HOOKS, Texas — I am neither a Ford fan nor a pickup authority, so this week I defer to a friend who is both. Bigly.
It may not be accurate to refer to Brent Ramage as a gentleman farmer. Earthy is more accurate, but he is a gentle and honorable Aggie who operates a ginormous farm on the banks of the Red River. His 15 minutes of fame came early, battling in the mud and blood to throw blocks for a fellow named Billy Sims.
Most of his life has centered on developing his birthright, Ramage Farms. Yep, he is the guy who moved that grain silo next to the Interstate. Pretty much by himself.
Other than God, the great loves of his life are the dark-eyed and effervescent Cynthia, their three strong sons, a growing accumulation of bright grandbabies, Texas A&M, helping folks get married, and Ford Trucks.
"Man! This is special," he blurted out after driving less than a mile down the Farm-to-Market Road that leads to his house.
Brent is not prone to blurting out, so my suspicions about the 2021 Ford F-150 Supercrew were confirmed.
Ford finally built a truck that rides, drives, and is as handsome inside as the new RAM. No wonder, then, that after holding the title for three straight years, RAM this year surrendered to F-150 the title of North American Truck of the Year.
This is not without precedent. For 44 consecutive years, F-150 has been the top-selling pickup in the land. After driving the latest iteration, even someone as conservative as Brent Ramage would feel safe betting that the F-150 will continue to be king of that mountain for years to come.
DNA does not change
The 2021 F-150 is billed as all-new, but it is not really. Rather, Ford took its strengths and married them to modern technology.
It's a marriage that may turn out to be as solid and resilient as Brent and Cindy's.
This one started with a durable, proven foundation — a fully boxed high-strength steel frame undergirding a high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body.
The new 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 reduce drag and improve fuel consumption.
Most of all, Ford engineers tamed the pickup bounce. Oh, the rear is still a live axle topped by leaf springs. Those have superior payloads and towing capacity but, as Ram proved, a truck can still haul and tow big things while giving passengers, especially rear passengers, a car-like ride with multipoint, leaf over shock, rear suspensions.
Somehow, Ford found a compromise point and came up with a comfortable — and quiet — pickup that has the most towing and payload capacity of any light-duty truck on the planet.
Honestly, I've had my hands on a Mercedes-Benz that did not feel this good.
Joy to drive
Strong as steel, light as aluminum: Big as a house, quiet as a mouse. Floats like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
These thoughts ran through my mind a night earlier, as I whipped the 20-foot-long truck through tight turns in a parking lot like a high school kid out joyriding. (Full disclosure, I do a lot of joyriding. Probably too much). The truck was quick. Steering was firm but nimble. Throttle response was instantaneous. It had great grip, even on an after-midnight, flying run through the flatlands.
Brent, who has better sense, did not drive like that.
After a tour and quick review of the latest goings-on in downtown Hooks, we headed back to the farm.
Brent seemed pensive, but he is a quiet fellow and I enjoyed riding along in silence.
"This is like the first time I sat in a Mustang," he said in an excited tone that was almost blurting.
I immediately connected with that thought, recalling that special feeling when my big sister let me drive her '67 Mustang GT. Unlike the lumbering oxen, we were permitted to use in Driver's Ed, the mustang was a cheetah: alive, alert, agile.
After I finished interrupting, Brent explained that his first encounter occurred when he was 11 and Birdie Taylor showed up to work with a '67 Mustang. This was at the old pecan barn, which used to be a mule barn. Now the old building, with a romantic overlook over hundreds of acres of rich river-plane farmlands, serves as a wedding venue for scores of couples.
Brent didn't get to drive a Mustang until 2005, and he remembers his first thought after that.
"I've got to buy this car." Thus began the legend of Cindy and her Mustang. The two were inseparable for a decade, the norm for new Fords at Ramage farms.
Luxurious, tech-filled interior
"Oh, I love this," blurted middle son, Caleb, as he touched some button on the shifter to fold it flat and then flipped the center console forward to create a workspace next to the 110 outlet, perfect for a laptop.
I looked at Brent shook my head.
"I had no idea," I said.
Indeed, Ford completely redesigned the cabin to elevate its style, comfort, utility, and technology. Enhanced materials, new color choices, and more storage were added. Like the materials, fit and finish have a premium fell
An all-new 12-inch center screen — standard on XLT high series and above — allows customers to split the screen and control multiple functions simultaneously, including navigation, music, or truck features. An 8-inch touch screen is standard on XL and XLT and mid-series trucks. Both screens have access to a new digital owner's manual, which includes how-to videos.
If I'd opened one of those videos, I might have been able to demonstrate the truck's trailer reverse guidance which and uses the truck's high-resolution cameras to provide multiple views along with helpful graphics that tell drivers which way to turn the steering wheel while backing up.
Our tester did not come with pro trailer backup assist, which makes backing up a trailer as easy as turning a dial. But it did know how to parallel park itself.
It also had the latest driver-assist features as part of Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0.
You will need an expert to figure out how to configure a new F-150, which can run from near $30,000 tio more than $90,000
I count six engines, seven trim lines, three wheel sizes, five wheelbases, three brake configurations, four fuel tanks, two suspension systems, and two drive systems. There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but I count more than 94,500 ways to configure a 2021 Ford F-150. And I'm leaving out some things.
"This is a six cylinder?" Brent asked after accepting my suggestion to punch it. "It has a lot of power."
Ford introduced the 3.5-l V-6 in 2011 and Brent, who disapproves of borrowing to buy things that lose value, bought his newest F-150 before that. This was his first exposure to an engine that has grown to become iconic.
For 2021, Ford introduce the all-new 3.5-liter PowerBoost full hybrid V6 powertrain. It delivers delivering 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. of torque. It should go 700 miles on a single tank of gas.
The hybrid V6, which adds $4,995) gets about 15 percent better fuel economy than the non-hybrid version, according to EPA estimates. A 4x2 hybrid, for example, gets 25 mpg, vs. 22 for the non-hybrid 3.5-L V6. Ford's 3.0-L diesel, available only in Supercabs and heavy-duty trucks, gets the best mileage of all the choices.
The hybrid, however, comes standard with Ford's Powerboost 2.4 kW mobile generator that can run for 85 hours on a tank of gas. A 7.2 kW unit is available for $750.
A less powerful take off unit is available for $995 on non-hybrid models.
Buy now, or wait.
We are now entering the crazy period of vehicle prices. A shortage of new-car buyers during the pandemic sent more buyers looking for used vehicles, which shot up in price.
Now, nearly every manufacturer is facing production slowdowns because of a shortage of computer chips and parts. Ford, for example, said last week it will continue building F-150s, but will keep them at the factory until the chips arrive.
Add the influence of new buyers with COVID relief and tax refunds in hand, and it looks like new-vehicle prices are about to climb.
Looking through local dealers' inventories, I see most are offering discounts of $1,500 to $2,000 on 2021 F-150s. Drill a little deeper and one finds that these deals are coming from the factory and expire March 31. It is hard to see Ford continuing those into April.
One also sees a number of 2020 F-150s on lots with steep ($8,000 to $1,000) discounts. These have the same drivetrains, frames, and bodies as the 2021, so that may be the smart buy. One also suspects those discounts might soon disappear.
The chip makers will catch up, but until then, reddet emptori, maneat in domum suam. Buyer, stay home.