The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor Gets Improved Flight-Worthiness and More Pulling Power
Are there enough tweaks to keep off-road fanatics hyped?
Ford’s venerable off-road monster, the F-150 Raptor, received some notable changes for the 2021 model year. While it doesn’t look a whole lot different on the outside, nor does it sound much different than last year’s model, there are still a good number of nice upgrades throughout. In today’s Review Rundown, we’ll pull some quotes from all your favorite auto writers who have been in the first wave of folks to drive it.
Most notably, Ford has made some substantial changes to its suspension design, boosting its capability… which nobody really complained about before, but hell, why not? These changes, along with some nice convenience and tech upgrades, make it more daily-friendly than ever. It’s also received a nice little bump in power and some exhaust tuning to keep its prospective buyers stoked, though it still features the same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. It’s still down on power compared to the Earth’s-rotation-slowing Dodge Ram TRX, but rest assured, Blue Oval Affirming Fans: a more powerful, supercharged V8 trim is on the horizon.
Here’s what some of the automotive media’s best had to say about it.
Substantial Changes To Suspension = More Capability and Comfort
Dan Edmunds for Autoblog: “Its daily-drive ride is smooth, flat and largely devoid of aftershake after hitting rough patches. You’d be more than happy to spend all day behind the wheel, which is a handy thing because its 36-gallon fuel tank gives it well over 500 miles of highway driving range.
One single change is responsible for most of this, and that is the third-generation Raptor’s abandonment of leaf spring rear suspension in favor of a five-link setup with coil springs. If that sounds familiar, that’s what underpins most Ram pickups, including the Raptor’s most obvious competitor, the Ram 1500 TRX. This setup makes for a smoother on-road ride, but it also helps a truck put power to the pavement (or dirt) with far less axle hop. No towing was involved in this event, but I fully expect improved trailering stability in crosswinds and on winding descents thanks to the new suspension’s fifth link, the lateral panhard rod.
The Raptor’s interpretation of link-coil suspension is notably different from the TRX’s in two ways. Its four primary axle-locating links are considerably longer and connect farther forward on the frame, and its massive three-stage, progressive-rate coil springs connect to lower spring seat brackets that are bolted behind the rear axle instead of sitting atop it. The longer links open up performance potential, and the bolt-on spring seats create interesting possibilities for the upcoming Raptor R – not to mention aftermarket suspension kits.
In showroom configuration, it adds as much as a full 15 inches of rear axle travel, which is 1.1 inches more than the outgoing Raptor and a full inch more than the TRX. What’s more, increased travel is an indicator of a possible increase in axle articulation. Alert readers may remember how the TRX nearly maxed out my Flex Index ramp, so I might not be able to make a successful Raptor RTI measurement without first building a ramp extension. But the case for more overall articulation and the potential for a TRX-beating RTI score doesn’t begin and end in the rear.
That’s because the new Raptor’s front suspension has also undergone improvements that increase its travel to 14.0 inches, which is a full inch more than both the outgoing Raptor and the Ram TRX. This is more a case of design optimization, because the same sort of wide-track double-wishbone suspension remains in play up front. The new Raptor gets new aluminum steering knuckles that optimize the upper ball joint’s range of motion, its axle joints were massaged to increase maximum angularity, and the front axle and differential assembly was lowered about a quarter-inch.”
A Bump in Towing Power, Plus Improved Exhaust and Transmission Tuning
Mike Sutton for Car and Driver: “That V-6 essentially carries over for 2021, as does the Raptor’s 10-speed automatic and variable four-wheel-drive system with a locking rear differential and an optional Torsen limited-slip front diff. Output remains a respectable 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, but the engine and transmission have been retuned for a more effective power delivery. In addition to quicker, better coordinated shifts from the 10-speed, peak torque now arrives 500 rpm sooner, at 3000 revs, and full power hits at 5850 rpm versus the previous 5000, which makes it more rewarding to wind out the Raptor’s tachometer.”
Kyle Kinard for Road & Track: “The reconfigured exhaust setup includes a Y-pipe aft of the muffler, and exhaust cutouts that can yawn open to increase noise based on drive mode. At the launch event, Ford showed off the Raptor’s new frame, shorn of all bodywork, but including that entire stretch of exhaust so we could see just how far engineers went to appease their customers.
But it just wasn’t enough. The new equal-length runners shout a smooth, brassy, almost trombone-like note. Think a Nissan VQ with more grump. The Raptor sounds better from outside, especially as the engine winds up to its redline, but the sound underwhelms from behind the wheel. It’s a welcome improvement over the second-gen truck for sure, but we’d guess that many of those complaints about the Raptor’s soundtrack will persist.”
Dan Edmunds for Autoblog: “There’s no denying that the TRX’s 6.2-liter Hemi has the Raptor outclassed on paper. It’s hard to argue against 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of V8 grunt, unless you’d be embarrassed by its dismal fuel economy of 12 mpg combined. Or bankrupted by it. The EPA says you’d spend an average of $1,650 more per year filling the TRX vs a 2021 Raptor wearing 37-inch tires.
Beyond that, the Raptor also has gearing on its side. Its transmission has 10 gears instead of eight, and its final-drive ratio is 4.10-to-1 instead of 3.55-to-1. Still, people will grouse about the power difference. Ford should have an answer for that with the 2022 Ford Raptor R, but the way this new Raptor’s suspension is put together makes me believe the R might be more than just a racier motor.
Despite these changes, 2021 Ford Raptor payload and tow ratings are higher than they were last year. Payload has risen from 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, and the tow rating has been increased from 8,000 pounds to 8,200 pounds. Both ratings apply whether you stay with the standard 35-inch tires or choose the 37-inch option.”
On Flightworthiness and Handling
Kyle Kinard for Road & Track: “Even more remarkable than how the suspension ironed out high-speed impacts is the chassis’ neutrality at any speed. In that same section of road, the slowest corner was a blind left hander where sand piled deep at the edge of the two-track. A heavy dose of trail braking put the truck into a greasy, easy slide that seemed to flow for 20 yards through the middle of the corner. Rather than fiery panic, the Raptor’s long wheelbase inspires confidence as it telegraphs every slide with plenty of time to countersteer.
While easy slides are a mark of a good chassis, a great chassis provides a thousand options to navigate a corner. The Raptor’s is the latter. Through those tighter corners you can throw a Scandinavian flick at the apex or lift throttle before corner entry and wait for that long wheelbase to swing around and set you toward corner exit. With traction and stability control off (recommended here, as they constantly interfere when you’re trying to put power down), the truck stays neutral but allows for even more play.”
Eleonor Segura for MotorTrend: “Over evenly paved roads, the mean-looking Raptor rides softly on its gigantic 37-inch tires. However, that’s not to say all subtle bounces and vibrations have entirely gone away because, well, those are tough characteristics break a heavy truck of, no matter how fancy the shocks.
Sprints from a stop will mostly make you forget about the Ford’s size, if only for a moment. Launches are enthusiastic and even better with the Raptor set to its Sport drive mode, though nowhere near on par with the new 702-hp Ram 1500 TRX, which is the quickest truck we’ve ever tested.
Most impressive of all is how, as with the old Raptor, an off-road truck of this size can zip through a curve at higher speeds. The big tires and wide-track suspension keep the Ford feeling planted even when being hustled, on pavement or otherwise.”
Brandon Turkus For Motor1: “Ford’s engineers and high-performance off-road driving instructors suggested we approach the jump at 40 miles per hour the first time through, and when it comes to taking flight in a 5,800-pound truck, we’ll listen to the experts. This yielded a pleasant hop, but we wanted more. The next time through, we dialed the speed up to 50 and the Raptor stuck the landing like Simone Biles. The third time we lost all sense of self-preservation and attacked the berm at around 60 miles per hour.
It felt like we could have flown from Vegas to Los Angeles in the time the Raptor was in the air, but what was certain is that our landing on the sand was more pleasant than anything we’ve experienced coming into LAX. The Raptor touched down with virtually no drama, while the impact compressed the huge 24-inch springs enough that there was a noticeable hop following our landing. Still, this bruising pickup felt totally unfazed.
Cleared of the jump, we approached the hard-pack of the wash and opened the taps on the twin-turbocharged engine. Bounding along the desert floor at 70 mph, the Raptor’s soft suspension still managed to negotiate turns with poise – this big thing will rotate if you apply enough steering angle, and we enjoyed a few Scandinavian flicks. But the truck never bit us or made us feel uneasy. It was almost clinically confident in the dust.
The trickiest test of our truck was on the “whoops.” Essentially the freakishly roided-out brother of a washboard dirt road, this collection of medium-amplitude, high-frequency perpendicular bumps is a torture test for a truck’s suspension – vehicles that can’t cope will be impossible to keep pointed straight as the suspension struggles to isolate the steering from the abuse.
Ford designed the Raptor for just this sort of challenge, though, and our handlers instructed us to ramp up our speed after each pass. By the end, we were blasting over these obstacles at 60 mph, the soft off-road suspension responding to the impacts like Rocky Balboa absorbing jabs. Here’s what that looked like.”
Improvements to Interior Amenities and Tech, Plus Some Exterior Tweaks
Eleonor Segura for MotorTrend: “The base F-150 Raptor ships wearing 35-inch tires and starts at $65,840, well below the Ram 1500 TRX’s opening ask. Although tastily equipped out of the gate, opting for the optional Raptor 37 Performance package, which requires the Group 801A High package at $6,150, clearly brings the truck up to its full potential. Dropping all that cash also brings a 360-degree camera, an 18-speaker B&O sound system, Rigid foglights, and pro trailer backup assist. Our test example also had the power tailgate and 2.0-kilowatt ProPower onboard power generator.
Our cruise toward the dunes allowed plenty of time for surveying the new Raptor’s interior. Because virtually every component inside the well-appointed cabin is supersized, including the control knobs, automatic shift lever, paddle shifters, and center console, familiarizing yourself with the features is an effortless task. Ford places switches for the active exhaust, suspension settings, and steering modes at your fingertips, providing a convenient way to adjust driving style settings while on the move.
We tested the cruise control and lane keeping systems on our way into the desert, too, and they did a fine job slowing, accelerating, and keeping the truck centered in its lane. Whenever cruise control detected our relaxed steering wheel grasp, it flashed a warning on the instrument cluster urging us to keep our hands on the wheel.”
Chris Paukert for CNET Roadshow: “It’s also a good time to take stock of the biggest news for the Raptor’s on-road manners, which have nothing to do with the vehicle’s dynamics: the new cabin. Like the rest of its F-150 siblings, it’s here where Ford had fallen behind its arch rival, the Ram 1500 (and rather substantially, at that). For 2021, the 14th-generation F-150’s interior is of noticeably higher quality.
The dashboard is totally new and it’s something of a tech bonanza. With a standard 12-inch digital gauge cluster and a matching 12-inch touchscreen running Sync 4 infotainment, you’re looking at a major quality-of-life upgrade versus the 2020 model. The graphics are sharper, the response times are snappier and the feature set is deeper, bringing conveniences like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Importantly, the system also incorporates a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling bumper-to-bumper over-the-air updates for the first time. This ensures that not only will the Sync 4 continue to offer the latest and greatest infotainment features, new functions and bug fixes can be downloaded for the rest of the truck, too — powertrain included. Additional features like the $765 360-degree camera package (which shows real-time tire paths for smarter off-roading), a deployable center console table and an available 18-speaker Bang & Olufsen Unleashed audio system are real pot sweeteners, too.
Prodigious thirst aside, Raptors have always made surprisingly great daily drivers, but this new interior and tech should really make everyday life much easier, even if you don’t opt for stuff like Pro Power Onboard, a built-in 2.0-kilowatt generator capable of powering a small job site or a killer tailgate party.”
Mike Sutton for Car and Driver: “Along with some minor exterior tweaks, you can spot the new Raptor by its more pronounced headlight signature and larger marker lights. Big-tired models even can be had with bedside graphics that advertise the size of their footwear. As with all 2021 F-150s, the interior has been freshened with a handsome redesign, nicer materials, and updated infotainment, including 12.0-inch displays for the instrument cluster and center touchscreen. Since most Raptors sell as well-equipped crew-cab models, Ford has killed off the smaller SuperCab version and upped the standard content as well as the base price to $65,840, a $7705 increase over the 2020 SuperCrew model.”
The Raptor remains a beast off-road that’s comfortable on a cruise — now, it’s just a little bit better. If you want to drive fast in the desert and have a nice comfy ride back to town afterward, this truck excels. In other words, the MY2021 version is a mild bump of the vehicle’s core competencies.
From Ford’s Media Gallery:
Correction 08/31/21: We originally stated that the new Raptor got a power bump but that is not the case! The 450 hp figure is a carryover from last year. We meant to write “more pulling power” because of the increased tow capacity rating, not “more power.” Sorry about that!