It's like a scene from a modern war movie; 20 F-150 Raptors blasting through the desert in the dead of night, the menacing wail of 120 cylinders and 40 turbochargers breaking the silence as we travel in a convoy to our off-road spot. Fun is just beyond the horizon. The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor enters its third generation, now based on the latest 14th-generation F150 platform. Introduced in 2010, the legendary Raptor model invented the high-performance off-road pickup truck segment and has solely defined the market for more than a decade. But the Raptor no longer has the segment to itself.
For the first time, the Raptor has some serious competition in the form of the Ram 1500 TRX; a 702-horsepower super truck that we've called "the most fun you can have on four wheels." No small challenge for Ford then. This new Raptor seemingly arrives bringing a knife to a gunfight with a carryover 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. There are some clever improvements, but the EcoBoost engine still produces the same 450 hp and 510 lb-ft as the previous generation. Does this matter? As we found out driving the new Raptor through the Nevada/California desert, probably not.
Ford says a V8-powered Raptor R model is coming next year but in all honesty, you might not need it. Just like its predecessors, the 2021 F-150 Raptor is a Baja-inspired thrill ride, with Fox off-road shocks, outrageous styling, and fun imbued right into its soul.
The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is an all-new model based on the new Ford F-150 platform launched earlier in the year. It's the latest version of the truck that spawned an entirely new segment, which we shall call the "jumping over stuff" category. The new Raptor shares a number of the convenience features found on the new F-150, including the onboard mobile generator and load-lugging abilities. It's the most serious off-roader in the range and can accomplish some pretty ridiculous feats (including getting four wheels off the ground). The interior and exterior are both new, but the engine and gearbox are carried over.
See trim levels and configurations:
3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
Our time in the Raptor began with a mundane highway drive from Las Vegas to a small town called Pahrump. We eagerly grabbed the keys to a Raptor with the larger 37-inch tires to find out if such massive rubber ruined the everyday livability. The short answer; absolutely not. At highway speeds, the Raptor feels shockingly stable, especially with the standard lane-keep assist active. The Raptor is currently confirmed to receive Ford's hands-free Blue Cruise system, but even the lesser lane-keep system in the standard Ford Co-Pilot360 bundle does an excellent job keeping the massive truck centered in its lane. We didn't notice too much wind or tire noise entering the cabin, and the off-road suspension makes bumpy roads feel insignificant.
After arriving at our hotel stop, we asked the locals to recommend some fun driving roads nearby. The locals did not disappoint. They directed us to a winding canyon road where we could push the Raptor beyond what most owners would ever do. Again, the Raptor delivered. We placed the truck into its Sport setting, which tightens up the steering, firms up the suspension, and places the exhaust into shouty mode. The Raptor has a different steering system than the standard F-150, and it's instantly noticeable. While the normal F-150 features relaxed steering, the Raptor feels pinpoint accurate, enabling more connected feedback to the driver. Even with a nearly 6,000-pound curb weight and 37-inch tires, the Raptor feels spry ripping around a canyon road. Ford's clever engineering can only fight physics for so long, so you do have to slow down a bit through the tighter bends, but we couldn't believe how well the truck performed here.
Some owners will be content to drive their Raptor exclusively on the road, but this would be doing a disservice to Ford's engineering team. In somewhat backward fashion, we grabbed the keys to a Raptor with 35-inch tires to see how it fared off-road. We placed the Raptor into its Baja Mode for our desert excursion, adjusting the dampers for maximum response, re-tuning the braking force at the rear, maximizing the steering control, setting the drivetrain to 4H, and fully opening the valves in the exhaust. Baja Mode is perfect for high-speed off-road stunts, but Off-Road and Rock Crawl modes are also available for slower obstacles.
Ford developed the Raptor with an exclusive five-link rear suspension system, which helps deliver more power to the road, improve acceleration times and on-road comfort, and inspire more driver confidence. Along with the new rear setup, the Raptor gets the latest Fox Live Valve internal bypass shocks, which provide up to 1,000 pounds of damping per corner. Sensors in the suspension can read and adjust to the road 500 times per second, meaning the Raptor can float over even the most intense off-road obstacles. Ford invited us to drive the Raptor over some whoops (a series of small bumps positioned closely together) as a trophy truck might do, and the truck cruised over them without sending us to the chiropractor. With 25% more wheel travel than the first-generation model, this new Raptor should live up to any torture test. We even had the opportunity to get all four wheels off the ground over a sand dune, and the truck landed like a gentle giant; we might go so far as to call the experience comfortable. In terms of off-road and on-road performance, there's no area where the Raptor disappoints.
Ford revolutionized the performance pickup truck market when it introduced the original F-150 Raptor in 2010. This third-generation truck may not break any new ground, but it still stands as an icon for off-road performance. There's one rather large elephant keeping us from gushing even more than we've already done about the Raptor. Well, it's more of a tyrannosaurus than an elephant. The Ram 1500 TRX produces more power than the Raptor via its supercharged V8, and it delivers similar on-road manners and off-road performance. It's more expensive, but some buyers will happily pay for the bragging rights of the bigger engine. If you truly can't live your life without eight cylinders under the hood, just wait for the V8 Raptor R model coming next year. It should be epic. Even with less power, the standard Raptor does everything the Ram can do without much noticeable difference in speed.
There is no practical reason for the Ford Raptor pickup to exist, not in the USA, not anywhere. Think of it as a supercar. It's an emotional purchase that hardly makes sense. Except that it actually does, if you think about it. That sensational suspension setup doesn't just give it the ability to stack up frequent flyer miles; it's also pretty handy during the daily grind. Like a supercar, the Raptor offers performance that most drivers will never take full advantage of, but it's nice to know that it can tear up a sand dune, then cruise home comfortably with kids in the back. Does it need to exist? Probably not. But in the typical American spirit of excess, the Raptor is glorious. Do we need one? Of course not. Do we want one? With every fiber of our being. It's slightly silly and vast, but it has so much charm, and the "gotta have it" factor of a supercar that costs five times as much.
Ford invented this segment and has dominated it ever since. And then Ram came along and gave the world the TRX, which is like a Raptor but so much more. There is a price gap of around $6,000, but once you add the Raptor's 801A Package, these two are virtually the same price. Instead of a 450-hp turbocharged V6, Ram gives you a 702-hp supercharged V8. It gets to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and does the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds. It's bonkers, completely unnecessary, and oh so lovable, but can't tow as much as the Raptor as it's capped at 8,100 lbs and has a lower payload capacity of 1,310 lbs. The TRX is also the reason why we expect the imminent arrival of a Raptor R.
The Ram also has a bespoke suspension, using Bilstein as a third-party supplier. It can also jump over stuff. It's like a Raptor but dialed all the way up to eleven. For the moment, the Ram has the Raptor licked, purely for the insanity of having a Hellcat V8 under the hood. Ford, would you please just bolt the GT500's supercharged engine under the hood of the Raptor already?
The Raptor still isn't the most expensive F-150, beaten by nearly $10k by the F-150 Limited. However, buying a Raptor is less about money and more about the experience that comes with it. Other F-150s with the hybrid powertrain are more potent, and the regular model can tow up to 14,000 lbs - nearly 6,000 more than the Raptor - but they're more focused on on-road use as a traditional work truck. They lack the Fox suspension and bespoke driving modes of the Raptor, and as such, are actually less enjoyable on the road. However, they can be specced to be more luxurious. Personally, we feel that unless you're opting for a work-spec F-150 or require the towing capacity, the Raptor just makes so much more sense as it's not only loaded with all the right tech, but it's so much better to drive, even sedately.
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