"I think the engineer is trying to lose us."
I'm in the middle of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, a piece of western Michigan that Mother Nature clearly misplaced when assembling Arizona. Surrounding me are building-sized dunes, the landscape pockmarked with long-dead driftwood leading back to Lake Michigan. It's a beautiful part of the Midwest, but it's hard to pay attention to any of that, because the Ford development engineer leading me through a particularly technical part of the off-road park just keeps going faster and faster. Thankfully, that's exactly what the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R was built for.
The F-150 Raptor R was built for two reasons: because Ford likes to win off-road races, and because customers are never satisfied. The twin-turbo V6 Raptor that heralded a new generation of dirt-and-sand domination is a very good and capable truck, but in that traditional American way, buyers didn't want six cylinders, they wanted eight. In the Raptor R, Ford didn't just give them any eight cylinders; no, the madmen in Dearborn picked the best eight they had.
Under the hood lies most of the 5.2-liter supercharged V8 also found on the Mustang Shelby GT500. There are a few adjustments for this specific application, like cast stainless-steel headers, a new supercharger pulley, a deeper oil pan and a different oil cooler, but the meat and potatoes of this eight-pot arrive largely unchanged. The result is a 700-horsepower, 640-pound-foot screamer of a V8, tucked neatly into a beefcake truck body that doesn't change much from the V6 Raptor, save for a larger power dome on the hood and standard 37-inch BFGoodrich K02 all-terrain tires, along with some R-specific badges and bed graphics.
The F-150 Raptor R's performance envelope is so large, it's more like a performance shipping container. Turn the mode dial until it lands on Baja -- which adjusts the four-wheel-drive system, 10-speed automatic transmission, Fox Live Valve adaptive shocks, throttle mapping and valved exhaust for maximum off-road attack -- and any shreds of self-preservation will kick in way before the Raptor has to wave the white flag. Mash the throttle like a Thanksgiving side dish and the Raptor R's tires dig deep for traction before shooting off toward a seemingly way-too-steep dune, leaving only rooster tails of sand and an exhaust note people can probably hear in Chicago. Tapping the rear differential lock optimizes power delivery as the Raptor R goes up and over without issue. In Baja mode, the standard 12-inch touchscreen also helps out with a forward-facing camera feed, complete with tire markings, ensuring no decline gets taken at an incorrect angle.
Silver Lakes' sand isn't just piled up, though; there are also long, flat stretches, littered with puddles from yesterday's rain and chattery undulations of tire ruts. This is where Baja mode, and the Raptor R in general, really comes into its own. As the digital speedometer starts displaying numbers typically seen on interstates, the truck couldn't give less of a crap what material is underneath it. With 13.1 inches of ground clearance and between 13 and 14 inches of wheel travel, the Raptor R's body remains stable while the suspension and tires soak up all that junk, leaving a surprisingly comfortable high-speed blast toward the shoreline.
All this capability begs to be used, and when it is, all it breeds is confidence. Oh, that high-speed turn felt surprisingly sedate? No problem, just jam the loud pedal for longer and let the numbers rise higher. Turn off the rear locker and give it some mildly inappropriate mid-corner juice to engage in a power slide so lurid it can only be sold in a closed-off area at the back of the video store. It's hard not to feel nigh-invincible when the speed increases with every pass of the park, yet the truck soldiers on entirely unperturbed.
It'll jump, too. Ford's engineers set up a sandy ramp for the specific purpose of sending the Raptor R skyward, and it does so with surprising aplomb, landing softly on the other side as if it were a mere neighborhood speed bump. Let me give you a piece of advice that wasn't given to me: Should you choose to jump this truck, make sure all the cubbies in the massive center console are closed, lest you end up spending five minutes searching under the front seat for the key fob.
I'll forgive you for thinking that a truck with all this suspension travel and off-road capability might not be the best thing with which to tackle paved roads, but it's OK, everybody is wrong sometimes. On the way to and from Silver Lake, the Raptor R proved to be quite the asphalt companion. In its standard Normal mode, the truck is actually one of the more comfortable large vehicles I've driven, even more so than the family-friendly Expedition I drove here from Detroit. The exhaust has a quiet mode to stay within the limits of local noise regulations and NIMBY neighbors, too.
For those craving to get just a little more aggressive, Sport mode now automatically engages four-wheel drive for maximum traction, throwing a little more exhaust noise into the mix, as well, and the ride never becomes so stiff that it's uncomfortable. Considering the reality that more than a few Raptor Rs will never once see the dirt, it's good to know that this truck can play the part of daily driver and be no less exciting.
The Raptor R comes from the factory with just about every option, including creature comforts that work well both on- and off-road. The standard leather-and-suede Recaro seats are cushy and supportive, and the real carbon fiber trim looks pretty sharp. The 12-inch display in the dashboard runs Ford's Sync 4 system, which is responsive and easy to navigate, and it includes bothand . A load of active and passive driver aids are also standard, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist.
Then again, for what Ford is charging, it'd better be well-contented from the factory. A 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R will set you back $109,145 (including $1,795 for destination), which is nearly $30,000 more than a base V6 Raptor. It's a tough-ish pill to swallow when you consider that a big chunk of this truck's capability comes standard regardless of what's under the hood, but if you absolutely crave some V8 goodness while doing unspeakable things to whatever off-road park will have you, the Raptor R is one seriously impressive machine.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.