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ROAD TEST | The 2021 Ford Raptor is the Corvette of pickup trucks

SHADY LAKE, Ark. – BUP-WAAAAH!

In Baja mode, the Ford Raptor’s exhaust note breaks the silence of the idyllic forest spring. Screaming over a mountain road, the cabin seems to float serenely as a rapidly undulating suspension soaks up a winding, swooping road. The pickup flies up the mountain, clinging to the loose gravel road like a cheetah digging into the forest floor as it zeroes in on prey.

Oh yes. Some days it’s fun to be me, especially when the task at hand is to grab Boy Wonder and head for the hills in the third generation of the coolest pickup to ever come out of Dearborn, Michigan. A decade after Ford created a niche of Baja-inspired pickups, Ram countered with the TRX, pronounced T-Rex. People who spend time quantifying angels on pinheads might find it productive to debate which is best.

This day, however, is all about reveling in the Corvette’s comfort and capability of pickup trucks. It’s a fitting parallel: Powerful, luxurious, sophisticated, the Raptor is a symphony that achieves a beautiful overall tone among multiple rugged systems: engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, electronics, technologies almost too numerous to count. .

Pushed hard through a tough section, the truck strives to make the driver look smart. Readings from ride height sensors and other instruments change damping rates independently at each corner 500 times per second. Next-generation FOX™ Live Valve™ internal bypass dampers respond at the same speed the human brain processes visual information. The truck analyzes and solves even before the driver registers a change in terrain.

There are nice anodized shift paddles, but why bother? In the latest Raptor iteration, Ford dialed in its 10-speed automatic even better than the previous generation, which was good enough to determine what gear it needed to be in. to dial in the revs, but for the most part the truck held where I pointed it without intervention.

When it was in the wrong gear, I put it there. Whoops.

Technical masterpiece

Boy Wonder observed that a number of top engineering teams got their hands on this truck.

A 12-inch digital gauge cluster includes a large on-demand information area, plus truck-specific graphics and animations that respond to drive modes and can display off-road data and turn-by-turn navigation.

The cabin is filled with premium materials and is dominated by a central 12-inch screen that allows users to split the screen and control multiple functions simultaneously, including navigation, music or truck features.

A first glance at the (heated) steering wheel was almost too much for my tech-savvy offspring because there are so many buttons. Switches control damper, exhaust and transmission settings, in addition to seven selectable modes found on a twist dial on the dash.

Exhaust settings? Yes, an equal-length active exhaust system allows the driver to tell the truck how deep and how long to sing. And singing it does.

Under the floor, the latest generation has a five-link rear suspension, instead of leaf springs. Extra-long trailing arms better maintain axle position on rough terrain. This, combined with more sophisticated engine management software, means the truck can put more torque to the rear wheels for quicker starts, quicker acceleration and improved throttle response while simultaneously delivering comfort, stability, handling, control and traction at speed. .

We found a lot to like. The ability to connect smartphones without a USB cable for seamless integration of Apple CarPlay™ or Android Auto™ compatibility was nice. So was a dynamic cruise control that maintained a constant relative deviation from the speed limit. Set the cruise control to five miles above the speed limit and the truck keeps it there when the speed limit changes. Think how good it would be on that Gawd-awful drive to Houston on US 59 where the speed limit changes every time a bird breaks the wind.

Do birds break the wind? Frequently, if US 59 in East Texas is an indicator.

A trailer assist system, which determines how to park a trailer at the flick of a switch, has been around for a few years, as has the external camera system, an area Ford pioneered and still leads.

That does not make any sense

Granted, neither the TRX nor the Raptor makes sense in dollars and cents.

The 450-hp, twin-turbo 3.5-liter Raptor V6 starts just north of $64,000. The 702-hp 6.2L Ram Hemi® V8 is $10,000 more. Most buyers add between $15,000 and $20,000 in various gadgets and gizmos.

Put down 10% and you can have this baby for just $1,500 a month. Pickups that cost less than half have greater payload and towing capabilities. If you want an F-150 that can go off-road and haul a boat, get a Tremor.

Oh, and please be seated when you call your insurance agent for a quote.

Then there is the gas. High octane, please. The EPA says the Raptor will deliver about 16 mpg in combined mileage. We, uh, didn’t make it. The EPA says the TRX gets 10 mpg in the city and 14 on the highway. In our brief road tests, the Ram landed in single digits, but red-light red light was downright exhilarating.

Conventional wisdom holds that Ford will catch up or surpass the TRX in horsepower and lousy fuel economy with the V-8-powered Raptor R, due later this year. At a time when fuel prices and mandatory combined average fuel savings are skyrocketing, it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

On the other hand, the deployment of the electric Ford Lightning is less than 10 days away. The technological expertise found in the Raptor indicates that Ford has some things figured out.