Author’s note: We covered the Raptor’s technical and design elements in great detail in our first look at Ford’s one-of-a-kind, high-speed off-roader. We encourage you to , along with this review of what it’s like to pilot the Raptor.
Somewhere in a safe-deposit box in Michigan, I imagine there must be video of Ford’s senior lawyers caught after-hours dressed as chickens, playing Twister and singing bad karaoke to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits. Holding the only two keys to the locker must be Ford’s Special Vehicle Team engineers and F-Series marketing gurus, who have patiently waited until now, when they’ve finally leveraged that footage to win the legal department’s buy-in to build and sell what is arguably the most daring and radical pickup to come from that company (or any other high-volume auto manufacturer) in the past decade: the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. In a world where we have to acknowledge a 5,000 word legal agreement to use “Sweet Home Alabama” as a ring tone, Ford shows a 360-degree view of the Raptor catching air over the desert on its consumer website. The off-road pickup named after dinosaurs, eagles and fighter jets isn’t going to let a few attorneys get in its way.
With Raptors now reaching driveways, there’s likely only one group of people happier right now than Ford’s lawyers watching the video of their poultry-imitating exploits being destroyed, and that’s the folks who’ve just bought one. How do we know? After more than a year and a half of waiting, we’ve finally driven the truck ourselves.
Ford hosted the media’s first drive of the Raptor in Anza-Borrego State Park, near San Diego. What the Rubicon Trail is to Jeeps, Borrego is to the Raptor. It’s where the truck was engineered and tested to meet some of the toughest desert off-road conditions in the world.
The Raptor has to walk a very fine line. It combines a hardcore Fox Racing long-travel suspension — which until now has only been available in similar configurations as an expensive retrofit kit for hardcore off-roaders — with the F-150’s confident on-road manners and its trailer-towing, cargo-hauling, work-truck reputation. All this is available for what we consider to be a smoking deal: $38,995 for the 5.4-liter V-8 version we drove.
The Raptor certainly looks the part of the desert-racing bandit. It’s only available as a SuperCab with a 5.5-foot bed. Its Coke-bottle layout is a perfect case of form following function to cover the truck’s track, which is almost 7 inches wider than a typical F-150 for extra stability off-road. It includes all-new sheet metal from the A-pillar forward, including the hood, fenders, bumper and a massive grille with “Ford” boldly stamped across its width. The rounded outer portions of the Raptor’s cargo box are unique, too; only the cab’s doors and roof are carryover. Whether it’s parked on the street or perched on rocks, the Raptor’s hyperkinetic and predatory looks are like no other pickup, and its unique, legally mandated roof and side LED marker lamps make sure the Raptor will be recognized day or night over long distances.
The Raptor’s interior is also unique. The instrument cluster features SVT and Raptor badges. The front leather and cloth captain’s chairs are split by a console that houses a set of four auxiliary switches (two 30-amp, one 20-amp, one 10-amp) borrowed from the Super Duty. They’re pre-wired for aftermarket accessories, like lights, a winch or an air compressor. The console also hosts buttons that activate hill descent control and off-road mode. An integrated trailer-brake controller is mounted in the dash. Optional body-color accents liven up the interior when the truck is at rest while backseat passengers are sure to appreciate the large headrests when the truck is pounding the turf off-road.
It’s hard to imagine that a truck with the Raptor’s bulldog stance and purpose-built, high-speed off-road hardware could handle as well as it did when we drove on pavement.
The current Ford F-150 lineup has received kudos for solid steering feel that inspires confidence in the truck’s towing and hauling capabilities, but SVT has given the Raptor its own unique steering calibration that replaces slow and steady progressiveness with extra boost for livelier feel. The rack-and-pinion setup easily overcomes sluggishness expected from the Raptor’s wider front stance and helps mask understeer to a moderate degree when negotiating twisty roads. There was very little body roll. However, the Raptor’s uniquely tuned steering can’t make up for occasional road chop that’s communicated directly to the driver’s hands from the stiff high-speed valve tuning of the internal bypass shocks that’s optimized for surfaces that give instead of defects in hard asphalt.
If you still associate “SVT” with the old supercharged high-performance street pickup, getting the 5,800 pound Raptor up to speed on the road may require some patience. The three-valve, 310-horsepower, 365-pounds-feet-of-torque 5.4-liter V-8 took 8.8 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph in two-wheel drive, according to instrumented testing with the VBOX we brought along. That’s with the truck’s launch-optimized 4.10 rear axle, though that low final-drive ratio is somewhat negated by the Raptor’s very tall 35-inch tires.
Winning traffic light races isn’t the reason you buy a Raptor, but if power is a priority you might want to consider purchasing a Raptor with the 5.4-liter engine and adding a proven Roush supercharger. The truck will certainly benefit from the extra 90 or so horsepower that Ford’s new naturally aspirated 400 hp / 400 lbs.-ft. of torque 6.2-liter premium V-8 will offer when it becomes available by February 2010, for an extra $3,000.
Driving through diverse urban conditions, we found that the Raptor’s 6R80 six-speed automatic transmission hunted for the right gear more often than the same gearbox in other 2009-10 Ford F-150s. SVT reps on hand said the Raptor’s default street-mode shift logic is optimized for fuel economy to help the truck meet its 14/18 mpg city/highway fuel-economy rating. Our solution was to use tow/haul mode to force the Raptor’s transmission to hold its gears longer, instead of downshifting at the earliest opportunity to save fuel and upshifting soon after to add power or gain momentum. Tow/haul mode made for a much livelier and involved driving experience, with the added bonus of immediate downshifts on descents if we tapped the brake pedal once.
Several times when we came to a full stop we noticed a minor nose-to-tail rocking motion. The driveline felt like it might be binding, but SVT vehicle dynamics engineer Gene Martindale, who’s been driving the Raptor hard both on- and off-road since the first test trucks were cobbled together, said the Raptor’s special engine mounts and long-travel suspension were responsible.
We quickly became big fans of the F-150’s updated brakes, which are standard across the 2010 lineup, including the Raptor. The only difference is that the Raptor has a larger ABS pump to help keep the brakes cool during long, steep grades off-road when the new hill descent control feature is needed for long periods. The new brakes have very predictable and firm stopping feel, with minimal fade and ABS intrusion.
As we entered Anza-Borrego State Park after about 80 miles of stop-and-go urban traffic and curving country roads, the most frustrating portions of the drive gave way to long, straight stretches of undulating highway with varying wavelengths and amplitudes that brought back memories of what it felt like to bomb across the desert as a passenger in the Raptor last fall. The Raptor firmly hunkered down and soaked up everything we could throw at it at any speed across this tamed ribbon of rolling desert terrain until we reached our destination for the first day.
What we learned: The Raptor lives to run in the desert, but it also works well as a daily driver.
The next morning we departed for the off-road portion of the test. Ford setup base camp at Devil’s Slide near Ocotillo Wells, Calif. The off-road driving was split into two segments: a two-mile hilly loop through deep sand and over rocks to check out the Raptor’s nimbleness over technical terrain, and a 22-mile high-speed lap through Borrego’s dry washes.
The technical loop started out with a several-hundred-yard sprint through deep sand in four-wheel-drive High range, with the rear electronic locker engaged to help us power through sticky spots. Mashing on the accelerator, we effortlessly drifted the Raptor left and right as we kicked up rooster tails sailing across the dune. The power curve of the 5.4-liter V-8 was predictable and steady, as it applied power until the Raptor’s electronic nannies cut throttle when our steering input was digitally deemed too aggressive compared with the truck’s forward momentum and yaw rates. Deep sand, however, offered up another case where the 5.4-liter Raptor could use a bit more punch.
In 4Hi we climbed several rocky outcroppings as we drove around a series of small peaks above the scrub brush of the desert floor. The weathered granite offered a great surface to the Raptor’s tires, and the truck had no problem beating these challenges. At points where there were deep ruts on one side of the truck, we were able to use the Raptor’s excellent articulation to keep all four wheels in contact with the ground in most conditions. There was hardly any frame-scraping, though we also weren’t dealing with shifting rocks and small boulders. Steering felt very precise, with just the right amount of bump stop feedback from the terrain to tell us what we were crossing when we couldn’t see it fully or without the aid of a spotter. The Raptor’s wide track helped overcome its relatively long wheelbase.
The Raptor is the first Ford-brand vehicle to offer hill descent control. It uses the truck’s antilock braking system to automatically modulate the brakes to slow travel down steep slopes so the driver can focus on steering and it helps make up for the Raptor's relatively mild 45.1:1 crawl ratio. Having driven trucks that were equipped with similar systems, from the expensive Lexus LX 570 to the reasonably-priced Nissan Frontier, Ford’s HDC is the best we’ve driven to date. The ABS modulations were smooth and unobtrusive, leaving our attention to focus on staying on the best line down the grade. It was easy to scrub speed or add velocity in 1 mph increments with a touch of the brakes or accelerator.
The final portion of the technical loop was down a very steep 125-foot hill. The HDC was flawless in slowing down the 5,860-pound Raptor — we didn’t have to apply the brakes once. The truck simply walked itself down the hill while we were along for the ride.
With the hills behind us, of all the driving we did, we most looked forward to piloting the Raptor in a high-speed desert loop. If you’re a kid who grew up in the 1980s watching “Dukes of Hazard” and dropping quarters on Ivan Stewart’s off-road arcade game, the Raptor is the ticket to making some of the daydreams you had then become reality.
We set the truck in 4Hi and activated its unique off-road mode, which changes the engine’s throttle map, leaving the butterfly valve fully open when pushing the accelerator down through its entire arc. That’s intended to give it linear throttle response, like a race truck, instead of high power at the beginning that’s tapered at the end, like a street truck. Off-Road Mode also changes the transmission’s shift points to hold its gear and not upshift after letting off the throttle at high speeds. It also locks out the sixth gear overdrive at the top of the transmission to keep rpm high. Brake behavior is also modified. At low speeds over deformable surfaces, like sand, it virtually disables ABS to allow full brake lockup so you can stop as quickly as possible to avoid hitting or traveling over an obstacle. But if you’re in a wash at high speeds, ABS kicks in much the same as it would in a street truck until you reach lower speeds, where full brake lockup can occur.
In the first few miles through Borrego’s dry creek beds, we kept our speed to only about 30 to 40 mph. It gave us a chance to earn our Raptor legs. What was most amazing about the first few miles — and what quickly became expected behavior — was how well-mannered the truck was while crossing washboard terrain that would have cracked our skulls on the roof of an ordinary half-ton. The triple internal bypass Fox Shocks are monsters with huge appetites for soaking up desert whoops and washboards. The Raptor’s awesome bolstered seats held us in place and damped most of the remaining reverberations that made it past the suspension into the cabin.
As familiarity with the truck grew, we started to notice how well the LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires augmented the suspension. Around sandy banked turns in the wash, the tires bit into the loose surface to keep the truck on the track our eyes were focused on. The Raptor easily slid across the sand – but only when we wanted it to. Steering feel again played a major role, allowing us to easily power-slide the truck at will and quickly recover as we learned where the Raptor couldn’t break the laws of physics.
The Raptor we drove through the wash was optionally equipped with Ford’s navigation system. Its huge screen and excellent graphics make it our top choice in the half-ton segment. Although we were off the grid, the screen still showed us a helpful breadcrumb trail to follow as we ran the circuit.
Having ridden in the third seat of SCORE Baja full-size stock race trucks outfitted with professional-grade suspension and electronics systems, it’s amazing to think just how similar a factory Raptor is to one of those very expensive — and temperamental — beasts. Just five years ago, it probably would have been impossible to build a truck like the Raptor that’s as close as it is in capability to the professional sleds that race Baja.
What we learned: You’ll probably see the Raptor running at high speeds through the desert — we topped out at 75 mph — but for a vehicle its size it’s surprisingly nimble and capable crawling up and down at low speeds over technical terrain, too. Our biggest gripe is that it needs extra grab handles for the driver and passengers.
The Raptor doesn’t have the low-speed rock-crawling focus of the Dodge Ram Power Wagon or Hummer H3T, and the 5.4-liter version may not be powerful enough for some, but the Raptor’s overall versatility in the dirt is as close to perfection as you’re going to get if you want to take your off-road recreation to the next level and still retain livable work truck capability without adding a second mortgage to your home.
The Raptor’s sophisticated on- and off-road driving modes and hill descent control allow the driver to expertly dial-in the truck’s performance to fit their unique skill level. It’s a truck that will grow with the driver as they hone their off-road skills and it will provide an excellent platform to build on when the time comes to start swapping out hardware. We fully expect the aftermarket is going to love the Raptor.
The bottom line: The Raptor can do things we didn’t think were possible in a factory pickup. We don’t really know or care how it was given the OK by Ford’s attorneys. The fact is, it’s available now and it’s virtually perfect for the application for which it’s built. We’re just happy Ford’s legal eagles must like their Raptor as much as we do.
2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Specs
Base price: $38,995
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8
Valvetrain: SOHC, three valves per cylinder
Horsepower: 310 @ 5,000 rpm (gas) / 320 @ 5,000 rpm (E85)
Torque (pounds-feet): 365 @ 3,500 rpm (gas) / 390 @ 3,500rpm (E85)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Axle ratio: 4.10
Suspension (f/r): Unequal-length control arms, coilover shocks/single-stage leaf spring, piggyback reservoir shocks
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Brakes (f/r): 13.78-inch vented discs / 13.7-inch vented discs
Wheels/tires: Cast-aluminum 17×8.5-inch/LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain
Wheelbase (in.): 133.1
Length (in.): 222.1
Width (in.): 86.6
Height (in.): 78.4
Track (in.): 73.6
Curb weight (lb.): 5,860
Maximum towing (lb.): 6,000
Ground clearance (in.): 9.8
Approach (deg.): 29.8
Departure (deg.): 26.1
Breakover (deg): 20.8
Crawl Ratio: 45.1:1
Maximum towing capacity (lb.): 6,000
Fuel capacity (gal.): 26.0
EPA mileage estimates (mpg): 14/18 city/highway
Seating capacity: 5
Where We Drove
During the F-150 Raptor first drive we recorded performance and GPS data using our VBOX instrumented test system. If you're interested in seeing the trails we followed or recreating the drive yourself (at your own risk), we're happy to share the following links:
(requires Google Earth application)
Google Maps Pictures