I finally did it: I'm a dad. The funny thing is, I've always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I'm a father, the '74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car.
2019 Ford F-150 Raptor: By the numbers
· Price as Tested: $67,790
· Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 450 horsepower, 510 lb.-ft. torque; 10-speed automatic transmission; multi-mode four wheel-drive
· EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city; 18 mpg highway
· 0-60 time: 5.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
· Random dad fact: When Ford reintroduced the Raptor for the 2017 model year, company officials said it was designed as a capable pre-runner for racers eager to get to know a desert course without damaging an even more expensive race truck. They didn't say anything about suburban freeway racers, among whom there are plenty who also drive Raptors.
A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to drive a new F-150 Raptor through the desert near Borrego Springs, California. Words cannot describe adequately the thrill one gets blasting across rough terrain at 60 mph, or flinging a 30-foot arc of sand into the air as you whip a huge truck up and down the face of a dune the way a surfer slashes at a head-high wave. For lack of a better term, it's rad.
The F-150 Raptor is, at its core, a surly, 'roided-up, arm-tatooed, backwards baseball cap-wearing dudebro with wheels. Don't get me wrong – this dudebro is a great guy. You love going to the lake and crushing beers with him, maybe even launching some gnarly airs on a wakeboard. But most of his showy trappings are unnecessary additions to the person beneath the costume – and expensive ones at that.
So how does this ultimate expression of pickup truck toughness dovetail with fatherhood? I'm glad you asked. In some ways, it does – depends on what gets you going. In other ways, not so much. Read on and I'll tell you what I mean.
2019 Ford F-150 Raptor: Interior & Cargo
Like all F-150s, the Raptor has a roomy interior outfitted with controls that – unless you are 6'5" and have hands that make a basketball look like a grape – might make you feel a bit like Jack in Jack & the Beanstalk as he wanders through the Giant's lair. That said, there's plenty of space for everyone to stretch out in the crew cab version, as well as a rear bench seat that looks like it could easily accommodate three child safety seats side by side.
Affixing the car seat to the truck's LATCH anchors was easy. The only thing that was even remotely difficult about bringing along our 1-year-old son was hoisting him up into the truck to get him into the seat. With all that ground clearance comes the need for a powerful leap to get up there.
Up front, my wife and I felt distant. That's nice if you don't like your front seat passenger, but we're used to sitting closer together so that we can pass things back and forth and speak to one another without raising our voices. I wish I could tell you how our unusual separation affected our son's mental development, but his little astronaut seat still faces the wrong way, so it probably didn't make any difference to him. We were all islands unto ourselves in the truck's cavernous interior.
As with all pickup trucks, cargo is no problem, and especially if you have a tonneau cover or bed cap to keep it dry. Otherwise you might find yourself stacking the back seat with stuff you want kept out of the rain. Not the safest way to carry things.
2019 Ford F-150 Raptor: Driving & Fuel Economy
The Raptor is in its element in the desert. It rips through sand, dirt and gravel like you wouldn't believe, and its Baja race-inspired long-travel suspension components soak up bumps that would probably make most vehicles flip over at speed. And if you can find a trail that's wide enough to accommodate its bulk, the Raptor doesn't have much trouble crawling over rocks and up steep, crumbly grades. I've tried all of it, and was impressed. The thing's an absolute beast.
But the vast majority of Americans don't live anywhere near these arid off-road playgrounds that cater to people with the means for expensive toys. Most of us live in or around cities, where off-roading is, at best, a 5 mph slog down a few hundred yards of beach sand, or an illicit, lickety-split romp through a mud hole at a construction site. I live on Long Island, whose inhabitants seem to live for trucks and Jeeps (I mean literally live for them, just to afford the payments). There are plenty of Raptors on the island, but the nearest desert where anyone could really enjoy one is nearly 2,000 miles away. The woodland trails more common a few hours drive from here are less likely to fit a wide-bodied pre-runner without scratching up its expensive paint.
That said, the Raptor isn't terrible on broken city roads or out on the highway. But its large size makes it unwieldy in town and imbues it with crappy fuel economy, both in the city and on the highway. On a mostly highway trip between New York and Boston, my average mpgs came in just below 16. Parking, as you can imagine, was tricky where overflow parking wasn't available, which was most places. Also, the Raptor had a strong accelerator pedal spring – most likely to keep the driver from making unintended pulses in acceleration on bumpy terrain. Again, that works great in the rough, but drive it through city traffic for a few hours and you end up with a weary ankle – something I didn't know you could get when there's no running involved.
Oh but that passing power – the turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 scoots 5,600 pounds of truck like it's nothing, even if it does sound like a shop vac that just inhaled a bunch of steroids. Plus there's the whole intimidation factor that comes with driving up behind someone in a giant, robotic-looking desert truck. People kept the left lane clear on the highway for the most part. Under normal circumstances, I may have whinged about the 10-speed automatic, but mashing the accelerator to the floor and feeling those blowers spool up and launch the truck forward made me forget about all that.
It was all good fun until I had to stop at a filling station and shell out $90 to refuel.
2019 Ford F-150 Raptor: Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Ford's crew cab F-150 top marks in crash testing and crash avoidance technology, but found fault with the headlights. (I thought they were fine, but my eyes aren't as exacting as an IIHS test.) Crew cab F-150s have a five-star (out of five) federal crash safety rating. Say what you will about a truck being ridiculously large, but physics makes a strong argument in favor of added mass where crash dynamics are concerned.
The Long and Short
If you're one of the relatively rare Americans who lives beneath the wide open skies of the arid West, the Raptor may be your ideal family truck (although mostly because you don't care about gas mileage). It's fun, it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie in which you're the hero, it can haul 1,200 pounds in its bed and it can tow 8,000 pounds of whatever you need to move across miles of desolate terrain while you sit in luxurious, climate-controlled comfort that rivals many luxury cars.
But as I mentioned before, most of us are stuck plying the congested lanes of urban and suburban traffic – places where a vehicle of this width and bulk becomes more of a burden than anything else. That is, unless you decide to wield it as a tool with which to assert your position of authority on the road. As long as no one calls your bluff, you might get ahead here and there. Depends upon where you live.
As soon as my son is old enough to understand, I plan on telling him that 50-year-old men should hang up their skateboards and wear clothes that suit their age. He may or may not agree with me on that point, but I suspect that when his generation reaches that age, it will have moved past the need to look younger and tougher than it is on its path toward other, more perplexing manias. In other words, perhaps grown men will no longer spend all their extra money on expensive real-life Transformers trucks.
And that brings us back to Raptors vis-a-vis fathering. You see, I have a pretty traditional turn-off-the-damned-lights approach to parenting that would never square with a vehicle as wasteful as this one. I'm more likely to say, "…and if you work hard in school and save your money, maybe you can buy a $70,000 toy someday, so long as you can also afford a fuel barge to go along with it."
Two cents from Ben's spouse: Why is this truck so huge? It looks cool, but it just feels gigantic.