On long road trips in a four-wheel drive vehicle, it’s tempting to seek any opportunity to break the monotony with a dash through the dirt. Drivers in the updated 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor will see opportunities everywhere.
Lonesome dirt roads become high-octane playgrounds. Snaking trails at the base of mountain ranges beckon like racetracks. Dry lake bed? It looked to me like a drag strip.
Refreshed in 2017, the twin-turbocharged full-size pickup truck is famously tuned to handle bumps, jumps and dirt-tossing drifts better than anything on a dealer lot today.
For 2019 it has additional firepower. Trail Control is standard. It automatically brings the Raptor up slippery inclines and down tricky slopes without throttle or braking inputs from the driver. Optional blue Recaro seats with Alcantara inserts are inspired by the Ford GT supercar.
Upgraded Fox shocks are programmed to dominate any terrain. For 2019, Ford and Fox developed electronic adjusting dampers in a system called Live Valve. The system uses sensors to detect inputs from the throttle, brakes, steering and road conditions to adjust for peak performance in real time.
The sensors send information to a vehicle-dynamics module, controlling compression in the dampers. If the truck barrels through moguls, the stiffness increases to smooth them out. If the truck is airborne the sensors will preload the shocks to maximum stiffness for an easy landing.
Pricing for the 2019 Raptor starts at $54,350 for an extended SuperCab. The larger SuperCrew, which accounts for about 90 percent of sales, is priced from $57,335. Prices include destination charges.
I drove from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to put the 2019 Raptor to the test. On road, the ride is smooth, and the cabin is well insulated from outside noise. The heated and cooled Recaros are supportive and cause no discomfort. The most immediate drawback is that the electronic power steering delivers numb handling through the large padded steering wheel.
The Raptor came alive when it ventured off-road. It bounded along a trail toward remote Bassett Lake in eastern Nevada, the shocks scooting over ruts, stretching their travel on large humps and compressing smoothly on the way down from blind crests.
The next trail pointed toward Huesser Mountain, which peaks around 9,400 feet of elevation. Here the Raptor slowed and shifted to Rock Crawl mode in 4-Low. The new Trail Control feature switched on. It is similar to Crawl Control in Toyota’s TRD Pro lineup. However, the Raptor’s system is quieter – it lacks the noisy clanging that is unmistakable in Toyotas and Land Rovers.
Raptor drivers can select their Trail Control speed in 0.5 mph increments on the steering wheel the same way they would adjust cruise control speed. Set to 5 mph, the BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires dug into loose rock. Trail Control is capable of bringing the Raptor up steep terrain and over large, tricky rocks. The system methodically took the Raptor up Huesser without issue.
About a mile uphill, the trail narrowed and the brush thickened. The truck’s width, at 86.3 inches, is its biggest weakness. The trail quickly became too narrow for the truck. Back down the mountain, Trail Control took over in descent mode, guiding the pickup back to the highway.
At the end of the 826-mile trip, including spirited off-roading, the Raptor logged 15.3 mpg. The truck is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 15 mpg city, 18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
Ten years after the Raptor debuted as a 2009 model, it remains unchallenged in the performance pickup segment. After drives in the Chevrolet Silverado Trail Boss and Ram 1500 Rebel, both new this year and capable in their own right, the refreshed Raptor still feels far more advanced.
Unlike the other two, the Raptor is a dedicated performance machine. Combine its power with standard 35-inch all-terrain tires, front and rear axle ratios of 4.10:1 and more than a foot of suspension travel, and there’s little comparison.
The truck is a smash hit for Ford. The automaker has increased sales of the Raptor each year since it debuted in 2008, said Travis Calhoun, marketing manager for the Ford F-150. It has done so without placing any rebates or incentives on the truck. “We wouldn’t want to,” Calhoun said. “We’re not doing it for a volume opportunity.”
The Raptor is a halo vehicle, meant to draw interest in the Ford brand and its entire truck lineup. However, it strikes the right chord at the right time. Interest in the outdoors, including off-roading and overlanding, is soaring as consumer demand shifts from small cars and sedans to larger trucks and SUVs.
Like many adventure-minded buyers, Raptor owners are also eager to accessorize. Light bars are the most popular aftermarket equipment for Raptor owners, Calhoun said. Racks, roll bars and ramps to load UTVs and quads into the bed are also popular.
The Raptor seems most at home either at high speed or hauling something that is capable of high speeds. SuperCrew versions have a maximum towing capacity of up to 8,000 pounds. Maximum payload capacity is 1,200 pounds.
There are moments when the 2019 F-150 Raptor puts it all together. At the edge of the Utah border I stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a pilgrimage to the prehistoric lake bed where racers and daredevils have shattered one land speed record after another for nearly a century.
A small dirt trail lay a mile to the north. Marked only by a small sign, it is easy to miss. The long, desolate trail started out slow but then twisted and dove under the shadow of the Silver Mountains to the north and above the glistening salt flats to the south. No one was around for miles.
I switched the Raptor into 4-High and activated Baja mode, which holds onto gears longer and optimizes traction control. Baja is the best choice for high-speed off-roading. The truck roared across the trail, its subdued sound replaced with whooshing turbos and sprinting cylinders. The shocks worked overtime. The steering wheel filtered out vibration for better feedback. The engine punched with relentless force.
At 70 mph the Raptor flicked into a left-hand slide. The throttle, KO2 tires, 450 horsepower and a healthy dab of traction control combined to glide the rear end back in line and speed away. I took a second to register that this stock factory truck just drifted around a mountain at highway speed. While there are other off-road trucks, there is no equivalent sensation that comes with a warranty.
It was a heck of a way to start a road trip. On the cool-down trip back to the highway, two drivers in second-generation Raptors passed in the opposite direction. They pointed toward the trail. On the way to opportunity.