EXPERT REVIEW

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor Review: Better, But With a Big Problem

ford-f-150-raptor-2021-03-dynamic-exterior-front-angle-orange-truck 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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News Editor Brian Normile is a reviewer, dog owner and Liverpool FC fan. His first car was a 1997 Toyota 4Runner. Email Brian Normile

Verdict: The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor takes all the good things from the F-150’s redesign and adds to them, making the wildest Ford pickup even better than its predecessor.

Versus the competition: As great as the F-150 Raptor is, it’s overshadowed by the monster Ram 1500 TRX; it feels downright tame by comparison. A Raptor. Tame. What is the world coming to?

With the arrival of the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, the wildest F-150 is back. Ford redesigned the F-150 for the 2021 model year — you may remember it winning both our Best Pickup Truck and Best of 2021 awards last year, and the fact that we now own a 2021 F-150 Limited PowerBoost Hybrid — but we all had to wait a bit longer to get the newest Raptor. Now that it’s here, I’ve got good news and bad news.

Related: Redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor Bulks Up, Techs Up

The good news: The Raptor has always been a phenomenal machine, but it’s even better now thanks to significant suspension upgrades, a new dual-valve active exhaust system and a much higher-tech interior.

The bad news: the Ram 1500 TRX. Until Ford answers the challenge laid down by that truck with its own Raptor R (coming sometime in 2022, allegedly with a V-8 engine derived from the Mustang Shelby GT500), the off-road truck battle will look just like the ending of “Jurassic Park”: a T-Rex easily fending off the challenges posed by some clever but ultimately weaker Raptors. (Apologies if I just bought into Ram’s naming strategy and/or spoiled a nearly 30-year-old movie for you.)

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You can check out elsewhere what I managed to do in a TRX at a drag strip, but we’re here to talk about the Raptor — and there are a lot of good things to say. The Raptor was already a delight to drive (except on crowded city streets), and the updates this year have only made it better.

Interior Upgrades

Inside, the improvements start with an impressive 12-inch digital instrument panel and a 12-inch touchscreen display running Ford’s Sync 4 operating system. The graphics are crisp and the menus are easy to use — if a bit deep, given all the information available — and you get the benefit of over-the-air updates. We like vehicles equipped with Sync 4 because they keep physical controls for the audio and climate settings. The more advanced Sync 4A system puts a lot of these into the touchscreen, and we’re just a bit old-fashioned here: Give us physical climate controls any day.

Ford says it added a bit more bolstering to the Raptor’s seats, but I didn’t notice much of a difference. That said, they’re quite cushy and comfortable, even on longer drives. Recaro seats are available as part of an option package, but our test vehicle didn’t have them. Backseat room in the crew-cab-only Raptor is also outstanding.

The steering wheel is a new design for the Raptor. It has a centering mark that’s a nice touch (and a helpful one when off-roading), and the aluminum shift paddles look and feel great. My one bone to pick is that the control layout on the steering wheel — specifically buttons that control the adjustable steering, exhaust and suspension — look and feel a bit like an afterthought. It’s easy to change your exhaust setting instead of skipping to the next audio track.

Visibility is a mixed bag. From my seating position, the A-pillars obstructed the forward view and, quite frankly, the large hood was imposing. Rear and side visibility, however, were fine, and an available 360-degree camera system provided numerous helpful views of everything from parking spaces to off-road obstacles. Resolution is nice and clear, and the cameras can even show your tire path to help you navigate if your view is obscured.

The Raptor also comes with Ford’s nifty built-in center console work surface … in case you need to pull out your laptop or have a flat surface for your lunch while bombing through the desert? That means the Raptor also has a gear selector that folds down flat; the one in our long-term F-150 feels a bit rickety.

Better On- and Off-Road

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Ford didn’t upgrade the Raptor’s powertrain majorly, but nor did they just upgrade the interior and call it a day. The 2021 Raptor has a new five-link rear suspension with “extra-long” trailing arms, a Panhard rod and 24-inch coil springs, giving Raptors with the standard 35-inch tires 15 inches of rear suspension travel.

Ford also gave the 2021 Raptor all-new Fox Live Valve shock absorbers. The 3.1-inch-diameter shocks are the largest ever on a Raptor, and Ford says they’re more robust and can better resist heat buildup. The active damping can adjust up to 500 times per second and provide more than 1,000 pounds of damping force at each corner.

An optional $7,500 package with 37-inch tires — with which our test truck was not equipped — trades some suspension travel for extra ground clearance: 13.1 inches, versus the 12-inch ground clearance you get in trucks equipped with the standard tires. The package, which also includes Recaro bucket seats and other goodies, upgrades the Raptor’s approach, departure and breakover angles from a respectable 31.0, 23.9 and 22.7 degrees, respectively, to 33.1, 24.9 and 24.4 degrees with the 37-inchers.

What those suspension upgrades mean, Ford says, is that the Raptor is more capable and comfortable over rough terrain at high speeds. Regrettably, we haven’t yet gotten to test that out with this Raptor, but I have every confidence it can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.

We did do some low-speed off-roading, and, like its predecessors, the Raptor handled it with aplomb — and some Ricky Bobby-esque “I wanna go fast” annoyance; it felt like it was begging us to floor it. Despite that urge, throttle control at low speeds is easy. If you prefer, the Raptor has standard Trail Control, essentially off-road “cruise control,” and Trail One-Pedal Driving, which lets you use the accelerator pedal alone to control your speed: lift off the pedal and the brakes are applied. I still prefer to do my own work in these scenarios, but they’re nice features to have.

The biggest obstacle the Raptor faces on or off pavement is its massive width. Those signature marker lights aren’t for show; they’re there because the Raptor is almost 87 inches wide, not including its side mirrors. Both trails and streets can feel very, very tight.

On the street, the Raptor is plenty quick. Its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 produces 450 horsepower (the most of any current F-150) and 510 pounds-feet of torque (trailing just the PowerBoost Hybrid’s 570 pounds-feet). Ford tweaked the engine for 2021, increasing the compression ratio and giving it higher-power cooling fans, but it’s mostly still the same high-output 3.5-liter from years past. I’m not certain the Raptor would beat our hybrid F-150 in a drag race, but it would definitely be very close. We measured our F-150’s 0-60 mph time on a prepared drag-strip surface at 5.74 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 13.9 seconds at 99.3 mph.

Those times and power figures are impressive — until you remember that the Ram 1500 TRX’s supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 makes 702 hp and 650 pounds-feet of torque. On that drag strip where we recorded the F-150’s numbers, on the same day a TRX hit 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds on the way to a 12.55-second quarter-mile run at 107 mph. If you’ve driven a TRX, you can’t help but find the standard Raptor a bit pedestrian.

One area where the Raptor does beat the TRX is fuel economy — obviously a primary concern for owners of either pickup (#sarcasm). The Raptor is EPA-rated at 15/18/16 mpg city/highway/combined or 15/16/15 with 37-inch tires. Both are much better than the TRX’s EPA-rated 10/14/12 mpg. Ford recommends premium gas for the Raptor but you can use regular, though it comes with a performance penalty.

Steering feel is a bit loose, leaning more toward off-roading, but it’s not especially spongy compared with a regular F-150, and its Sport steering setting tightens things up a bit. Regardless of driving mode, the suspension absolutely devoured Chicago’s potholes and made quick work of higher-speed bumps and road imperfections. In its Normal suspension setting, there’s an expected amount of truck-y side-to-side leaning — maybe even a bit more than expected thanks to its taller, longer-travel off-road suspension. In Off-Road/Baja mode, there’s a little more lean, but that just made the truck more playful and the ride more comfortable. Put the suspension in Sport mode, and the Raptor’s ride and handling get about as close to a sports car as something its size can.

The Raptor’s new active exhaust produces a much more satisfying sound than the second-generation Raptor, but it’s still not especially impressive, and it’s nothing like the noise the TRX produces. The new 3-inch diameter, equal-length dual exhaust’s active valves are a first for the Raptor, and the four modes — Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja — provide increasing amounts of growl.

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Can It Do Pickup Things?

The Raptor’s towing and payload capacities increased by 200 pounds for 2021, up to 8,200 and 1,400 pounds, respectively, but it’s far from the most capable F-150 in this regard: Its payload is the lowest in the lineup, and its towing capacity is also on the lower end of things. Keep in mind, too, that the payload figure will vary depending on equipment (you can find your Raptor’s specific payload capacity on a sticker on the driver’s doorjamb), and that figure includes any occupants in the car. At just 1,400 pounds, four large adults and their luggage could conceivably exceed the Raptor’s payload. All that off-road gear has a cost.

A nifty F-150 feature that’s made its way into the Raptor is the available Pro Power Onboard generator. Because the Raptor isn’t a hybrid, it’s just a 2.0-kilowatt version instead of the hybrid’s available 7.2-kW generator, but it’s a nice-to-have feature if you need extra power wherever the Raptor takes you.

Can the Raptor do pickup truck things? Sure, though definitely limited pickup things. But is that its purpose? Not really. The same applies to the TRX, though; neither truck is meant to do much more than go really fast over rough terrain.

Safety

The 2021 Ford F-150 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick for 2021, and for Raptors built after June 2021, the standard headlights earn a good rating. (F-150s and Raptors built prior to June 2021 do not qualify for the rating, nor do certain F-150 trim levels built after June 2021.) It also earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In our Car Seat Check, the 2021 F-150 earned an A grade in every test but one, where it earned a respectable B.

The Dinosaur in the Room

With a starting price close to $66,000, the 2021 Raptor is significantly more expensive than the previous generation, though that truck was available in a cheaper extended-cab configuration, while the 2021 is exclusively a crew cab. Even without the $7,500 package that adds 37-inch tires, the Raptor we drove had an as-tested price over $78,000. In that price range, there begins to be some overlap with the TRX, though the Ram can easily approach and even eclipse six-figure prices.

In a very narrow segment where bragging rights are everything, Ford has ceded the high ground to Ram. That’s not to say this Raptor is bad at all; I loved driving it. The Raptor is a ton of fun, and it feels quicker and handles better than any pickup truck ever should. But until the upcoming Raptor R presents a more serious challenge to the TRX, the Ram will remain the king of the dinosaurs.

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