Whoever said they weren't hyped for the new Ford Raptor after Ram's 702-horsepower TRX pickup was probably fibbing. For the first time in over a decade, the Blue Oval was knocked off its perch in the performance pickup segment, at least in terms of outright power and machismo. Ford doesn't think that's the real fight, though, and isn't planning to drop a V8 into the Raptor...until next year's confirmed Raptor R debuts. That's why the 2021 model year comes packing a familiar 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, five-link coil rear suspension and available 37-inch BF Goodrich tires.
Those last two features are enough to get anyone talking, even though we forecasted their roll-out a while back. In order to build on the Raptor's nimble nature and properly challenge the Ram TRX, those rear leaf springs had to go. As for the 37-inch all-terrains, the Ford could technically do without them as its standard 35s provide 12 inches of ground clearance—a hair more than its crosstown rival. Still, with the larger rollers equipped, the 2021 Raptor gains that little bit extra to total 13.1 inches of running clearance.
We'll dive into the specs as we go, but first, we can talk about the new Raptor's design. It looks more or less like you'd expect, mirroring the sharp angles of the 14th-generation F-150 but with wider fenders, the return of the model-specific "FORD" grille and a whole lot of nods to the F-22 Raptor fighter jet. It seems like Ford is removing itself from the dinosaur motifs that Ram picked up on, especially after seeing the TRX's pointed easter egg. Guess it's harder for a Tyrannosaurus to chomp on a Lockheed Martin.
There's an almost endless number of visual elements that tip the Raptor off as a high-performance truck. And while we could go on about the exterior vinyl graphics—which feature a QR code for...some reason—it's best to discuss what design features make the 2021 better off-road. The front skid plate, which hides underneath an all-steel bumper, is wider, protecting more of the truck's underside from debris. Tough underbody armor extends all the way to the steel rear bumper, which tucks the exhaust tips high against the truck for an improved departure angle.
With 35-inch rubber, the 2021 Ford Raptor features an off-road angle triple-slash of 31 degrees for max approach, 23.9 degrees for breakover and 22.7 degrees for max departure. Those numbers increase, of course, with the 37s (33.1 degrees/24.9 degrees/24.4 degrees, respectively). No matter how you spec it, that's better than the Ram in each category; max suspension travel for the Raptor is, too, with 14 inches of it for the front and 15 inches at the back. That's 25 percent more than the first-gen Raptor.
One name that always accompanies "Raptor" is "Fox," as in the suspension company that has famously supplied the Baja-worthy shocks for Ford's off-road truck. It's back with new Live Valve internal bypass shocks, which are apparently the largest ever fitted to a Raptor. Their electronic control technology allows position-sensitive damping adjustability, so sensors around the truck can change damping rates at each corner more than 500 times per second. Ford brags about that being the same speed at which the human brain processes visual information, so technically, the Raptor can respond by the time its driver registers a terrain change.
What's important to know is that the shocks feature larger, 3.1-inch bodies filled with low-friction fluid to reduce heat soak while trotting through the desert. It's top of the line stuff, and it's likely to give Ram's active Bilstein suspension a hard time.
It's rare we go this long while talking about a new car or truck without mentioning its engine, but really, there's not much to report on that front. It's the same third-generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost, and it's mated exclusively to a 10-speed automatic, just like before. Ford hasn't even released power figures yet but expects it to be slightly better than the outgoing truck's 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque.
Along the way, the Raptor also picked up a slightly increased max towing capacity as it's now rated for 8,200 pounds. Max payload is up, too, at 1,400 pounds—about 100 more than the TRX. Huh, wonder if that was on purpose?
The truck features a new exhaust system that's meant to improve the often-criticized V6 sound. It features a patent-pending "trombone loop," which creates equal-length pipes and provides a deeper note, though that raspy V6 is still noticeable at high rpm. It features active valving and can run on four different settings: Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja. The new exhaust also improves backpressure, allowing the turbos to spool more quickly, aiding in faster launches which have already been made better by the coil-type rear suspension. Woo—teamwork!
All this comes into play as the driver selects what drive mode is best for the current situation: Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl. No matter which they pick, a specially animated Ford Raptor will appear on the digital instrument cluster with the truck driving in whatever condition they just selected. Ford seems to have made sure that the cabin is still a comfy place to be while also placing emphasis on control through technologies like Trail 1-Pedal Drive, Trail Turn Assist and standard SYNC 4 infotainment with shareable trail maps. A 12-inch center-stack screen is standard, and you can control various off-road functions via the display, as well as the 2.0-kilowatt Pro Power Onboard mobile generator that's similar to what's found on all other non-hybrid 2021 F-150s.
Lastly, when fitted with the optional 36-gallon tank, the Raptor should be able to go more than 500 miles between refueling stops. That's great for heading out into the unknown, and so are the rest of those features we mentioned—it's what this thing is made to do, after all. It may not have the colossal power of the Ram TRX, but if you're fine with a twin-turbo V6, there's plenty to love here. And if you're not fine with the horsepower gap, then you've got a year to wait for the Raptor R.
Update: The new F-150 Raptor is indeed getting a V8 and, despite a report saying otherwise, the Raptor R variant will be street legal. Click here for our latest report on this.
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