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2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is America's super truck, remastered

Rocking a beefier suspension, fresh cabin and the biggest tires ever fitted to a production light-duty truck, this 4x4 is fierce.

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Those mammoth tires? Three feet high and rising.

Ford

Groundbreaking vehicles don't pop up in the car and truck world very often, and when models that challenge conventional wisdom do show up, most end up flopping. But when Ford debuted its Baja-ready F-150 Raptor over a decade ago, a hero was born, both for driving enthusiasts and for Ford's accountants. That was way back in 2009, and on Wednesday, the third generation of this highly successful, high-speed off-roader hit the scene.

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Not that you'd immediately notice. In contrast to its first two generations, this new 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor doesn't look much different from the more radical departures that came before it. That shouldn't be too surprising, as the same is true of the standard 2021 F-150 range that debuted last fall. As with those trucks, appearances are deceiving. There are a whole host of new capabilities and technologies baked into the third-generation Raptor that should make even more of an off-road juggernaut, not to mention an easier truck to live with everyday.

Chief capability upgrades include available 37-inch tires, redesigned Fox Live Valve shocks, over-the-air software updates and an optional version of the Pro Power Onboard generator that recently wowed us in the F-150 King Ranch. Additionally, some new Bronco-derived technologies like Trail 1-Pedal Drive should make for easier and more confidence-inspiring off-roading. This new Raptor appears poised to hit the market at exactly the right moment: For the first time in its decade-plus existence, the Raptor finally has a bona-fide rival, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, and it's a truly fearsome foe.

V8 power?

Before you ask, no, Ford hasn't gone with a V8 for this new Raptor -- it's kept an updated version of the existing 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6, augmenting it with updated turbos, a higher 10.5:1 compression ratio and additional cooling fans for better towing and hauling ability. Rest assured, a more-powerful eight-cylinder Raptor is coming. It won't be available right away , however. 

In any case, while Ford is not yet quoting horsepower or torque figures -- let alone performance metrics like a 0-to-60-mph time, the current Raptor has never felt short of puff. Today's Raptor's 3.5T develops 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, so it's reasonable to expect the new truck's powertrain will best those figures. That said, even with a slew of powertrain upgrades, there's little doubt that the 2021 Raptor will fail to upstage the Ram 1500 TRX's supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V8, all 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of it.

Still with us? Before you go off and troll the Ford Facebook forums, MoPaR4Lyfe, note that the Raptor has 10 speeds in its automatic transmission versus the T-Rex's eight, and more importantly, the truck seen here figures to weigh 600 pounds less than the Ram. The new Raptor will likely still be staring at the TRX's taillights in a drag race, but not by much, and seriously, who drag races lifted trucks like this? The fact that the Raptor is significantly lighter should help its off-road ability -- especially its jumping form -- and really, that's more of what these super trucks are all about. When you're out leaping whoops and jumps in the desert, it isn't always "might makes right," as often as not, it's "light makes right."

Here's the Raptor in its element: burning its candle at both ends in the middle of nowhere.

Ford

Range, payload and towing

Less weight also enables greater payload and towing capacity, as well as more miles between fill-ups. Ford says you'll be able to travel 500-plus miles between credit-card swipes, and that's crucial considering how far off the beaten path owners of these trucks tend to venture.

As part of the endless game of hauling one-upmanship that is today's truck world, Ford also says Raptor's payload capacity is up by 200 pounds to 1,400 pounds and towing is up the same, to 8,200 pounds. Both of those figures are actually slightly better than the Hellcat-powered TRX. We're as shocked as you are, friends.

Chassis and suspension upgrades

Ford started with the updated SuperCrew chassis of the 14th-generation F-Series light-duty truck, then its engineers set about upgrading the ladder frame from end to end for better off-road performance (the current model's SuperCab configuration won't live to see this new generation). In front, Raptor-specific alterations include taller, reinforced shock towers, a different pivot point for the rear lower control arms, as well as a lowered front axle (for higher ground clearance). In back, the truck receives upgraded shock absorber and coil-spring brackets, rejiggered trailing-arm brackets, as well as a reinforced Panhard rod bracket with additional bracing. A Raptor-only trail hitch setup is also part of the equation.

Allow us to go back and underline one key thing in that last paragraph: rear coil springs. The Raptor has finally ditched its traditional leaf springs in favor of a more sophisticated five-link rear setup with ultralong trailing arms and mammoth 24-inch coils. As Greg Goodall, Ford's performance engineering manager, tells Roadshow, "The biggest opportunity to improve upon the last-gen Raptor and continue to offer the customer increasing levels of off-road capability into the future was to deliver an upgraded rear suspension. The new five-link suspension has key advantages including improved traction and lateral stability, increased suspension travel, and the improved axle motion control which enables the use of 37-inch tires." 

The Raptor's all-new five-link rear end enables both increased travel and much better wheel control.

Ford

By ditching those heavy leaf springs and moving to a five-link setup, Ford saved 11 pounds. More importantly, unsprung weight has dropped by 40 pounds, which ought to improve rear traction and acceleration, be it on pavement or dirt. Finally, the new architecture not only allows for even more suspension travel -- up to 15 inches -- it should make for easier customizing options in the aftermarket.

There's a new set of Fox Live Valve shocks, and at 3.1 inches in diameter, they're even bigger than before. With electronic control, these shocks can alter their damping rates at 500 times a second. Not only should these units be able to cope with bigger initial impacts, they'll be able to dissipate heat better and stand up to prolonged abuse.

Raptors equipped with the taller optional 37-inch BFGoodrich TA K02 tires (the largest rubber ever factory-fitted to a light-duty pickup) notably get their own shocks. So equipped, the 2021 F-150 Raptor impresses with 13.1 inches of ground clearance, a 33.1-degree approach angle, 24.9-degree departure angle and a breakover of 24.4 degrees. Every single one of those numbers is better than Ram's TRX. On the standard 35-inch tires, you get 14 inches of wheel travel up front and 15 inches out back, and those clearance metrics are still all better than the Ram. Plus, there's a new, wider skid plate up front if you somehow manage to overcook a big jump or drag on a boulder.

Check out our 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor vs. 2021 Ram 1500 TRX spec-comparison story and video for all the nitty-gritty.

Raptor's new active exhaust features a "trombone loop" and four sound modes.

Ford

Exhaustively sound opinions

At least from a performance standpoint, the second-gen Raptor's biggest shortcoming has arguably always been the way it sounds. Muffled by two turbos, the V6 has just never sounded appropriately beefy in a way that matches the truck's capabilities and personality. Ford engineers have tied themselves in knots trying to coax a burlier engine note out of the same basic powertrain. Indeed, some media outlets that ran spy shots of the truck over the last year were convinced the new truck was V8-powered based upon its sound, so substantial sonic progress has clearly been made.

The new truck features a 3-inch exhaust setup that includes a patent-pending X-pipe and a funny-looking "trombone loop" that ensures equal-length piping for optimum acoustics. The Raptor also finally receives active exhaust valving that allows for a true bypass and four user-selectable sound modes: Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja. These modes are a thumb-press away, activated via steering-wheel button.

Based solely on the engine sounds that the Blue Oval has released, the new truck indeed sounds substantially more aggressive than the somewhat drone-prone setup of the outgoing model, but for our money, the original Raptor with its naturally aspirated V8 still sounds best. We can't wait to drive one in anger and find out for ourselves whether Ford has done enough here.

The Raptor's interior needed a thorough redo, and it's gotten one, with OTA-capable Sync 4 infotainment and much better materials.

Ford

All-new interior and infotainment

Beyond needing help in the soundtrack department, the Raptor currently in showrooms fell behind some other full-size domestic trucks in one key area: the cabin. For 2021, this truck gains a new look that's loaded with higher-quality materials and a host of new tech features.

There's a new 12-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster and a matching 12-inch center screen running Sync 4 infotainment. The latter allows occupants to connect to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly, and it features over-the-air update technology, as well as an available 18-speaker B&O Unleashed sound system. Like before, grippy Recaro seats are optional, and you can also get novel features like F-150's power-folding console shifter that clears space for a fold-down work surface. The regular F-150's optional Max Recline lay-flat seating will not be available, however.

Speaking of OTA updates, that capability is bumper-to-bumper on this truck -- the functionality isn't just limited to infotainment. That means bug fixes can be remotely addressed, and new features can be added wirelessly to the truck. Ford is already hinting that the Bronco's Trail Turn Assist and Trail Maps features could be available soon. The former locks the inside rear wheel to act as a pivot point for tighter turns off-road and the latter allows users to navigate existing off-road routes or create new ones and share them with an online community.

Pro Power Onboard generator

OK, so what's left? You can opt for Ford's super-handy new Pro Power Onboard tech, a built-in generator that lets you power an air compressor, auxiliary lights, tools, a portable fridge or whatever you want. This version is only 2 kilowatts (non-Raptor F-150 PowerBoost hybrid models are available with a 7.2-kW system), but that should be enough juice for a great camping or tailgate setup.

The Raptor gets a 2-kW version of Ford's Pro Power Onboard system.

Ford

Exterior changes

We've come all this way, and we still haven't talked much about the way this 2021 Ford Raptor looks. Frankly, it looks so similar to the second-gen Raptor that's been menacing America's roads since 2017 that most people probably won't notice. Nevertheless, this truck once again features all-new aluminum bodywork, as well as a unique grille, lights and facia. Up front, the biggest departures are a functional hood bulge with a heat extractor, as well as working fender vents. These design cues are said to be inspired by another Raptor -- the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jet.

Pricing and availability

Built in Dearborn, Michigan, the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is due in dealerships this summer, but there's a lot we still don't know about this new super truck. Ford has yet to spill the beans on how much power the engine makes, how quickly it will accelerate, what this rig's fuel economy is and how much this truck will cost.

It's fair to assume the base MSRP will come in somewhat close to today's model, which means the Raptor should still enjoy a massive cost advantage over the TRX. The outgoing 2020 Raptor starts at $55,150 delivered for a SuperCab model, but an apples-to-apples four-door SuperCrew starts at $58,135 compared to the Ram 1500 TRX's 401K-wilting $71,690 MSRP (all prices include a $1,695 destination fee). That's between $13,555 and $16,540 less expensive than the TRX, which leaves a bunch of money in the kitty for powertrain upgrades, overlanding equipment, spare tires and fuel bills.

Time to make the donuts.

Ford

Raptor R

One last thing: If you've really gotta have a V8, Ford says there is a new production Raptor for you. The Raptor R is rumored to carry a version of the Mustang GT500's supercharged Predator V8 packing in excess of 700 hp. But there's a catch. The model isn't coming until next year, which is a serious buzzkill.

In the meantime, we'll console ourselves with the regular new 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, which doesn't exactly sound like a consolation prize -- especially with that trick new exhaust.


Correction, 8.36 a.m. PT: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the forthcoming Raptor R would not be street legal. That assertion was based on incorrect information sourced directly from Ford PR and corroborated on multiple occasions. The story has been updated to reflect that the new Raptor R truck will be street legal.