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Verdict

8.9 / 10

Time stops when the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor’s tires leave the ground. Whether intentionally or by accident, the act of taking flight in a thing not designed to fly feels unnatural – you're completely out of control, at the mercy of the laws of physics, and placing all of your faith in the hands of faceless, unmet engineers. You hope they've done their homework. More than that, you hope you haven't been a complete dumbass.

These thoughts and sensations, and most notably the deafening silence that comes from taking to the skies, feel all-encompassing until you finally touch down with huge springs, bigger tires, and fat dampers soaking up the abuse. And before you can think about what you just did, you start plotting how to do it again, but faster. That's the new Raptor in a nutshell.

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Quick Stats 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
Engine: Twin-Turbocharged 3.5-liter V6
Output: 450 Horsepower / 510 Pound-Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.3 Seconds (est)
Top Speed: 118 MPH
Base Price: $65,840 + $1,695 Destination
As-Tested Price: $82,980
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Clever Girl

Dumont Dunes, a sandy bit of nothingness straddling the California/Nevada border, sits about halfway between Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. It’s a natural playground to put the new Raptor and its improvements through their paces, and we were eager to get there. But before that could happen, we had to experience the Raptor like the good majority of its owners – slogging along a four-lane stretch of blacktop.

The dull 60-minute journey along Nevada State Road 160 between Sin City and our base in Pahrump, Nevada, highlighted what hides beneath the lightly restyled interior and exterior design. This is a smarter truck, carrying standard Ford Co-Pilot 360 technology, along with a 12.0-inch touchscreen running Sync 4 and an all-digital instrument cluster. ProPower Onboard, Ford's wedding-saving on-board generator, is available here with a 2.0-kW capacity, too. But more than the tech, this journey showed off the overall sophistication of the new rear suspension setup in the Raptor.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Cushy And Capable

Since its debut in 2009, Ford's road-going Baja truck has excelled at airborne buffoonery, but the redesigned 2021 Raptor makes tackling dunes and hitting jumps all the easier with a totally revised rear suspension. New Fox Racing shocks sit at all four corners, while a new coil-sprung, five-link design has super-long trailing arms and a factory Panhard rod to allow for more wheel travel and articulation. And while last year's 35-inch rubber did a fine job, Ford went a bit mad and is now offering 37-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires as an option. Even with the big rubber, this is inarguably the most comfortable member of the F-150 family.

That makes sense – when a suspension is designed to soak up the impact of a 5,800-pound vehicle making a violent return to earth, it can probably handle neighborhood speed bumps or the occasional pothole on the interstate. The isolation here is excellent, with a high degree of stability and predictability through the chassis. The cabin is a quiet place, too, carrying double-paned windows that manage to keep wind noise out, and even the knobby rubber isn't too disruptive. The steering responds well to bumps, although the 37-inch BFGoodrich tires on our test model required a steadier hand at highway speeds than the standard 35s.

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The 37s also cost the Raptor some straight-line speed. The weight they add is minimal – just six pounds per corner – but the 4.10 rear end is consistent regardless, even though the larger tires gear the truck down. Off the line or while accelerating at highway speeds, a Raptor with 35-inch tires feels energetic compared to one on 37s.

Mopar fans will, at this point, be shouting at their monitors that no Raptor feels energetic compared to their dear Ram TRX. And that is a valid point – with its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 carrying over last year's 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, the Raptor is down substantially on the 700-plus-horsepower TRX (although the Blue Oval has promised a V8-powered competitor). Regardless of tire choice, the Ford will not set you back in the seat – the acceleration feels average and predictable.

The isolation here is excellent, with a high degree of stability and predictability through the chassis.

But while Ford hasn't updated the Raptor's EcoBoost engine, it's finally addressed our long-standing annoyance with how that V6 sounds by adding equal-length exhaust pipes from the two turbochargers, although that's not obvious considering the right pipe uses a “trombone” design that loops around the left. Engineers then pushed the x-pipe past the cat, and like that, we finally have an EcoBoost V6 that sounds like other great V6 engines, rather than last year's coarse and unpleasant noise. Take a listen.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Enter Sandman

Ford laid out four separate activities at Dumont Dunes for us to test the Raptor, although before we could do that, we spent an hour “overlanding” on a meandering path that barely met the definition of the word. A mix of soft sand, steep hills, and constant undulations greeted us when we arrived at the park around 5:30 AM – if you want to beat the desert heat, you'll need to get familiar with the small hours of the day.

A mere 15 minutes into our hour-long trek, our own dimwittedness left the Raptor beached on a crest of soft sand, its fat BFGoodrich tires digging their way to China – we'd been following the lead truck too closely, and when it stopped up short after the obstacle, we braked in the middle of the hill and sunk in. The Raptor, unamused by our ham-fistedness, took little more than a locked rear diff and steady throttle application to free itself for another attempt. It was the only time the desert got the better of us.

On the dunes, maintaining forward momentum was easy – just keep your foot planted to the floor and the Raptor will accommodate you.

Almost as if to prove its truck did no wrong on that silly little hill, the first two obstacles Ford laid out for us focused on the sand – a high-speed blast on and around a sand dune, followed by a rally course split between dunes and desert wash. The 2021 Raptor retains or renames most of the Terrain Management System's drive modes from last year, with a Tow/Haul drive mode joining Normal, Sport, Slippery, Rock Crawl, and Baja, while Mud And Sand is now Off-Road.

While each loads up a series of presets to optimize the dampers, steering, engine sound, and powertrain performance, we spent our entire day on the dunes in Baja, the most aggressive setting. This mode calls up the most volume from the twin exhausts, sets the dampers and steering to an off-road default setting, instructs the ECU to offer a sharper throttle response, and forces the 10-speed automatic to hold gears longer. In its sportiest off-road drive mode, the Raptor made short work of both obstacles.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

On the dunes, maintaining forward momentum was easy – just keep your foot planted to the floor and the Raptor will accommodate you. More impressive was how manageable the steering was and how well the suspension responded to the shifting, sandy surface. There was more give in the steering, which dialed out the vagueness from the sand or the impact of, well, impacts on the suspension. By our third run, we felt comfortable enough on the sand to push harder. A bowled section of dune beckoned for more speed, and the Raptor responded on the banking like a NASCAR at Daytona, flinging us out of the bend with more speed than we entered.

The rally stage allowed even more exploration of the Raptor's potential, pairing trickier sections of sand with hard-packed dirt that allowed us to carry more speed. And of course, there was a jump.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Everybody Jump, Jump

Ford's engineers and high-performance off-road driving instructors suggested we approach the jump at 40 miles per hour the first time through, and when it comes to taking flight in a 5,800-pound truck, we'll listen to the experts. This yielded a pleasant hop, but we wanted more. The next time through, we dialed the speed up to 50 and the Raptor stuck the landing like Simone Biles. The third time we lost all sense of self-preservation and attacked the berm at around 60 miles per hour.

It felt like we could have flown from Vegas to Los Angeles in the time the Raptor was in the air, but what was certain is that our landing on the sand was more pleasant than anything we've experienced coming into LAX. The Raptor touched down with virtually no drama, while the impact compressed the huge 24-inch springs enough that there was a noticeable hop following our landing. Still, this bruising pickup felt totally unfazed.

The Raptor touched down with virtually no drama.

Cleared of the jump, we approached the hard-pack of the wash and opened the taps on the twin-turbocharged engine. Bounding along the desert floor at 70 mph, the Raptor's soft suspension still managed to negotiate turns with poise – this big thing will rotate if you apply enough steering angle, and we enjoyed a few Scandinavian flicks. But the truck never bit us or made us feel uneasy. It was almost clinically confident in the dust.

The trickiest test of our truck was on the “whoops.” Essentially the freakishly roided-out brother of a washboard dirt road, this collection of medium-amplitude, high-frequency perpendicular bumps is a torture test for a truck's suspension – vehicles that can't cope will be impossible to keep pointed straight as the suspension struggles to isolate the steering from the abuse.

The Raptor has never been a cheap truck, but the 2021 model is about $12,000 more than last year’s truck.

Ford designed the Raptor for just this sort of challenge, though, and our handlers instructed us to ramp up our speed after each pass. By the end, we were blasting over these obstacles at 60 mph, the soft off-road suspension responding to the impacts like Rocky Balboa absorbing jabs. Here's what that looked like.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor
2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Paying For Your Flight

The Raptor has never been a cheap truck, but the 2021 model is about $12,000 more than last year’s truck, while an optioned-up 2021 model’s price is especially hard to swallow. Prices start at $65,840 (including a $1,695 destination charge), but the two packages you'll probably want will drive that figure up to nearly $80,000, which is $10,000 more than the 700-hp Ram TRX's starting price and perilously close to a fully loaded example of the Hellcat-powered Baja truck.

The 801A High package costs $6,150 and adds a huge amount of equipment, from a Torsen limited-slip diff to a heated steering wheel to Ford's neat interior work surface. The $7,500 Raptor 37 Performance Package introduces the 37-inch rubber and 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, a flashy graphics pack, gorgeous Recaro seats with blue upholstery, and specially tuned shocks. But you need the 801A High pack to score the Raptor 37 pack, making its effective cost a hefty $14,000. Add in other desirable options like ProPower Onboard ($995) and a panoramic sunroof ($1,495), and you're staring down an out-the-door price of $83,000.

Whether to shell out that kind of money for a Raptor is a decision we're grateful we don't have to make. This is a sublime high-performance truck, capable of humbling the hottest, sandiest desert, but the combination of lower power and a higher price tag than its main competitor are substantial demerits. The promised Raptor R will address that first issue. As for the second, we suggest thinking of the Raptor like a first-class airline ticket – once you fly with it, you won't care about the price tag.

F-150 Raptor Competitor Reviews:

Gallery: 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor: First Drive

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

Engine Twin-Turbocharged 3.5-liter V6
Output 450 Horsepower / 510 Pound-Feet
Transmission 10-Speed Automatic
Drive Type Four-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-60 MPH 5.3 Seconds (est)
Maximum speed 118 MPH
Efficiency 14 City / 16 Highway / 15 Combined
Weight 5,851 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Towing 8,200 Pounds
Payload 1,400 Pounds
Base Price $64,145 + $1,695 Destination
Trim Base Price $65,840
As-Tested Price $82,980
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