2019 Ford F-150 Raptor first drive: Sharper claws; bigger teeth

Refreshes are generally a time when an automaker changes up a headlight, maybe a bumper cover or two — or in the case of the Acura ILX we just drove, the whole nose of the car — and squeezes some extra money out of a slightly different looking exterior. For the 2019 model year, the Ford Raptor IS freshened up, but the team at Ford took a slightly different approach. 

Let’s get this out of the way first — Ford didn’t stab a V8 into the Raptor, but we still think that could be coming. Instead of ripping out the potent twin-turbocharged V6 and putting in a worked over Mustang mill, the folks at Ford Performance refined the Raptor’s sharp edge with a whetstone. That means most of Ford’s efforts went towards the Raptor’s already-stout suspension. 

The Raptor has a new set of hi-tech adaptive dampers from Fox Racing. Sure, this sounds a little like a broken record — adaptive dampers are almost an expectation on modern sports and adventure cars. But, unlike most adaptive dampers — even the magnetorheological wizardry in the Mustang's MagneRide system — Fox focused on adding extra resistance to the compression side of the damper. On the shock, there’s a solenoid that increases the compression resistance of the shock, which prevents bottoming out when say, jumping (not advised). The shocks know when to stiffen up thanks to a suspension height sensor on the front of the truck. Basically, it can tell when the Raptor’s suspension is at full travel — like it would be in the air — and firms up the shocks expecting your return to Earth. 

The shocks do more than just make the Raptor more comfortable when jumping. They also get inputs from your steering angle, throttle pedal angle and an accelerometer inside the cabin. With all this information, the Raptor’s suspension can firm up when taking a corner hard — reducing body roll. This all allows for a suspension that is rock stiff when you want it to be but offers a comfortable ride when you’re just shuffling along on your commute. 

The updated Raptor also gets a new feature called Trail Control. Basically, this is a cruise control for, well, off-road trails. Activating the system is simple enough — you press a button that’s above the touchscreen and then use the regular cruise control buttons to manage speed. The system limits the speed and ranges only from 1-20 mph, though it allows you to set half-mph-intervals, for better precision when climbing over obstacles. 

The last notable update to the Raptor happens inside. Raptor buyers that check the box for Recaro seats will sit in perches inspired by the Ford GT. While it’s a small update, the new seats offer good bolstering and look high end. 

The Execution

Again, the powertrain is the same as the previous model. That might a disappointment to some, but the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6’s 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque is plenty to hustle this rig across the desert. The same 10-speed automatic transmission as last year moves that power from the engine to the rest of the driveline. Despite being a turbocharged engine, the EcoBoost V6 delivers power smoothly with a quick throttle response. That might not be too surprising if you look at the Raptor's spec sheet and see that it hits 510 lb-ft of peak torque at a relatively low 3,500 rpm. 

The transmission, too, doesn’t skip a beat in this pickup. With an aggressive foot, the transmission delivers quick shifts and doesn’t hunt for what gear it thinks would be best. The different drive modes — normal, sport, Baja, rock crawl, deep snow/sand, towing and weather — obviously affect the transmission differently, with Baja and sport mode holding shifts until the last moment and normal mode keeping the engine’s rpms down to conserve fuel.

Blasting through a desert trail, the new suspension keeps the Raptor impressively stable over bumpy terrain. Of course, it doesn’t separate the cabin from the road like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but the Raptor keeps you from bottoming out over mild obstacles you’ll encounter when pre-running or enjoying a trail by yourself. Though, to really appreciate the latest Fox sorcery, you’ll want to get some air.

If you own a Raptor — you’ve at least considered getting the nearly 3-ton pickup airborne. And the new shocks are there to help you land. Despite getting nearly three feet of air, the refreshed Raptor treats it nearly the same as driving over a tall curb. Sure, you feel it — but the suspension doesn’t bottom out, the airbags don’t go off and your back won’t ache. Now, if you try to hit some of the jumps you see on a Supercross course, you might not have the same results. 

If you live in the Midwest or on the East Coast, you might get more out of the Raptor’s Trail Control system than the new shocks. Triggering the system is easy, though it’s not exactly straightforward. You need to use the same controls for your cruise control as your trail control. You’ll learn that coming to a complete stop resets your set speed back to 1 mph. Besides those minor hiccups, the system is a lot of fun to use. Setting the speed to 4.5 mph, the truck searches for grip and adjusts wheel speed and throttle depending on your line. That gives greenhorn off-roaders one less step to worry about when scaling rough terrain but can also help experienced wheelers manage new trails a little easier.

With a focus on rough terrain, bolstered Recaro buckets probably aren’t on the top of your dream rig’s parts list. But they should be. The new Recaro seats in the ’19 Raptor have a fairly wide base and a relatively wider back — wider than my 6’ and 180-pound frame could totally fill — so bigger folks should have no problem fitting comfortably. Still, despite having some wiggle room, the seats hold well when going around rough terrain and loose road surfaces and give you enough support that you won’t feel like you’ve spent the day in a paint shaker.

The Takeaway

Ford didn’t go overboard with updates to the F-150 Raptor. It doesn’t have a new front face or wildly restyled interior — hell, it might even be hard to tell the difference between a ’19 and a ’17 if they were parked next to each other at the grocery store. You might have wanted V8 power, but that’s not here yet, either. However, the new suspension completely changes how the Raptor behaves off-road.  And it makes landing those all-important jumps (again, at your own risk) feel like nothing at all. Trail Control makes the Raptor more accessible to entry-level off-roaders and, if nothing else, is a fun gimmick to show off to your seasoned wheeling buddies.

The Raptor just keeps getting sharper — and it needs to. With rumblings of Ram entering the Baja blasting pickup world, the Raptor has to double down on what it does well — and it does that (and then some) for ’19.

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