2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R

PHOENIX — Desert racing began nearly 50 years ago in the Mexican Baja and in 1967 this crazy, addictive motorsport became known as the Baja 1000. Over the years this epic endurance race has attracted hundreds of racing legends, celebrities, thrill-seeking dare devils and rank amateurs to Northern Mexico just south of San Diego, California and Ensenada, Mexico.  It’s  the longest non-stop point-to-point race in the world.

With a mix of desert tracks, paved highways and checkpoints along the way, the route brushes the Pacific Ocean, crosses the peninsula, before heading northward along the Gulf of California coastline and through the rugged terrain of Ojos Negros and back to the finish line in Ensenada.

Open to a complex and varied list of vehicle classes from motorbikes, dune buggies, VW Beetles and Trucks along with all the anticipation and joy of the unhinged men and women behind the wheel and at the controls. Throughout its fabled history, and after braving harsh conditions conquering massive desert dunes, over three generations of F-150 Raptor off-road trucks that compete in the Baja 1000, Ford has introduced their ultimate Raptor “R” for customers to experience the desert and more for 2023.

The first Ford F-150 Raptor was launched in 2009 and as with all subsequent Raptors are basically a factory-built, off-road pseudo-racing truck powered by a 5.4-liter 310-hp V8 with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  It was met with rave reviews everywhere with the only complaint being the dated and underperforming 5.4-liter V8.

The following year Ford offered an optional 6.2-liter V8 that bumped horsepower to 411 and 434 lb.-ft torque that quickly commanded far greater authority than the 5.4-liter.

For 2017 the F-150 was built around the new aluminum body and the Raptor swapped its V8 for a 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 with 510 lb.-ft torque and a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Now for 2023 Ford has created the Raptor R by stuffing a new 5.2-liter supercharged 700-horsepower “Predator” V8 and 640 lb.-ft of torque that was lifted from the Mustang Shelby GT500Æ to compete with the Ram TRX that roared on the scene two years ago pushing 702 horsepower. The Raptor “R” is offered alongside Ford’s non-R Raptor that’s powered by a twin-turbo 450-hp V6 paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission with a base price $35,000 less than the “R” and $26,000 more than a TRX. Whether or not the “R” is worth the extra cash depends on your point of view but regardless, with a starting price of almost $110,000 before options along with dealership markups I suspect you won’t be bumping into many on the street.

Firing up the beast, you can select just how obnoxious you want the auditory decibels to be. Drivers can choose from “sport” exhaust that will wake the neighbors and rattle their windows,  a “quiet” setting if you really like your neighbor, or a “Baja” mode that will blow the doors off. A “FOR OFF-ROAD USE ONLY” message pops up on the dash when “Baja” mode is activated. Regardless of which setting you choose we found them all glorious to the ear.

Unlike the Ram TRX, the “R” also has a two-wheel-drive mode that could deliver the wildest carnival ride on four wheels and will definitely have the rear wheels stepping out easier than one could imagine. We recommend just leaving the drive mode set to “4A.”

Visually, the “R” is a familiar package with the “V6” offering with some noticeable difference. Most eye-catching is the massive and standard 37X12.5R17 B.F. Goodrich Baja Champion All Terrain tires on unique 17” forged aluminum wheels. That setup is optional on the V6 Raptor. Of course, there’s the bulging hood that also serves to vent heat from the “Predator” V8, and our test “R” was emblazoned with a “RaptoR” logo and graphics with tiny 8s in black about the hood and rear quarter and finally the Raptor Orange “R” on the hood bulge, grille, tailgate and graphics. The graphics can be deleted at no cost if you prefer a quieter look.

Among the standard features inside are heated front and rear and cooled Recaro sport seats with “RaptoR” emblazoned on the upper front seat backs and center console lid, SiriusXM audio, leather wrapped steering wheel and a 12” productivity screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also standard.

Getting behind the wheel is a big step up into the cockpit with the help of side running boards and an A pillar grab handle. We spent most of our test time on urban and suburban roads where we were absolutely blown away by how smooth the ride is on paved surfaces. Not what one would expect at all.

We did some unofficial test times at a local drag strip and recorded an astounding 0-60-mph sprint in 3.5 seconds and a quarter mile run in 12.3 seconds at over 110 mph. These are simply bonkers numbers for a full-sized truck.

Off road I spent my time at Butcher Jones off-road state park in Arizona where I pounded rock and boulder strewn washboard trails and cresting huge hills of granite, sand, and rugged trails. Baja mode literally made mole hills out of these “mountains” covering the rough terrain with aplomb while maintaining momentum through deep sand and white-knuckled hill crests and descents. The bulging hood allows you to see mostly just blue sky on steep ascents but there is a front-facing camera that’s always on in Baja mode that keeps your perspective on the terrain you’re negotiating.

We gave the suspension a workout especially on the deep sand dry riverbeds and sand dunes where on more than a few occasions all four wheels were air born and then the long travel tuned suspension specifically designed to absorb the bumps, dips an jumps of high-speed off-roading returned an incredibly wonderful soft and forgiving landing. The suspensions, springs and dampers combined with the use of computer-controlled Fox Live Valve shock absorbers which have position-dependent damping prevents the Raptor from bottoming-out its 13.1-inch of ground clearance.

Overall, the Raptor “R” is one of the most amazing vehicles I have ever driven and tested. Other than the 12-MPG fuel economy rating (a 36-gallon gas tank is standard) and a very wide turning circle the vehicle is seemingly flawless. This is the pinnacle of not only Ford truck performance but pickup truck performance regardless of brand. Totally inspired by Ford’s desert truck racing programs the Raptor is the decided king of the desert with a ferocious engine, the most capable suspension offered in any factory-built truck, and the most outrageous and satisfying vehicle one could hope to own.

So, for those who have the budget along with the eventual replacement tires and approx. $500 each along with over $200 to refill the tank at current premium gas prices and you’re in love with performance trucks, this might be the one for you.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $109,335
Price as Tested: $112,125
Engine/Transmission: 5.2-liter, 700-hp supercharged and intercooled V8 engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 12/10/15 MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Dearborn, Michigan

Competes With:
GMC Hummer

Massive power and acceleration
Perfect wheels and tires
A complete blast driving off-road

Big bucks
Over $200 to refill the tank
Wide turning circle

— Jim Prueter