2024 Ford Raptor R First Drive: 720 horses of sand-blasting fury

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JOHNSON VALLEY, Calif. – Sorry, but rock crawling is boring. It’s just … so … slow. And nerve-wracking, with jagged boulders and sharp branches standing by to bash this, scratch that and dump you on your lid. It’s hard to comprehend how it’s supposed to be fun.

On the other hand, the 2024 Ford F-150 Raptor R and its brand of off-roading are much easier to wrap my head around. The speedometer is pegged at 80, and yet there’s not a patch of pavement in sight. I brake hard(ish) as a new “road” appears ahead, and feel the rear end squirm as the gigantic 37-inch tires fight for grip on the dirt below. I cut left, feel the rear end gain traction and plant the throttle. Talk all you want about the four-mode exhaust, including the “off-road-only” Baja mode (hah, sure, good luck enforcing that), but it’s the supercharger whine that steals the show. It’s heavenly. As in I literally expect whatever conveyance brings you to heaven to make noises like this.

And sure, that conveyance may end up being a Raptor R if you’re not too careful, but out here in the desert north of Palm Springs, there’s plenty of room for error. Especially as the “road” reveals a great big sand dune ahead that makes the various Raptors in our little convoy look like a kid’s dump truck at the beach. Getting stuck is a real possibility (just don’t lift!), but that seems a lot better than dangling off a cliff the wrong way up. Not that I needed it (I just didn’t lift), but had I gotten stuck, the Raptor now offers a modular front bumper (a concept shared with the revised Tremor) that features bigger, enlarged tow hooks and the option for a Warn winch protected by an integrated brush guard. This would be one of the potential modules in question, but the bumper’s pinched outermost edges are always there to reveal as much of those jumbo 37s as possible.

It is here on the Dunes, though, where the Raptor R really starts to make sense – well, as much as a Raptor R can make sense. Up to that point in the drive, I was ready to mostly dismiss its king-of-the-hill, 720-horsepower, 5.2-liter supercharged V8 as just a way to prove to owners of the 702-hp Ram TRX that you’re more toxically masculine (smashes Monster can on forehead). When the sand keeps getting deeper, though, and your planted foot keeps demanding more and more and more power to keep the truck’s momentum going, suddenly having 270 more horses than the standard Raptor without the possibility of turbo lag doesn’t seem so nuts. Getting 12 mpg combined on the other hand …

No need to worry about that now, nor the 7.3 mpg reading in the all-digital instrument panel that changes its vibrant designs depending on drive mode. “Off-road” mode remains engaged for much of the lengthy, all-off-road drive, including on the sand dunes. Ford’s engineers on hand suggest engaging “Baja mode” once speeds started staying in the highway range as well as on the vast, Soggy Dry Lake bed where some cones were set up for a quasi-autocross course. Instead of squealing tires around a parking lot, though, this autocross consisted of turning in, feeling the rear end come loose, gunning it, reveling in that supercharger whine again, letting the wheel slip back in the opposite direction and holding it there, continuing to gun it, glimpsing a plume of dust filling the rearview mirror and holding the slide until the next cones appear, at which point, prepare to start it all again. Oh, and smiling. Lots and lots of smiling.

Never mind rock crawling and autocrossing, bombing a Raptor R around the desert proved to be more fun than lapping any number of high-dollar sports cars around legit race tracks. The track experience is highly rewarding and certainly fun in its way, but then there’s that whole nerve-wracking thing again. Palms (and other bits) end up quite sweaty. Out here in the Raptor R? It may be 100 degrees outside, but no perspiration here. It’s so much damn fun, not to mention a whole lot cheaper than a track day.

Picking up an extra 20 horsepower and peeing on the grave of the now-extinct TRX isn’t the only advancement for the 2024 Raptor R. It boasts new Fox Live Valve shocks with dual valves that continuously vary both compression and rebound for maximum comfort and control when driving off-road, on-road, anywhere. The standard Raptor continues to rock the previous single-valve Fox Live Valve shocks that only manage compression, though the dual-valve hardware is included when you opt for the 37-inch tire package that’s also standard on the R. The rear ends of both continue to have a five-link independent suspension (read more about it here), complete with meter(!)-long trailing arms that look like they should be suspending a bridge rather than a truck.

That’s what you need, though, when building a truck intended to launch itself in the air and land safely back down upon Earth without smashing its occupants’ bones to bits. Speaking of which, I repeatedly jumped the Raptor R and my bones are indeed still intact. It wasn’t that much of a jump, and honestly, doing so seems more amusing to watch from the outside. It was kind of a non-event from the driver seat, which is a testament to how capable those shocks are.

To be sure, it’s not just hardware. Remember, the shocks are continuously variable, meaning there are sensors constantly transmitting data back to a computer that determines the exact compression and rebound damping force needed at any given fraction of a second.

“You could write a doctoral thesis about the software strategy behind the (dual-valve) shocks,” jokes vehicle dynamics supervisor Chris Paiva as we chat in between dusty blasts through a mix of washboard chop, whoops and switch-back turns, much at speeds that could get you pulled over on a lot of highways. It’s the Raptor’s ability to maintain comfort and control over such a wide variety of surfaces and conditions that’s so impressive.

Now, if Ford could only come up with an answer for the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro’s IsoDynamic suspension seats, we’d really be cooking with gas. As it is, though, the Raptor’s snug Recaro front seats do a much better job of holding you in place around corners than the standard F-150 thrones, while being awfully comfortable out on the open road. The steering wheel is also perfectly contoured and boasts override buttons for steering effort, shocks and exhaust, should you want to create your own cocktail beyond the expansive drive mode menu. Those are selected with a knob on the dash, by the way, instead of some touchscreen menu.

As for that 12-inch touchscreen, it carries over for 2024 in terms of functionality, but new electrical architecture grants it 5G connectivity and over-the-air update capability. There also remains a wealth of camera views, which isn’t as important when desert running as it is when rock crawling, but it’s worth pointing out that the forward camera view automatically comes on when in Off-Road mode and will remain on regardless of time or speed. By contrast, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro’s camera will blink on and off ad infinitum whenever you drop above or below 9 mph. That’s incredibly annoying. Ford’s is incredibly useful, though please don’t be looking at it when going 80 through a desert.

There are some visual changes for 2024, but apart from the available modular bumper pictured above, they are a bit difficult to spot with all that black trim up front. Nevertheless, the grille mesh surrounding FORD is new as are the headlight units. The taillights are also new, but that’s it around back. The Raptor does not get the new Pro Access split tailgate as the Tremor and other 2024 F-150s, but the old pop-out tailgate step does stick around to help hoist yourself all the way up to the bed. Oh, and one more omission for the Raptor: the revised BlueCruise 1.2 system. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and lane-centering steering assist are still standard.

Pricing starts at $80,325 for the standard Raptor, including the $1,995 destination charge, which still rocks the 3.5-liter turbo V6 good for 450 hp and 510 pound-feet of torque. For an extra $11,470, the “Raptor 37” equipment group adds the dual-valve shocks, those fat 37-inch tires on cast aluminum bead-lock capable wheels, the modular front bumper, special graphics, suede and leather upholstery and some carbon fiber interior trim. All of that is included on the Raptor R, which is technically a $31,925 equipment group that also adds forged aluminum bead-lock capable wheels, a unique grille and hood vent, special exterior graphics and badging, and “Code Orange” tow hooks. Do the math, and that makes the Raptor R a $110,225 proposition.

That’s crazy money for a Ford F-150, but it’s also about four grand less than a 2024 Porsche 911, and I’m not convinced you’re going to have more fun in Stuttgart’s finest than you would in Dearborn’s — at least when used in their respective ideal venues. Because out in an Off-Highway Vehicle area like Johnson Valley, where there are no canyon or track walls to hit, no policemen to throw you in the clink and endless dirt to fling into the air, the fun couldn’t be easier to come by.

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