The Ford F-150 Raptor: A Grown-Up Monster Truck

Full-sized trucks are thought to be practical purchases versus emotional ones. These work tools haul lumber, tow boats, and possess the honest, hard-working strength one needs to help build a better community. But really, the purchase of a full-size truck is just as emotional as any other purchase. We buy them because we want to imagine ourselves as the leader of the ranch, the worksite, or the worksite that happens to be building a ranch. Sure, our real-life work efforts don’t go beyond buying a bag of mulch from the local big-box home-improvement store, but we at least like to look like we can be the strong, capable type.

Or maybe we just want big trucks because they’re cool. And there’s no truck cooler than Ford’s F-150 Raptor. Yes, it’s an extreme-looking machine, but it was purposely built with just one mission in mind: to go out and have as much fun as possible. Or, to put it another way: you remember those radio-controlled monster trucks you liked to jump as a kid? Well, this is the grown-up version.

Yes, the Raptor is built for jumping, among other things. Its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 puts out 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque to help launch this 5,518-pound beast up and over your local sand dunes. An uprated suspension, featuring massive FOX shocks and 14 inches of travel, helps soften the landing; the seriously reinforced frame helps keep it all from snapping in two upon landing. Not that we’d know first-hand: the last thing we want to do is learn — and then botch — a full-speed jump in a $50,000 truck. But we’ve seen plenty of Raptors get airborne on video. And besides, to borrow a phrase from Ricky Bobby, we just wanna go fast.

As if we need to say it: the Raptor is really, really good at going fast. It may be “just a truck,” but it’s also a highly advanced, finely tuned machine. Its body is made from aluminum to reduce weight, helping improve this truck’s acceleration, cornering, and braking. That turbocharged V6 engine is mated to a high-tech 10-speed transmission, which not only helps this Raptor get better fuel economy than the previous version, it also helps it rocket from 0-60 in just 5.3 seconds. Cutting-edge technologies also help optimize traction in sand, dirt and snow, and that long-travel suspension thrives when the going gets bumpy.

To sample all this, we took our Raptor to the El Mirage dry lake bed just an hour or so outside Los Angeles. It’s a dry, dusty, wide-open space with no traffic, no cops, and no rules. You know, the perfect place to really open this thing up.

For a dry patch of dirt, this location has a lot of things going on. The center of the dry lake bed is smooth and flat, and is often used for high-speed trial runs. Today, however, it’s filled with an assortment of ATVs and motorcycles that are kicking up plumes of dirt as they criss-cross in every direction, not to mention a fashion shoot happening right in the middle of it all. The outer rim, on the other hand, features less traffic and a lot more bumps. Perfect.

The drive is easy. We just point our Raptor towards an uncluttered spot on the horizon and punch it. Our view out of the windscreen shows mild hills, water-cut crevasses, and clumps of dirt passing quickly beneath us. The sensation from inside the Raptor’s leather-appointed cabin is one of smoothness. In a normal vehicle, each surface feature would require us to brake hard, approach at an angle, grimace as we scrape on said feature, and rely only on the power of hope to take us through. The Raptor just ploughs forward with nary a shrug.

Outside of the lakebed are a number of trails created expressly for some off-road fun. These paths will go from a series of whoops (rapid-succession bumps) to gravel, to soft sand, to uneven and rutted terrain, and back. Again, on these trails the Raptor just charges ahead without breaking a sweat — even with the radio and air conditioning on full-blast. Driving through this Fury Road-esque terrain just seems so easy, causing us to think that maybe we didn’t find the right roads for this aggressively hopped-up Ford.

But then we find ourselves trailing behind another full-sized pick-up truck — this one built in a more traditional style. And it’s moving. Way. Too. Slow. We watch as it bobs and weaves around rocks in the road, slows to a crawl as it approaches some ruts, and twists its frame over some minor obstacles. After our high-speed thrills, it’s agonizing to be going so slow when we know we could be going much, much faster. Luckily, this other truck veers off onto another path, letting us lay on the go pedal for another round of fun. Perhaps the Raptor is even better than we thought.

Unlike the previous-gen Raptor, which featured a suspension that was so soft it squished and rolled under acceleration and braking, this newest truck features some excellent road manners. Massive size aside, it’s easy to drive, with the type of brake response and highway stability you’d want in your everyday vehicle. It even manages to stay relatively flat in the corners, all things considered.

But really, no one buys a Raptor for its on-road capability. They buy a Raptor because they never outgrew their love of toy trucks. The Raptor may not be the most capable workhorse out there, but who cares? It’s a machine built with the sole purpose of bringing your old Hot Wheels fantasies to life. It’s pure fun — and for that, we can’t help but love it.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.