DEARBORN, MI – The dust clouds continue to swirl as the battle between Ford and Ram over dominance in the desert/off-road pickup category escalates. It’s reminiscent of those horsepower wars during the muscle-car era.
Ford kicked off the fight with the debut of its F-150 Raptor in 2009. It offered speed over rough terrain, plus the capability to launch over dunes and catch air – attributes previously reserved for desert-racing trophy trucks. Not satisfied to let the Blue Oval gang have this segment to themselves, Ram has responded with an off-road brute of its own – the 702-horsepower, Hemi-powered TRX.
Of course, the next logical step is for Ford to up the ante, which it’s doing with the just-revealed 2021 F-150 Raptor. This third-generation desert predator is being billed as the most off-road-capable and most connected Raptor ever built. Its off-road prowess has been improved with a new five-link rear suspension, electronically controlled, next-generation FOX shocks with Live Valve technology and a strengthened frame. The addition of optional factory-installed 37-inch tires – a first-in-class feature – adds to its ability tackle tough terrain.
Connectivity enhancements include the capability to receive over-the-air updates and add or upgrade potential future features such as shareable digital trail maps and other off-road technologies.
Also standard on the new Raptor is Ford’s SYNC®4 with cloud-connected navigation and improved voice search, as well as its FordPass Connect mobile app that can lock or unlock the vehicle from almost anywhere, check tire pressure and fuel level and control new truck-focused features such as zone lighting, trailer theft alert and trailer light check.
More torque from EcoBoost V-6
At this point, Ford isn’t releasing the power numbers for the ’21 Raptor’s high-output 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6, other than to say the Cleveland, Ohio-built engine will deliver better low-end torque, resulting in greater maximum conventional towing capacity (up 200 pounds to 8,200) and an additional 200 lbs. of payload (1,400 lb maximum.)
While it’s safe to speculate the Raptor’s rated output won’t match the supercharged Ram TRX, but be patient – Ford confirms the Raptor R, which is rumoured to have a supercharged V-8 under its bulging hood, will arrive next year.
At least this Raptor will sound more menacing. For 2021, Ford has added an active-valve dual exhaust system – the first manufacturer to bring this feature to the pickup segment. The three-inch, equal-length system features a patent-pending built-in X-pipe and unique “trombone loop,” as well as the active valves, which can be configured to four sound-level modes – Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja.
Engine output will flow through a Ford-built 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, upgraded with next-generation electronic control. It’s coupled to an two-speed, torque-on-demand 4x4 transfer case. A standard electronic locking rear differential and available Torsen front limited-slip differential are fitted with 4:10 final drive ratios.
Although fuel efficiency isn’t a prime consideration of buyers in this segment, Ford projects the two-turbocharged and intercooled V-6 with a 10.5:1 compression ratio will have a range of 800 kilometres on 136 litres of premium-grade fuel.
Trophy truck suspension
“Raptor is rooted in Baja 1000 racing, and its suspension advances our capability and performance – a five-link rear setup with more wheel travel than any Raptor before it,” says Ford Performance chief engineer Carl Widmann, “and like a trophy truck, every aspect of Raptor has been engineered to deliver precision capability when your foot is flat on the floor, way out in the middle of nowhere roaring across the desert.”
The new five-link rear suspension features extra-long trailing arms to better maintain axle position on rough terrain, a panhard bar and 24-inch coil springs – the longest in the class.
The Raptor’s new FOX internal bypass shocks are truly impressive. They feature race-proven, state-of-the-art electronic control technology that offers position-sensitive damping adjustability. These shocks – the largest ever used on a Raptor – are designed to better resist heat buildup and to react even faster to terrain changes. The electronically controlled base valves enable upward of 1,000 pounds of damping per corner. Readings from suspension height and other sensors around the truck change damping rates independently at each corner 500 times per second, with the shocks responding in 80 milliseconds, or the same speed the human brain processes visual information. To be precise, the truck responds by the time the driver even recognizes a terrain change.
The larger 3.1-inch-diameter anodized aluminum shock bodies are filled with a new low-friction shock fluid specially designed to decrease frictional losses inside the damper for improved off- and on-road comfort.
Tires choices from big to biggest
The Raptor comes with standard 17 x 8.5-inch cast aluminum wheels and LT315/70 R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. Three optional 17-inch wheels are also available – two with beadlock capability. For the first time, 35-inch or 37-inch tires with specially designed BFGoodrich tires are also available. With the 35-inch tires, the Raptor clears 12-inch obstacles with an approach angle of 31 degrees, maximum departure angle of 23.9 degrees and break-over angle of 22.7 degrees. The 37-inch tires increase ground clearance to 13.1 inches, approach angle to 33.1 degrees, departure angle to a maximum of 24.9 degrees and break-over angle to 24.4 degrees.
This Raptor’s class-leading wheel travel with 35-inch tires – 14 inches up front and 15 inches at the rear – is an increase of 25 percent compared to the first-generation model.
Electronic off-road enhancements
The Raptor’s standard Terrain Management System has seven selectable drive modes to suit the driving conditions, including slippery, tow/haul, sport, normal, off-Road, Baja and rock crawl. The drive modes adjust steering feel, transfer case behavior, stability control, active valve exhaust, active damping system, throttle mapping and transmission shift points, as well as the display on the digital gauge cluster.
Trail One-Pedal Drive, which helps make extreme off-road driving like rock crawling easier, is also standard. In harsh trail situations, a driver typically must use both pedals, modulating throttle and brake simultaneously, but this system combines those operations by just using the throttle – push down to move forward, release to brake. The truck applies the brakes proportionally as the driver lifts from the accelerator.
The Raptor also comes with standard Trail Control, which operates like cruise control for off-road use. The driver simply sets a speed and the truck manages throttle and braking so the driver can focus on steering.
An optional 360-degree camera package provides an in-cabin view of obstacles around the truck, with the front view offering a real-time tire track overlay to dynamically show the path of the wheels ahead to reduce the need to stop for spotter guidance.
Other off-road upgrades for 2021 include a wider front skid plate, which offers greater coverage side-to-side and extends protection forward, and new durable steel front and rear bumpers built for the rigors of off-roading. The rear bumper retains a high-clearance design that tucks the dual exhaust tips high up against the truck. Rigid off-road lighting, mounted in the front bumper, is also available.
One new available feature users will appreciate is the Ford-exclusive Pro PowerOnboard. It uses the truck as a mobile generator to deliver 2.0 kilowatts of electrical power to run tools, camp lights and other equipment. The system, which can be controlled remotely through the FordPass Connect app, provides more exportable power than any light-duty full-size pickup.
There are changes inside the Raptor for 2021, too. A new interior features the use of enhanced materials, unique surface finishes and more storage. The steering wheel has a laser-etched Raptor logo, top centering mark and aluminum paddle shifters. Seats with large bolsters keep occupants in place, while even more aggressive Recaro buckets are available.
Standard aluminum or available carbon-fibre interior packages trim the doors, instrument panel and centre console and lockable, fold-flat rear-seat storage is available.
The Raptor’s instrument panel features a new standard and customizable 12-inch digital gauge cluster. It has a large information-on-demand area with Raptor-specific graphics and animations, off-road data and turn-by-turn navigation. A new customizable 12-inch screen in the centre stack is also standard. It allows users to split the screen and control multiple functions simultaneously, including navigation, music or truck features. They can wirelessly connect smartphones without a USB cord for seamless integration of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. An 18-speaker B&O Unleashed sound system by Bang & Olufsen is available.
The Raptor’s redesigned exterior is highlighted by a power dome hood with blacked-out grille and headlights that stretch fender to fender and help emphasize the truck’s width, which is 15 centimetres more than the standard F-150. The hood also has a new heat extractor and functional side vents at the top trailing edge of the fender. The rear end’s new look has blacked-out taillights and a new tailgate appliqué.
The Raptor will be only offered in SuperCrew configuration on a 145-inch wheelbase with a high-strength, aluminum alloy and composite body. Its fully boxed high-strength steel frame includes stronger, taller shock towers and rear control arm mounting points.
The 2021 F-150 Raptor, which will be built at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Mich., will be available in showrooms this summer