How the 2021 Ford Raptor Came to Be the Beast It Is

One can only wonder how much sand the engineering team had to wash out of their clothes. . .

Although the official name is the “2021 F-150 Raptor,” now in its third generation, the vehicle is more commonly known as, well, “the Raptor.” While it is certainly based on the F-150, it is an extreme execution of a vehicle that is engineered to do the sorts of things that even outlier owners of conventional F-150s would never even think of.

Sketches that led to a Raptor. (Image: Ford)

Notes Tony Greco, Ford Program Manager, F-150 Raptor, “It has never been as differentiated from the F-150” as it is now.

While the team behind the development of the conventional F-150 spent a lot of time with contractors and serious DIY homeowners, and while members of that team certainly own and use trucks on a daily basis, Greco says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” “I work with a lot of passionate off-road guys.”

So it is not entirely surprising when Greco is asked to list the top things that he says differentiate the Raptor from other vehicles, he lists:

  1. The suspension
  2. The enhanced steel frame
  3. The 37-inch tires
  4. Fox—the supplier of the internal bypass shocks with SOA electronic control technology, the largest shocks (3.1-inch diameter) ever offered on a Raptor—becoming more than a supplier, working with the team like a partner

You may notice from the list that there is a lot about the suspension, which is what Greco says they spent a lot of time concentrating on. For example, he said that when they were looking at the rear suspension, they went through the considerable parts bins at Ford—including Ford Performance, the real home of the vehicle—and didn’t find what they were looking for. So they developed a five-link suspension with extra-long trailing arms—the better to deal with the toughest terrain.

Then there are those 37-inch tires, which required frame modifications for accommodation. Why not even larger? Simply because they wanted to make sure that a full-size spare tire could be handled under the vehicle, not put in the bed, which would take away from the ability to haul stuff. Remember—while this truck can do Baja, it can also carry things on that weekend Home Depot run.

Greco also notes that the design of the Raptor pushes things to an extreme that speaks to the capability of the truck.

While there is another truck that has come on the scene of late that challenges the Raptor—the Ram 1500 TRX—Greco says with the Raptor, which debuted in MY 2010, they created a segment and are not giving it up—to anyone. He also says that the team knew what they wanted to achieve when they started on the 2021 vehicle, and kept to it, regardless of the introduction of the new competitor.

Greco talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer (and truck guy) Mark Williams, and me on the show.

In addition McElroy, Williams and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including the MY 2022 Nissan Frontier (the third generation of that midsize pickup); the acceptance of the truck community of new vehicles coming from new companies that happen to have electric motors; the California DMV automated vehicle disengagement performance in 2020 by GM Cruise and Waymo; and a whole lot more.

Watch this edition of “Autoline After Hours” right here.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor Released

Tom Liu said it had to be “instantly recognizable.” He also said that he was influenced in the exterior design of the vehicle, which he helped create, by the F-22 Raptor, which, ironically enough, is a stealth fighter, which is, by its design, not to be seen (OK, at least not by sensors).

There was also a convenience to this: Liu was talking about the design of the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, the third generation of the vehicle that is built to be able to perform off road and fast—desert racing, in particular, as Carl Widmann, Ford Performance chief engineer, said, “Raptor is rooted in Baja 1000 racing,” and added, “And like a trophy truck, every aspect of Raptor has been engineered to deliver precision capability when your foot is flat on the floor, way out in the middle of nowhere roaring across the desert.”

What “menacing” looks like. (Images: Ford)

To the point of Liu and the Raptor the fighter jet and Raptor the truck that is literally engineered to catch air during some of its off-road exploits, he said that like the aircraft, the truck is “Fast, nimble and technologically advanced. It is American power and performance. It is packed with technology—and it looks menacing.”

So there are things like a heat extractor on the power dome hood and functional side vents at the top trailing edges of the front fenders that are to provide a visual nod to the air intakes on the F-22. There are shear surfaces that are stealth-like. And adding to the menace are aspects including the blacked-out grille, blacked-out taillights, massive steel front and rear bumpers, and a massive front skid plate.

It looks fit for purpose and its purpose probably isn’t making a run to the store for a gallon of milk. (Not that you couldn’t, of course.)

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The F-150 Raptor is based on the F-150 that contractors and others who are not likely to do much in the way of rock crawling in. It is built on the same assembly line at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan (or about 2,400 miles from Ensenada, where the Baja 1000 starts: there isn’t a whole lot of desert around Dearborn).

But it is an F-150 that has been built to take a whole different set of parameters in terms of what it is likely to encounter: for example, while they start with the heavy payload, fully boxed steel frame from the “regular” truck, Jack Cooper, architecture engineer for Ford Performance, said that they’ve modified and reinforced it.

A notable difference truck-wise is the chassis. There is a newly developed five-link rear suspension that features extra-long trailing arms, a Panhard rod, and 24-inch coil springs. “We couldn’t find it in the parts bin,” program manager Tony Greco says of why they had to devise a new rear suspension. The front suspension has been redesigned, as well. One of the key aspects of the suspension for a vehicle like a Raptor is wheel travel. The suspension for this third-generation vehicle is 14 inches in the front and 15 inches in the rear.

The shocks are FOX Live Valves. These internal bypass shocks feature electronic control technology that permits damping rate adjustments at a rate of 500 times per second; the shocks, which have 3.1-inch diameter anodized aluminum bodies, feature base valves that provide 1,000 pounds of damping per corner at racing speeds.

While the standard Raptor runs on 35-inch tires, it can be equipped with a package that brings it up to 37 inches, or what Ford says are the largest factory-fitted tires on a light-duty full size pickup.

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Among the tech aspects of the new Raptor are:

  • Terrain Management System: dial in adjustments that change the steering feel, transfer case behavior, stability control, active valve exhaust, active damping, throttle mapping, shift points, and digital display. There are seven modes: Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl.
  • Trail 1-Pedal Drive: In situations that call for two-pedal driving like crawling rocks or negotiating trying trails, this function allows throttle and brake modulation through the brake pedal. The driver gets acceleration by pushing down on the throttle and braking by lifting.
  • Trail Control: Cruise control—for off-road situations.
  • 360-degree camera package: This option, in addition to providing an all-around view, provides a real-time tire track overlay for the front view, which means that the path ahead of the wheels can be seen such that a spotter may not be necessary.

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The Raptor has a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine with twin turbos. While the horsepower and torque numbers aren’t released as of this writing, Ford describes it as a “high-output engine delivering torque low in the rev range where it counts,” so presumably it has the stuff to deal with the sand as well as that to skim over it. And on the subject of driving hard, it has high-power fans built into the cooling system. The compression ratio is 10.5:1.

What to do with a Raptor.

The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic which, in turn, is attached to a torque-on-demand transfer case.

There are standard electronic locking rear diff and an available Torson front limited-slip differential. They are fitted with 4:10 final drive ratios.

There is something that seems a bit odd about the powertrain system. There is a 36-gallon gas tank. It is recommended that it be filled with premium unleaded.

Do they have premium in the desert?–gsv

NACTOY 2021 Winners Announced

The NACTOY jury presented its awards this morning:

  • Car of the Year: 2021 Hyundai Elantra
  • Truck of the Year: 2021 Ford F-150
  • Utility of the Year: 2021 Mustang Mach-E

Yes, Ford takes two Ed Welburn-designed trophies.

2021 Hyundai Elantra: Look only at the care taken on the exterior sheet metal. (Image: Hyundai)

And on the subject of two: this is the second time the Elantra has taken the NACTOY Car of the Year, with the first being in 2012.

Briefly: there are 50 jurors who work for a range of publications—physical and digital—and broadcast outlets. Vehicles selected were those which were available for sale during CY 2020.

The Mustang Mach-E: Ford gets electric right with this model. (Image: Ford)

Thoughts:

  • Elantra: The seventh generation of a sedan has gotten a lot more attention and investment—even as other OEMs are retreating from the segment. Hyundai didn’t stint. What’s more, the company has rolled out three versions—the everyday driver, a hybrid and a performance variant from the start.
  • F-150: The F-Series has been the best-selling pickup in the U.S. for 44 years running, so (1) the team that built this new one knows a whole lot about how to put together trucks and (2) they surely don’t want to be the ones who break that streak. Odds are more than good that this new F-150 will handily rack up the 45th year.
  • Mustang Mach-E: Not only does this vehicle make us rethink what a ‘Mustang’ is, but it also reminds us that the company that made the automobile accessible to everybody in 1908 is doing the same thing for electric vehicles in 2021. And what’s more, it is a damn good execution.–gsv
2021 F-150: Clearly unstoppable. (Image: Ford)

Freep’s Phelan’s Picks

Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan happens to spend more time driving cars than any dozen people you know—a dozen pre-COVID drivers. Somehow, the pandemic hasn’t inhibited Phelan’s seat time.

Each year Phelan picks what he considers to be the best vehicles introduced during the past year.

2021 Cadillac Escalade (Photo by Steve Fecht for Cadillac)

And his list has been revealed:

Cadillac Escalade: Utility of the Year

Ford F-150: Truck of the Year

Hyundai Elantra: Car of the Year

As for place and show?

For utes:

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Ford Bronco Sport

For trucks:

Ram TRX

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

For cars:

Nissan Sentra

Genesis G80

Realize that these are vehicles that have been introduced during the past year, so it isn’t a rating of the best companies.

That said, it can’t be overlooked that Ford has not only a first-place win, but a full third of the list.

Hyundai Motor Group—which has Genesis under its awning—has a win and two vehicles on the list.

And FCA—soon to be Stellantis—missed first place, but had two on the list.

ooo

How competitive the industry is can be determined by taking a look at the list of the semifinalists that were announced by the jury of the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year. (Full disclosure: Mark Phelan and I are both jurors.)

Cars:

Acura TLX

Cadillac CT4/CT4-V\Genesis G80

Hyundai Elantra family (includes N Line and HEV)

Kia K5

Mercedes-Benz E Class Sedan, All-Terrain, Coupe, Cabriolet

Nissan Sentra

Polestar 2

Utilities:

Cadillac Escalade

Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban

Chevrolet Trailblazer

Ford Bronco Sport

Ford Mustang Mach E

Genesis GV80

Hyundai Santa Fe

Kia Seltos

Kia Sorento

Land Rover Defender

Mazda CX-30

Nissan Rogue

Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota Venza

Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge

Truck:

Ford Super Duty

Ford F-150

Ram 1500 TRX

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

The category finalists that NACTOY picked are not unlike Phelan’s, with a couple of exceptions:

Car:

Genesis G80

Hyundai Elantra

Nissan Sentra

Truck:

Ford F-150

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Ram 1500 TRX

Utility:

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Genesis GV80

Land Rover Defender

The results of that will be announced on January 11, 2021.

Here’s one thing that can be said about all of those vehicles:

Tough crowd.

2021 NACTOY Finalists Announced: The Top 9 Vehicles Introduced This Year

The 50 jurors* of the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY ) awards—50 people who work for a variety of outlets, so these are manifold perspectives, not that of just one brand—have announced their list of finalists for the 2021 awards, which will be presented in Detroit on January 11. (Actually, they will be presented virtually, given the prevailing pandemic conditions. And while on that sad subject—the pandemic, not the presentation—it is worth noting that this year was a particularly challenging ones for the jurors and OEMs alike, as in (1) getting into a variety of vehicles and (2) launching vehicles.)

So here are the vehicles that have made the short list (in alphabetical order, lest someone read something into the order).

Car of the Year

Genesis G80: the still-young luxury brand brings tech and comfort to its middle-of-the-pack offering (i.e., there are the G70 and the G90 sedans, too)

Hyundai Elantra: they didn’t just launch one version with some trims, but a “regular” one, a hybrid and a performance variant, all at once

Nissan Sentra: compact cars have always had stand-out models, but this one is several dozen levels above of what you might expect

Truck of the Year

Ford F-150: given that the F-150 has been breaking sales records for decades, let’s face it—when they do a new one, they’re not going to risk the crown

Jeep Gladiator Mojave: that name as in the desert, and while other variants of the Gladiator eat rocks, this one can handle the runs across sandy terrain

Ram 1500 TRX: take a Ram 1500, stuff in a HEMI and add a suspension system that can take on conditions that other pickup trucks wouldn’t dare get close to

Utility Vehicle of the Year

Ford Mustang Mach-E: this is arguably the first real EV to come from the North American domestic automakers—there have been others, but this one has the stuff

Genesis GV80: yes, that nomenclature is similar to the car previously mentioned, but this time it is the crossover that John Legend and Chrissy Teigen appropriately introduced in a Super Bowl ad

Land Rover Defender: not only is this a venerable marque, not only does this vehicle have the wherewithal to handle demanding conditions, but it has a design that can’t help but make you smile

*FYI: I am a juror.