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F-150 Raptor: A futuristic archetype for the American pick-up

The Raptor is an absolute unit.

When it comes to size, America plays to stereotypes. From monuments to our country's achievements, to natural wonders created over the course of millennia, to the Wendy's Baconator — the Land of the Free could easily be renamed the Land of the Large.

This extends, of course, to our vehicles — and the Ford F-150 Raptor is out in front.

The new Ford F-150 Raptor is unapologetically large.Dan Barbossa (FORD TEAM)

What is the Ford F-150 Raptor?

So, first things first: The F-150 Raptor isn't necessarily the quadruple Quarter Pounder of trucks, but it is without a doubt, a next-gen archetype for the American pick-up.

On Wednesday, February 3, Ford revealed the new model of its Raptor. If you know the F-150, you know it’s the quintessential American pick-up. And in addition to the ultra-lux and ultra-hard-working F-150s sold by the train load every year, the Raptor also has the sports performance go-go-go flavor.

In its third iteration, Ford has decided to lean in on its home market's peculiar aesthetic preferences. Everything about the new Raptor is bigger and better.

Millions of tourists flock every year to the Grand Canyon and Big Sky, or to marvel at El Capitan towering over Yosemite Valley. Then there are the gargantuan Sequoia trees and the Redwood Forests in California. Americans also have more pedestrian — but no less impressive — fare, like the Mall of America, or the world's largest ball of twine.

Interior view of the Mall of America, one of the largest indoor malls in the USA. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Owen Franken / Getty Images

All are epic and awe-inspiring, except maybe that ball of twine — still, there's not much else to see in Cawker City, Kansas.

If you're one of the Americans who struggle to find on-street parking in cities like Brooklyn, this may not apply to you. But out in Middle America, folks want big trucks, big SUVs, big vehicles, and the sales data is there to back it up.

The Ford Raptor, the third-generation of the truck, was revealed on Wednesday in a virtual presentation by Ford. It’s faster and feistier than ever.

If you think that's a good thing or not likely tells us a lot about whether you're in the target demographic for the Raptor.

Ford F-150 Raptor: Special features and size

The Baja-inspired performance pickup is the closest thing to a Trophy Truck that you can buy. Those are the fastest competitors in the Baja 1000, by the way, and they’re absolute monsters.

The Baja 1000 race is an annual epic duel between man, machine, and nature, running many hundreds of miles through deserted — and not-so-deserted — Mexican desert (booby-traps are a real problem) to be the first to the finish line.

Ford says the latest iteration of the F-150 Raptor is the "most off-road capable," "most connected," and "best-performing" Raptor ever.

Even if you are not using the truck for sports performance races, you can likely still have some fun with the improved features.Dan Barbossa (FORD TEAM)

That's no surprise though, considering it's the newest. They were hardly going to make a worse one, right?

Let's start with that it is big. The Raptor is so wide — 86.6 inches, not including mirrors — it is required to have federally mandated extra lights. These include three amber "identification lamps" on the front grille, as well as "clearance lamps" on the side to help you navigate the world.

There are larger 3.1-inch diameter shocks to improve performance and comfort, as well as the option for 37-inch tires — the largest factory tires available on a pickup. That gives it 13.1-inches of running clearance, and, with the regular 35-inch tires fitted, the truck has a deeply impressive 14-inches of wheel travel at the front and 15-inches at the rear. (The 37-inch tires get an inch or so less travel — larger tires mean they can’t move quite as much. Physics, you see.)

Those new, gigantic tires in action.Dan Barbossa (FORD TEAM)

Basically what all that means is that you can rip through the desert at highway speeds and the Raptor will keep you comfortable and safe.

It also brings over the connectivity package from the standard 2021 F-150, including over-the-air updates (Ford mentioned potential new features like updated off-road trail maps, or a phone-as-a-gauge feature to help keep an eye on tire pressure out in the desert). It also include cloud-connected navigation and voice search.

Not included is the just-announced tie-up between Ford and Google that will bring Android Automotive OS to Ford vehicles starting in 2023.

Ford F-150 Raptor: New design

Perhaps my favorite part is the design inspired by the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

The F-150 Raptor takes cues from the F-22 jet, which is used by the U.S. Air Force. SrA Jacob Thompson / DVIDS

The heat extractor on the F-150's hood, and the functional side vents on the front fender, are inspired by the air intakes on the jet. The rear tailgate appliqué and blacked-out taillights complete the look. And that appliqué is particularly interesting.

"In graphic and industrial design, if you have one continuous graphic with similar color," Raptor Exterior Designer Tom Liu explains to Inverse, "it connects these three graphics into one [larger] graphic.”

For the Raptor, the tail lamps are blacked-out and align perfectly with the darkened tailgate appliqué to make the truck seem even larger than it really is.

Liu explains the race trucks in Baja racing are typically very wide, but have slender body panels in the front and back.

"It's one continuous graphic that's more like a rectangle, and we wanted to capture that," Liu says. Additionally, both the front and rear of the truck received similar treatments to make the truck seem as large as possible.

A big boy.Dan Barbossa (FORD TEAM)

"The marker lights are noticeably bigger," Liu says.

On the new truck, they seem "five times bigger in size and look more modern, so your eyes are attracted to them," he adds.

The amber position lamps are bigger and help enhance the impression of size there, too.

Ford F-150 Raptor: Outpacing the competition

The Raptor is in good company. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade, for example, is 2.6 inches bigger than the prior model, 0.6 inches wider, and 2.4 inches taller. There's no reason to think that most Escalade buyers wouldn't consider that bulk to be an attractive feature.

In a call with reporters last year, Rob Hunwick, Cadillac’s exterior designer, confirmed this was a concern for the carmaker: "growing the vehicle felt very appropriate to accommodate our particular customers and to hopefully gain more.”

One way Ford could set the Raptor apart though is the horsepower. Both the horsepower and torque figures from the truck's past 3.5-liter twin-turbo engine have likely been given a boost, too, but Ford isn't quite ready to share the exact speeds this truck can reach yet. Oh, and there’s an even more powerful Raptor R coming. There’s always a bigger burger.

The new 2021 F-150 Raptor will be in dealer showrooms this summer.

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