Car Life Nation

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R is shown behind the Car of the Nation 2023 banner.

Introducing the 2023 Car of the Nation

Only a handful of the countless new models released every year aspire to be something more than inoffensive transportation. And even out of that small number of new enthusiast models, only a select few truly generate enthusiasm among those who see driving as something more than a tedious everyday activity. From this select group, one model stood out as deserving the title of the 2023 Car of the Nation. With powerful performance, inspired engineering, and a legacy of excitement, the all-new 2023 Ford Raptor R has taken the world by storm to show everyone that the original off-road performance truck would not be overshadowed by any pretender to its throne.

Headlining the performance of the F-150 Raptor R is a powerful supercharged V8 engine, but this is no mere imitation of the groundbreaking Ram TRX. Ford paid careful attention to maximizing the performance of its halo model, providing superior acceleration with less power and outfitting the Raptor R with a higher level of off-road equipment than any competitor. Ford has been on a streak lately, producing one exciting new model after another, and the latest chapter in the Raptor legacy is no exception. In fact, this is the third consecutive Ford model to be named Car of the Nation, and we are already looking forward to seeing what the Blue Oval has planned for next year.

A close-up of the grille of a 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R is shown.

Firing on Eight Cylinders

When the original 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor debuted, it was powered by either a 5.4L V8 or a 6.2L V8. However, in 2017, the second-generation Raptor dropped the eight-cylinder engines in favor of a High-Output version of Ford’s new 3.5L EcoBoost V6. In terms of raw performance, the new engine was clearly superior, producing 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque instead of the 411 hp and 434 lb-ft provided by the larger of the two eight-cylinder options. But while the new F-150 Raptor had more power, many enthusiasts mourned the missing roar of a V8. While the third generation stuck to a slightly more powerful version of the same V6 when it arrived in 2021, Ford left the door open for a V8 option in the future, but Ram jumped in first by dropping its iconic 6.2L Hellcat V8 into the Ram 1500, creating the 2021 TRX.

With 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, the TRX was a breath of fresh air in the performance truck market and forced Ford to step up its game. The F-150 Raptor needed a V8 of its own to compete, but which one? The answer was the 5.2L Predator from the Mustang Shelby GT500. Like the Hellcat, the Predator is supercharged for incredible power, but this supercar engine is smaller and higher-revving, hitting redline at a lofty 7,500 RPM for a more engaging experience. While the version in the GT500 was tuned to provide 760 hp and 625 lb-ft of torque, Ford overhauled the engine to better suit the character of a full-size truck, dropping the redline by 500 RPM and improving low-end torque for a final output of 700 hp and 640 lb-ft in the 2023 Raptor R.

But the move to a V8 wasn’t just about power. After all, Ford already managed to wring the same 700 hp out of the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 it installed in the Ford GT Mk II supercar. Putting a V8 in the Raptor R was also about drama and engagement. In a move designed to please enthusiasts everywhere, Ford paired the engine with an active-valve dual exhaust that offers four distinct sound profiles: Quiet, Normal, Sport, and Baja. In Baja mode, the truck hits 130 decibels at the exhaust tips, putting it well above what can be considered hearing-safe for extended exposure. The exhaust sound is even part of the customizable drive mode options, allowing you to hear the engine roar at your preferred volume simply by hitting the R button on the steering wheel.

The Car of the Nation, a silver 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R, is shown parked on sand.

Best-In-Class Performance

While Ford graciously let Ram keep its bragging rights of having the most powerful production truck on the market, that doesn’t mean the Blue Oval was going to settle for being second best when it comes to acceleration, handling, or other aspects of performance. The fully-redesigned third-generation F-150 Raptor introduced a ton of performance improvements that made it the most capable off-road vehicle in its class, and the Raptor R went even further to provide refined handling that can match its incredible powertrain. In many ways, this is in keeping with Ford’s tradition of emphasizing behind-the-scenes upgrades over raw numbers for the F-150 Raptor and is part of what makes it an enthusiast model worth celebrating.

The unique long-travel suspension in the F-150 Raptor R provides 13 inches of front travel and 14.1 inches of rear travel to absorb bumps without bottoming out. The rear suspension also uses 24-inch coil springs rather than the leaf springs in the standard F-150 and includes longer trailing arms and a Panhard rod to enhance stability on rough terrain (read, keep the truck upright after going airborne). The 3.1-inch Fox Live Valve shocks are electronically controlled and adjust hundreds of times a second to provide a comfortable and controlled ride. On top of having the largest diameter shocks in its segment, the suspension in the Raptor R doesn’t have to work quite as hard, thanks to the truck’s lightweight aluminum construction. Tipping the scales at slightly under 6,000 lbs, this supertruck is a positive featherweight compared to the other models in its class.

However, all this is not to say the 2023 Raptor R doesn’t have big numbers to boast about, starting with its standard 37-inch all-terrain tires. These are the largest tires available on any factory truck, and they help provide this model with its best-in-class 13.1 inches of ground clearance. Combine that with a 33.1-degree approach angle, and the Raptor R can drive over just about any obstacle that might be encountered on the trail. The Raptor R also walks away with best-in-class honors when putting its power down on the road. With a zero to 60 mph time of 3.6 seconds and a quarter-mile run of twelve seconds flat with a trap speed of 112 mph, the Raptor R crosses the line a quarter second ahead of the more powerful Ram TRX. While a vehicle doesn’t have to have best-in-class numbers to qualify as the Car of the Nation, they certainly don’t hurt.

The suspension under a 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R is shown.

(Re)Making an Off-Road Legend

The F-150 Raptor was the original member of the Raptor family, but it’s no longer an only child. With the addition of the Bronco Raptor last year and the upcoming Ranger Raptor, the F-150 Raptor is no longer just competing with models like the Ram TRX and Chevy Silverado ZR2––it is competing for attention against its new siblings. While Ford may have rested on its laurels for longer than it should have by making the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 the only engine available in the F-150 Raptor for so many years, the brand has woken up and again demonstrated the groundbreaking engineering that put its desert runner on the throne in the first place. The 2023 Raptor R proves that the F-150 has what it takes to maintain its position at the top of the food chain and keep the Raptor legend going strong in the hearts of enthusiasts everywhere. That is why it is our 2023 Car of the Nation.

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