The most easily overlooked is the 2021 Ford F-150 half-ton pickup truck. The other two are flashy and purpose-built for blasting through sand dunes and having a good time. One can be heard a block away, and both clearly look different; however, despite the redesign, the 2021 F-150 barely looks different from the 2020. However, dismissing it would be a mistake for an award that includes criteria such as power, capability, and value — especially for this particular truck.
The F-150 has been the best-selling model of any kind in the United States for decades, and the strength of the 2021 model stems from Ford’s obsession with keeping what works, improving on what doesn’t, and adding innovation after innovation. The best, of course, remain: fuel-saving turbocharged engines, an optional integrated tailgate step, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, and more.
The most significant exclusive this year is the optional PowerBoost hybrid powertrain, which provides 430 horsepower and 570 pounds-feet of torque, giving it the highest output as well as the highest gas mileage of any F-150 powertrain: an estimated 25 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 24 mpg combined with four-wheel drive. The beauty of this system is that it keeps on delivering — capability, efficiency, and, one of the most important features, an optional integrated generator, Pro Power Onboard, which provides up to 7.2 kilowatts right in the bed without the hassle of transporting a portable generator and all that entails (wasted bed space, gas, never-ending theft risk). The PowerBoost hybrid isn’t a trim level; it’s a less expensive powertrain option on all trim levels than the Power Stroke diesel.
While the automotive industry screams (again) about electric cars — and now pickup trucks — that have struggled to maintain a 2% market share in the United States and whose consumer demand remains uncertain, we wonder if a 5-mpg combined improvement over every 5.0-liter V-8 in the kind of sales volume the F-150 could provide doesn’t merit a little more attention.
The innovations keep coming. Ford designed a ruler, gutters to hold pencils, and cutouts to allow clamping without damaging the gate’s painted surface, knowing that a lowered tailgate doubles as a workbench. A table surface up front, recline-flat front seats for napping, and a well-integrated 12-inch touchscreen are among the cabin options. We could go on and on. The other contenders are undeniably good at their specific missions, but the well-rounded ’21 F-150 fairly redefines power, capability, and value.
We made our customary transition to ownership after selecting the 2021 Ford F-150 as our Best Pickup Truck of 2021 and Best of 2021 overall by purchasing one for a year of real-world testing. Early in our ownership, Ford issued a minor safety recall (our truck was unaffected), made headlines due to reports of premature rust (we discovered some and are investigating), and we encountered a few other quirks. While we had not anticipated having problems so early in our ownership, we have had serious issues with previous Best Of winners. Though this dampens our enthusiasm, it doesn’t change our unanimous decision to award the new F-150 with both of these awards: improvements and innovations that complement all of the truck’s attributes. We’ll continue to share every aspect of our ownership of the 2021 F-150 with consumers throughout the year.
Jeep Gladiator Mojave 2021
Jeep looked beyond rock crawling and overlanding for a new recreational off-road challenge, and came up with the high-speed desert-running Gladiator Mojave. While the popular Rubicon is a great slow-speed off-roader, we’ve discovered that high-speed off-roading isn’t necessarily its strong suit.
Enter the Mojave, a half-inch higher than the Rubicon with a slew of features to earn Jeep’s new orange Desert Rated badge. Among them are 2.5-inch Fox shock absorbers and unique front hydraulic jounce bumpers that help soften landings in a way that the Rubicon’s suspension does not. The Mojave can also operate in 4-Low at speeds of up to 50 mph (compared to 30 mph for the Rubicon). Its 33-inch tires aren’t as knobby as the Rubicon’s, which improves sand traction and provides a more pleasant on-road experience. Unfortunately, we spent the majority of our time in the Mojave this year on the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which curtailed travel and severely limited our access to the desert, but the Mojave is relatively pleasant on the road for a desert runner, which is where it’s sure to spend much of its time.
The interior, aside from some “Mojave” stitching on the seatbacks, is where the Mojave doesn’t really differ from the Rubicon or other Gladiators — which is a good thing, because the interior remains one of the Gladiator’s strong suits.
While we would have liked to test it more thoroughly and hope to do so soon, the Jeep Gladiator Mojave remains one of the best new pickup trucks.
TRX Ram 1500 2021
It was only a matter of time before Stellantis’ supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V-8 made its way into a pickup truck, so it was only natural that it arrived in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX to compete with the Ford F-150 Raptor for desert-running supremacy.
According to Ram, the supercharged V-8 produces 702 hp and 650 pounds-feet of torque, allowing it to sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph. The engine, on the other hand, is only a small part of the story.
The TRX has a reinforced frame that is distinct from other Ram 1500s, as well as a unique suspension with Bilstein adaptive shock absorbers that provides more than 13 inches of wheel travel. Each corner has 35-inch all-terrain tires mounted on 18-inch aluminum wheels, which sit within flared fenders that add 8 inches of width over a standard 1500.
The fact that a truck designed for high-speed off-road thrills also has many practical pickup attributes impressed us the most. It can tow up to 8,100 pounds when properly equipped, and its massive crew cab comfortably seats the entire family. Despite its extra width and hulking presence, the TRX is surprisingly easy to drive on city streets. When you select the TR1 or TR2 Equipment Group, this truck even has the award-winning level of interior refinement of a Ram 1500 Limited, with an all-black color scheme and available carbon-fiber accents for a performance-oriented look. The Ram TRX is a multisensory extravaganza among our nominees. It will not go unnoticed.