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For more than a decade the Ford Raptor faced no direct competition. Sure, you could buy a Jeep Wrangler outfitted for rock crawling or a Land Rover Defender that was geared up to go splash around in the mud, but as far as high performance, desert-running full-size pickups went, it was a segment of one.
That all changed when Ram unleashed the 1500 TRX upon the world in late 2020. Boasting performance, technology, and refinement that bested Ford in just about every major category, it was clear right out of the gate that the TRX had no intentions of living in the Raptor’s shadow. And beyond any differences in suspension travel or wading depths, the Ram had indisputable charm that the Raptor simply couldn’t match thanks to its outlandish 702-horsepower supercharged V8.
Ford has yet to respond on the powertrain front (though a V8-powered answer in the form of the Raptor R is widely expected to be formally announced later this year), but that doesn’t mean the “standard” F-150 Raptor has ignored the writing on the wall. Thoroughly reworked thanks to last year’s extensive overhaul of the F-Series lineup as well as key updates that are specific to this model, the F-150 Raptor is a more sophisticated and more capable desert-running machine than ever before. But is it enough to keep enthusiasts away from its Hemi-powered nemesis? We grabbed the keys to this loaded Velocity Blue Metallic example – which carries a base MRSP of $64,145 and an as-tested price of $82,080 with destination – to find out.
The new Raptor benefits from the exterior refresh that came with the introduction of fourteenth generation F-Series last year. It’s a more muscular look overall, and it blends really well with the Raptor’s widened stance and beefed up bodywork.
By now some of the Raptor formula has become familiar. Bulging fenders make this beast a full six inches wider than a standard F-150 – so wide, in fact, that it necessitates additional front marker lights that are federally mandated for commercial vehicles. It wears the aesthetic updates of the fourteenth generation F-150 well, boasting a more chiseled front end and a power dome hood that make the latest Raptor arguably more of a head-turner than its main rival. Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that delivers 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. This hardware carries over from the previous generation truck, as does its ten-speed automatic transmission. Though it’s not really exotic performance by today’s standards, it remains a potent combination in its own right.
Where the new Raptor really sets itself apart from its predecessors is in its suspension setup. As with the previous generation truck it pairs up electronically-controlled adaptive Fox Live Valve shocks with progressive-rate springs with a double wishbone setup up front to provide the versatility to handle jumps and other big suspension events while still delivering agreeable ride quality for everyday driving, but changes to the internal bypass shocks, upper ball joints, and other components have expanded the truck’s front end suspension travel from 13 inches to 14 inches (when outfitted with 35-inch tires – more on that in second).
The Raptor scored electronically controlled Fox Live Valve adaptive dampers a few years back, but this is the first time they’ve been paired with a coil-link rear suspension setup. The combination is closer to the Ram TRX’s approach in terms of overall design and gives the Raptor’s suspension even more capability.
The bigger news is out back, though, where the Raptor has finally ditched leaf springs in favor of a coil-link setup with massive progressive-rate springs and adaptive Fox shocks. Unlike the TRX, which derives some of its five-link setup from the Ram 2500 Power Wagon, this is a clean-sheet design developed for the specific requirements of the Raptor. The new combination can provide up to 15 inches of wheel travel, besting its predecessor by an inch.
Our tester also boasts the new, optional Raptor 37 Performance Package. In addition to massive 37-inch BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tires wrapped in 17 x 8.5-inch beadlock-capable forged aluminum wheels, the package also includes uniquely tuned shocks with trim-specific tuning, but it also restricts front end suspension travel to 13 inches via bump stops because of concerns about the big rubber banging into the wheel wells. Unique Recaro seats, upgraded leather upholstery, and carbon fiber accents are part of the deal as well, along with some rear fender graphics that we could probably do without.
The Raptor’s cabin has a number of model-specific callouts in addition to the Raptor 37 Performance Package-specific goodies, along with some sporty orange accents and a pair of hearty steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Although most of the rest of it is standard F-150 stuff, that’s really not a knock against the Raptor, as the recent design brought with it significant upgrades like a fully digital display cluster and 12-inch, horizontally-oriented touchscreen Sync 4 infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. The F-Series overhaul also brought with it cool optional features like the stowable shifter, which allows the lever to tuck itself away in order to make room for a flat work surface that unfolds from the center console.
It’s a comprehensive update despite its lack of big, headline-stealing changes, and it bodes well for the driving experience both on-road and off.
While the interior gets a few model and trim-specific goodies, the biggest upgrades come as part of the F-Series redesign that debuted last year, like the fully digital instrument cluster and the 12-inch touchscreen infotainment display.
Like the TRX, the Raptor feels positively massive cruising around in the middle of Los Angeles, which is kind of fun from an experiential perspective while in motion, but the charm tends to wear off when you’re looking for a parking space or trying to stay centered in the lane on some of LA’s meandering freeways.
There’s a wealth of interior space for both people and things inside the truck, and the new technology onboard is a welcome upgrade – especially when paired with the bangin’ B&O sound system. Like the Bronco Wildtrak we drove late last year the infotainment annoyingly crops the Apple CarPlay system into a section of the display instead of allowing you to run it full screen, and the wireless charging pad threatened to overheat our iPhone 12 Pro Max while were using Google Maps wirelessly through CarPlay for extended periods of time. But on the whole the updates elevate the look and feel of the cabin significantly, in turn allowing you to more easily forgive some of the low-rent materials still found in this $80,000 truck.
Under the hood is a 450hp 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6, which carries over from the previous generation F-150 Raptor.
It’s been half a decade since Ford transitioned the Raptor over to a twin-turbo V6 from the first generation’s venerable 6.2-liter V8, but we’re still not over it. To its credit, the V6 is punchy and responsive, and it’s rarely caught out by turbo lag. But in an era of 700hp pickups, this amount of power just doesn’t feel special anymore, and more importantly, there’s not much that can be done about the sound. The Raptor has four different active exhaust modes that can be toggled through thanks to a button on the steering wheel, and to be honest, our favorite one was Quiet.
Speaking of quiet, the 37-inch tires aren’t as punishing as you might expect. They make some noise when you’re cornering, and they also come with some noticeable compromise to steering precision, but they’re surprisingly subdued on the highway and add a bit more compliance to the beefed-up suspension setup. The transmission continues to be a standout, too, delivering fast, nearly seamless shifts with such well thought-out programming that we never really felt the need to shift manually in order to get the appropriate response from the powertrain. Once you get used to the sheer size of the thing, the Raptor is as easy to pilot in most situations as a standard F-150 would be.
The Raptor’s front-facing trail camera came in handy when cresting over steep hills, where it was occasionally difficult to see what was directly in front of us.
To test its mettle in the rough stuff, we headed to we headed out to Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, about an hour north of Los Angeles. The facility spans more than 19,000 acres and offers over 130 miles of terrain to explore, allowing us to put the Raptor through its paces in a variety of different situations.
The Raptor’s terrain management system offers seven drive modes – Normal, Sport, Tow/Haul, Slippery, Rock Crawl, Deep Snow/Sand, and Baja. While we enjoyed the immediate response and general rowdiness of Baja mode and the purposefulness of the low-range, locked-rear-diff Rock Crawl mode, the Deep Snow/Sand setting seemed to be the best suited for most of the terrain and the pace we were keeping, as it allowed us to keep the transfer case in 4H without the urgency of Baja mode’s always-on-boost transmission programming.
This tester’s optional Raptor 37 Performance Package includes 37-inch BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tires wrapped in 17 x 8.5-inch beadlock-capable forged aluminum wheels, along with trim-specific suspension tuning and interior upgrades.
Ground clearance was never an issue thanks in part to those 37-inch BFGs, and the Raptor has always impressed with its approach and departure angles. But as with the TRX, the Raptor’s sheer size forced us to crawl through some tighter sections of trail, and brushing up against foliage was unavoidable in a number of areas where trucks of more typical proportions made it through without issue. When we found room to run the Raptor was definitely in its element, happily soaking up high-speed washboards and bounding over whoops while the ventilated seats air conditioned our posteriors and the audio system kicked out the jams.
Make no mistake, this is an absolutely killer off-road pickup. In a world without the TRX the Raptor would still reign supreme, and the updates that Ford has applied to this truck have only served to make it better as a both a daily driver and incredibly capable performer.
But at the end of the day, the Ram still has the edge. Its technology is a bit more sophisticated, its suspension is a little more composed, and the Raptor still lacks a proper counterpoint to the TRX’s blown V8 fury – for now, anyway. Will the upcoming Raptor R turn the tables? We don’t know, but we can’t wait to find out. As has been proven countless times before, competition is a good thing indeed.