When you sit down behind the wheel the Ford F-150 Raptor, you’re greeted by two massive metal paddle shifters mounted to either side of the steering wheel. They’re solid, industrial looking and cold to the touch — meaning they’re some of the finest paddle shifters I’ve ever encountered. But they aren’t configured properly.
With the transmission in drive, the Raptor’s paddle shifters don’t actually shift gears, but rather they lock out upper gears in the vehicle’s 10-speed transmission. Pulling the downshift paddle will lock out tenth gear, pulling it again will lock out ninth, and so forth, turning the ten speed into a nine speed, then an eight speed, etc. This is weird, and while I’m sure it has benefits in various applications (… towing?), I didn’t discover a use for this feature during my time with the vehicle.
Pop the Raptor’s 10-speed automatic into manual mode, and the paddle shifters work as you’d expect them to, shifting the transmission up and down. Manual mode in the Raptor leaves a lot up to the driver, moreso than in other paddle-shifted vehicles I’ve driven. Altogether, it gets a little obnoxious. Ten-speed transmissions do a lot of shifting, and doing this all manually becomes cumbersome — and I found myself shifting back into drive almost immediately any time I tested this out.
For a best-case example of paddle shifter functionality, we must look no further than to my 8-year-old hot hatchback. The dual-clutch transmission in my Volkswagen Golf GTI allows the driver to temporarily activate manual mode with a simple blip of one of its steering wheel paddles. This allows for spontaneous spirited driving, like highway lane changes or impromptu acts of (mild) aggression anytime you want, without having to reach down and put the car into manual mode.
Here’s what I mean. Once a paddle has been depressed, the GTI goes into manual mode for around three seconds before returning to automatic. Or, if you’re really impatient, pressing and holding the right paddle shifter for around a second puts the vehicle back into automatic mode faster. This is really simple, and it allows you to interact with the vehicle in a more seamless manner. Picture this scenario: you’re driving along at 45 miles per hour in the right lane, and you grow tired of looking at the dented bumper of the Toyota Camry plodding along in front of you. Without touching the gear shifter, you spontaneously tug on the left paddle twice, downshifting from sixth to fourth, you pass the Camry, and then hold the upshift paddle to put the car back into fully automatic mode, and you resume your day. Realistically, on a 30-minute drive in my GTI, I probably do this on three to five occasions. It makes the vehicle more dynamic, and it makes me very happy.
And yet, you can’t do this in the F-150 Raptor, a vehicle that goes from 0-to-60 mph in 5.3 seconds.
What a lot of people probably don’t realize is that thanks to its immense power and impressive suspension, the F-150 Raptor can be almost as fun to drive on-road as it is off-road. But as it stands, the paddle shifters don’t really play into that equation.
Here’s how to fix that. We’ve already established that the Raptor’s paddle shifters do serve a purpose in normal drive mode by offering the ability for the driver to lock out the upper gears of the 10-speed transmission. Fine. But the Raptor has different drive modes — lots of them, in fact. Two of these modes are "Sport," which makes the vehicle more aggressive in on-road driving, and "Baja," which does the same for off-road. I propose that, at the very least, anytime the vehicle is in Sport or Baja mode, the paddle shifters should be at the ready for upshifting and downshifting, regardless of whether the transmission is in ‘"Drive" or "Manual" mode. This behavior would effectively mimic that of the Volkswagen GTI, and of a number of other performance-oriented vehicles. That is, pulling either paddle should immediately interrupt the transmission and put the vehicle into temporary manual mode, allowing the driver to shift the vehicle via the paddle shifters in select driving scenarios, without having to first move the gear selector into the "Manual" position.
As it stands, this oversight is one of the few things holding the Raptor back from its full potential as an on- and off-road driving machine — and while I may be wrong, I have to think that rectifying the issue would consist of a relatively easy software tweak. Implement this change, and the Raptor inches even closer to perfection.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.