. The Lightning represents change, while also appeasing a certain reluctance to change. But as a baseball luminary once sagely remarked, it ain’t over till it’s over.