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  • Writer's pictureCory Fourniquet

EcoBoost All the Things

With its first real competition since its inception as the original "Desert Predator," Ford has a target on its back that has one giant, TRX-sized arrow sticking out of it. Can the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor live up to the new bar set by its sole rival from Stellantis, or is their twin-turbo EcoBoost out of gas?

It has been a crazy year so far for enthusiast vehicle launches, and it is only February. With the likes of the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, CT5-V Blackwing, the new 2022 Nissan Frontier shown off in PRO-4X guise, and now Ford taking the wraps off the new and improved 2021 F-150 Raptor, it is a great time to be a Gear Head.

Originally launched over a decade ago as a special, limited-run variant of their most popular vehicle the 2010 Ford F-150 Raptor was an instant success from in-house tuners SVT. The first-gen Raptor featured 2 engine options, the 5.4L modular 3-valve V8 that Matt loved so very much in his old F-150, or the more powerful 6.2L "Boss" with a strong 411 hp. Fast forward to the second-gen and all things EcoBoost crept their way into the high-performance desert racer. Ford offers versions of their twin-turbo EcoBoost engine in all their performance variants, with exception of the Mustang. Now we are getting glimpses of the 3rd gen and instead of getting a comparable V8 swapped from said Mustang, we get a tweaked version of the EcoBoost. Personally, I am bored of all things EcoBoost. Call me old school, but I just need the V8 rumble to announce my presence before I arrive. How will this old way of thinking handle the shift to all EVs? Only time will tell.

Don't get me wrong, the twin-turbo EcoBoost is no slouch of a powerplant, but when the competition is bringing a 702 hp wailing supercharged Hellcat V8, it is hard to compete. However, Ford is not resting on their laurels with this engine, upgrading the parts that really matter for the third-generation, set to deliver torque low in the rev range where it really matters off-road. The 3.5L V6 features state-of-the-art turbos and 10.5:1 compression ratio as well as new high-power fans built into the cooling system to ensure you don't get stranded when the going gets tough. With its standard 36-gallon capacity, Raptor has a projected EPA-estimated range of more than 500 miles on a full tank of gas.

All that being said, Ford did further tease us that the Raptor R is coming and is set to properly compete with the TRX when it debuts next year. Maybe then we will see a real competitor for the TRX.

A new three-inch equal-length exhaust system features a patent-pending built-in X-pipe, unique “trombone loop” and first-for-Raptor active valves. The system takes advantage of a true pass-through muffler design that improves sound quality. Customers can configure four sound level modes – Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja.

Stealing tech from the other F-150 trims, the 2021 Raptor has added productivity provided by class-exclusive Pro Power Onboard™, giving owners the ability to use their truck as a mobile generator. Raptor can be ordered with an available 2.0 kilowatts of exportable output to run power tools, camp lights and other equipment, providing more exportable power than any light-duty full-size pickup competitor, so that you can set up basecamp wherever your Raptor takes you.

The Ford-built 10-speed automatic transmission, co-developed with General Motors, is upgraded with next-generation controls is bolted to an innovative torque-on-demand transfer case. A standard electronic locking rear differential and available TORSEN® front limited-slip differential are fitted with 4:10 final drive ratios. Owners aren't buying Raptors for payload and towing, but Ford has upped max payload by 200 pounds, to 1,400 pounds, while maximum towing also increases 200 pounds, to 8,200 pounds of conventional towing.

Born for Baja

For fans of our podcast, you know that the original, first-gen Raptor has a strong off-road pedigree. Our friend, and legendary off-roader, Sue Mead still lists it as one of her favorite rigs. However, the second-gen never lived up professionally to the accolades of the first, as our friend Bryant Blakemore pointed out. While even more capable than the first, Ford never sponsored a run through Baja on the second-gen.

“Raptor is the original desert truck. We just took it to another level,” said Ali Jammoul, Ford Performance vehicle program director. “The all-new Raptor splices high-speed off-road performance muscle with advanced technology and connectivity that comes together in a unique Built Ford Tough way.”

With all the talk of powertrains, it is really the suspension that has made the Raptor the legit desert racer. The 2021 version has a completely redesigned and reengineered five-link rear suspension developed specifically for the Raptor and designed to deliver more power to the dirt and more control over rough terrain at high speeds. In fact, Ford has installed the largest rear springs in its class at 24 inches to help control the ride over whoops and tough landings. This new suspension design combined with engine management software (technology!) means the truck can put more torque to the rear wheels for quicker starts off the line, faster acceleration and better throttle response while also delivering comfort, stability, handling, control and traction at speed; a winning combination.

Ford and SVT has once again partnered with FOX Shocks with the next-generation FOX™ Live Valve™ internal bypass shocks with state-of-the-art electronic control technology offering position-sensitive damping adjustability. These will be the largest shocks ever installed on a factory Raptor and will be better at resisting the heat of intense wheel travel and are stated to react fast to terrain changes, giving the driver more confidence when racing in the dessert or any other terrain. In fact, with the sensors around the entire rig (MORE technology!) the truck can actually change damping rates independently at each wheel up to 500 times per second, which Ford tells us is the same speed the human brain processes visual information, meaning the truck can respond by the time the driver even registers the terrain change. Impressive!

Tires are as important as anything listed so far, as they are the contact point between the truck and the pavement, and for the first time on a factory Raptor you have a choice between the standard 35-inch tires or the off-road go-to of 37-inch tires, the largest factory light duty tires available. Designed by BFGoodrich specifically for the Raptor, these T/A K02 tires are designed with maximum traction in mind. "Wearing 35-inch tires, Raptor clears 12-inch obstacles with an approach angle of 31 degrees, maximum departure angle of 23.9 degrees and breakover angle of 22.7 degrees. Raptor with 37-inch tires features 13.1 inches of running clearance, 33.1 degrees of approach angle, a maximum 24.9 degrees of departure angle and 24.4 degrees of breakover angle. Desert runners and rock crawlers alike will appreciate the outstanding wheel travel with 35-inch tires, reaching 14 inches at the front and 15 inches at the rear – 25 percent more travel than the first-generation Raptor."

“Raptor is rooted in Baja 1000 racing, and its suspension advances our capability and performance – a five-link rear setup with more wheel travel than any Raptor before it,” said Carl Widmann, Ford Performance chief engineer. “And like a trophy truck, every aspect of Raptor has been engineered to deliver precision capability when your foot is flat on the floor, way out in the middle of nowhere roaring across the desert.”

Lets Talk Tech

Using the freshly updated 2021 F-150 as the base on which to build upon, the new Raptor has the tech and interior quality that matches their rivals at Ram and leaves the GM twins in the dust. A new steering wheel features a laser-etched logo, top centering mark and aluminum paddle shifters. Seats with large bolsters keep occupants in place, while even more aggressive Recaro® buckets are available. Standard aluminum or available carbon fiber interior packages trim the doors, instrument panel and center console. Lockable, fold-flat rear storage is available, adding a vault under the rear seats for stashing recovery ropes or high-lift jacks to aid in recoveries or repairs when others need help along the way. Standard features like the large 12-inch digital gauge cluster with Raptor-specific graphics and info, to the customizable 12-inch center screen with split-screen capability, there is no shortage of screen real estate in this rig. One feature to note is the new off-road navigation also mentioned in the Ford Bronco reveal last summer. We are anxious to give this a work out here at Garage Talk.

That 12-inch center screen is a great place to display Ford's 360-degree camera package provides an in-cabin view of obstacles around the truck, with the front view offering a real-time tire track overlay to dynamically show the path of the wheels ahead to reduce the need to stop for spotter guidance. A convenient dash-mounted hard button calls up the 360-degree view and rearview cameras.

The infotainment system is Ford's newest SYNC® 4 system which includes more natural voice control as well as real-time mapping and customizable information on demand. You can expect wireless Apple CarPlay™ or Android Auto™ compatibility, as well as SYNC AppLink® apps like Ford+Alexa. And all of this links to an available 18-speaker B&O Unleashed sound system.

Standard things for the connected vehicle are over the air updates, allowing your Raptor to get smarter and more user friendly over time. Updates are expected to be comprised, but not limited to trail maps plus Trail Turn Assist could add even more off-road capability. Customers can control their Raptor with FordPass – a mobile app that can lock or unlock their vehicle from almost anywhere, check tire pressure and fuel level, and allow control of new truck-focused features like Zone Lighting, Trailer Theft Alert, Trailer Light Check and available Pro Power Onboard. Over-the-air updates could evolve FordPass to include unique functionality for trips into the wild.

Stealing from the G.O.A.T. modes offered in the Bronco, the Raptor features a terrain management system with seven selectable drive modes, including Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl. Drive modes adjust steering feel, transfer case behavior, stability control, active valve exhaust, active damping system, throttle mapping and transmission shift points, as well as the display on the digital gauge cluster.

Stealing a page from the electric car world, we hear the Raptor will feature 1-pedal driving, but for off-road use. Ford says this will make extreme off-road rock crawling much easier. Anyone who has spent serious time climbing obstacles knows the best way to modulate forward momentum is to drive with a foot on the gas and on the brake, simultaneously, to ensure the movements are precise and calculated. "Trail 1-Pedal Drive simplifies all that, combining those operations into activating just the throttle – press to move forward, release to brake. The truck applies the brakes proportionally as the driver lifts from the accelerator."

Also more and more common on today's modern off-road rigs, we see an off-road cruise control Ford has named Trail Control. Drivers need only set the speed and the truck does the rest. This is great for slow descents down tricky passes.

Updated Exterior Design

We noted when the 2021 F-150 was unveiled that the overall exterior styling was more of an evolution than a revolution, and the same remains true of the Raptor. Sporting a new design that would take an enthusiast to spot, we aren't entirely convinced Ford did enough to make this one special. In fact, the changes that were made, in my honest-GM-loving opinion, made the 2nd gen the better looking rig. I do like the features like the power dome hood with heat extractor, but otherwise the design is standard Raptor.

Designers point out that the inspiration came from the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, with "aggressive front fenders emulate the windswept look of dust billowing off the top of the tires at high speed. The same concept extends to the rear, with blacked-out taillights and available tailgate appliqué creating visual fender-to-fender width."

Skid plates are essential equipment when you compete in this class and the 2021 offers wider versions that before with greater side-to-side coverage and further forward protection. Steel front and rear bumpers are built for the abuse these rigs will be put through and also allow for good approach and departure angles.

The 2021 F-150 Raptor will be assembled at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and available in showrooms this summer. Raptor R is coming next year.

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