Ford brought us to the Utah Motorsports Campus (UMC), home of the Ford Performance Racing Team, to put the Raptor to the test. This is where buyers of Raptors, GT350s, and other high-performance Ford vehicles get their gratis professional training. Located near Salt Lake City, UMC has a variety of on-site paved tracks, high- and slow-speed dirt courses along with man-made rock crawling obstacles and a cache of nearby off-road trails that are real-world dirt testbeds, accessed by highways that gave us an assessment of everyday driving.
It provided the opportunity to do an updated deep dive into a truck that I know intimately, having taken the “Driver of Record” Stock Production Class win at Dakar in a first-generation model. The truck performed flawlessly; it remains the only win at Dakar from any team from North or South America to date. I had also driven the second-gen model in its spiritual home, located in one of America’s top off-road desert playgrounds.
Immediately after Ford launched the second-generation Raptor, the company’s engineers were looking for ways to improve it. “Fox was working on a fully active damper which we thought was the way of the future. We were familiar with it from sports cars, but it is was new in the off-road space; although we were skeptical, we started,” said Chris Paiva, Vehicle Dynamics Engineer, Ford Performance. The new set-up blends class-exclusive FOX 3.0 Internal Bypass shocks with Live Valve technology that can adapt to terrain in real-time to actively maximize handling, comfort, and bottom-out resistance by reading throttle, brake, steering and terrain input and adjusting the damping accordingly. Trail Control is a driver-assist feature that combines with hill descent control that is like a low-speed cruise control.
We started our drive at the UMC with slow speed motoring over a man-made obstacle course with steep sidehills to gain confidence in this 2.5-ton ability to crawl at a severe angle, engaging Trail Control and benefitting from the Raptor’s suspension and aggressive BFG rubber at the four corners. Next was a highway drive to a local off-road trails’ network that climbed to an elevation of over 7,000 feet, with majestic views of snow-capped mountain ranges in and around the Salt Lake City bowl. The takeaways? The revised Raptor is more comfortable on-road ride thanks to the updated suspension and well-bolstered sport seats.
Engineer Chris Paiva rode right seat for my morning drive, and explained that Ford Performance worked directly with FOX to develop the all-new electronically controlled Live Valve technology that continuously adjusts damping in real-time, using sensors in the suspension and body.
Paiva described the three modes, as we traveled at high speed over a rough and undulating track:
Jump mode assesses the front wheel position and knows you’re in the air and goes to full stiff; this keeps the truck from crashing through a landing. Terrain recognition lets the front ride height sensors respond to small high frequency changes and reacts to improve comfort, when there is faster wheel travel over more severe terrain. The shock starts to learn it and keeps the wheel from crashing through. Loud Pedal mode looks at the throttle pedal input and, when it’s more aggressive, it learns that and reads it and adds more damping and more controls. We are still using the position-sensitive bypass damper that goes to 400 additional pounds of compression damping, but it is the first time that active dampers have been paired with position-sensitive damper for off-road—it cements out place at the top of the mountain.
The new live system enhances the 13 inches of suspension travel in the front and 13.9 inches in the rear over large bumps and uneven terrain, with impressive control and relative comfort.
My afternoon drive partner was Brandon Cameron, ‘Feature Owner’ for Trail Control, who works with the integration of this new feature with all the appropriate teams at Ford. Activated by a button above the navigation screen, speed settings are engaged using a toggle switch on the steering wheel. Think cruise control for low-speed, rough and rugged terrain. It’s available in any transfer case setting and drive mode. From 1-20 mph, it engages in 0.5-mile increments in low range settings, and activates in 1-10 mph, in 1-mile increments in high range. It controls throttle and brakes to climb up and over rocks and rough terrain, monitoring individual wheel slip and grip, and is an aid for steep uphill and downhill gradients.
I am not new to downhill descent systems; in fact, I tested Range Rover’s world-first system in 1997. Since, almost all manufacturers of off-road vehicles have systems that modulate downhill speed and enhance traction on steep terrain. Few, however, have true crawl systems; Range Rover and Toyota both offer a version. The Raptor’s system replaces its previous generation’s downhill descent control technology; it will be an aid for both novice and many off-road enthusiast drivers. As an experienced off-roader that has learned left-foot braking to improve traction and smoothness over rocks and boulders, Trail Control worked laudably on downhill but was rough in its application of torque and throttle over rocks. I would use it with confidence over terrain that is slick, with dangerous exposure, such as in Moab, Utah. Like ABS brakes, in that circumstance, the computer would have more prowess than me. Of note, Trail Control will also be on the new Ford Ranger.
But back to the question of why mess with a good thing, which I posed to Travis Cahoon, Consumer Marketing Manager for F-150. He said “Continuous improvement is our mantra as Raptor is our showcase product; we can’t share numbers sold, although it’s more than 100,000, but we don’t really market it – we don’t really have to, there is no variable marketing.” Cahoon said the Crew Cab is the most popular configuration.
Fair enough. The upgraded 2019 F-150 Raptor, built at Dearborn Truck Plant, will go on sale in late 2018.