At the 2011 Texas Auto Writers Association Truck Rodeo, we got some seat time in the 2012 Ford SVT Raptor F-150, which had debuted at the State Fair of Texas. Our take on the Raptor has been consistent — it is the strongest and meanest factory-tuned desert-running pickup truck ever made. And now it seems like the Ford SVT engineers want to try to make it a better rock crawler as well.
Among the changes are some brighter paint colors and a more obnoxious — some might call it stylish — graphics package and a few interior accents. But the biggest changes come in the form of a front Torsen differential and grille-mounted camera (with a tiny spray nozzle to wash away mud or dust).
For the most part, the 2012 model still comes in just one flavor, sporting the growly 6.2-liter V-8 with single overhead cam, two valves per cylinder and aluminum heads. It’s still rated at 411 horsepower and 434 pounds-feet of torque.
The Raptor’s cab configurations continue to come in SuperCab (133-inch wheelbase) and SuperCrew (145-inch wheelbase). The two models we drove in Texas were SuperCrews — one Rowdy Red, the other Bolt Blue.
The front Torsen diff is by far the most significant change to the 2012 model, as it implies Ford is expanding the Raptor’s performance parameters to include slow-go 4×4 prowess. On the ranch loop course, we did several slow-speed rock-hopping sections, some higher-speed open-field running, and we went on a loose rock portion as it skirted the banks of a large stream.
The most striking characteristic of the extra front traction is how invisible it is. You’ll feel a slight tug when the cams ramp up on each other inside the diff, for the most part, giving the wheel with traction a bit more grip. The trail we were driving on wasn’t an ideal proving ground, but the feel of Torsen on our trail was more like locker in tractive pull, but it never did feel the slightest bit heavy during cornering, like lockers do.
We didn’t have the benefit of airing down any tires, but we still made short work of a loosely potholed 70-foot hill climb that had been damaged by tire-spinning SUVs and full-size heavy-duty pickup trucks. (It probably would surprise no one to discover that most auto writers are horrible off-pavement drivers.)
The extra traction was noticeable up the steep grade, but what surprised the crud out of us (with plenty of hill-climbing experience in a new fully lockered Ram Power Wagon) was when we had to make a sharp left at the top of the climb, just before a wall of rock that we couldn’t see out the windshield but did see in the console navigation screen. The hard left was easy and progressive, without any harsh steering-wheel feedback, just like you’d expect on a flat, paved road.
The other interesting feature on the 2012 model is Ford’s decision to include a grille-mounted front camera. That alone is cool, but the way Ford integrated the view into the steering-wheel toggles and information center display seems to make sure no one will accidently flip on the camera on the center console screen. In fact, the camera will go on only when in low range and you must be moving slower than 15 mph. If you go faster, the camera defaults to the previously chosen screen — nav, stereo, Sync, whatever you like — and then comes right back to the front view when you slow down for the next obstacle. The same depth and alignment lines that appear when you use the backup camera also appear on the front camera: Blue lines tell you how your vehicle will move forward, and yellow/orange lines tell you the distance and direction the vehicle is pointed.
The system may sound complicated, but it gives drivers the very real ability of knowing exactly what is under each corner of the massive hood, something that had always been a mystery for Raptor drivers without a spotter. In effect, the camera negates the need for a spotter because you can see the approaching obstacles and see exactly where to place a tire to keep your sheet metal out of harm’s way. It’s a simple piece of technology, but it will definitely help you do less body damage to your truck. (Of course, the obvious question is how many Raptor owners are really doing that type of trail exploration.)
A high-pressure washer nozzle cleans the camera lens, but neither of the larger headlamps has a wiper or washer nozzle. (Technology, some might argue, is more important for the safety of the driver.) How well the camera and sprayer survive harsh winters, rock chips and swarms of springtime insects remains to be seen, but for now, the view from the Raptor driver’s seat — and the truck, all around — is just about the best it has ever been.
What does that mean to any challengers that might want to follow suit? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the Ram Runner, Power Wagon, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (aren’t they all from the same company?) and Toyota Tacoma TRD Baja Series haven’t responded with their own surround-view camera setups, but we’ll see. From where we sit, the Raptor looks to be the leader of this high- and low-speed 4×4 parade. I think I smell another comparison test. Any suggestions on where and what trails we should be thinking about? Let us know.