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The big change for 2021 Ford F-150 5.0L V-8 isn’t horsepower

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The new 2021 Ford F-150 has a host of changes including a new hybrid system, on-board generator (no, it’s not just an inverter) and, what seemed to be, only one change to the 5.0-liter V-8 Coyote engine, which is a slight bump in horsepower and torque.

Yet, that’s not all that’s changing.

Ford’s V-8 option for the 2021 F-150 will join GM and Ram in utilizing a cylinder deactivation system. This information was missed in our initial write-up and, frankly, after scouring the press materials, we still missed it, so we followed up with Ford to confirm.

“The 5.0-liter V-8 gets a bump of 5 horsepower and 10 pound-feet of torque, to 400 horsepower and 410 pound-feet,” said Dawn McKenzie, Ford Truck Communications Manager. “We’ve also added a variable displacement cylinder deactivation function to the 5.0-liter, helping fuel economy by reducing the number of cylinders receiving fuel during lower speeds and under light loads.”

Unlike GM’s system (more on that later), Ford’s cylinder deactivation will be a simple 8 cylinder to 4 cylinder setup.

This has been a controversial engine technology for some consumers with many GM owners complaining of oil usage issues. Others consider it a waste of time and, instead, purchase cylinder deactivation override products.

However, this seems to be a sign of the times, and cylinder deactivation is likely going to be in all V-8 engines eventually as the new Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles document, which is part of the 2020 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules update, urges automakers to do so.

2021 Ford F150 5.0L V8 cylinder deactivation

The 5.0L V8 is one of six different engine options for the 2021 Ford F150.

What is cylinder deactivation?

This technology has one of the more easy-to-understand names in automotive vernacular — unlike, say, a variable-geometry turbocharger.

Basically, the vehicle’s computer, ECU, determines when and how to turn off certain cylinders by closing the intake and exhaust valve, no air in or out, as well as stops injecting fuel into the cylinder.

The piston still moves up and down turning the crankshaft, it has to, and while pistons do experience pumping losses during to having to overcome air resistance when they pull in and expel air, there are no pumping losses when the cylinder is deactivated. The ECU is programmed to balance out the remaining pumping losses from the cylinders, which are still operating.

Basically, this means, even with different cylinders not working, the engine is more efficient by using less fuel and having a reduction in pumping losses.

Does it work?

Like most new engine technology, there are naturally questions on how much more efficient are we talking about and whether the trade offs (more sophisticated engine technology vs a traditional internal combustion engine) are worth it.

This is nearly an impossible question to answer since it really does depend on your driving style and how you use your truck.

Also, as of the time of this article, the 2021 Ford F-150 estimated fuel economy ratings are not out yet.

Also, while GM had a simple light showing V-4 or V-8 mode for years, the new GM trucks with Dynamic Fuel Management technology have 17 different cylinder patterns for turning off cylinders, which uses the engine’s 16 hydraulic valves to open and close cylinders by restricting oil pressure to them when needed. With the multitude of different cylinder combinations changing so rapidly, the system checks for changes 80 times every second, and there is no way to determine which mode or how many cylinders are actually working as a simple icon on the gauge cluster.

Also, and even more interesting, the new 2019 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra models actually returned worse EPA fuel economy than the 2018 model with the older active fuel management system, however, this was really about the additional weight of certain trucks due to adding more features and safety technology in those trims.

The bottom line on the F-150 V-8

New engine technology is always going to make truck fans suspicious since trucks are still seen as a tool and adding more complexity to a tool is often met with skepticism. The adage of “why fix it if it isn’t broke” is a pretty common phrase for truck buyers. However, the growing customer base of truck buyers and their desire to have improved fuel economy as well as CAFE regulations pushing for better miles per gallon, is going to lead to changes.

Fortunately, this isn’t a brand-new technology. Rather, it is really just Ford’s V-8 joining its rivals in offering, what is becoming, a rather basic engine technology.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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14 Comments

  1. Seann Nichols October 23, 2020

    Are you certain on the cylinder deactivation? Not a peep from Ford on this, nothing mentioned in any of the preview events, and my dealer says it’s not happening. Everything I can find stating it is happening is old, almost like they were going to do it but didn’t.

    Reply
    1. Tim Esterdahl October 23, 2020

      You saw the quote in the article right? That is an official quote from Ford.

      -Tim

      Reply
      1. Seann Nichols October 23, 2020

        I did read it, still think it’s odd that many of the dealers and reps appear to be unaware, and there’s nothing official on Fords site. I personally thinks it’s great news, appreciate the info.

        Reply
  2. Mark November 14, 2020

    I work at ford essex engine plant and it is true we are building the 2021s now and they shut off 4 of their cylinders it suppose be much more fuel officiant

    Reply
  3. Colin November 18, 2020

    It was the death of my Chevy, When the time comes to replace my 2019 F150 I guess I’ll shop import trucks.

    Reply
  4. RawieChrist December 24, 2020

    I’m very not happy with hearing this news they could’ve left cylinder deactivation crap out of its already award winning engine

    Reply
  5. Ken January 18, 2021

    So incredibly disappointed!! My Silverado needed an engine rebuild at 35000km because of the stupid AFM crap. The 4 cylinders that shut down were all effed. I traded it in the day I got it back and bought my 2016 F-150 with 5.0L which I absolutely love btw. Now Ford is doing the same garbage for 1-2% fuel economy improvement. NOOOOO!! I didn’t buy a full size pickup to save friggin” gas! It already gets way better fuel economy than my Silverado ever did.

    Reply
  6. SteveG4 January 30, 2021

    I am interested in a new F-150 with the Coyote engine — just not that interested in the cylinder deactivation tech. If simple deactivation of the “deactivation” tech is easily had, I’m all in.

    Reply
    1. Tim Esterdahl February 4, 2021

      There will likely be a way to turn it off like GM trucks can be turned off through an aftermarket scanner.

      Reply
      1. Ken February 16, 2021

        From the reading and research I’ve done, by plugging in a scanner, chip, or whatever you want to call it, you risk voiding powertrain warranty by altering factory settings.

        Reply
  7. Larry February 7, 2021

    Seann Nichols it might be great news if we were talking about he truck getting 40 mpg but the sticker on the 5.0L I’m looking at with start/stop technology says 15/21. Which is fine with me. But I don’t want start stop I think it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. I don’t want it I don’t want to be able to turn it off I don’t want it period it’s just added crap that makes it more likely to break

    Reply
  8. Nick May 20, 2021

    There goes the lifespan of that engine, especially if you are doing any serious haling or towing. That is the big advantage to getting the 5.0 over the eco boost anyways. Let each cylinder run “lazily” and it will last much longer. I would override it for sure. Those engines would top 100,000 miles without needed serious repairs.

    Reply
  9. Rick June 2, 2021

    It seems like automakers didn’t learn anything from GM’s failure with AFM. Now it’s in all new vehicles.
    It’s like the auto start and stop just another way for them to get their hands in your pocket.

    Reply
  10. Steve November 25, 2021

    So sad…..the traditional internal combustion engine is dead. They do all this stuff to pass the epa fuel economy test and could care less what it costs the truck owner long term. My 2015 Chevrolet engine with AFM cratered at 36k miles. I now have a 2017 Nissan Titan…..no AFM, etc. 40k miles and no problems. All these truck engines would go 300k miles without AFM. Worst of all, a new truck with this trash system in it costs 50 to 80 k!! Who really has that much money to throw away. I know some GM and Ram owners who say they haven’t had engine problems but who wants to gamble at such a high price. Try to sell a newer truck with a rebuilt engine….carfax will report it and the vehicle is devalued by 5 to 10k. Minimum. I guess it’s all part of the push to electric vehicles……….:

    Reply

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