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Buckle up: 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor reloads for Detroit truck wars

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Detroit’s truck wars have raged for decades. Now come the super truck wars.

Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday unveiled the all-new, third-generation, 2021 F-150 Raptor, the most capable off-road warrior the F-series has ever birthed. The OG super truck, Raptor has inspired competitors like the Ram 1500 TRX and GMC Hummer EV. The latest version takes its dirt-pounding capabilities to new heights with a 37-inch tire option, 15-inch suspension travel, and tech features galore.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is Baja 1000 race inspired.

But for those pining for a 700-plus horsepower version to fight Ram’s Hellcat engine-fired TRX, they’ll have to wait. A Raptor R, likely powered by the 760 horsepower, supercharged V-8 from the Mustang GT500, is a year away.

In the meantime, the Baja racing-inspired Raptor will be powered by a standard, 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 while bringing plenty of new goodies to the fight. Spec'd at 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet-of torque in the previous gen, the new model's numbers have not yet been released.

The class-best 15-inch suspension travel is made possible by a unique rear sub-assembly that includes five-link suspension, coil-over springs, and more-capable, off-road Fox shocks. As violent as the Raptor is outside, the tank gets more civilized inside with standard 12-inch dash touchscreen, retractable gear shift, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

A new 5-link rear suspension and Fox shocks allow the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor class-best 15 inches of wheel travel.

“Raptor is the original desert truck. We just took it to another level,” said Ford Performance vehicle program director Ali Jammoul. “The all-new Raptor splices off-road performance muscle with advanced technology and connectivity.”

Super trucks are already outstripping the coveted super car segment in sales volume. Since its second-gen product rolled out in 2017, Raptor has outsold Porsche’s entire sports-car lineup – and the Chevy Corvette, too.

Raptor has been given a run for its money by Ram’s insane, 702-horse TRX (pronounced T-Rex) which boasts 13-inch suspension travel, a muscle-bound chassis, and big-screen interior. The GMC Hummer promises its own electrified take on the segment including claimed 3.0-second 0-60 times and “crab mode” for negotiating tight spaces.

The Raptor doubles down on what has made F-series the best-selling pickup for over 40 years: tech and capability.

The big cabin in the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor features a retractable gear shift so the console can be turned into a desktop.

The standard, 2021 F-150, introduced in November, is only sitting on dealer lots for nine days as customers have flocked to its high-tech goo-gaws. Raptor bristles with the same tools.

In addition to the big screen and wireless capability, Raptor options a 2 kW on-board generator so customers don’t have to lug their own generator into the Outback. Six auxiliary switches are provided for external devices.

The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor options a 2.0 kW generator with plufs in the bed.

Raptor promises Tesla-like, over-the-air updates for improved capability, Ford’s latest SYNC 4 infotainment system, and zone lighting so occupants can light up the truck’s surrounds. The retractable shifter allows occupants to turn the center console into  desktop workspace.

All this luxury is wrapped in an aluminum body design inspired, appropriately, by the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

In truth the exterior design changes are subtle. The aggressive front end is still dominated by F-O-R-D letters stamped across the grille, hood scoop, and three amber lights (required by federal law given the Raptor’s 80-plus inch wide footprint).

The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor has a twin-turbo V-6 with augmented sound to sound more like a V-8.

The super truck’s foundation has been fortified for off-road punishment. To withstand the impact of 15-inch suspension travel (by comparison, Baja race truck suspension travel is up to 40 inches) at over 100 mph in the desert, Raptor is fitted with huge, 3.1-inch diameter Fox dampers. Electronically controlled, the shocks not only change damping rates at 500 times per second during high-speed off-roading — they helped cushion the ride on Detroit’s broken roads.

For the first time, the Raptor offers a choice of 35 or 37-inch BF Goodrich tires, the latter raising the pickup’s ride height to 13.1 inches. The front, coil-over suspension is capable of 14-inches of suspension travel. Locking differentials are available front and rear for when the terrain gets gnarly and Raptor needs to crawl over rocks or through narrow gulches.

The new Fox shocks on the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor are surrounded by new coil springs in the rear.

“Raptor is rooted in Baja 1000 racing, and its suspension advances our capability and performance — a five-link rear setup with more wheel travel than any Raptor before it,” said Ford Performance chief engineer Carl Widmann.

While the turbocharged V-6 will soon play second fiddle to Raptor R’s supercharged V-8, it’s no slouch with stump-pulling low-end torque. In response to customers who pined for the first-generation Raptor’s, 5.4-liter V-8, the V-6 has been sound-enhanced with a more guttural roar.

Seven drive modes — Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-road, Baja and Rock Crawl — are on hand to automatically adjust drivetrain and suspension depending on your circumstance. The 36-gallon tank provides range of 500 miles.

Even towing and payload capacities have been upgraded to 8,200 and 1,400 pounds, respectively.

The 2021 Raptor super truck will roll off Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant this summer. Big brother Raptor R will follow in 2022.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.