The 2019 Ford Raptor takes a powerful truck that’s already excellent on dirt trails and adds adaptive dampers and off-road cruise control. They’re relatively minor changes, but the result is that the beast that is the second-gen Raptor now has an even bigger set of muscles.
(Full Disclosure: Ford flew me to Salt Lake City, Utah to literally jump the 2019 Raptor three-ish feet off the ground. It also housed me in a nice hotel, and fed me food with recipes that can’t be found in any of my Haynes manuals.)
A couple of years ago, I called the current generation Ford Raptor a “gas-sucking one-trick pony” after it failed to impress me with its towing fuel economy, got stuck in my muddy backyard, and wasn’t ideal for hard-core rock crawling in Moab. And while I stand by the claim, I later took the Raptor to its home turf—moderate rock and dirt trails—and learned that the Raptor’s “one trick” is an amazing one. One that made me see the light and forget entirely about the truck’s compromises.
And now, after having driving through some of Utah’s most beautiful dirt and rock trails in a refreshed 2019 model with new shocks and a fancy off-road cruise control system, that same light was like standing next to the sun.
The Raptor may not be an all-rounder, but when it plays to its strengths by blasting down dirt or gravel trails at high speeds, it shines. And for 2019, that’s still very much the case, though now it also does so at low speeds.
The 2019 Ford Raptor is a lot like the truck that launched for the 2017 model year. A 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 still pumps out 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque, a 10-speed automatic takes care of the shifts, and fancy suspension featuring Fox shocks makes the thing capable of quickly floating over uneven terrain.
But this year, the Fox shocks are different. The new Raptor takes last year’s position-sensitive Fox 3.0 Internal Bypass dampers, and makes them active with a system called “Live Valve.” This setup gathers readings from a number of sensors, including vehicle accelerometers, the steering wheel sensor, the pedal position sensor, brake sensors, and the wheel position sensor found up front on the upper control arm, and uses them to continuously adjust compression damping at all four corners.
According to Raptor Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Chris Paiva, that means the truck can do things like prepare for a turn based on driver steering input, stiffening up the outside shocks to improve handling. It can also use the driver’s gas pedal input to increase damping rates in anticipation of a potentially hard impact.
Plus, thanks to the rotary ride height sensor on the control arm (shown above), the truck can tell when it’s airborne, as both wheels would then be in full rebound. When it does notice the car is flying through the air, the system adjusts shocks to their stiffest settings—which Ford says can result in up to 400 additional pounds of damping force—to yield a smooth and bottom-out-free landing.
In the rear, according to Paiva, there’s no ride height sensor, in part because the leaf-sprung axle isn’t located as exactly as the upper control arms up front. But the dampers are still active, with the wire above representing where the solenoid—whose job it is to preload shims to adjust damping forces—receives its current.
Also new for 2019 are well-bolstered Recaro seats with blue Alcantara. Ford says the new seats are there to “keep drivers secure at low and high speeds off-road.”
The new truck also gets a few styling tweaks, but the final major change on this 2019 model versus its 2018 predecessor is a system called Trail Control, which is essentially a cruise control that can be set at speeds between 1 mph and 20 mph, and which applies throttle to overcome obstacles and brakes when necessary to try to maintain a given speed regardless of terrain.
The mostly gravel and dirt trail that Ford led us down was washed out in a number of places, and was littered with rocky hill climbs and descents. I haven’t taken any other vehicles from competing automakers on this particular trail, so I have no basis for comparison, but I can say that hammering down on that undulating, uneven terrain in the new Raptor was not only more comfortable than I expected, it was also just a genuine thrill.
The engine may not sound as aggressive as I might like, but it’s powerful, and mated to a 10-speed automatic that made sure the power was ready as I stomped the throttle out of a turn.
The BFG All Terrain KO2 tires were big and grippy enough to smoothly roll over the trail’s imperfections, though when those imperfections got too large, the 13 inches of suspension travel up front and 13.9 inches of travel out back kept the rubber planted, and the locker in the rear kept the truck moving.
Since Ford didn’t let me drive the outgoing truck for comparison, and since I only spent a few hours behind the wheel of the 2019, I couldn’t really assess with certainty how much of an affect the new Live Valve shocks had on the Raptor’s overall off-road ride and handling. But what I can say is that, even though the ride wasn’t literally glass-smooth over those rocky rails, it was good, and remained so even as I pushed the truck to go faster and faster.
I’m no rally driver, but behind the wheel of the Raptor, I did—for a split second—begin to feel like one. Especially when I took the thing off a jump:
This is the Raptor’s main party trick, and it’s one that—like I mentioned before—can easily make you forget all about its on-road compromises like fuel economy and its off-road ones like its enormous size.
When you jump the Raptor, you feel happiness. And if you don’t, you should have your joy glands checked out by a physician.
But the new suspension isn’t really what impressed me on this trip. Instead, it was a feature that, going into the press drive, I thought sounded kind of lame: Trail Control.
As an avid off-roader, I’ve done more than my share of low-speed rock crawling, with my left foot on the brake, and the right on the gas. I enjoy keeping control of my vehicles over rocks, so I figured the Raptor’s off-road cruise control, called Trail Control (Toyota has a similar system), wouldn’t really be my jam.
But after trying it, I found it to be fantastic. Activating the system was as simple as pushing a button above the infotainment screen, and setting a speed via the cruise control switch on the steering wheel. Speeds could be adjusted between 1 mph and 20 mph in increments of 0.5 mph. I found that to be more than enough precision for even the heaviest of rock crawling.
Set the speed at two or three miles per hour, and point it at a boulder like the one above, and the truck will take care of the rest.
Through much of the drive, I used Trail Control. The Raptor drove along at the 3 MPH I had chosen with the steering wheel “set” button until we reached an obstacle or incline, at which point the increased load temporarily dropped the vehicle speed until the system could gradually adjust engine output to compensate.
Crawling up rock faces with no feet on the pedals instead of two was cool, and though I wouldn’t use it all the time, to your average customer who goes off-road, this feature is clutch.
On the road, the truck was smooth, and those Recaro sport seats not only provided decent bolstering, but were comfortable for my small-ish frame. Though its worth mentioning that I didn’t spend too much time in them, so I can’t say how comfortable they’d be for the long-haul.
Ford also says the 2019 truck comes with an “enhanced rear appliqué,” which is basically a big piece of plastic that says “FORD” on it. While I believe that, if a truck maker wants its name on a tailgate, the only proper way to do so is via a stamping, this doesn’t look too bad, I guess.
The best improvement to the tail end, though, is the revised bedside graphic, which looks less aggressive than the last one, and has more of a vintage look. I dig it.
The compromises I mentioned in my 2017 article still apply. This remains a big, cumbersome truck to navigate through tight passages. The vehicle’s front and rear cameras help with spotting, but the giant track width, overall height, and length make keeping the truck scratch-free a bit tough on tight trails.
Had I spent more time on the road, this “What’s Weak” section might be longer and more detailed, but on this kind of terrain—for which the Raptor was engineered—I can’t say I have too many qualms.
This may not be the most enlightening revelation, but the 2019 Raptor, on its home turf, just plain kicks ass. For 2019, it’s still fun to drive quickly, it can still crawl up pretty much anything that its size doesn’t encumber, and now there’s a Trail Control feature, and it’s actually useful.
The Raptor is a truck that your average person can drive and have a hell of a lot of fun with on trails. And though I didn’t notice a dramatic improvement over the previous model in terms of ride, the Trail Control feature alone makes the 2019 Ford Raptor just that tiny bit stronger. And stronger is good.