Some reviews write themselves. Words flow like rivers from your fingertips. When that happens, and it doesn’t happen often, that flurry is “inspiration.” Or “excitement.” Maybe both. I dunno, words that flow forth in rivers aren’t always well organized.
This is one of those reviews. Paraphrasing for Tik Tok attention spans: The 2023 Ford Raptor R. It’s finally here. It’s a whole lump of hell yeah, brother. Buy one if you can. Stomp mountains with it. Slay sand dunes. Rip shitties in the high school parking lot. Pick up the principal’s daughter. Haul gravel. Leg-wrestle Bigfoot. Whatever. Point it at absolutely anything on this planet–the Raptor R is the most righteous tool for the job. It’s very exciting. Or maybe inspiring. I digress.
All this was predictable. I wrote about the turbocharged V-6 Ecoboost “regular” Raptor earlier this year. It’s a great truck too. In fact, check that review out first. The Raptor’s chassis particulars are dissected more thoroughly there. But great isn’t always enough when Ford itself offers an Ubertruck with eight thick cylinders and a blower atop them, shrieking away like a horny songbird.
Ford always had the Raptor R hiding up its sleeve. And so the truck trundled out meet the press last week in western Michigan, just north of Muskegon in a wonderous playground on the shore of The Big Lake called Silver Lake State Park.
There the big feature is the Silver Lake sand dunes. Yes. Two thousand sandy acres hidden among Michigan’s turning deciduous foliage. The dunes are golden, rolling, and rising, some as tall as a three-story house. As the group of press and Ford Performance staff watched sunrise break over the dunes that morning, the sight was startling enough to make me say, ‘Wait, this is Michigan?’
The headliner among the Raptor R’s changes, of course, is the return of the V-8. This monster’s ingredients list reads as follows: eight cylinders, 5.2-liters, 700 horses, 640 lb-ft, and one great whacking blower on top.
As the Raptor R’s powertrain engineer Brian Lizotte explained, this engine is a derivative of the Mustang GT500’s. But “derivative” undersells how similar the two engines are. Other than a smaller supercharger drive pulley to shift torque down low, the engines are more like identical twins, separated only by freckles and birthmarks. For example, the Raptor’s mill uses a different oil pan design to the Mustang, with cast exhaust manifolds instead of the fabricated GT500 units, and other bits and bobs to accommodate truck duties.
“At the end of the day, it still has to be an F-150,” Lizotte said. Some concessions were made for the strength and durability which towing, hauling, and otherwise truck-ing entails.
Still, it’s effectively the ultimate Mustang engine dropped into the bay of an F-150; the Raptor R’s entire rotating assembly shares part numbers with the GT500. Righteous stuff. And this new engine dominates the Raptor R experience. Every bit of the Ecoboost Raptor’s composure, quality, and poise has been maintained, backed now by the V-8 shout.
First thing in the morning, the ambient temperature a hair above freezing, the sun just simmering on the shoulders of the dunes, I set the heated seats set on “high” and pointed the Raptor R’s nose at Silver Lake’s “test hill,” the highest dune faced all day.
It’s a mountain of sand that is reminiscent of the Matterhorn. If the Matterhorn were made of sand instead of metamorphic rock and somehow transplanted to Michigan. At least, that’s how it feels confronting the massive thing. The basic technique for ripping up a sand dune is that to build enough speed to climb the face of the incline with just enough speed to nose the truck up to the dune’s summit, then politely amble over and down the other side. Problem is, these giant hills are, well, made of sand. Every grain’s mission is to rob the truck of momentum and on “test hill,” there are many many grains.
So the first run up the hill I aimed for the nose of the dune head, set the truck into its “Baja Mode,” and slammed the awesomely loud pedal. Better to leave nothing on the table than face the cackles of industry colleagues crackling over the radio.
My God, the sound. It’s something like a sonorous chainsaw cross-ripping hardwood or a two-stroke blast across a bed of steak knives. There’s a sharp roar at the top end hovering above a rolling boil down low, where the engine makes torque. Plus in the middle of the R’s power band, is a violin’s shriek from the supercharger, singing away. There’s not a single dull note from this exhaust, whether crawling from the garage at 6:00 a.m. or chasing dunes at the V-8’s redline.
It’s honest-to-goodness sound in an era ruled by synthetic witchcraft, the V-8 roar made as loud as you’d like with a valve in the system opens and closes with a button press. Sound was clearly a huge priority for Ford Performance here, and they nailed it emphatically. The R uses a modified and reworked intake, with the “trombone” from the V-6 Raptor’s exhaust removed in favor of resonators and a more straight-through design (the trombone was a bulbous section of tubing that allowed the V-6’s underwhelming exhaust note to resonate). The result is pony car nirvana pounding on your eardrums. In a truck! Remember: This. Is. A. Pickup. Truck!
(One cool tidbit: The main Raptor R development rig actually kept the V-6 trumpet in its exhaust, obviously with the V-8 up front. The thing sounded mean as hell, with a shoutier and more resonant midrange. Will swapping in some sort of trombone-like resonator become popular with the aftermarket? Also, a reliable source on the development team says that the R’s resonator tips can be removed and replaced with more-permissive sections of tubing to dramatic effect. If I bought a Raptor R, that’d be first up on my to-do list.
This V-8 loves to spin, reaching peak power at about 6750 rpm, with redline not far beyond. Few sensations are sweeter than the Raptor R rushing up to a sprint on sand, laying down 700 horses in a juddering gallop, tearing headlong at something that looks like it wants to flip you over and double-over in laughter as it sends the truck rolling back from where it came.
The Raptor R simply shot up “test hill”, unphased by either sand or gravity. That extra torque and power produced by the V-8 makes all the difference. Surely the V-6 Raptor can go nearly anywhere the V-8 truck can (and the V-6 truck weighs about 100 pounds less than the R, which means there’s a little bit less ass to haul), but the R will do it a hell of a lot quicker.
When I neared the top of “test hill”, the speedometer indicated something like 45 mph, fast enough to launch the truck over the top of Silver Lake’s meanest challenge and possibly into orbit. I slammed the brakes in a panic and felt the whole truck squirm against the weight and the sand, just managing to slow it all down and nose over to the other side of the dune.
It’s an astonishing display of power, torque, and the ability of the R’s suspension and traction control that if aimed at a dune that’s twice as tall and just as steep and it’d throw itself over the top. If chasing surfaces like these gets your jolly juices flowing, there’s no tool better for the job on any auto or truck makers’ showroom floor.
Every other obstacle thrown the truck at – washes, puddles, rocks, trails – confirmed the awesomeness here. Whether V-6 or V-8, there’s an unflappable durability to the Ford Raptor, a hard-nosed edge that could only be blunted by truly insane driving. You can beat the absolute dog piss out of these trucks and they… Just. Keep. On. Charging. Even more, once you’ve overcome the initial shock of how much abuse the suspension can soak up (I’ve never been accused of mechanical sympathy, but self-preservation does live deep in my lizard brain), the Raptor R begs to go faster and faster, jump higher and further, drift longer, and hammer throttle earlier and earlier through every bend.
It's something that great sports cars do (the new C8 Z06 comes to mind, as well as many early BMW M cars); offer a shortcut to the vehicle’s limits which inspires the confidence to push to that edge.
In transit between the dunes’ many obstacles, there were opportunities to switch into 2WD, turn the traction control all the way off and slide along like a mountain togue. Again, the suspension is so capable, the chassis so considered, the engine so responsive and sharp, that a big stupid grin comes with every long lairy drift that sashays into another. I could do that all day and never get bored.
On performance alone, this truck is an emphatic win for Ford.
What else does the R badge bring, then?
Well, for how much performance it delivers, the R looks surprisingly understated. Unless you knew which badging to spot, it’d be hard to tell the R apart from a V-6 Raptor or even some of the sportier-looking F-150 trims.
Ford said its customers want this stealthy, blacked out appearance, to speak softly and carry a big V-8-powered stick. I love the subtlety, especially when paired with the “avalanche gray” paint, a subdued metallic that pops just enough against the dark wheens and trim.
The interior feels much the same, though it’s now rendered a bit darker. Those are the same Recaro seats from the V-6 Raptor, now in black, and they are fantastically supportive on both the hour-long highway leg out to the dunes and during the gnarliest off-road driving. Would Ford sell me a set of these for my Tacoma?
It’s still an F-150 interior though. Function comes first. The lack of overcomplication that often comes with so many high-performance vehicles that need to justify the oversize price tag with interior carbon. Nothing feels or looks cheap in the F-150, with the aesthetic aimed at functionality. That means actual physical buttons and knobs used to access nearly all of the truck’s most-used functions. I dig that.
What else? This Raptor R keeps the 37” tires from the V-6 truck’s higher trim levels, which allows for 13 inches of suspension travel, equivalent to what you’d find on an honest-to-goodness trophy truck that the Raptor attempts to translate to road driving.
And yet, the Raptor R maintains a simply staggering amount of civility when weighed against its outright capability and especially those big knobby tires. Even at highway speeds, the interior is quiet enough so that the only sound filling the cabin is the driver’s palms shuffling along the steering wheel. That’s an incredible amount of isolation from road noise. Plus the truck’s ride is among the most comfortable of any vehicle, thanks to how well the adjustable shocks are tuned, how quickly they react to scars in the road, and all of the compliance provided by the suspension.
On dirt or pavement, the Raptor R is a marvel. Several times throughout the course of the day, Ford Performance engineers asked for feedback. What would I improve? What could they do better? “Well,” I responded. “These things take some time to think about; I like to chew on my impressions of a vehicle and use my writing to suss those types of criticisms”.
The truth is, I wouldn’t change a thing. I tip my cap to you, Ford. Tremendous job.
What else packs big fun, such refinement, and ultimate utility like this? Something like a Cayenne Turbo might provide better lap times on a road course (then again, with similar tires, would it?), but there is no situation where a Cayenne will feel more exciting to drive. Period. And I honestly think the F-150 rides just as nicely on the road.
Ah, but there is a direct competitor, another Ubertruck that I suspect necessitated a Raptor R in the first place. And that’s really the crux of this review. We know the Raptor R is great, but how does it stack up against the mighty RAM 1500 TRX?
Visually, the Raptor R wears its heft far better than the TRX. Maybe it’s because I mostly drove the TRX around Seattle’s narrow residential streets rather than Michigan’s broader avenues (oh, yeah, and the desert’s expanse), but it’d be easier to navigate the real world in a Raptor of any flavor than the TRX. I was more enthusiastic tossing the Raptor into paved corners than when I had the TRX. Both of them showcase superfluous talents off-road.
The Ram comes equipped with an interior that feels more luxurious, yet the Raptor R’s black Recaros are superior thrones. If you want to enjoy a bit more cosseting from the interior of your truck, with that broad best-in-class infotainment screen from RAM, then your choice is clear.
Both of these Ubertrucks sound absolutely absurd. Bonkers. The RAM’s soundtrack fills the cabin with more supercharger whine, screaming siren-like over a marine-engine burble at pretty much any engine speed. That supercharger shriek adds more frantic energy to the experience, and provokes more hyperbole. More often in the RAM, you’re just in awe of helming something so huge that’s moving so quickly.
The Raptor feels more athletic and a slight bit more focused toward the trophy truck gambit. It’s closer to being a motorsports product in the end. The sound is a huge part of that, and how the engine makes power up high. It’s the only truck I’ve driven that begs the driver to chase the redline. I love that. Anyone would love that.
Then, of course, there’s price. The RAM undercuts the Ford here. The Raptor R’s MSRP sits at $109,145, nearly $37,000 more than the cheapest V-6 Raptor and about $32,000 more than the 702-hp TRX. To reach a comparative level of equipment that comes standard on the Raptor R, however, you’ll need to add considerably to the RAM’s base price. In their online configurator, I got the TRX to about $92,000 before everything seemed equivalent on paper.
Still, call it close to 20 large. That’s not nothing. But in the realm of Ubertrucks like these, the decision will be made on emotion, rather than budget (my logic being that if you can afford a $90,000 truck you can probably spring for the $110,000 truck).
Let’s consider this on an emotional level then, because a spreadsheet battle isn’t much use here. Which truck wins? The short answer: personal preference. And because that wishy-washy answer won’t please the commentariat – a winner must be declared – I’d have the Raptor R.
My Grandpa put food on the table for decades with a series of F-250s. The Blue Oval on the front of a truck just means more for me. A RAM just can’t ever feel as meaningful for me personally. But that’s not a slight against the TRX. It’s that my choice is that marginal. The TRX and Raptor R are tremendous vehicles, nearly limitless in their capability off-road and bottomless in their capacity to bring us joy.
Both can conquer anything and everything you throw at them, and bring joy from every stoplight. Both sprint to sixty faster than a vehicle so large should be able to sprint. Both can stop and turn and accelerate on sand or snow or dirt. Both are rugged, capable, durable, lovable, staggering pieces of workmanship and imagination.
If either one is in your driveway, you are fortunate indeed. So long as either one spends its days up to the hubs in sand, there’s no wrong choice. For me, however, it’s Raptor R all the way.
You Might Also Like