Updated suspension and a powerful high-tech V6 engine highlight test drive of the ‘dual-purpose’ pickup truck
Probably the most-impressive thing about the new Ford F-150 Raptor was not its unstoppable performance on rocky trails, which was expected after past experience, but how well it drove as a regular pickup on paved roads.
One might expect such a rugged beast expressly tuned for off-roading to be a rough rider on the highway. The handling might be compromised by the tall profile and extra-long suspension travel, at least to some jiggly extent.
Not so with the Raptor. Despite the engineering alterations that dial in its boondock capabilities, this truck has a stable and comfortable ride on the highway, and actually drives and handles quite well, within the parameters of any full-size pickup.
Off the highway and onto boulder-strewn trails, Raptor drives with awe-inspiring competence.
For this road test, we took the brawny pickup north of Phoenix to try it out on some serious rocky desert trails that include steep grades and plenty of loose rubble. Raptor aced it, shrugging off every challenge I threw at it, so much so that I felt like I had just scratched the surface of how much this truck could do.
Although, one of the most fun things to do with the Raptor is to hurtle along on a nasty trail and marvel at how well it smooths out the whoop-de-does. Even my highly critical road-test partner (my spouse) was amazed.
Much of the 2019 Raptor’s off-road ride excellence can be attributed to the latest-generation of amazing Fox shocks, which have been upgraded in a collaboration between Ford Performance and Fox “to develop all-new electronically controlled Live Valve technology for the new platform that continuously adjusts damping in real time,” Ford says in its press material.
The Terrain Management System works with sensors in the body and suspension to maximize ride comfort, handling and resistance to bottoming out on rough terrain, Ford says. Compression rates automatically vary to enhance the truck’s extra-long suspension travel – 13 inches upfront and 13.9 inches in the rear.
Paired with Raptor’s new Trail Control system, the shocks do their work even when you leave Earth’s surface, according to Ford.
“Not many trucks need sensors to detect when you are midair,” said Hermann Salenbauch, global director, Ford Performance vehicle programs. “Raptor sets the dampers to full stiffness to help smooth shock performance as the truck lands.”
Meanwhile, driving from Phoenix on the highway, the Raptor felt all the world like a smooth-riding luxury vehicle, peacefully traversing sans wind roar or tire noise. Also enhancing the comfort was another 2019 upgrade, a set of supportive Recaro sport seats. The truck even has adaptive cruise control.
And this might sound strange, but Trail Control includes what is essentially adaptive cruise control for off roading, which maintains constant speed uphill and down. What will they dream up next?
So, Raptor comes across as a kind of dual-purpose vehicle: a usable pickup truck that can be driven every day, and a highly competent off-roader that’s ready for some fun.
Raptor is fairly humongous, which takes some getting used to, but once you’ve become accustomed to its size, the driving is easy. Parking, on the other hand, will always be a challenge. Not a bad tradeoff, as long as you don’t do most of your driving in congested urban conditions. But people do tend to get out of your way when they spot that monster front end in the rear view.
Raptor has so many cool features, such as Select Drive for optimizing off-road performance and Dynamic Hitch Assist to ease trailer hookup, that I almost soared past one of the biggest ones: the High Output 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 engine.
This might sound like some kind of comedown compared with the former Raptor’s 6.2-liter V8, but it most certainly is not, at least not as far as performance in concerned. Horsepower is a stout 450 at 5,000 rpm with torque rated at 510 pound-feet coming on at 3,500 rpm. In no way did I miss the big V8. The automatic transmission is an excellent 10-speed unit that seemed constantly on the mark.
The V6 had loads of on- and off-road gusto, and the truck never felt compromised in any way. Fuel mileage was still not so great, at 15 city and 18 highway, but there’s only so much mileage you can wring out of a 5,700-pound truck.
Like all Ford F-150s, Raptor has been lightened with copious use of aluminum and high-strength steel in a major weight-loss program that helped it take off several hundred pounds. Still, it is quite large.
Raptor is obviously a niche product aimed at a select audience of off-road enthusiasts, so it represents just a small hunk of F-150 sales, which remain by far the highest of any vehicle sold in the U.S. But Raptor shows it’s not just for taking off road but for using as any pickup would be used, whether it’s hauling lumber to a job site or picking up items at the garden store.
Overall, an impressive update of an already impressive truck.
2019 Ford F-150 Raptor Supercrew
Vehicle type: Five–passenger, four-door pickup truck, 4-wheel drive
Base price: $55,840 Price as tested: $73,555
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6, 450 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 510 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 146 inches Overall length/width: 231.9 inches / 86.3 inches
Curb weight: 5,695 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 15 city / 18 highway / 16 combined
Assembled in: Dearborn, Michigan