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What makes Ford’s new F-150 Raptor pickup truck special isn’t under the hood

Ford revealed a redesigned version of its F-150 Raptor high-performance pickup truck Wednesday with a more squared-edged looks and a wider headlight-to-headlight grill. It also comes with a new high-tech suspension that responds almost instantaneously to changing terrain.

What it won’t have is a lot more power than the last F-150 Raptor, so Ford is counting on new off-road driving technologies, such as a computer-controlled suspension and smart cameras, to help it compete against tough new competition. The big jump in horsepower will come later, Ford executives promise.

A new Raptor has been expected since Ford started producing its redesigned F-150 last year. That’s the truck on which the Raptor is based. This latest Raptor shares a lot with the F-150, but adds more features that are specifically targeted to its role as a high-speed off-road performance truck.

The F-150 Raptor, designed with high-speed, off-road desert driving in mind, has been a big hit for Ford. Ford’s F-series trucks are generally very profitable and the Raptor, which currently has a starting price of about $54,000, has been especially so, said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president for the Americas and International Markets Group.

Despite its price and highly specialized purpose, it’s one of the most popular versions of the F-150. Ford has not needed to use rebates or other incentives to help sell Raptors, said Galhotra.

While Ford has not announced horsepower figures yet, saying more testing is needed, executives have said the new Raptor will produce only a little more power than the current model’s 450 horsepower. While the rest of the truck is new, the engine and transmission are largely the same as last year’s model. Some changes to the exhaust system could allow for more power, though.

But it also has never faced direct competition like the Ram 1500 TRX, or as some call it, the “T-Rex. Unveiled last August, the Ram TRX was named the MotorTrend Truck of the Year a few months later. It has a big supercharged 702-horsepower V8 engine compared to the current Raptor’s 450-horsepower turbocharged V6. But the TRX also has a higher starting price of more than $70,000.

Ram is a division of Stellantis, the company recently formed from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group. Ram takes this fight so seriously that the TRX has an embossed drawing of a Tyrannosaurus Rex biting into a Velociraptor underneath its engine air filter cover. In real life, Velociraptors were much smaller and more nimble dinosaurs than the hulking T-Rex, and that’s somewhat analogous to how Ford is positioning its new Raptor.

But the new Raptor, with its smaller engine and a body made from aluminum and composite materials, is also about 600 pounds lighter than the Ram TRX, said Galhotra. And less weight makes for a better driving experience on road and off. Ford also boasts of the relative fuel efficiency of the Raptor, which according to Ford, can go more than 500 miles on a tank of gas. That’s due, in part, to the truck’s big gas tank, though, and implies a fuel economy of just 14 miles per gallon.

Still, that would be better than the Ram TRX’s EPA-estimated average fuel economy of 12 mpg.

The new Raptor comes standard with big 35-inch diameter off-road tires, but even bigger 37-inch tires will also be available as an option. Those big wheels and tires keep the truck high off the ground, which is good for driving on rugged terrain. Sensors in the truck’s suspension check for changes in the terrain 500 times each second, according to Ford, and can instantly change the stiffness of shock absorbers in response. More than 80% of Raptor owners take their trucks off-road at least once in a while, said Galhotra, based on Ford’s customer research.

The Raptor also includes new camera technologies aimed at improving the off-road driving experience. Onboard cameras provide a 360-degree view of obstacles around the truck, while front view camera shows where the front wheels will go given the current steering wheel position.

For tricky off-road situations, drivers can select a one-pedal driving mode that operates both the throttle and the brakes using just the accelerator pedal. Like some other off-road models from competitors, the new Raptor also has Trail Control, a sort of low-speed cruise control for off-road situations so drivers don’t have to touch the pedals at all. Drivers can also select from a variety of different driving modes, including Sport, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl. These change things like steering response, exhaust settings and suspension stiffness.

The new Raptor also offers some additional features shared with the new F-150 truck it’s based on. For instance, it has power plugs in the bed that will allow users to run power tools and lights or charge electric dirt bikes. (The engine will need to be running in order to generate electricity when the plugs are in use.) The truck also has a new entirely digital gauge cluster and a 12-inch center touchscreen. Active Drive Assist, which allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel when driving on some highways, will be available, too. Software updates for these and other systems can be downloaded “over-the-air,” without owners having to visit a dealership.

Pricing for the new Raptor will be announced closer to when it goes on sale in the summer. That won’t be the end of this fight, though.

To better compete against the muscular Ram TRX, there will be the new Raptor R next year, Ford executives said. Like the TRX, it will have a V8 engine. By then, GM should be selling its all-electric 1,000-horsepower GMC Hummer EV truck, too, a whole new species in the battle of high horsepower pickups.

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