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Certain vehicles exist in a category of one. They are unique and iconic, as there really is no alternative. This creates a bond among owners. If you’ve ever driven a Porsche 911 or Jeep Wrangler, then you know what it’s like. You get the daily wave of acknowledgement when you pass fellow drivers.
The Ford Raptor is another such vehicle. Though it’s only been in production for 10 years across two generations, with a third coming in 2021, the Raptor is in a class of its own. It’s an F150 pickup truck built to handle Baja 1000 terrain out of the box. That said, what makes the Raptor truly exceptional—and what becomes a competitive moat against Dodge and Chevy—is the extensive aftermarket i.e. the ability to upgrade and customize the Raptor to suit your driving needs and personality.
As a new Raptor owner, I’ve spent the past five months researching (and obsessing about) the best ways to improve the 2020 second-generation Raptor. I followed the message boards, talked to aficionados, consulted with my dealer and grilled the instructors at the Raptor Assault off-road course. All in an effort to determine the best upgrades to improve performance and add functionality. I’ve narrowed it down to the following top 10:
1. Alcon Brake Kits ($3,040, front)
There are a few options when it comes to brake upgrades, but Alcon is the only high-performance model I found that is compatible with the Raptor’s stock 17-inch wheels. And going with larger wheels is a non-starter for me, as it would undermine off-road handling. Alcon’s claimed performance improvements include a 10% reduction in brake temperature rise, a 33% reduction in pad work rate and up to a 15% reduction in pedal effort. The front and rear kits cost about $3,000 and $2,500, respectively. However, the rear kit is not currently compatible with the electronic parking brake on newer Raptor models. These are pretty expensive upgrades, so it remains to be seen if it’s worth the investment for having colored calipers. Yes, they are offered in a range of different colors in addition to racing red.
2. BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 Tires ($330/tire)
The Raptor’s stock BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires are specifically designed for the Raptor with stiffer sidewalls and a unique tread pattern. They are plenty capable in all conditions, including snow. If you want to opt for something more aggressive, though, that’s even better suited to off-road conditions while still being road friendly, the Mud-Terrain KM3 is a solid option. Everything about it, from the casing to the tread pattern and sidewalls, is more burly than the KO2.
COBB Tuning’s top-of-the-line package for the second-generation Ford Raptor includes a larger intercooler, a carbon fiber intake system and the Accessport V3 control unit (pictured). The idea here is to unlock additional power from what amount to pretty conservative factory settings. The full package claims to add double-digit gains in both horsepower and torque through a combination of hardware and software. Will it void the warranty? No. Certainly not in any blanket fashion. And using the control unit, one can easily uninstall it from the vehicle’s ECU as if it was never there.
4. KC Hilites M-RACK Kit ($2,850)
This vehicle-specific roof rack adds just 2.75 inches to the Raptor’s height and clearance. For reference, the stock Raptor clears my garage by 15 inches. So there’s still enough room to add a lift kit and some low-pro gear strapped to the rack. The M-Rack is shaped to the roof line of the Raptor for a customized look, and it attaches semi-permanently to the roof with rivets. The big feature, of course, is the the 9-Light KC Gravity LED Pro6 Light Bar with a whopping 23,009 lumens of output and the classic KC aesthetic. There are also four slots for side lights, and a rear-facing chase bar can be mounted on the back. All of which connect easily to the Raptor’s bank of auxiliary light switches.
5. Retrax PRO XR Tonneau Cover ($1,929)
To tonneau or not to tonneau? That’s the first question. If you decide on the former, then the Retrax Pro XR is one of the more secure and functional covers available. It’s an aluminum, roll-up design that can be locked at multiple points along the track. So it makes the bed a secure, weather-proof storage area. The key feature, though, is the Trax Rail System, which is compatible with a range of T-slot racks from Thule, Yakima and others. This allows you to mount load bars (see below) for bike racks, cargo carriers and overland-style tents on top of the secure bed area.
6. SVC Offroad Stage 1 Starter Kit ($3,200)
SVC Offroad offers some extreme suspension upgrades for both Raptor generations. But this is just the “starter kit.” It includes an adjustable bump-stop system with Fox 2.0 Bump Stops. This mounts to the frame and gives you progressive, bottom-out control for the rear suspension with an option to adjust the bump stops to reduce rear sag from towing and load carrying. Up front, SVC’s Coil Adjustment System (C.A.S) mounts to the front springs and enables you to get up to 2.5 inches of lift and also to precisely level the truck side-to-side—all of which is adjustable based on driver preference.
7. SVC Offroad Baja Flush Bolt-On Front Bumper ($1,500)
SVC Offroad has a full line of Raptor bumpers, some of which require the frame to be cut in achieving the most extreme approach angles. If you’re more conservative, though, and want the option to switch back to the factory bumper, the Baja Bolt-On Flush model is a great option. It’s still compatible with the factory intercooler (which you should still be upgraded), as well as the adaptive cruise control, while improving the approach angle and providing space for a 20-inch light bar or five cube lights.
8. Titan 7 T-AK1 Forged Off-Road Wheels ($1,920)
It took me a while to find an aftermarket wheel that would truly be an upgrade to the Raptor’s factory, beadlock-capable wheels. Because I’m only searching for performance as opposed to aesthetics. There are hundreds of wheel options, but the T-AK1 is the only off-road racing wheel designed specifically and exclusively for the Raptor. AK1 stands for All-terrain attacK, and it’s only available in a 17-inch version because anything larger would forfeit performance. The main differentiator is that Titan 7 wheels are forged versus casting or flow formed. This makes them stronger and lighter. The AK1 also includes anti-slip knurling on the inner rim for added bead traction.
9. Thule ProBar Evo ($370)
The Retrax Pro XR cover (above) is specifically designed for load bars that attach with the T-track interface. This makes it highly modular and easy to install, adjust and remove when not needed. And because the Raptor is so wide, it allows you to run massive 79-inch Thule ProBar Evos. This is enough space for six of the Thule Upride bike mounts…although the truck only seats five. Multiple mounting tracks also make it very flexible for mounting cargo baskets and other accessories.
10. Yakima Overhaul HD Tonneau Set ($750)
If you’re planning to mount an overlanding style tent or transport standup paddle boards for river shuttles, you need some height above the bed. Yakima’s Overhaul HD Tonneau Set is designed specifically for the Retrax Pro XR cover (see above), which means the towers mount using the T-slot interface. This supports a 300-pound load for on-road driving and a 180-pound load for off-road driving. Fortunately, the latter is right in line with most rooftop tents. The load bars also need to be added, and they are available in three lengths: 60, 68, and 78 inches. The Raptor certainly accommodates the longest option, which gives you the most real estate for gear and accessory mounting.