1. home
  2. news
  3. features
  4. 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor: First Look

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor: First Look

More Wheel Travel, Bigger Shocks, 37-inch Tires, But Still No V-8.

Ford rocked the pickup world in 2009 when it first introduced the go-fast desert-oriented F-150 Raptor. The truck's big tires, big shocks, bulging body, and bad-boy attitude made the truck an instant hit. And it's only gotten more popular and more capable from there. Now, for 2021 and in its third-generation, Ford has pulled back the camouflage on its latest Raptor creation. Come along as we take an in-depth look at the most unique Raptor Ford has produced to date.

Yes, It Has (Optional) 37-inch Tires

Raptor owners since day zero have been asking for 37-inch tires. Now, for the first time, buyers will be able to choose between 35- or 37-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires. Selecting the 37-inch tires gets buyers a specific beadlock-capable wheel, custom "Raptor 37" bedside graphics, and a unique interior that includes Recaro bucket seats.

Selecting 37-inch tires comes with a couple trade-offs. The 37s bring with them more sidewall and improved ground clearance, from 12 inches to 13.1 inches. On the downside, wheel travel is reduced from 14 inches front and 15 rear to 13 front and 14.1 rear. One of the biggest complaints from second-generation Raptor owners who have gone to a 37-inch tire is that a spare won't fit under the bed. Ford has fixed this for 2021, and Raptors with 37-inch tires come with a unique frame with a trailer hitch tailored to fit the larger rolling stock.

No, It Doesn't Have A V-8, Yet

We were a bit surprised to find out that Ford isn't ready to bring out an answer to the Ram TRX's fiery 702-hp 6.2L supercharged V-8 engine. Instead, under the hood of the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is a third-generation 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 engine. Although specific outputs aren't available as of yet, Ford has said to expect power to remain in the ballpark of the outgoing high-output EcoBoost sported by the second-generation Raptor.

For 2021, Ford has bumped up the compression ratio of the 3.5L EcoBoost from 10.0:1 to 10.5:1. The standard 3.5L EcoBoost-equipped F-150 saw a bump of 25 hp and 30 lb-ft for the 2021 model year. We'd love to see the Raptor follow suit and bump output from 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque to something closer to 475 hp and 550 lb-ft.

One thing Ford has said is that with a 36-gallon fuel tank, the 2021 F-150 Raptor will have a range greater than 500 miles. Doing the math, that equates to an average fuel economy of 14 mpg combined. Considering that the 2020 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCrew was fitted with a 36-gallon tank and rated at 16 mpg combined, we found this stat a bit confusing (unless fuel economy is actually going down).

Backing the 3.5L EcoBoost engine is Ford's familiar 10-speed automatic transmission, which is the same unit backing all of the company's F-150 engines for 2021. Final drive ratio remains the same as it has always been for Raptor, at 4.10:1.

Two New Raptor-Specific Frames

Beginning with the second-generation F-150 Raptor in 2017, Ford's high-performance off-road machine has sported a unique frame, different from the standard F-150 pickup. This is no different for the third-generation 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, which now uses two different and unique frames. How are the frames different than a standard F-150, you ask? Well, for starters the front coil buckets are both taller and stronger. The rear lower control arm pivot is also updated. Turning to the rear, provisions for the standard leaf-spring suspension have been removed and instead the Raptor frames include the needed hardware to support the truck's new five-link rear suspension.

Raptor 37 models receive a frame that is different still than the standard 35-inch tire equipped trucks. Modifications were needed to both support the added stress of the larger tire, and to fit the spare in the standard location. Reinforcements have been made to the area where the rear jounce bumpers mount, one of the rear crossmembers had to be moved slightly, and the spare tire winch plate is updated. Fitting the spare tire also required a new, Raptor-specific, trailer hitch and tow hooks. However, this piece is shared with the standard Raptor frame, as well.

Both frames are fully boxed and constructed of high-strength steel.

All-New Suspension

At the heart of the Raptor is its desert-pounding suspension system, which has been fully updated for the 2021 model year. Up front, the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor features new upper and lower control arms, a new steering knuckle, improved ball joints, and new inner CV joints that allow for more angle without binding at full suspension droop.

The rear is where things get really wild. Gone are the leaf springs of old, instead replaced with a new five-link suspension. The system use four control arms for vertical motion control, while a panhard bar locates the axle laterally. Raptor now uses massive 24-inch-tall triple rate coil springs, which are not only taller than those found on Ram's TRX but also the largest in the industry.

Suspension travel has also been increased, with 35-inch tires the 2021 F-150 Raptor sports 14 inches of wheel travel, while the rear now has 15 inches to work with. Bumping up to the optional 37-inch BFGoodrich tires decreases wheel travel by about an inch to 13 inches in front and 14.1 inches in the rear. By comparison, the original first-generation Raptor came off the line with 11.2 inches of front wheel travel and 12 inches in the rear. And for those wondering, Ram's new TRX boasts 13 inches in the front and 14 inches rear.

Improved Fox Live Valve Shocks

Ford introduced the electronically controlled Fox Live Valve dampers on the 2019 F-150 Raptor and is bringing an updated version for the 2021 model year. This second-generation of Live Valve shocks provides double the compression control of the previous model, which results in much higher internal pressures. To combat this, Fox has increased the diameter of the dampers from 3.0 to 3.1 inches with extra size found purely in increased wall thickness. Ford says these shocks can provide up to 1,000 pounds of damping force per corner and desert speeds.

The Live Valve system takes readings from each corner, with the rear now receiving its own sensors (the previous generation inferred the rear position from the front) and can adjust compression damping at each corner up to 500 times per second. The shocks respond in 80 milliseconds, which is about the same speed the human brain processes visual information. Shock fluid has also been updated to a new low-friction oil, designed for better resistance to head-induced fade.

Raptor 37 models receive their own specific Fox shocks built to handle the larger tires. These dampers increase shaft diameter from 7/8 to 1 inch, and they're tuned specifically for the increased unsprung mass and reduced wheel travel.

Other Off-Road Goodness

Major talking points aside, the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor comes with an impressive list of off-road specs and features. The third-generation off-roader comes with an electronic locking rear differential standard. Owners can also select an optional Torsen limited-slip for the front differential. Terrain Management returns with seven selectable drive modes (Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja, Rock Crawl). These drive modes adjust steering feel, transfer case behavior, stability control, throttle mapping, transmission shift points, and the new active exhaust valves. Trail Control returns, as well, which allows drivers to set a speed and the truck will manage the throttle and braking. Coming in the future, Ford says, are Trail Turn Assist and off-road trail maps for the new Sync 4 navigation system. Also available are new bumper-mounted fog lamps from Rigid Industries. Two of Raptor's three wheel options are also beadlock capable.

By the numbers, the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor fitted with 35-inch tires boasts a minimum ground clearance of 12 inches, an approach angle of 31 degrees, departure angle of 23.9 degrees, and breakover of 22.7 degrees. Bumping up to the larger 37-inch rolling stock nets a minimum ground clearance of 13.1 inches, approach angle of 33.1 degrees, departure angle of 24.9 degrees, and a breakover angle of 24.4 degrees. All of these are an improvement over 2020 model year numbers.

New 3-inch "Trombone" Exhaust

The biggest, and frankly one of the only, complaints that we heard from folks after Ford switched to the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 for the second-generation Raptor in 2017 was about the truck's terrible exhaust note. Most liken the noise to that of an angry weed whacker or leaf blower, or simply confuse it for a different V-6 pickup like a Tacoma with no muffler.

To remedy the situation, Ford has fitted the 2021 F-150 Raptor with an all-new 3-inch exhaust system. This new exhaust uses a patent-pending built-in "X-pipe" and what Ford is calling a "Trombone Loop" to both improve the scavenging effect of the exhaust system and produce a more pleasant tone. Also included are a new muffler with improved baffling, and a pair of exhaust bypass valves, which are a first for Raptor. These valves work in conjunction with the truck's seven drive modes and four exhaust modes to create a different (read: louder) note for different driving conditions.

When the truck is placed in the Baja drive mode, both exhaust valves open to route gases mostly around the muffler's baffling and straight into the X-pipe. This produces the most aggressive tone. On the other end of the spectrum, there's a Quiet mode for the exhaust, which, as you guessed, routes all of the exhaust through the muffler. The two other exhaust modes, Normal and Sport, split the difference.

Upgraded Towing and Hauling

While we expected an increase in Raptor's ability to tow and haul for the 2021 model year, what surprised us was how little those numbers actually rose. Now, we get it, Raptor is a specialty vehicle built for going fast off-road and its squishy desert-loving suspension doesn't really lend itself to towing heavy loads. However, when we say that maximum towing capacity increased by just 200 pounds for 2021, seemingly just to best Ram's TRX, we kind of had the reaction of why bother.

The 2020 Ford F-150 Raptor Super Crew was rated to tow up to 8,000 pounds. Ram's 2021 TRX came out with a rating of 8,100 pounds. So, naturally, Ford upped the ante with the 2021 Raptor by increasing towing to 8,200 pounds. We get that "best-in-class" claims are important, but we would have like to see a rating of maybe 8,500 to 9,000 pounds, just so it doesn't seem like such a game.

Payload increased marginally, as well, bumping from 1,200 to 1,400 pounds.

2021 F-150 Goodies

Of course the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is more than just a pretty face and some go-fast hardware. The halo F-150 also receives most of the same feature updates that the standard F-150 gets for 2021. The interior is all-new, and Raptor features both a 12-inch digital gauge cluster and 12-inch infotainment system running on Sync 4. Raptor now features over-the-air updates, and owners can control a whole host of vehicle functions through the FordPass app. In addition, you also get a nifty 360-degree camera system, four USB ports for charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Raptor also comes with Ford's Co-Pilot 360 2.0 safety system, which now includes improved parking assistance and is set up to enable full hands-free driving on the highway when the function becomes available later in the year.

Ford has also added its new ProPower Onboard generator system to Raptor as standard equipment. This system, which is capable of producing 2.0kW of power, is useful for powering nearly any 110-volt item that could be used in the backcountry. What does this mean in a practical sense? If you were to use your Raptor as the campsite entertainment hub, you could run a television, speakers, mini fridge, blender, and electric heater all at the same time. Pretty fun, huh?

2022 Ford Raptor R

The rumor mill has been in full swing since Ford first announced a new F-150 for 2021. Some of the rumors included 37-inch tires, a five-link rear suspension, bigger Fox shocks, and a V-8 engine. As we've just seen, almost all of these turned out to be true. Most recently, word of a high-performance Raptor R variant began to circulate. Interestingly, Ford has confirmed that Raptor R is real and is coming for 2022 and representatives have been quoted as saying that it will indeed have a V-8 engine. If truck Santa is listening, we'd like a supercharged V-8 engine, 3.5-inch Fox shocks, Fox coilovers in the rear, and 17-inches of wheel travel pretty please.

Final Thoughts

We are incredibly excited by the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor. Ford engineers have taken what they have learned from a decade of desert dominance and improved the Raptor in nearly every way. We love that they are listening to owners by incorporating a five-link rear suspension, 37-inch tires, and an improved exhaust. And the prospect of a V-8 powered Raptor R coming in the future has us giddy as can be. We simply cannot wait to jump behind the wheel.