These are strange times in the auto industry. After years of waiting and two generations without it, Ford is putting a V8 back in the Raptor to create this, the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R. At the same time, Ford is making a fully-electric F-150 pickup truck. The supercharged, Shelby-powered Raptor R and all-electric F-150 Lighting exist at opposite ends of a single spectrum, and going between the poles of Ford’s (and America’s) best-selling model can be jarring.
You could say combustion-powered vehicles have found themselves in the uncomfortable position the last dinosaurs were in as they watched an asteroid streak across the sky. One of those animals had to be a Velociraptor, right? The metaphor doesn’t work without it, but humor me. Well, no. Humor this 700-hp Raptor, because if this is the end of the internal-combustion era, then what an end it’ll be.
Full Disclaimer: Ford flew me to Muskegon, Michigan to drive the new 2023 F-150 Raptor R, paying for my stay at a warm place indoors in a nice hotel. The next day, a group of us drove to Silver Lake State Park where the supercharged V8 reminded us there’s no replacement for displacement.
When I say same old Raptor, I mean that this is a return to form. The original F-150 Raptor, the first wide and menacing dinosaur from Ford Performance, came with a V8. Thus, the Raptor R is all about its brawny engine and adjacent components. That includes a revised suspension, which was necessary to handle the added weight and power of the V8 engine.
The F-150 Raptor R has a 5.2-liter supercharged V8 making 700 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque. You might recognize that engine since it comes from another Ford Performance thoroughbred: the Mustang Shelby GT500.
Strict emission and other regulations, however, didn’t allow for the full 760-hp output of the Mustang in the Raptor R. I hesitate to call the Raptor R’s powerplant a big, beefy engine, because Ford paid attention to the efficiency of its packaging: the cast-aluminum-block engine looks almost compact, even with that supercharger on top.
But for all its packaging prowess, the V8 engine is still significantly heavier than the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 in the base Raptor, which makes “just” 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. The Raptor R’s V8 nominally weighs 83 pounds more than the Raptor’s V6. Ford uses a (somewhat generous) tolerance to be safe, saying with production variances, the bigger engine can weigh roughly between 80 to 100 pounds more than the EcoBoost V6. So, while it offers a whopping 250 more horses, it adds mass to the Raptor’s snout.
The regular Raptor is built on a strengthened version of a tow-package-equipped F-150 frame, with a beefier suspension thanks to stronger control arms and steering knuckles, taller strut towers, and strengthened Panhard rods.
The Raptor R takes those reinforcements even further with strengthened front axles, a unique front spring rate, and front dampers with larger-diameter rods to handle the weight of the V8, though the electronically controlled variable dampers are the same as those of the base Raptor.
Another notable change is that the Raptor R has 13 and 14.1 inches of front and rear suspension travel, respectively. That’s one inch less than the Raptor in either metric. Technically, that’s a downgrade, but something had to give, right? Both the V6 and V8 Raptors have the same 10-speed automatic transmission, but Ford Performance retuned it for the Raptor R.
First, I want to talk about the other changes that set the Raptor R and base Raptor apart. Namely the styling, and, of course, the exhaust system. At a glance, the only thing distinguishing the Raptor R is a modest update to the design. It’s hard to tell the two Raptors apart from a distance, but the closer you get, the more you notice the accents that give away the R.
Tony Greco, program manager for the F-150 Raptor R, said his design edict to the team was, “Less is more.” No one, and I mean no one, will ever call the F-150 Raptor R understated — nor any other Raptor, for that matter. How could they when the truck sits on 37-inch tires over 17-inch wheels, and is 87 inches wide not counting the mirrors?
But Ford could’ve easily gone over the top with this new truck to make it stand out from other Raptors. Doing so would’ve been a misstep, and I’m grateful that Greco asked the team to show a little restraint. In fact, in certain colors (ahem, Antimatter Blue) the Raptor R looks sharp and almost sophisticated.
It’s confidently restrained. The headlights and taillights are still a bit much, but the amber lights all over the truck are growing on me. They looked especially cool as we rode in a convoy of Raptor Rs in the dark, the megatrucks standing in stark contrast with every other car on the road. In a rearview mirror, everything is quiet compared to a Raptor.
I was really hoping the truck wouldn’t say “Raptor R” anywhere, because that’s just an invitation to loudly yell Raptorrrr, which sounds really dumb. Maybe Ford anticipated this, because instead of slapping on a “Raptor R” badge, designers gave the truck’s name a color accent. The first and last “R” on certain Raptor badges are rendered in Code Orange, emphasizing the strong consonants without making you sound like a pirate. Arr.
The thing that betrays the Raptor R’s restraint, however, is the hood scoop. Greco told us he wanted drivers to have something they could look at to remind them they own a Raptor with a V8. While onlookers and fellow motorists will easily spot the Raptor R graphics and orange accents that differentiate the more powerful truck, owners and drivers just have to glance down and look at the power dome on the hood, a full inch taller than the one on the base Raptor.
It’s a fine and mostly unobtrusive design touch. It even makes sense intuitively, given the bigger engine. But, honestly, it’s not necessary, because the real reminder of the truck’s cylinder count isn’t visual. Drivers don’t have to look at the hood nor under it — they just have to listen to the Raptor R’s exhaust note.
The sound of the Raptor R’s supercharged V8 is unmistakable. Trust me, you’ll know when an R is nearby: You’ll be warned by the low growl that gurgles early through the power band, and only gets higher pitched as it zings toward redline, turning into a wail at the top.
Ford redesigned the air intake and modified the exhaust system of the Raptor R for the sake of better flow and sound. The new stainless-steel dual exhaust does away with the curved “trombone” pipe found on the EcoBoost V6. The active-valve dual exhaust on the V8 runs straight down the length of the chassis, with each pipe getting two resonators for a total of four. It would be unfair to say the Ford Raptor R exists for the V8 exhaust note alone, but that’s a big part of what makes the truck special.
Much like the Raptor’s R design, the exhaust note doesn’t overwhelm. The R has the same seven drive modes as the base Raptor (Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl), remapped and optimized for the V8, and that includes making the raucous exhaust just right for any given setting. In other words, making it livable for the owner and bearable for other drivers in the more mundane settings.
Our drive would have us push the Raptor R to the limit at Silver Lake State Park, which is more or less a giant sandbox on the shore of Lake Michigan. Getting to Silver Lake meant we had to drive up from the city of Muskegon along a combination of surface roads and a stretch of highway. We woke bright and early — well, dark and early — and Ford herded us to a row of Raptor Rs. One or two of us may have fallen over from lack of sleep, unless I dreamed that.
Soon we went from being crusty-eyed journalists to a tight pack of Raptors prowling to the game trail. Despite the absurd size, the truck never felt like it was plodding along. Make no mistake, regardless of its engine, the F-150 Raptor R is ludicrously big. Late-model Chevy Silverados somehow seemed small in the next lane. But the Raptor R feels lighter than it has any right to; Ford hasn’t published an official weight, but I assume it can’t be much less than 6,000 pounds with the heavier engine.
With 700 hp, the Raptor R is, uh, fast. On public roads, it’s close to unsettling. I’ll admit this is one of the first vehicles I’ve driven where I was actually afraid to pin the throttle when overtaking on the highway.
To do so, most drivers would signal a lane change, head-check their blind spot, and throttle just enough to clear slower traffic. But in the R, “enough” comes way earlier than I expected. I gave it an enthusiastic blip, the supercharger inhaled with a whine, and the truck surged ahead, growling.
The Raptor R can pull, and not just at the bottom end. But there’s plenty of low- and midrange torque to get you going, and even with the engine loafing in the bottom third of the tach, it’s mighty snappy. On the highway, between 65 and 85, the tach hardly goes past 2,000 rpm, heart rate not even close to being elevated.
My pulse, on the other hand? Yeah, it was up there.
The Raptor R’s power is superfluous in the city, but it’s brilliantly matched to the truck in its natural habitat. The Raptor R ideally belongs off-road in wide open stretches of desert, like Baja California, or the dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan.
The Big Three — and other automakers — bring their off-road machines to Silver Lake to test them in brutal conditions. There’s even a dune called Test Hill, which stopped at least one Raptor R in its tracks (though I’m willing to call that driver error). The massive dunes and wide swaths of sand wrest away the momentum of any machine foolish enough to enter. You don’t really glide over sand so much as push it aside by force. A supercharged V8 makes that effortless.
Good tires help, too, and the Raptor R comes with 37-inch BFGoodrich all-terrains standard. Aired down to 15 PSI, the wide contact patch and two extra cylinders made bombing through Silver Lake easy.
The lead truck in each group was piloted by a Ford Performance teammate who told us how to tackle each section of our off-road test, which included driving over dunes, tracing tight lines over steep grades and looping back around without losing control.
Going over the big dunes required us to deftly modulate our speeds. Too fast and you’ll go over violently, pitching that heavy front end down and bottoming out the suspension. I may or may not have done just that. But if you go too slow, the steep grade of loose sand will bury you close to the top.
It requires a complicated balance of push and pull, but the Raptor R makes it laughably easy. Indeed, the first time we came to Test Hill, it looked like a wall of sand to me. By the end of the day, I realized we’d gone over a couple of times and I hadn’t even noticed. Or if I had, I thought it was any other dune, not one named for its ability to trip up an inferior machine. Piloting the Raptor R and harnessing the power of its V8 feels like cheating.
We were lucky that, after a few wet and windy days, the weather at Silver Lake had turned in our favor. We got nothing but sun, which helped dry the section known as the strip, where Ford told us to go wide-open throttle.
Hell, they encouraged us to race; it would have been rude not to, so I obliged. I had a hammer shaped like a pedal, and there was a supercharged nail on the other side of the truck’s firewall. So I hammered away, unhinged and reckless.
I only got stuck in the sand once, early on. That’s how I realized the Raptor R is only scary outside of its natural habitat. On the terrain where it belongs, it’s actually quite friendly. The power of the V8 is tuned in a way that won’t overwhelm you in the appropriate setting — Baja. Johnson Valley. Silver Lake.
And again, we’re back to livability. The Raptor R is close to a perfect machine for the environment where it belongs. When I drove the Ford Bronco Raptor, I was always mindful of a roll-over. The Bronco Raptor is supremely capable, but it’s also less forgiving. It demands respect. By contrast, the Raptor R hunkers down at speed. It gets firmer the more you push. It feels like it’s correcting you here and there, and it encourages you to take chances. When in doubt, throttle out. There’s always power on tap in the Raptor R, and then some.
Truth be told, I was expecting to come away with the opinion I brought with me: That the smaller Bronco Raptor would be better off-road and on. The Bronco struck me as a polymath, a talented vehicle capable of doing lots of things very well. For me, a relative newbie, the Raptor R is a more confidence-inspiring machine off-road, and more comfortable on the highway to boot. Even in mild drive modes, the Bronco Raptor feels tense through the rev range. Its excellent transmission is tuned for performance, but the beefier gearbox of the Raptor R is better at polishing the power of the V8 with a veneer of comfort and composure. The F-150 Raptor is now in its fourth generation, and it shows.
In fact, it’s painfully obvious how much the F-150 Raptor has improved in comfort compared to prior Raptors. Nothing inside the R feels or looks cheap. It has a thickly-padded leather-wrapped steering wheel; it has heavily bolstered leather and Alcantara seats; the cabin has triaxial carbon-fiber weave all along the dashboard. The infotainment is the same as Bronco Raptor, but the screen is better integrated. It’s truly opulent inside.
The F-150 Raptor R is a supremely comfortable truck. It’s somehow both a luxury car and gnarly off-roader. But it ought to be at the price Ford will be charging, which is steeper than Test Hill. When the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R goes on sale at the end of this year, it will have an MSRP of $109,145 including destination. That’s more than $30,000 over the starting price of the EcoBoost Raptor.
It’s also a lot compared to the Ram 1500 TRX, which costs over $20,000 less and comes with 2 more hp and 10 more lb-ft. But the Raptor R’s mix of power, poise and poshness is hard to beat.
The Ford F-150 Raptor R feels like a wild animal that would languish in captivity. For the love of God, if you’re one of the people who can afford this truck, take it to Silver Lake, or Big Bend, or Baja, or Johnson Valley. That’s where it belongs. Forget the paper comparisons; crumple up the spec sheet and just get out there. Now that EVs are coming, including the Ford F-150 Lightning, it’s unclear how much time the Raptor R has left before the V8 goes extinct.