2019 Ford F-150 Raptor first drive review: Smarter, faster, still king

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The handheld radio crackled and a Ford Performance Driving School instructor’s voice came over the speaker: “Our target speed will be 50 mph as the front wheels hit the jump.”

I’ve driven on racetracks, off road, and have played in the mud, but I’ve never launched a truck into the air—until now. I am nervous.

The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor is still the only factory full-size pickup truck an automaker will encourage you to jump, and it has received a host of upgrades for this year. Highlighting the list are new electronic aids and revised Fox racing shocks to make it faster and smarter.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

The hardware

The Raptor’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 idled, its 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque laying in wait as the Velocity Blue pickup pointed toward the jump. Standing still on the short course track at Miller Motorsports Park in Erda, Utah, I received the thumbs up and mashed the accelerator. As I crested the first, smaller berm, I lifted off the throttle briefly so the truck wouldn’t go airborne and lose momentum. I then put the pedal to the floor again as the long blue truck climbed the second, larger rise. The red needle on the speedometer hit 40 mph. I lifted of the throttle again and felt the front suspension fully drop from under the truck as it went airborne.

While all four wheels left the ground on my first run, 40 mph wasn’t 50 mph, and it could’ve gone higher, farther, and faster. It had more in it.

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2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

For 2019, the Raptor has shucked its passive Fox Racing shocks for new electronically controlled Fox 3.0 Bypass shocks with Live Valve technology that adapt to the current terrain. The shocks retain bypass technology and a 9-chamber design, but now they have the ability to change the damping in real-time every 40 to 80 milliseconds.

Electronic modules borrowed from the Lincoln Navigator have been reprogrammed to read throttle, braking, and steering inputs, as well as the terrain. The data is spit out to each system, including the suspension.

The real-world results? The new electronic shocks make it so the Raptor is more controlled on the road, whether rounding a tight bend, tracing a long sweeper, or just coming to a stop.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

But it’s off-road that the new electronic shocks enhance the Raptor’s already absurd capabilities. Once airborne the electronics know the suspension has fully dropped and puts the shocks into full-firm mode to better cushion the jolt as the massive truck touches back down to Earth, and to help prevent it from bottoming out.

In Sport mode, the shocks can be tricked to go fully firm instantly with a simple deep stab of the throttle. This allows the driver to prepare the truck for the rugged off-road event that might lie just ahead.

My second run was a better test of how well the shocks help the Raptor absorb the blow of big jumps. This time I hit the 50-mph target speed at the ramp. Upon returning to the ground, the shocks absorbed the impact and the big blue truck continued forward with a single controlled rebound. Zero drama.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

Earlier in the day, before launching the Raptor into the sky, I blasted it down the rocky, gravel-covered Jacob City Trailhead.

Driving in Baja mode, I manhandled the massive pickup down the trail at speeds of 40-60 mph. With a small incline ahead, I buried the throttle, shot skyward, and suddenly the nose was pointed back toward the ground. I had purposely carried too much speed. The front shocks fully compressed as they did their best to keep the the nose from hitting hard The front skid plate scraped the ground, but the 2018 setup would’ve bottomed out more violently as the shocks were half as firm as the 2019 electronic shocks in full-firm mode.

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