Fans of old-school American muscle may weep and gnash their teeth at the advent of modern, electrified powertrains, but despite protestations to the contrary, there’s maybe never been a better time to be a supercharged V8. For at least another few years, blown eight-cylinder engines aren’t just the purview of muscle cars, appearing in family-sized SUVs to desert-ready supertrucks.
It’s the latter category that’s piqued my interest most lately. The Ford F-150 Raptor has been a fixture of high-speed off-roading since its debut in 2010, but for the second generation, it ditched the V8 in favor of a downsized and twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. That move left some enthusiasts cold, but luckily, Ram dropped the legendary Hellcat 6.2-liter V8 under the hood of the TRX, a wide-body, long-travel version of the 1500 pickup. The Raptor suddenly had some company, a rival whose supercharged, 702-horsepower engine note inspires a lot more hoonery than the powerful, but aurally challenged, Ecoboost V6.
The Blue Oval soon returned volley with the 2023 F-150 Raptor R, which also gets a heart transplant courtesy of a muscular corporate sibling – in this case, the supercharged 5.2-liter V8 from the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. With 700 hp under the hood, the Raptor R is down (barely) on the TRX, but it compensates with 400 fewer pounds of body fat. With nearly identical ground clearance and wheel travel, picking a winner from only a spec chart is all but impossible. To discover which of these dinosaur-themed monster trucks is the best, I’ll have to go hit the dirt.
Gallery: 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R
Ford: Alterations between the regular F-150 and the off-road Raptor are massive – a wider track, vented front fenders, flared bedsides, a chunky new hood, and more. But going from Raptor to Raptor R is a far more subtle affair. In fact, the only changes are a unique, vented hood; Code Orange tow hooks; an R grille badge; and an 8 motif on the bodyside graphics denoting the prodigal cylinder count's return.
Although I wish Ford would have differentiated the flagship bruiser just a bit more, the Raptor R still looks great. Details like side clearance lights that float above the wheel arches give the design some sophistication, and the F-150 also looks leaner than most full-size trucks, with a bigger greenhouse and stepped front windows that improve visibility and impart old-school vibes. The Raptor-spec modifications look tacked on – I’m not sure why it gets both wheel arch flares and wider fenders, and the hood vents are too plasticky – but the Ford still has some major presence.
Inside, the standard F-150’s attractive design carries over with little in the way of changes. Among them are stylish, standard Recaro front bucket seats (which add to the experience), as well as Raptor R–specific faux carbon fiber dash accents (which detract from it). The cheap-looking appliques are only one aspect of the Raptor R’s cabin that feel out of place in a $110,000 vehicle. Harsh plastic seams abound, particularly on frequent touch points like the door grab handles and center console.
Ford offsets the unfortunate materials choices with some neat details, like the American flags that reveal themselves on the dash ends whenever the front doors are open. And the Raptor-specific graphics for the digital instrument cluster are fun and help the driver feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.
Gallery: 2022 Ram 1500 TRX
Ram: Next to the F-150’s plastic cladding and loud bodyside graphics, the Ram 1500 TRX almost looks subtle. The trim-specific headlights dovetail into the widened front fenders seamlessly, and the bedsides are blistered like a Ram 3500 dually, rather than flared with wheel arch extensions. The hood, with its well-integrated heat extractors and cold-air intake, is also smoother and sleeker than the Raptor R’s.
The alterations from 1500 to TRX are undeniably better integrated than those from F-150 to Raptor, but the rounded forms also give the Ram a more bulbous appearance. It’s still aggressive and tough, but the hourglass figure won’t be to everyone’s taste, and that’s fine. Also sure to divide folks are the TRX’s hilarious Easter eggs. Pop the hood and lift the airbox cover to find the graphic of a Tyrannosaurus rex eating a Velociraptor. And at the base of the center console is yet another piece of art depicting the king of lizards chasing down a much smaller raptor, mouth agape and teeth gleaming.
That attention to detail pays dividends beyond silly cartoons, however. Inside the TRX – especially the highly optioned truck I drove – there’s a litany of excellent materials, including padded knee bolsters, soft-touch plastics on the dash top and fascia, and rich-feeling leather and microfiber suede upholstery. The Ram feels more claustrophobic than the Ford thanks to a higher dash and windowsills, but otherwise, the cabin is a nicer place to sit.
Ford: The primary goal of a long-travel suspension is to absorb big bumps, a phenomenon that works as nicely off-road as it does on Los Angeles’ cracked, broken concrete freeways. The Raptor R has the smoothest ride this side of a Mercedes luxury sedan, with expertly tuned progressive-rate springs and remote-reservoir Fox Racing dampers that whoomp over bumps with fluidity and stability. Give some credit to the shocks’ Live Valve technology – when the suspension unloads suddenly, the dampers go soft for a moment before firming back up, absorbing the initial hit without resorting to wallow. And the multi-mode exhaust includes a dedicated “Quiet” setting that works as advertised, eliminating tailpipe drone.
The F-150 Raptor R also has plenty of space inside, with 40.8 and 40.4 inches of headroom in the front and back, respectively, as well as 43.8 and 43.6 inches of legroom. If only there were as much space for stuff as there is for people. While some versions of the F-150 get cavernous center consoles, the Raptor R comes standard with the Interior Work Surface, which creates a flat space via its flip-folding armrest and stowaway gear selector at the expense of overall storage space. I don’t think the mini-desk is that useful, so I’d rather have the bigger armrest cubby.
Still, with a surprisingly smooth, quiet ride and excellent visibility, the Raptor R is a genuinely pleasant freeway cruiser.
Ram: The Ram 1500 TRX has similar suspension travel as its Blue Oval competitor, but its dampers and springs feel firmer than the Raptor R. Although it’s not what I’d call “harsh,” the ride is undeniably less compliant over bad surfaces than the buttery F-150. The Ram’s engine is harder to quiet down than the Ford’s, with omnipresent supercharger whine and some tailpipe rumble at cruising speed, even with the selectable performance exhaust in its quietest setting.
With 3.0 fewer inches of front legroom, the Ram feels cozier than the Raptor, but it’s still got plenty of space – especially since rear-seat passengers make up some of that deficit with 1.6 inches of additional stretch space. The aforementioned pleasant cabin materials are another boon, as is the massive storage found in the front center console and under the armrest cubby.
But while the Raptor R does its best to calm down on a long trip, the 1500 TRX feels like it’s always ready to brawl. That may be fun at first, but the busy ride gets old after awhile.
Ford: The Ford F-150 Raptor R comes standard with a 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster and identically sized center touchscreen, with Sync 4 infotainment running it all. The infotainment display responds to touch almost instantaneously, and its horizontal orientation helps reduce distraction. The right third of the screen can either display extra information – weather, navigation instructions, audio, et al – or the primary app can take over the entirety of the screen. That’s especially handy when using the standard wireless smartphone mirroring or embedded navigation.
The digital instrument cluster is likewise very user-friendly, with a variety of gauge displays including a massive bar-graph tachometer function that helps the driver crack off redline upshifts when hooning across open desert.
The cluster also gets entertaining graphics when switching between drive modes, although they don’t respond to the dash-mounted selector very quickly so it’s easy to overshoot your intended setting.
Speaking of drive modes, the Raptor R gets the same options as its EcoBoost sibling – Normal, Sport, Towing, Mud and Ruts, Rock, and Baja. There’s also a slick low-speed cruise control feature, which modulates the throttle and brakes up to a maximum speed of around 20 miles per hour, allowing the driver to focus on picking the correct line up a trail.
Ram: The Ram 1500 TRX’s available 12.0-inch infotainment system was once the state of the art among full-size trucks, bringing some high-tech flair to the segment. But although its updated Uconnect 5 software is still competitive, the vertical touchscreen doesn’t feel as user-friendly as the Ford’s similarly sized, horizontal unit (or the 13.2-inch system in the less powerful Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Bison).
The TRX is also missing a fully digital instrument cluster, and while Luddites may praise the analog speedometer and tachometer dials, they do offer less information than the Raptor. The Ram 1500 makes up for some of its shortcomings with a dedicated SRT Performance Page function for the infotainment, which details out transmission temperature, oil temperature, and other important data, but it's not as easily accessible as it is on the Raptor. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are wireless, to the Ram’s credit, and there are plenty of USB-A and USB-C ports front and rear.
Ford: On pavement, the Raptor R feels as enormous as it looks, making it intimidating to drive on narrow roads and down alleyways. And while the soft suspension and featherweight steering are nice on the freeway and when hustling down a rock-strewn trail, they erase confidence on twisty pavement. To the surprise of no one, the Raptor R isn’t a sports car, so dial back the aggression until you get onto the dirt. Once you do, however, all bets are off.
The extra R at the end of the F-150 Raptor’s name might as well stand for relentless, because that’s how aggressively it pursues off-road fun. Although the regular Raptor gets 35-inch tires standard and 37s as an option, the R only comes with the meatier rubber, giving it 13.1 inches of ground clearance, 13.0 inches of front suspension travel, and 14.1 inches of rear suspension travel. Thanks to those lofty numbers (and the nearly perfectly tuned springs and dampers), the Raptor R can tackle large obstacles with hilarious speed – all without jiggling the occupants around too much.
While the R has those traits in common with the regular Raptor, the supercharged V8 gives the truck the mighty soundtrack it’s always deserved – as well as 4.4-second estimated run to 60 miles per hour. That may not be all that faster than the 450-hp V6 it replaces, but the Mustang-approved exhaust sounds much more impressive ripping across the landscape than the EcoBoost’s Dyson-inspired audio.
The V8 also has more instantaneous responses than the V6, thanks to zero lag from its supercharger. The 10-speed automatic is as good in the R as it is in any other F-150, with firm shifts and a responsive manual mode that’s good for sporty driving, on or off-road.
Ram: Given the engine’s Challenger Hellcat origins, I was surprised that the Ram 1500 TRX was much more inspiring to drive quickly on pavement. Yes, the wide stance makes it as difficult to thread through traffic as the Raptor R, but the firmer suspension I decried a moment ago provides better body control on a canyon road. And the heavy steering feels more accurate as well, with the thrill of supercharger whine and exhaust burble accompanying every corner exit – when’s the last time a full-size off-roader handled this well on the pavement?
But as on the highway, those attributes come back to bite the T-rex in its long tail when the dirt gets bumpy. The Ram handles big obstacles with aplomb, but smaller, higher-frequency incursions jostle the truck too much for comfort, which forced me to back off a bit. A firm hand is also required at the wheel, since the TRX will kick back over small bumps more than the Ford. Maybe some high-speed Baja training would give me some appreciation for the harder-edged Ram, but at my current experience level, the Ford was more fun to hustle off-road.
At least the TRX has the muscle to back up the outrageous tailpipe audio. It hits 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, a hair slower than the Raptor R thanks to its extra 300 pounds of curb weight, but the Ram is still no slouch when it comes to going fast in a straight line.
Ford: The F-150 Raptor R comes standard with just about every feature Ford offers, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-centering tech, and blind spot monitoring. Even with everything engaged, the wide ride frequently makes itself acquainted with the lane lines, requiring a steady hand from the driver.
Ram: The TRX doesn’t come standard with as much tech, requiring a box to be ticked for adaptive cruise control and lane departure prevention. My loaded tester had it all, but like the Raptor R, it’s easy to drift across the line even when paying undivided attention to the road.
Duking out fuel economy in this category is an academic exercise, because both trucks get 10 miles per gallon city and 12 combined as rated by the EPA. The lighter Ford F-150 Raptor R ekes out 15 mpg in the highway test to the 1500 TRX’s 14, but both trucks easily push those numbers into the single digits when driven enthusiastically.
Ford: The Ford F-150 Raptor starts at $77,570 including destination, but the Raptor R’s 5.2-liter V8 is part of a loaded $31,575 option package that gives it a base price of $109,145. An additional $2,195 brings the panoramic moonroof and tailgate step, with another $595 going to a spray-in bedliner. The total damage as tested is $111,935, a huge amount of cash regardless of the performance on offer.
If you add all the features found in the mandatory Raptor R option pack to a regular Raptor, you’re left with an $87,525 pickup – effectively making the V8 engine a $20,000 option, albeit one that’s bundled with another $10,000 of features and amenities. If you could deduct all the luxury bits from a Raptor R and come in at under $100,000, it would be a much more appealing proposition to me.
Ram: Even if you could get a Raptor R for less than six figures, the Ram 1500 TRX’s $85,685 base price is pretty appealing, especially for folks who don’t need ventilated seats, leather-wrapped grab handles, or active safety features. My tester was about as loaded as TRXs get, with all of those extras and more, yet its as-tested price of $103,830 still came in under the Raptor R.
Show a little restraint with options and it's easy to push that price down further still. My ideal TRX would ditch the panoramic sunroof and metallic paint, and I'd be tempted to lose out on the appealingly thick-rimmed steering wheel in order to remove the $1,295 carbon fiber package. So equipped, I'm looking at a very attractive $98,665 for a 702-horse pick-em-up.
But the massive price advantage, higher-quality interior, and sporty on-road handling aren’t enough to compensate for the TRX’s ever-so-slight off-road drawbacks, chiefly its too-firm suspension and thumb-endangering steering kickback over bumps. The Easter eggs are fun to point out to your friends, as are the sultry, bulging fenders and seductive supercharger whine that sings out any time you press the throttle. And for the first time in history, $103,000 for a truck feels like a bargain (or the fact that you can walk out the door for $85,000).
But in pursuit of building the best off-road supertruck on the market, Ford made the F-150 Raptor R just as smooth and polished as its V6-powered sibling while adding a jaw-dropping NASCAR soundtrack. If anything, the Raptor R’s excellent performance is a testament to how impressive the standard Raptor is, so if you can live without the V8 thrills, I’d recommend the EcoBoost widebody wholeheartedly.
Gallery: 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R Vs. 2022 Ram 1500 TRX
But speaking of heart, it’s impossible to ignore that the Raptor R stirs mine more than anything else in this rarefied class. Blending nearly flawless highway comfort with nearly flawless off-road prowess results in a nearly flawless truck for those with pockets deep enough to afford it. The golden age of internal combustion is upon us, and we should bask in it as long as we can.
|2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R||2022 Ram 1500 TRX|
|Engine||Supercharged 5.2-Liter V8||Supercharged 6.2-Liter V8|
|Output||700 Horsepower / 640 Pound-Feet||702 Horsepower / 650 Pound-Feet|
|Transmission||Ten-Speed Automatic||Eight-Speed Automatic|
|Drive Type||Four-Wheel Drive||Four-Wheel Drive|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 Seconds (est.)||4.5 Seconds (est.)|
|Efficiency||10 City / 15 Highway / 12 Combined||10 City / 14 Highway / 12 Combined|
|Weight||5,950 Pounds (est.)||6,350 Pounds (est.)|
|Cargo Volume||52.8 Cubic Feet||53.9 Cubic Feet|
|Towing Capacity||8,700 Pounds||8,100 Pounds|
|Payload||1,400 Pounds||1,361 Pounds|
|Ground Clearance||13.1 Inches||11.8 Inches|
|Base Price||$75,775 + $1,795 Destination||$83,790 + $1,895 Destination|
|Trim Base Price||$109,145||$85,685|
|Price As Tested||$111,935||$103,830|