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2019 Ford F-150 Raptor review: The off-road truck that does it all

Roadshow logo Roadshow 2/12/2019 Jake Holmes

a car parked in front of a blue truck driving down a dirt road: The Ford F-150 Raptor has been updated for the 2019 model year with new suspension technology.

The Ford F-150 Raptor has been updated for the 2019 model year with new suspension technology.
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

You might imagine that we at Roadshow spend all our time driving performance cars at full throttle. That couldn't be further from the truth, especially in winter, when our Midwest contingent instead spends its time dodging potholes, avoiding snowdrifts and watching for black ice. Yet there is, it turns out, one performance vehicle that's just as much fun during the onset of the Polar Vortex as any other time: the Ford F-150 Raptor. The go-anywhere and get-there-fast pickup truck enters the 2019 model year with a handful of changes that make it, almost unbelievably, even more capable.

Related Story: The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor looks the part of an off-roader

21st century suspension

The biggest change since our last in-depth review of a Ford F-150 Raptor is the addition of clever electronically controlled shock absorbers. The Fox Racing Live Valve shocks' damping curves can be adjusted in real time by the Raptor's onboard computers. As Roadshow Executive Editor Chris Paukert discovered last fall, that makes the truck even better able to bounce and bound around off-road -- especially given that new Jump Mode control logic tweaks the shocks to better cope with departures and arrivals from terra firma.

Even the hardiest Raptor driver, however, will have to spend some time on asphalt, and it's there that the Fox suspension seems to have had the greatest effect. Where the last Raptor I drove listed like a sailboat around bends, the 2019 model exhibits remarkably solid body control that provides a whole lot more confidence on the road. The adaptive shock absorbers essentially avoid that traditional compromise of off-road trucks, which is that the soft suspension settings you need to handle rocks and bumps result in a vague and wallowing ride-and-handling mix.

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Still, I had hoped the shock absorbers' adjustability might have tamed the truck's ride. The big F-150 still hops and skips over road imperfections; loading up the bed to take advantage of all 1,200 pounds of my tester's payload ability would, as in any pickup, smooth out the ride somewhat. At least with massive BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires, in size 315/70 R17, there's never any worry you'll burst a tire on Metro Detroit's annual midwinter potholes.

a car parked in front of a brick wall: 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

Effortless performance

There are no tweaks under the hood this year, and that's just fine. The F-150 Raptor's unique tune of Ford's familiar 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is burly and powerful, with 450 horsepower and a huge 510 pound-feet of torque, the latter available from just 3,500 rpm. Couple that with the well-behaved and quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission and the Raptor accelerates with a ferocity that belies its 5,697-pound curb weight.

The Raptor really hauls, with big speed and a tremendous, bassy bellow from its exhausts. Sure, the exhaust note is not as thrilling to listen to as the first Raptor's 6.2-liter V8, but it's still got all the noise and aggression you could want from a tough truck. Giant metal paddle shifters feel great and elicit instant gearchanges, but frankly the 10-speed automatic is responsive enough I rarely used them.

Driving modes, selectable from steering-wheel buttons, make further changes to the throttle and transmission mapping, as well as adjusting the four-wheel-drive system and the suspension. Normal and Sport are, of course, the ones most appropriate for street use, but it's awfully tempting to select Baja and charge across the nearest snow-covered field.

a close up of a car: 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

Yes, it's still a truck

Speaking of which, the 2019 F-150 Raptor still does all of the truck stuff you expect of a vehicle with a pickup bed. My tester, a SuperCrew model, is rated to tow 8,000 pounds (the SuperCab can tow 6,000 pounds and has a 1,000-lb. payload rating). It comes standard with four-wheel drive with a low range, and you can even order it with beadlock wheels for serious, low-pressure off-road use. Other important numbers include 11.5 inches of ground clearance, a healthy 30.2-degree approach angle, a 23-degree departure angle and 21.8 inches of breakover.

Another addition for the 2019 model year is Trail Control, which is essentially cruise control for off-road use. It's an evolution of hill-descent control that allows drivers to set a speed and then focus on steering; Trail Control handles acceleration and braking to keep you at the chosen velocity. It'll work in any driving mode at speeds between 1 and 20 miles per hour.

To keep tabs on your off-roading adventures, a page in the digital trip computer can show details on the modes of the truck's shock absorbers and steering, while another displays pertinent inclination angle details. An optional forward-facing camera, with its own washer nozzle to keep it clean on the trail, is as useful for tight parking lots as it is for inspecting obstacles ahead of the Raptor's enormous hood.

It looks the part

That enormous hood is part of what gives the Ford Raptor such a commanding presence on the road. The big wheels, raised stance, functional skid plates and enormous fender flares make this far tougher than your chrome-trimmed F-150 Lariat; a unique front bumper not only permits a glance at the suspension components and orange Fox shock absorbers but also provides more clearance off-road. Along with other details, like various vents, Raptor badges and the big exhausts and it's no surprise that during my testing a stranger at a gas station, unsolicited, stopped to say, "That thing looks like a beast!"

Ford's designers likewise do a nice job of upfitting the F-150's cabin for Raptor duty, with nicely bolstered seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that sports a racy red center stripe. Recaro seats with blue accents are newly available for 2019 but were not fitted to my tester; they'd likely be a must-have upgrade if you're regularly doing the sort of off-pavement adventures that'll jostle you around in the standard seats.

Other features include an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system running Ford's excellent Sync 3 software, with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A built-in 4G LTE modem can provide a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices. The infotainment system responds to inputs promptly and its menu structure is simple to comprehend. More information is available in the digital trip computer: stuff as simple as tire pressures and trip information, or as detailed as engine boost and oil temperatures or the aforementioned off-roading gauges. Still, my Raptor test truck was not overloaded with modern gadgets: It still has a traditional key, rather than push-button start, and lacks any active safety technology besides blind-spot monitoring.

A beast in every sense of the word

At times it feels excessive to use the big Ford truck in places that are not, say, wide-open deserts. At 86.3 inches wide, the Raptor barely fits between the lines in most parking spaces, and at 19 feet, 4 inches long, my SuperCrew tester always stuck out beyond the edge of them. It's thirsty, too, with the EPA rating the truck for just 15 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway on premium fuel. If you're not planning on escaping the suburbs and using it to its full potential, well, the Raptor is probably overkill. Then again, isn't that also true of the carbon-fiber, 200-mile-per-hour supercars we praise for their track prowess?

Unlike the rest of the 2019 Ford F-150 lineup, which has myriad bed and cab options, the Raptor is very simple to configure. All models come with four-wheel drive and a short (5.5-foot) bed, with buyers able to choose only between SuperCab (2+2 doors) and SuperCrew (four full-size doors). Pricing for the former starts at $54,450 with destination. My tester rings in at $62,915 after a handful of options, including LED puddle lights, a spray-in bedliner, a tailgate step (essential, give how high off the ground the Raptor rides) and heated, powered leather seats. Yep, that's expensive, but remember again that the Raptor can perform on paved roads, on the trails and for traditional towing and hauling truck tasks. You get a lot of utility for the money.

The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor makes a big impression not only because it can do so much, but also because there's nothing else quite like it. Scroll down to the "Comparable Picks" box, for instance, and you'll see that no other pickup truck quite blends this speed, off-road performance and overall capability. That specialness alone is a big part of what makes Ford's beefy truck so alluring to enthusiasts.

So, maybe you want the Raptor because it looks and sounds cool. Maybe you want it as a no-questions-asked on-road performer. Maybe you're going to take it blasting through the desert or charging over muddy trails. No matter your demand, the Raptor can handle it.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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