2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R First Drive Review: Absolute Overkill With a Sweet V8
The Ford F-150 Raptor R is an off-road pickup with a Mustang Shelby GT500 motor, and is every ounce as aggro as you’d expect.
The Ford Raptor has earned the right to be called an icon. Every version’s been a bad-ass Baja truck you can hit the desert with right out of the dealership; a cool idea with excellent execution. The new 700-horsepower 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R is the most extreme yet. And for those who insist on overkill, well, driving this truck is pretty much like letting an actual dinosaur loose at a dog park.
As a truck guy, desert enthusiast, and a big fan of Baja adventures I think I’m squarely in the crosshairs of the Raptor’s target audience … except for the minor detail that I’m way too stingy to take out the mortgage I’d need to get one.
The six-figure base price, plus inevitable dealership markups and astronomical running costs, vaults this vehicle right out of any realistic discussion on value. This truck is not for anybody in search of a “good deal.” It’s about achieving the extreme, decisively dominating sand dunes, and wreaking havoc everywhere else.
2023 Ford Raptor R Review Specs
- Base price: $109,145
- Powertrain: 5.2-liter supercharged V8 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 700 @ 6,650 rpm
- Torque: 640 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm
- Curb weight: 6,000 pounds (approx.)
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 52.8 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: TBA (but also LOL)
- Quick take: Overkill and then some; a menace to society; won’t be happy in the captivity of commuter driving but truly perfect for open desert and Baja pre-running.
- Score: 8/10
The Overachiever of the Family
Ford’s half-ton F-150 lineup is quite diverse for 2023. The bare-bones work truck XL trim starts at about $34,000, and from there you can work your way through a few more middle-class trims before getting to standout models that specialize in efficiency (the electric F-150 Lightning and PowerBoost hybrid), Luxury (F-150 King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited), and of course, off-road performance (Raptor).
The base Raptor is an $80,000 vehicle with a juiced version of Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 claiming 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. It’s fierce and fast. The Raptor R is pretty much the same truck—but taken to Earth-shaking extremes with a voracious V8 stoked to 700 hp by a 3.8-liter blower.
More Than Just a Faster F-150
A few friends have asked me versions of: “Can’t you just slap a supercharger on a base 5.0-liter V8 F-150 and basically make this truck for a whole lot less than $100,000?” It’s not an unreasonable question. You can still buy a V8 F-150 and Ford Performance will indeed sell you a 50-state-legal Whipple supercharger kit for $9,500. In fact, Ford even promises the same horsepower figure as the Raptor R.
So you could theoretically have a factory-endorsed single-cab F-150 claiming 700 hp for, like, $60,000. But besides the extra 200cc of displacement and not-trivial 50 lb-ft of torque, the Raptor R engine has a unique block, heads, valvetrain, crank, and other key components. All that adds up to a powertrain that’s happier and healthier belching out big power for years on end.
The Raptor R isn’t just an F-150 with a supercharger kit, though. It’s an F-150 with the mean, mighty, categorically designed-to-run-hard-and-fast 5.2-liter supercharged V8 lifted right out of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Combined with, you know, the Raptor’s serious suspension, unique bodywork, cool interior, and brilliant traction management system, it makes for an undeniably impressive package.
An Intimidating Beast
The aesthetic of this truck, inside and out, is perfectly matched to the vehicle’s personality. The menacing grille and broad fenders communicate merciless dominance. Huge 37-inch tires lift the vehicle off the dirt and a big hood bulge indicates the immense engine it contains. If that’s not enough, you can also spec a “RAPTOR” graphic on the bedside with a pattern of number 8s (it’s actually pretty cool).
Making the long climb into the cockpit is an event, and once you get there you’re clutched in a well-bolstering seat surrounded by switches and screens with a very tactical ambiance. It’s what I imagine it’d be like to get behind the helm of one of those “AT-AT” battle mech elephants from Star Wars.
Once you wake up the supercharged V8, you can select how rowdy you want the auditory experience to be, which I actually appreciated. Besides the default, there’s a “sport” exhaust setting which is fun for being obnoxious, a “quiet” setting to show your neighbors some compassion, and a “Baja” mode that’s barely tolerable even inside the well-insulated cabin. “FOR OFF-ROAD USE ONLY” text pops up on the dash when you activate that—an order I’m sure Raptor owners will totally adhere to, right guys? I found the blaring exhaust fun for about 15 minutes, but I spent most of my test drive running in quiet mode with a few blats in sport.
With or without the distraction of an intense exhaust note, half a day driving around Michigan’s Silver Lake sand dunes was not enough time for me to really get comfortable wielding the Raptor R. That, I think, is good—if 700 hp’s not intimidating, what’s the point? Maybe less good for those of us who will have to share the road with these monsters. But at least we’ll be able to identify them from a long way off by their signature amber clearance lights in order to, uh, get the hell out of the way.
With 37-inch tires flatted to under 20 psi for sand traction, I had big, fat contact patches to put all that power down with. Deep sand, slightly hardened by morning rain, made for unusual driving conditions but the Raptor R’s advanced traction management system proved its value right away. I beached my test truck immediately in “normal,” then toggled the drive mode selector over to its most aggressive “Baja” setting and promptly self-recovered with just a tap of the tall pedal.
Driving the truck up, over, and around on dunes is not as point-and-shoot as the video game-like interface might have you thinking, though. To get the wheelspin you want for advanced maneuvers, you still need to long-press the traction control button to diminish the Raptor’s tendency to want to reel your slides in. And even then, the brakes will intervene to try and get you onto a controlled course as you do donuts and throw up sand roosts.
But the vast majority of the time I spent pummeling washboards and cresting huge hills of sand, Baja mode was a huge boon to covering up the sins of sloppy driving and helped me maintain momentum through soft stuff and scary crests. By combing information from a raft of sensors, the system basically works to optimize responsiveness and power application even when each wheel is contending with a different texture of ground. The bulging hood keeps you from seeing anything but sky on steep ascents, but a front-facing camera lets you know when to come off-throttle on big climbs. For every problem the truck’s immense size and abilities created, it seems Ford had conveniently cooked up a digital solution.
The suspension is downright luxurious, soaking up punishment so effectively I would even say it takes some of the fun out of whatever happens after you say, “Don’t care, full send.” We got to hit a little jump toward the end of our test session and, to be honest, instead of the left-my-guts-behind sensation I’ve had getting hangtime in the past, the Raptor R transitioned from Earth, to air, and back again with less drama than you might expect from driving up a big curb at the gas station.
On the Highway Home
Even in its road-biased normal drive mode, the Raptor R still felt off-road optimized on the pavement—you do feel the suspension’s softness and long travel as you sway a bit from what feels like a mile above the ground. I actually like that. A truck should feel like a truck; part of the fun is a super-soft ride.
As you might guess, there’s no problem passing people, but you will want to watch the speedometer carefully as you scoot by big rigs. The sensation of speed at a cruise is largely nonexistent. Of course, the supercharger will suck your guts back when you give it the beans to merge, but I couldn’t feel a difference between 65 and 85 mph once I was at cruising altitude.
Early Verdict From Michigan’s Big Sandbox
At the end of the day, I climbed out of the Raptor R impressed by its capability but apathetic about ever driving one again. The look and feel of the truck undoubtedly make for a cool experience if you’re into off-roaders. But the doses of luxury and power are so generous that driving it at Silver Lake, one of the few places you can theoretically use all the features of such a machine, felt too easy and unrewarding—until you cross a speed threshold (looked like about 70 mph) when the physics of a 6,000-pound vehicle overwhelm even the best traction control computers. Suddenly, the intensity spikes exponentially. Much like in many modern supercars, I was able to go much faster than I had any business to and with ease right up to the point where I was suddenly way over my head.
Expert off-road drivers (experienced desert racers) will be able to run a Raptor R to its limits and get a lot out of it. I, experienced but causal, was a little unsatisfied until I was scared shitless and had trouble finding the truck’s happy place where the driving is fun. When the EcoBoost (twin-turbo V6) Raptor came out at the end of 2016, I wrote that it was like “driving with cheat codes.” Yeah, I would say that applies here; the feeling is just amplified. Is it fun to win a game with cheat codes on? If you think so, and you’ve got a huge budget for gasoline and tires, this might be your truck.
That said, you don’t have to go hog wild in order to take advantage of the hardware. Even casual drivers will appreciate its comfort and capability over long distances on sandy terrain. This vehicle really was born for Baja prerunning—scouting the race course at gallop with the luxury of the Raptor R’s climate-controlled seats and a bottomless barrel of power would be downright delightful. You could probably make it from Los Angeles to Cabo in one long weekend and have the energy left to party at the bottom of the peninsula.
There are plenty of high-performance pickup trucks on the market now, and of course, you could build yourself an earnest competitor to this thing with aftermarket parts if you knew what you were doing. The only out-of-the-box equivalent, of course, is the 702-HP Ram TRX. Both trucks apply the same basic formula: Big power, big tires. It’s hard to imagine the result is much different but check out our comparison post here for the side-by-side look.
Personally, my favorite Ford Raptor is still the first revision with a short cab and 6.2-liter engine (despite it being a decade old now). Compared to that thing, the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R feels like a spaceship. But push it hard and the dinosaur energy definitely still comes out. You better be ready to grip the reins hard though, because it will happily bite back when you get beyond your comfort zone.
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