2019 Ford F-150 Raptor Review: A Desert-Running Pickup Takes a Snow Day at Team O'Neil
New Hampshire's Team O'Neil Rally School is all about rally cars, but the burly Raptor proves more than willing to play along.
Is there anything the Ford F-150 Raptor can’t do? Actually, there are some things, but stick with me here: Over the eight days of my most-recent drive, the Raptor logged more than 700 highway miles, frolicked at Team O’Neil Rally School in northern New Hampshire, and made New York’s notorious potholes vanish like a three-ton Magic Eraser. All the while, it felt more civilized than you’d have any right to expect from such an insanely-capable Baja-storming pickup truck.
That breadth of capability is crucial to the Raptor’s market success, as Americans have happily snapped up new 4x4s that combine all-terrain excellence with creature comforts while ditching those that lack the latter. Formerly serious off-roaders have either been watered down to the point of dissolution (Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder), or have disappeared entirely (Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser, all Hummers). The body-on-frame trucks that remain, including outstanding new iterations of the Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, have learned what it takes to survive: They’ve largely focused on improving their on-road game, with more car-like handling, roomier interiors, and the same features you expect in any luxury model.
Call it a compromise if you like, but driving this Ford might convince the most hardcore 4x4 man or woman that this is the best way to live the off-road life. And for 2019, the Raptor boosts its performance both on-road and off, though there’s been some price creep since I first drove Ford’s most fun-loving F-150 in 2017; the Raptor SuperCrew, with its family-sized back seat, now starts at $57,435, and reached a heady $69,985 with options. The one-foot-shorter SuperCab model, which Kyle Cheromcha just put through its winter paces in northern California, starts from $54,450. That’s a jump of up to $5,900 in just two model years—and despite some gains in standard equipment, that seems a bit much.
Ford F-150 Raptor Can’t Walk on Water. But It's a God on Any Other Surface
The Raptor’s girth—six inches wider than a conventional F-150—means it hogs every millimeter of pavement on narrow city streets. But aside from being a bit tricky to park curbside in New York, the Raptor’s lifted stance, trick Fox Racing shocks, and don’t-fuck-with-me demeanor actually make it ideal for hacking through urban jungles. It’s liberating to aim the Raptor at every lunar crater, frost heave, or speed bump in your path, instead of tiptoeing around or over. (Maybe every BMW in New York should come with these 35-inch, BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires.) The intent of those speed bumps may be to slow you down, but the Raptor’s response (sure, blame the truck) is usually the opposite: Whoops of delight follow a high-speed launch off it, while your skull doesn’t even bounce off the headliner. Amazing.
Less than five minutes after the hunky, metallic-red Raptor showed up at my place in Brooklyn, I was bound for Team O’Neil, the 583-acre rally playground in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Progress was aided by the twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, whose 450 horses and 510 pound-feet of torque serve up a 60-mph sprint in about 5.3 seconds. Everyone, including The Drive’s Cheromcha, complains about the EcoBoost’s sound; it’s admittedly no Hemi V8, but I’m fine with the V6’s muffled-yet-meaty blat. What bothered me more was the EcoBoost’s profligate ways, offering all the “Boost” but none of the “Eco.” The EPA offers a sunny estimate of 15/18 miles per gallon, but the agency surely isn’t accounting for how owners actually use a Raptor. Yes, I’ll cop to being heavy on the throttle; still, I saw about 12.5 mpg over a week of mostly-highway driving, nearly all with a solo driver and no load in the bed. When (understandably) euphoric journalists insist the Raptor can serve as an ideal family vehicle, the fact that this truck will burn at least 1,000 gallons of premium unleaded in a typical year (at 15,000 miles) is something they ought to add. I gave mental thanks for the truck's 36-gallon reservoir when I rolled into New Hampshire without having to stop. But I winced a bit when I pumped $80 worth into that near-bottomless hole, and another $75 fill-up in Boston for the return trip.
To me, the Raptor’s weakest link remains its 10-speed transmission, co-developed with General Motors. The head-scratcher is how GM’s versions can shift so smartly and unobtrusively, while Ford still can’t seem to get theirs right. Here, the Raptor’s manual mode is too stubborn and dawdling to be worth the effort. Full-automatic mode usually stays nicely in the background, but it can still choose a gear your foot wasn’t asking for, or serve up an occasional jarring shift.
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I knocked off the 350-mile opening run in five and a half hours, with no stops and a surprisingly fresh body and spirit upon arrival. Thank that enormous bladder of a fuel tank, but also the peaceful cabin and ingenious suspension tuning. It’s not easy to keep a truck with this much tire and suspension travel—the latter more than 13 inches both front and rear—from sproinging and wallowing down the road. But Ford engineers did it. And for 2019, Fox Racing’s so-called “Live Valve” technology brings continuous damping of the 3.0-inch diameter shocks, in place of the former nine preset levels. Cutouts in the front bumper put those twin-tube, remote-reservoir shocks on proud display. That real-time damping, for one, allows the Raptor to instantly firm or loosen shocks at any of four corners in response to g-forces, steering angle, and other parameters. My sense was a clear reduction in the woozy body motions that I complained about in the 2017 Raptor.
Still, with those huge BFGoodyear meats, some bump steer is unavoidable, yanking the Raptor momentarily off-course when it encounters lumpy pavement at highway speeds. The sky-scraping Raptor also feels more susceptible to crosswinds and headwinds than a conventional truck, including some front-end lift at very high speeds. But overall, these are small sacrifices for a truck that can grab big air, wrestle in the mud, and storm through desert washes like no other truck on the market. Off-roading becomes more-accessible for 2019 as well, with a new “Trail Control” system that can automatically manage throttle and brakes at driver-selected speeds from one to 20 mph.
I went with a strictly D-I-Y approach at Team O’Neil, guiding the Raptor through winter skidpad and slalom exercises and absorbing the expertise of the school's top-flight instructors. I'd worried that the Raptor's BF Goodrich tires would be a serious handicap in the snow— manufacturers don’t even make a winter tire in this size—but the All-Terrain rubber actually delivered ample grip to charge up hard-packed hills at O’Neil. There, I popped the Raptor into its selectable Sport mode rather than Deep Snow/Sand to disable four-wheel-drive and allow rear wheels to make the truck pirouette through the slalom. Another Ford—a manual-transmission Ford Fiesta from the school's vast fleet—actually proved better-suited to rally duty on hard-packed snow, but the Raptor’s slides were surprisingly controllable, considering its mass, stance, and empty cargo bed.
As I drifted my way around O’Neil’s skidpad, I appreciated the contrasting stripe of red leather at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel, which helps you intuit the wheel’s position during rally-style counter-steering. But aside from that steering wheel or the red “Ford Performance” script on door sill plates, I’d like to see Ford devote more resources and imagination to match the Raptor’s interior design with its adventure-worthy exterior. Don’t get me wrong, the standard F-150’s cabin still looks and feels good this far into its life cycle, with soft-touch surfaces and all the premium fixings. And I realize Ford can’t afford an entirely-redesigned, stand-alone cabin for this low-volume F-150 offshoot. But the Raptor’s “door-trim appliqué finish”—meaning satin-coated plastic—looks like something from your auntie’s foo-foo Lincoln. And while I welcome the extra bolstering of the optional Recaro sport seats, their road-racing vibe seems a bit off in aesthetics and function with features their blue microsuede inserts; when that velour-sweater material meets muddy Carhartt, it’s gotta be hell to clean.
I’m not asking for five-point harnesses or gratuitous flash. But my ideal Raptor would have at least some outdoorsy tropes or affirmation of its Baja-style abilities inside—cool technical materials on seats, some industrial-metal lugs and trim, whatever. Check out the Jeep Wrangler's interior to get a sense of what I mean.
One final caveat, then I'll wrap up with the overall raves the Raptor deserves: Most people, last I checked, don’t live in Baja California, or have ready access to a dirt-road playground like Team O’Neil. East of the Mississippi especially, you'll be hard-pressed to find a Jurassic Park where this dino can bare its teeth and run safely and without trespassing, aside from the odd off-roading park or public-access sand dunes (which are rare). As such, my week with the Raptor involved some frustration, as I desperately scanned the landscape for places to play. Beyond the safety-first boundaries of Team O'Neil, I finally found one in New Hampshire, a huge woodlot where I bounded the Raptor over hillocks and shot roostertails of snow into the air.
Measuring four feet longer than a Wrangler, and a foot wider, the Raptor is also just too big and unwieldy for many traditional 4x4 and rock-crawling trails. I’m picturing the unmaintained Class 4 roads of Vermont, the off-road runs of upstate New York, or the Michigan backwoods, where the Raptor may get hung up or be forced to back up because it can’t fit between trees or negotiate tight corners. Here, the Ranger Raptor would be a better tool for the job, but Ford says its smaller Raptor won't be coming to America.
But as with lifestyle accessories like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, we'll leave it to Raptor owners to decide how much of that lifestyle involves actual off-road adventure. Fortunately—and like the G-Class—one of the Raptor's great gifts is how it feels unique and special no matter where you drive it. Even if you're just flattening speed bumps in Brooklyn.