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Is the 2021 Ford F-150 a Good Family Road-Trip Vehicle?

2021 Ford F-150 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

Road-trip season starts this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday, and many families are planning to hit the highway this year, according to a recent Cars.com survey. With full-size pickup trucks an increasingly popular vehicle type for families — particularly crew-cab versions that have lots of space in both rows — we put our long-term 2021 Ford F-150 Limited crew cab to the road-trip test. How well can this full-size truck handle family road-trip duty?

Related: Owning the 2021 Ford F-150

It’s worth noting that we didn’t tow a camper or anything else on this road trip. We know that trailering capabilities are an important consideration for full-size truck shoppers, and we plan on towing with our F-150 later this year. We’ll report back when we do, and you can also sign up to receive notifications for all our long-term F-150 coverage.

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On the Road

From our starting point in the northern suburbs of Chicago, we traveled around 360 miles due south to the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. This was my first trip in our F-150 outside of the Chicago metro area, and it was clear the truck was in its element; even though some of the country roads we traveled weren’t the widest or smoothest, the F-150 felt at home in the wide-open spaces of rural Illinois in a way that it hadn’t in the city and suburbs.

2021 Ford F-150 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

Getting away from some of the rough roads around Chicago made one of the issues Cars.com editors have had with the F-150 Limited — a firm, bumpy ride — less pronounced. It also magnified some of the truck’s strengths: a quiet, comfortable cabin; commanding forward visibility; and poised, easy driving manners that help the miles fly by. 

Another thing that likely contributed to the improved ride was that the F-150’s cargo bed was loaded with luggage, unlike the other times I’d driven it. With the addition of an aftermarket tonneau cover, the truck’s 5.5-foot cargo box became a giant trunk and easily swallowed a week’s worth of gear for five people. It’s a bit of a climb to get into the cargo bed when loading and unloading luggage, but the optional tailgate step and grab handle make the process significantly easier.

2021 Ford F-150 bed cargo 2021 Ford F-150 bed cargo | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

In the Cabin

One of the pluses of a big vehicle like the F-150 is that it’s wide enough to fit three child-safety seats across the rear of the cab. It’s a claim many two-row vehicles can’t make, but when your regular family vehicle is a three-row minivan like mine, road-tripping in a two-row truck has both advantages and disadvantages. 

On the plus side, my three boys sat closer to the front seats in the F-150 than they do in our Honda Odyssey, making it easier to hand them things. On the downside, they were … closer. Whether it was the truck’s quiet cab, them sitting closer or some combination of the two, the noise from the backseat seemed distinctly louder than usual.  

The lack of separation that comes with three-across seating isn’t great, either. “It makes it easier to twist your brother’s arm at an unnatural angle,” my wife observed. In our van, the second-row captain’s chairs and third row help create some buffer zones between them.

2021 Ford F-150 backseat with 3 kids 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

Rear visibility was also an issue in the F-150. My two older boys are in backless booster seats, and I put my youngest, who uses a high-back booster with an integrated harness, in the center spot. His car seat is big, and it prevented me from seeing what was immediately behind the truck; I had to crane my neck to get a view from the driver-side mirror. Shifting the seats around may have improved rear visibility somewhat, but the situation left me wishing for a rearview camera mirror like the ones offered in the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and 2021 Ram 1500. The 2021 F-150 doesn’t offer one — even in the nearly $78,000 Limited trim.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 rearview mirror 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 rearview mirror | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

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The quintessential family vehicle has evolved over the years, with full-size station wagons giving way to minivans that have since been replaced by SUVs. A full-size crew-cab pickup truck like our F-150 is, in many ways, like the large station wagons of yore: comfortable on the open road, spacious inside and able to hold lots of luggage. A three-row vehicle remains a better choice if you have more than two kids, but the F-150 should serve a family of four quite well. 

Related Video: We Bought a $189 Tonneau Cover for Our $78K Ford F-150

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