First Drive: 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R

First Drive: 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R

Story and photos by Dan Heyman

The Ford F-150 Raptor is already an F-Series in beast mode. Even when it dropped two cylinders and added two turbos for the 2017 model year, it had all the good stuff that made the Raptor what it was, just with more power and requiring less fuel.

Here’s the thing, though. When it comes to halo vehicles like a version of a vehicle that has been a top-seller – well, the top seller, really – in Canada for over 50 years, people tend to vote with their heart more than their brains. That means that even if the sixer made more power and even if it used less gas and even if they used computers to make it sound like a V8, it was never going to be quite the same. Having driven it, I tend to agree. It’s a great truck, but…

…there’s a reason they’ve come out with the “R” version for 2023. It gets a V8, and not just any V8, but a supercharged 5.2-litre “Predator” V8 shared with the most powerful Ford ever to hit showrooms, the latest Shelby GT500 Mustang. That means – wait for it – seven-HUNDRED horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. That is an eye-watering number and while the Ram 1500 TRX makes a little more, forget about it. This thing is as crazy as a truck that feels like seven times 100 hp should feel.

The engine has been detuned a little from the GT500 to be better equipped for more “truck” things – like being able to tow up to 8,200 lbs., for example – and the suspension has been modified to be able to accommodate the heavier engine. You do get the Fox Live Valve suspension the standard Raptor gets, though, which means your dampers are reading the ground below in milliseconds and constantly adjusting to what’s going on there. In practice, that means the Raptor R rides almost like a standard F-150 on the road, but can buck up when the time comes to start smashing through sand dunes in Baja mode.

Ahh, Baja mode. What it does is allow for more power to be sent to the rear wheels as well as allow for more slip, meaning hairy drifts are that much easier to pull off. I wasn’t on any kind of fast off-road course but I was driving through snow and had ample opportunity to let the rear end swing out, which is a ton of fun even at slower, more controllable speeds.

Keep in mind, however, that the Raptor R might not be the first choice when it comes time to tackle slow off-roading, Rubicon Trail-style. It has the Trail Turn Assist feature that reduces your turning radius by braking the inside wheel so you can swivel ‘round like a tank, but you can’t disconnect the sway bars like you can in a Ford Bronco, for example, or even a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. No, the Raptor R is all about ludicrous speed on ludicrous roads.

Indeed, it is just so very satisfying to plant that right foot, hear the supercharger wail as it comes on boil and fling yourself down the road at a pace that can only be described as torrid. When you’re doing that kind of speed on 37-inch off-road tires (your only choice; the 35s found on the standard Raptor aren’t available here) suspended by Fox dampers in Baja drive mode with your hair on fire, there are few words.

It’s hammered to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode, and even the paddles used to operate said ‘box are special, being crafted from real magnesium and measuring six inches if they measure one. Even their action feels like something you’d find in a low-slung sports car.

Same goes for the seats, if not the seating position; these are specialized sports seats developed in partnership with Recaro that are comfortable and supportive. Other interior bits like carbon fibre inserts, some contrast-colour stitching and a steering wheel with a red centring band all serve to drive the point home that this ain’t your carpenter’s F-150.

Thing is, depending on how moneyed they are, your carpenter could probably use it as a work truck; it has Ford’s patented bed access system, the tailgate with rulers, c-clamp spots, cupholders and iPad holders as well as bed lights and power outlets. Wild as it is, you could see it as a built-for-use pickup.

On top of all that, you also get the interior goods that make the F-150 as popular as it is. Stuff like a 12-inch infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Bang & Olufsen sound, flat rear floor or the shift lever that folds away to make room for a two-foot long work surface. Not only is it powerful, but I’d argue that it’s almost as practical as any other truck in the line-up and to put a bow on all this, you can drive it around town at pedestrian speeds (with the exhaust note turned to “Quiet”; “Normal”, “Sport” and, of course, “Baja” are also available) perfectly comfortably.

Here’s the thing, though – and we’re not talking about the 20L/100 km of 91 octane it uses in the combined cycle. That thing…is called the Ram TRX. That starts at around the same price the non-R Raptor does (as tested, my truck rings in at about $150,000, 50 grand more or so than the Raptor or TRX), with a V8 that has more power than the R’s does. Even that’s not really the problem, though; both of these trucks are insanely powerful. The problem is that the TRX is just more…everything. It’s louder – especially in the supercharger whine department – it’s more aggressively styled (thank you hood scoop-mounted marker lights), it adds a “jump” setting to its drive modes and has a nicer interior. In this game, words like “louder”, and “wilder” matter and the TRX hits those targets that much harder.

If you’re looking for an extreme off-road pickup that’s more a jack of all trades, then the Raptor R is for you. If you’re looking for max crazy and to save a few bucks, however, the TRX has it.