2021 Ford F-150: How Ram and GM Did—and Didn’t—Influence the New Truck
From its 12-inch screen to the hybrid powertrain, Ford’s “new” features have been done before.
How does that old saying go? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? This couldn't be any truer than in the highly competitive world of fullsize trucks. With each new generation of pickup introduced it's easy to see where some brands have fallen short and where others have excelled. It should be no surprise, when one attempts to outdo the other. This act may sometimes appear as more imitation than innovation, but either way, in the end the consumer is the winner.
Historically, Ford has led the charge with its F-150 pickup. However, the most recent generation of all-new Ram 1500 and Silverado 1500 have left the best-selling truck of more than four decades with a bit of catching up to do. With that in mind, we're going to take a quick look at the new 2021 Ford F-150 and where a few of its show-stopping new features actually got their start.
12-Inch Infotainment Screen
Ford took a swipe directly at Ram during the introduction of the 2021 F-150, claiming that in their research owners preferred a landscape-oriented screen over portrait. How do we know it's a shot at Ram? Ram is the only pickup manufacturer that currently offers a 12-inch display, which is oriented vertically.
In our testing, using Ram's 12-inch uConnect system has been great. The interface works well, and the vertical orientation allows for multiple screens to easily be displayed at once, such as Apple CarPlay and HVAC controls. Large, horizontally mounted screens are great for visibility, but they oftentimes lack the flexibility that Ram's vertical system offers.
Why Ford didn't go with a larger screen than 12 inches to one-up Ram is still a mystery. Either way, we'll never complain about a larger infotainment screen and are excited to give Sync 4 a try.
12-Inch Digital Driver Information Center
Something that's been lacking in trucks for a while now is the availability of a fully digital driver information center. Luxury brands have offered this for a while, and now Ford is jumping on the bandwagon by offering an optional 12-inch digital driver information center on higher trimmed models. And this isn't just a large center screen with analog gauges, it's a fully digital display. With pickup interiors rivaling most luxury cars these days, it was only a matter of time before a fully digital dash became part of the equation.
LED Headlamp Design
It seems like just yesterday folks were beating down our inbox complaining that the Nissan Titan headlights look just like those on the Ford F-150. Now, if we were to squint really good, we can't help but to compare the new 2021 Ford F-150 headlights to those of the 2020 GMC Sierra. The angle of their LED daytime running lights strikingly resembles each another. We're sure the same folks are crafting their letters to us at this very moment.
Believe it or not, the 2021 Ford F-150 is not the first fullsize hybrid pickup in America. General Motors first offered a hybrid of sorts in the Silverado and Sierra pickups in 2004. These trucks, GM's first passenger hybrids, functioned in a similar fashion to Ram's current eTorque setup. This first hybrid used a small electric motor in the transmission bellhousing to perform an early, and rudimentary, start/stop function.
GM's second generation of hybrid pickup ran from 2009 to 2013 and was a more modern two-mode hybrid. These trucks used a 6.0L V-8 engine for power and were backed by a pair of 60-kW electric motors, which were housed in the transmission. These trucks could be had in either two- or four-wheel drive. And the drivetrain was offered in the Chevy Silverado, Avalanche, and Tahoe; GMC Sierra and Yukon; along with the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade EXT. GM claimed a combined horsepower of 379 when combining power from the gasoline engine and electric motors.
Until 2006 a truck's tailgate was nothing more than a way to keep gear in the bed. Honda was among the first auto manufactures to rethink the pickup tailgate when the company introduced the Ridgeline's dual-action tailgate. Then, in 2009 Ford revolutionized tailgates once again with the inclusion of the built-in step and handle. The tailgate remained relatively unchanged, except for the addition of power locks and assisted lift/lower, until 2019 when GMC introduced the MultiPro tailgate. Ram followed suit with the Multifunction (barn door) tailgate.
Seeing an increase in tailgate tech, it's no surprise that Ford chose to add more functionality to that of the 2021 F-150. While its function remains the same, Ford has added some really useful features such as tie-down cleats on the side, pads for using C-clamps, a phone/tablet holder, and a measuring grid. And don't worry, the step still remains.
A Multitude of Camera Angles
This has been a fairly recent development, with GM leading the charge in camera technology, both quantity and quality. On a 2020 Silverado or Sierra you can option the truck with up to 17 different camera angles. From parking to towing, they cover every aspect surrounding the truck. It's no surprise that Ford decided to up their camera game with the 2021 F-150. Ford hasn't charted out for us exactly how many different angles will be available, but from our estimation it's somewhere north of 10, with several of them being made available on demand.
While Ford's new onboard generator setup is quite impressive on paper, it's not necessarily the first time this has been tried. Sure, many trucks have had 110-volt outlets in the bed, but GM touted this "generator" feature on its earliest hybrids. The 2004 model Sierra and Silverado hybrids featured two 20-amp 120-volt outlets in the bed, along with two in the cab, and were marketed as being intended for contractors. Of course, this new setup that Ford is bringing to market is far more versatile and powerful than has been seen on a consumer pickup before.
FCA has long been the king of having hidden Easter eggs on its vehicles. Jeep designers have been doing this for years (our favorite is Sasquatch on the Renegade), and recently Ram has joined in the fun with its all-new 2019 1500. Ford's now doing it too on the 2021 F-150. The biggest among these is found on the front door panels. What looks like a jumbled mess of lines is actually a map of Detroit, which pays tribute to F-150's southeast Michigan heritage. There are also a pair of American flags embossed in each side of the dashboard, which are significant because F-150 is the only half-ton pickup fully assembled in the USA. Pretty cool, huh?
Folding Transmission Shifter
Ford introduced a folding console-mounted transmission shifter during its 2021 F-150 presentation, taking swipes at both Ram's shift knob and GM's continued use of the column shifter. Ford's reasoning for the folding shifter is so that they could provide a large, flat work surface along the length of the center console. However, that's also Ram and GM's reasoning for using the shift devices that they do. While it may not be a direct influence, the reasoning for developing the folding shifter sure seems to line up with providing console space that matches the competition.
Ford touts that this new 2021 F-150 is the most aerodynamic ever. New active grille shutters, a new automatically deploying active air dam, and new cab and tailgate geometry all work together to achieve this. The F-150 has had grille shutters since the 2015 model, so what exactly makes these new is still to be seen. However, the automatically deploying active air dam is an interesting new feature. And it's one that we've seen before, on the 2019 Ram 1500.
Bonus: V-8 Cylinder Deactivation
Unless you own one, we'd bet you didn't know that Ford's 5.0L V-8 engine used in the F-150 does not feature cylinder deactivation, until now. This technology, which Ram and GM have both had on V-8 and V-6 (GM) engines for decades, allows the engine to shut down four cylinders when full engine torque isn't needed, thus saving fuel. It remains to be seen whether Ford is using a system similar to GM's Active Fuel Management (the same four cylinders deactivate each time), which is also how Ram's system also functions, or GM's new Dynamic Fuel Management (different cylinders deactivate according to need and to spread out the wear). Either way, we're glad Ford's finally showing up to this party.