2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R Road Test: The hugest hot rod

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When I appeared on the Autoblog Podcast with Associate Editor Byron Hurd, and he told his tale about cavorting with the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R on the sand dunes at Silver Lake, I admitted it: I was jealous. I’m not really a truck guy. I prefer something slow and small with tight handling — even better if it’s electric. That … is not the Raptor R.

What it is, essentially, is a regular Ford F-150 Raptor with a Shelby GT500’s supercharged V8 and the optional 37-inch tires made standard. That’s pretty much it, but even that simple formula means this truck is a lot.

For one thing, the Raptor R is huge. It’s taller than 6-foot-8, and not easy to climb in and out, but you do feel like you could drive over anything. That high hood with its big power dome makes it hard to see what you’re about to rumble over like the Grave Digger, but a number of cameras can help make sense of what poor trodden object is just ahead of your front bumper. It’s wide, too, at 96 inches overall, or a “mere” 87 inches if you don’t care about your mirrors. Either way, that’s more than 7 feet, which means you’re using every little bit of the lane you’ve got, and getting warned by the lane-departure system when you deviate at all from the direct middle. Combine that with 145.4 inches of wheelbase and 232.6 inches of overall length, and you find yourself avoiding crowded parking lots and seeking out the most open of roads — or the quickest path off of them. No wonder this thing feels most at home in the desert. Good thing it’s got a Baja mode just for such escapes.

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But on the open road, you can unleash the beast (which, by the way, is exactly what my son kept calling the Raptor R). The aforementioned supercharged V8 displaces 5.2 liters and make an even 700 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. That’s an increase of 1.7 liters, two cylinders, 250 hp and 130 lb-ft over the standard Raptor. Stand on the right pedal, and there’s no hesitation for the Raptor R to rush toward the horizon. From behind the steering wheel, it’s not exactly jarring, which comes as a surprise the first time you put your foot to the floor.

It still pulls hard, but it does so with such poise and linearity that it somehow feels less dramatic, or at least less unnerving than you’d expect. The Raptor R follows its initial jolt off the line with a smooth, constant shove that gives you a sense that the truck is in control of its powerplant, and that you’re in control of the truck. Yes, there’s a lot to stimulate the senses — the deep but somehow smooth growl of the V8 accompanied by the whinny of the supercharger, the snugness with which the Recaro seats wrap around you — but it’s more of a service than an assault. The suspension doesn’t squat excessively as you launch, nor does it nosedive in the subsequent braking required to return to sensible speeds, and the 10-speed automatic transmission doesn’t smack its way through the gears. Furthermore, the sheer size of this thing makes the speed feel like less threatening to the part of your lizard brain that might lose its composure in something smaller and more exposed. In the Raptor R, you’re lounging at the speed of light. It’s surely more frightening from the outside, but that shocking spectacle and cacophony of something this massive hurtling across the tarmac is distilled into an epicurean delight for the driver.

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And on those highways on which this truck has an absolutely dominating presence, it’s a surprising treat to pilot when not ripping around at full blast. I couldn’t find fault with the suspension tuning. There’s no real sense of the extra weight beneath the hood; whatever calculations Ford did to tighten up the front suspension were just right, and, likewise, the rear coil spring and five-link setup keep chatter in check. The Fox internal bypass shocks and electronic continuously variable damping do an incredible job of maintaining composure and comfort whether hauling ass over highway frost heaves, cruising cratered dirt roads or gliding over undulations in a tight corner. It navigated the ubiquitous Mt. Brighton parking lot potholes — which more closely resemble the world’s least comfortable kiddie pools than anything that would fit on your stove — without drawing a clatter from the skis in the bed.

The Raptor R package that nets you the V8 also tacks on an extra $30,575 to the sticker price, giving it a starting point of $109,245 (including $1,895 in destination). There’s not much else mechanically that separates it from the lesser Raptor. It gets those standard 37-inch wheels, which aren’t just better for tackling tough terrain. They look cool as hell, and don’t turn everyday driving into a more painful experience, apart from the increased ingress height and the small decrease in turning circle (50 feet, versus the non-R Raptor’s 48 feet on standard 35-inch tires).

So is the Raptor R’s V8 and the modicum of extras worth 30 grand? Quite possibly. It delivers. There’s something deeply satisfying about a Ford V8, regardless of displacement. The smoothness and steady, predictable pull, whether blown or not, is satisfying. This V8 might suit your fancy more than the raw, hungry, hardscrabble clawing of the ferocious Hellcat V8 in the Ram TRX, but that might depend on your relationship with other Fords you’ve driven, too. All valid.

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I don’t particularly care why you’d pick the Raptor R or how you spend your money. I do know I’ll be pointing out any Raptor R I see to whomever is in the car with me, and probably spout off some of the things you’ve read above, so long as they’ll listen. I’ll appreciate the owner’s distinguished taste. When you blow past me while my children cover their ears and everyone else shakes their head, I’ll quietly pump my fist for you. And as much as I try to deny I’m a truck guy, there will always be certain pickups I’ll get excited about spotting in the wild. After driving it, the Raptor R just hopped to the top of that list, right alongside the Lightning and the Hummer EV. If I can catch up to you, I might suggest you’d like those, too.

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