We could do this review in Spanish, but perhaps that’s going a little too far. Still, when you sample Ford’s new F-150 Raptor, you can’t help but think of desert, cacti and a spicy taco or three washed down with some Dos Equis upon arriving at your destination.
|1. The SVT Raptor is powered by a 5.4L V8 with 320-hp and 390 ft-lbs of torque, although a 6.2L engine will be offered with 411 horsepower and 434 ft-lbs.
2. Among other things, the Raptor gets flared fenders, Fox Racing Shox and 35-inch BF Goodrich tires.
3. Pricing starts at $38,995 ($48,299 CAD).
4. Ford is also building 50 more extreme FR Raptor XT models with 500-hp engines, more shock travel and a price of $99,950.
Mexico’s most westerly state of Baja California includes the infamous Baja peninsula. This long, thin stretch of land runs some 778 miles from the cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, down to the Sea of Cortes. Although the landscape is quite varied, especially in the North, much of the Baja consists of arid, rocky desert, which can be inhospitable at the best of times. Since the 1960s, it’s been a stomping ground for the Baja 1000-mile race where some of the world’s greatest drivers pitch their wits against Mother Nature in trucks with huge tires and more travel than a cross-country road trip. The race trucks are some really cool machines and it wasn’t long before they inspired regular enthusiasts to outfit their rigs with serious suspension lift kits, off-road shocks and big tires. After a great start in the 1970s the trend kind of withered some two decades later, but if any of the latest findings are to be believed, it’s coming back. And Ford isn’t about to wait around to let the aftermarket take all the credit.
Since 1993 it has offered (in spurts), a full-size, short wheelbase pickup that was a cut above the standard F-150 under its SVT brand. The first iteration featured a 351 cubic inch V8 engine with go-faster parts, special red or black (and later white paint), some cool wheels and graphics. The second went a bit further, with a lowered suspension, side mounted exhaust and a 5.4 modular engine with a supercharger. Both these rigs were popular with enthusiasts, but there was no question they were designed for fast street use. Now, thanks to SVT Chief Nameplate engineer Jamal Hameedi and his crew, the enthusiast folks have done a complete 180, instead going after the off-road crowd in a big way.
Our initial first impressions of the Raptor were tremendously favorable, but it’s only when you’ve experienced this truck for some time, that you realize just what a magnificent creation it truly is.
There’s no question that it’s totally in your face. Molten Orange paint, contrasting dark gray body add-ons and a grille that looks like it came from a Judge Dredd comic strip. At present, the Raptor only comes with a single engine, the regular F-150’s 5.4-liter Triton V8, with 320 horsepower and 390 ft-lbs of torque. Early next year a new, larger 6.2-liter mill, with 411 horses will arrive, adding several grand to the sticker price.
On the road, the Raptor is surprisingly easy to drive. At idle the exhaust note is barely audible. Blip the throttle a few times and the anger starts to run through the stainless dual outlet exhaust. But in all honesty, it takes a while for the Triton V8 to wake up and you have to pound on the throttle to get some serious giddy up out of it. It almost feels like Ford built the truck, but was still waiting on an engine and, not content to wait any longer, just threw in one somebody discovered lying out back. It just doesn’t seem at home. A bit like those Cuban classic ’50s tanks with transplanted Lada engines. Fuel economy isn’t that great either, 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway are about the limit.
Another thing, is that when you’re driving this thing in urban settings, you’re aware of just how wide it is. Thanks to the specially developed suspension (aluminum control arms don’t you know?) plus massive, specially designed BF Goodrich tires (315 mm across, 70 mm aspect ratio), the Raptor is almost a full seven inches wider from fender to fender than a standard F-150. Because of this, it needs clearance lights, just like a Class 8 Kenworth or Mack. Silly you might think until you actually start giving this truck a work out. Once on the rough stuff, that wide track and those almost equally tires give it (literally) rock like stability.
Unlike other F-150s, (even the FX4, tut, tut), the Raptor comes with a standard hill descent control, activated by a button on the console. Next to it is another button that controls off-road mode. What this does is essentially add a third electronic map to the engine, spiking the revs and holding the six-speed automatic transmission in gear longer, helping to ensure you’ve got the muscle to cover ground off road as far as possible. Like other F-150 4×4 trucks, the Raptor features Ford’s easily switchable shift-on the fly four-wheel drive system. However, when you’re actually on dirt or gravel, heck even sand and rocks, the Raptor covers ground faster than anything save its feathered prehistoric namesake. But the best part is when you have to contend hills or mounds.
The truck uses special Fox Racing Shox, with special triple bypass valves. As the ground surface gets rougher and the truck has to deal with more undulations, the shocks actually stiffen up to control wheel travel. So when you’ve got the throttle pegged and you crest a bump, the Raptor, instead of going nose first, lifts and almost bounces, much like a real Baja race truck does. It’s really quite a sensational feeling when you try it. And unlike those race trucks, such antics don’t rattle your spine, thanks to a well-designed frame and quality mounts, aided by the standard F-150’s very well designed seats.
Although going fast over rocks and sand is the Raptor’s main reason for being, when it comes to rock crawling it does rather well too. There’s a substantial amount of ground clearance and a huge skid plate to protect the oil pan and transmission. The massive tires offer plenty of stability and good grip, plus the Hill Descent control is a very welcome tool when coming down the far side of steep, rocky grades. Just let it do its thing and steer the truck. An orange centering locater on the leather-stitched wheel is also a nice touch and welcome in situations like this.
Raptor’s electronically locking rear differential is also a marvel. Unlike others on the market, it can be locked or opened in either two-wheel drive or four, plus it doesn’t matter what speed you’re going at, it will engage the rear tires at any velocity up to a staggering 100 mph, to help ensure you don’t end up spinning the tires needlessly in either some massive, rocky and muddy rut, or at the other extreme, some giant sandpit.
Usually, when manufacturers design and build super performance trucks, they’re often compromised in certain areas (the 1991-92 GMC Syclone was a classic example. Yes it will accelerate faster than a Porsche, but don’t even think about towing a trailer).
The Raptor isn’t like that. Sure it only comes with the short 5.5-foot (67-inch) box, but it’s got all the goodies that make the regular F-150 so versatile. A Class III hitch; built-in trailer brake controller, trailer sway control, tailgate step and handle, plus (and this is a big one), four console mounted switches which are prewired, so you can install a front mounted winch, Baja style spotlights or just about anything you can think of, with minimal fuss. Now that’s good thinking Ford!
At the time of writing, the Raptor sells for just $38,995. That’s just a shade over two grand more than the F-150 FX4 currently goes for. Considering the amount of extra kit you get, there’s no question that the Raptor is very competitively priced.
If there’s any one complaint, it’s that 5.4 engine. It’s okay, but not the neck snapping, whisky-swilling monster of a powerplant you’d expect on a rig like this. That of course is likely to change as soon as the big 411-hp 6.2-liter motor becomes available. We can’t wait!