With a look at this month's December 2013 cover, you might think we're starting a hate-club against Raptors. But that's not our intention at all. The Raptor has become a worldwide success (with the U.S. getting it and the rest of the world wanting it) and shown automakers that specialty niche versions of their products can, and do, succeed in America's vehicle market. The Raptor is like nothing offered ever before, with not only suspension and traction-enhancing refinements, but also with a special computer reprogramming option (known as "off-road mode"). This option adjusts shift points and throttle response while shutting down a lot of electronic babysitters that can greatly hinder off-road performance. Other vehicles have been offered with special suspensions and traction enhancements in the past, but the Raptor is the first to give a different electronic calibration option with the push of a button. This puts the Raptor in a class of its own.
But the Raptor is still an F-150—a top-selling truck millions of Americans own. All those "other" F-150s are not equipped with an off-road mode, a locker, special fenders, or a distinct suspension, but almost everything unique the Raptor has can be added in the aftermarket. A normal F-150 can be turned into a "Raptor killer" in every way except for that one very special feature: Off-road mode. This is where every truck build involving a newer truck can fall short of the Raptor's high mark. No matter what you do to a new truck (save for gutting all the electronics), you cannot get around things like stability control, anti-lock brakes, or traction control.
You can add quadruple-bypass shocks, 20 inches of wheel travel, and you may even be able to improve throttle response and reprogram the transmission on a newer truck, but you won't be able to shut down the babysitters without some major ECU work. That's why Raptors stand in a class of their own.
Now, all that being said, you can still make one heck of an off-road truck from a standard-issue F-150, and for a much cheaper buy-in price (see Kevin Blumer's story on page 48). Most of us cannot afford a new or even used Raptor, but a normal F-150 can be bought and built into something that will bring you almost as much fun, in a customized package you put together. Start with an old enough F-150, and the off-road mode that makes a Raptor so sought after won't even be relevant since those older trucks have none of the frustrating babysitters.
Maybe the Raptor is the end-all new truck to have. But I'm still not sure I wouldn't just want an old truck and $50,000 to see what could be built.