- Jun 7, 2021
- Reaction score
Similar thoughts go through my head as I later send it skimming across the top of deep whoop-de-doos, scramble up hills and over uncertain rocky terrain, and schuss it through cone gates that are laid out like a sandy Super-G giant slalom course on the flanks of humongous dunes. The new Raptor gobbles it all up and spits it all out – in twin roosts of sand, at times – with better stability and more persistent power delivery than any previous Raptor before it. It frankly behaves as if it was built to do nothing else.
But this is nothing like a one-dimensional machine. Around town, the now crew-cab-only Raptor benefits from all of the comforts and thoughtful touches that adorn the latest F-150’s cabin, and it comes standard with a 12-inch instrument panel and a 12-inch center screen with Sync 4 and wireless smartphone connectivity. Its daily-drive ride is smooth, flat and largely devoid of aftershake after hitting rough patches. You’d be more than happy to spend all day behind the wheel, which is a handy thing because its 36-gallon fuel tank gives it well over 500 miles of highway driving range.
One single change is responsible for most of this, and that is the third-generation Raptor’s abandonment of leaf spring rear suspension in favor of a five-link setup with coil springs. If that sounds familiar, that’s what underpins most Ram pickups, including the Raptor's most obvious competitor, the Ram 1500 TRX. This setup makes for a smoother on-road ride, but it also helps a truck put power to the pavement (or dirt) with far less axle hop. No towing was involved in this event, but I fully expect improved trailering stability in crosswinds and on winding descents thanks to the new suspension's fifth link, the lateral panhard rod.
The Raptor’s interpretation of link-coil suspension is notably different from the TRX’s in two ways. Its four primary axle-locating links are considerably longer and connect farther forward on the frame, and its massive three-stage, progressive-rate coil springs connect to lower spring seat brackets that are bolted behind the rear axle instead of sitting atop it. The longer links open up performance potential, and the bolt-on spring seats create interesting possibilities for the upcoming Raptor R – not to mention aftermarket suspension kits.
In showroom configuration, it adds as much as a full 15 inches of rear axle travel, which is 1.1 inches more than the outgoing Raptor and a full inch more than the TRX. What’s more, increased travel is an indicator of a possible increase in axle articulation. Alert readers may remember how the TRX nearly maxed out my Flex Index ramp, so I might not be able to make a successful Raptor RTI measurement without first building a ramp extension. But the case for more overall articulation and the potential for a TRX-beating RTI score doesn’t begin and end in the rear.
That’s because the new Raptor's front suspension has also undergone improvements that increase its travel to 14.0 inches, which is a full inch more than both the outgoing Raptor and the Ram TRX. This is more a case of design optimization, because the same sort of wide-track double-wishbone suspension remains in play up front. The new Raptor gets new aluminum steering knuckles that optimize the upper ball joint’s range of motion, its axle joints were massaged to increase maximum angularity, and the front axle and differential assembly was lowered about a quarter-inch.
The above suspension travel improvements apply to Raptors fitted with the standard 35-inch tires (LT315/70R17 Load Range C). There’s also a new class-exclusive 37-inch tire option (37x12.5R17LT Load Range C), but they come with an inch less front and rear travel because of tighter wheel-well clearance. Both of them are BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires mounted on 17-by-8.5-inch rims, but the 37-inch setup has a different wheel offset to help them fit. The 35-inch setup offers bead-lock-capable rims as an option, but such rims are standard on the 37-inch fitment. In each case, the special bead-lock ring itself is an after-sale accessory.
Both tires are paired with the same 4.10-to-1 axle ratio, so the 35-inch version feels more lively out of the hole because shorter tires produce shorter overall effective gearing. A 37-inch Raptor generally floats a bit better over the whoops, and it absolutely has more ground clearance (13.1 versus 12.0) and better approach, departure, and breakover angles (33.1/24.9/24.4 degrees versus 31/23.9/22.7, respectively). But don’t be too hard on the 35-inch Raptor. All four of its above stats beat those of the Ram TRX, and I never found the limits while horsing one around in the desert.
I lean toward the 35s because I’m an articulation and acceleration snob. The 35-inch setup also returns better fuel economy, especially on the highway, to the tune of 15 mpg city, 18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined versus 15/16/15 mpg for a 37-inch truck. You’ll want to make this choice before you buy, too. Fitting a 37-inch full-size matching spare under the bed wasn’t trivial. It required meaningful changes to certain crossmembers, the spare tire winch, and the rearmost crossmember/trailer hitch. The two trucks are physically different. In other words, you won’t be able to simply slap a 37-inch aftermarket spare underneath if you start with a 35-inch Raptor.
Different bump stops account for the physical travel and articulation differences, but the coil springs themselves are the same. It’s the position of the lower spring seats that differs, as well as the internal tuning of the Fox Live Valve 3.1-inch position sensitive adaptive dampers. These dampers are pretty sweet, with multiple circuits of passive position sensitive internal-bypass valving layered atop an electronically-regulated secondary base valve that’s actuated by a predictive algorithm to make further bypass adjustments. It attempts to predict the terrain ahead by monitoring both the driver’s throttle and steering inputs, and the profile of the terrain using suspension position sensors at all four corners.