Driving Ford's improved F-150 Raptor
Even when you’re prepared, things can go wrong off-road. A lot of times, it’s your fault, not the rig’s. It doesn’t know what’s coming. When things do go wrong, there’s no choice but to find a solution, even if you’re making it up as you go along. In showbiz, they call that “doing it live.” The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor is all about finding little ways to make it easier to do it live.
It starts with Fox Live Valve electronically controlled shock absorbers, the first for a production off-roader. Fox places a solenoid on the shock body connected to a valve, which it can adjust in as little as 40 milliseconds to alter the rate at which oil passes through it. Wide open, the shocks are soft. The more it’s closed, the stiffer the shocks get. Ford suspension engineers say the midway point between full soft and full hard is about where the 2018 model’s fixed dampers match up.
As a baseline, the shocks have three modes: normal, sport, and off-road, which covers the litany of off-road driving modes. It’s not an if-then system, though. The controller, Lincoln’s CCD adaptive damping unit reprogrammed by Ford Performance, constantly watches how you drive, tries to predict the surface you’re on, and adjusts the damping to compensate. For example, if you’re in an off-road mode and you’re heavy on the throttle, the shocks will soften up a bit for when you inevitably hit a big bump at a higher speed than you might’ve intended to. Conversely, when the ride height sensors detect the truck is airborne, as Raptors are wont to be, the shocks stiffen to better absorb the landing.
That bit, I can confirm, works precisely as advertised. Should you find yourself temporarily divorced from the ground in a 2019 F-150 Raptor, the landing is quite gentle. With excellent grip from the meaty BFGs, it’s a drama-free affair. Indeed, that’s how most driving goes with the Raptor. Tearing down a trail in Baja mode, it’s composed and confident, with excellent steering response. The shocks turn every rock and rut into a jostle instead of whiplash, encouraging you to push the truck even harder since clearly you’re not hurting it. Having off-roaded our long-term F-150 with FX4 off-road package this past summer, I can tell you the difference the Raptor’s shocks make in passenger comfort is almost too great to quantify.
When things slow down, Ford’s new Trail Control comes into play. Essentially cruise control for off-roading, it allows you to set an extremely low crawl speed and have the computer work the gas and brakes while you focus on your line and the obstacles around you. It works in any drive mode, any transfer case position, and up to 20 mph (32 km/h). For the off-road beginner, it takes an entire element of driving off your mind and lets you focus on where you’re going. For the pro, it lets you relax a bit on a tedious, low-speed, mildly challenging trail on your way to the good stuff.
Because speeds are low and the computer is fast, it crawls over obstacles the same way you would: gently. When a tire bumps up against a rock you want to crawl over, say, the impact forces the truck to slow down; the computer recognizes this and adds a little power to help you climb. As you reach the top of the rock, your speed increases as the resistance decreases. The computer sees this and pulls power and applies the brakes as needed to maintain your set speed. As a result, you roll slowly off the back side of the rock rather than crashing down. All the while, you’ve never exceeded the super-low speed limit you set, and you look like a veteran off-roader.
But let’s be real: That’s not why you buy a Raptor. It’s long, it’s wide, and it just isn’t at home in a rock garden. This truck is meant for hot, nasty speed on unforgiving terrain. Although Trail Control gives the truck more bandwidth, it doesn’t distract from the primary mission. Expect to see the technology on more four- and all-wheel-drive Fords in the future.
The shocks, of course, assist in said mission with obvious variation in ride quality and body control as you change modes. Also assisting is the final big-ticket item of the 2019 refresh, an optional Recaro seat upgrade with extra bolstering and grippy suede inserts. When you’re expecting to be tossed around while tearing around, they’re a worthwhile investment.
Otherwise, changes to the 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor are limited to cosmetic items such as a carbon-fiber shift lever and new paint and wheel finishes. As with its other products, Ford Performance has opted out of the styling changes the rest of the F-150 line got last year, preferring to spend development dollars on driving tech enhancements instead. Who can argue with that?
|2019 Ford F-150 Raptor|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.5L/450-hp/510-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,550-5,700 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||220.0-231.9 x 86.3 x 78.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/18/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||225/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.20 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|