Wednesday, September 12, 2018

‘Off-road cruise control?’ Ford’s new Trail Control feature for the F-150 Raptor actually sounds like a good idea—but maybe they should position it a little differently

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor with Trail Control
Photo: Ford Media Center.
By Bill Hayward
If you’re like me, you use cruise control as a means of restraint in higher-speed situations, to try to keep the velocity a little lower and decrease the odds of your driving pleasure being interrupted by red-and-blue lights when you’re on a long roadtrip in your favorite silky-smooth, miles-devouring highway cruiser.

Automotive suspensions have come such a long way since the era of some of the rickety old jalopies I drove in days gone by that, especially on a smooth, straight road, speed can really get away from you.

Let’s just say that, just like many people feel like “50 is the new 30” when it comes to age, it’s also easy to feel like “85 is the new 55” when it comes to highway speeds. Cruising at over 80 mph in a modern vehicle—even one that’s approaching the quarter-century milestone like my daily driver—feels a lot different than it did in, say, a ’70 Ford Maverick with bias ply tires.

So on Monday Ford issued a press release announcing a new feature for the 2019 model year in the F-150 Raptor, the off-road flagship variant of Ford’s iconic pickup truck model: Trail Control. That’s fine, but the headline of the press release describes “trail control” as “off-road cruise control.”

To those uninitiated to the off-roading world—especially those who associate “cruise control” with high speeds on an open highway—the idea of off-road cruise control might seem reckless and dangerous.

But once you read on to the description of what Trail Control actually does for the F-150 Raptor, it actually sounds like a safety feature—and a pretty good idea.

According to Ford, Trail Control adds some automation to the management of throttle and braking, “allowing drivers to focus on steering through challenging off-road conditions.”

Ford says that Raptor drivers can activate Trail Control in the 1–20 mph range—a speed band that actually sounds sensible for an off-roading experience that isn’t part of some kind of push-the-limits motorsports event.

The automaker also differentiates their Trail Control implementation from the competition, asserting that the Raptor is the only pickup that allows drivers to operate Trail Control in all 4X4 modes.

Ford also says that Trail Control is especially helpful in overcoming steep obstacles by automatically directing torque to each wheel and then braking smoothly to bring the truck down on the other side. And if you ever find your Raptor stuck in “extreme sand,” Trail Control could be your best friend by helping you get your truck dug out.

If you can’t wait to try Trail Control, Ford promises that you’ll be able to get your hands on a new 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor in late 2018, adding that Trail Control will also be available in the all-new 2019 Ford Ranger, which will come a-rollin’ into Ford dealer showrooms early next year.

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