By Keith Naughton, Southfield
After jouncing through muddy ruts and drifting on gravel trails, we pause in the electric F-150 Lightning pickup among a grove of trees on a rugged off-road course deep inside Ford Motor Co.’s suburban Detroit proving grounds.
“Roll down your window and take a listen,” instructs my driver Anthony Magagnoli, a Ford engineer.
The sound we hear is far from silence — birds, a breeze, the buzz of cicadas — but what we don’t hear is the roar of an engine or the rumble of an exhaust pipe.
This 3-ton truck has somehow managed to blend into the environment.
Such are the juxtapositions of Ford’s new electric truck.
It can handle everything you can throw at it, capable of towing up to five tons, fording streams and bottoming out on stony ground without damaging the big battery beneath and racing from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds— sports car speed.
And yet, it doesn’t even purr like a kitten. It’s a silent runner that burns no dinosaur bones.
Since the Lightning was introduced on May 19, Ford has taken more than 100,000 reservations of $100 for the plug-in pickup.
Apparently, when you convert the best-selling vehicle in America from guzzling gas to running on electrons — and start prices below $40,000 — that gets people excited.
It’s generated buzz on late-night talk shows and in online chat rooms.
And there was the moment nearly all of America saw, when President Joe Biden gave the Lightning the thumbs up — his presidential seal of approval — after a wild ride on a Ford test track last month.
Still, there have been questions about how tough a truck can be if there is no internal combustion engine blazing beneath the hood.
Ford saw that coming and put this rig through what it calls “torture testing” that included hauling heavy loads up twisting, deadly mountain roads in Iowa Hill, California, and subjecting it to extreme temperatures as low as 40 below Fahrenheit to make sure the battery would still work.
“The truck can thrive even in the toughest driving ordeals,” says Ford.
We’ll see about that.
Actually, we saw about that.
On a hot and sunny day last month, I rode shotgun in the Lightning on three courses designed to test its limits.
The truck, which goes on sale next spring, is so new the company would not allow outsiders to drive it, except, of course, for POTUS.
Biden was in Detroit visiting the factory where Ford will build the Lightning and managed to squeeze in an unscheduled spin. His review: “ This sucker’s quick!”
If there’s one word to describe my ride in the Lightning, it’s speed. The truck’s chief engineer, Linda Zhang, eased it onto a banked, high-speed oval at Ford’s proving grounds.
“Are you ready?,” she asked, and I thought I was — until Zhang floored it. The G-forces from the instant torque generated by the truck’s two electric motors pressed me deeply into my seat and left my stomach somewhere on the road behind us.
I hadn’t felt this kind of queasy since the last time I took hot laps in an actual race car.
The electric drivetrain, powered by a 1,300-pound battery, kicks out 563 horsepower and 775 pound-foot of torque, making it the most powerful F-150 ever.
That torque came in handy for our next demo — towing a 6,000-pound trailer up and down a steep and winding road.
Torque is what you need most for towing and hauling. And the electric F-150 can tow up to 10,000 pounds and haul another 2,000 in the bed.
Yet as we navigated this undulating course, my driver, Ford engineering manager Dapo Adewusi, never had to raise his voice.
There was no clunk or groan coming from the trailer. Just a smooth, quiet ride that seemed as if we weren’t pulling anything.
But it was off-road where the Lightning really proved its mettle. It splashed through muddy bogs and slammed its undercarriage against grassy mounds with nary a nick or scrape.
The big battery is safely entombed inside a water-tight metal casing surrounded by crash-absorbing protection.
Ford says the truck’s frame is made from the strongest steel it’s ever employed on an F-150.
And the entire electric drivetrain is protected by steel skid-plates running underbody for the full length of the vehicle.
Jostling along those rugged trails felt no different in the electric F-150 than it does in a gas-fired one.
The difference came when we parked atop that quiet hill in the woods. “This is what I like the best,” Magagnoli said. “All you hear is nature.”