Nope, that's not a tricked-out Ford on our cover this month.
On second thought, let's just say that's not a modified Ford on our cover.
Yes, that's a stock 4x4 pickup truck with 10 inches of ground clearance, a rear locker, and 35s from the factory. If you're a Ford guy (and even if you're not), you've probably heard a lot of buzz about this new pickup-and now you can order one for yourself from your local dealer.
The latest brainchild of Ford SVT, the same folks who've brought you Shelby GTs and Ford F-150 Lightnings, the Raptor is indeed quite a truck. It's got a completely re-engineered suspension with Fox Racing shocks (with internal triple bypasses!), gobs of wheel travel, an electronic rear locker, a new optional 400hp 6.2L V-8, four-wheel drive, and 35-inch BFGoodrich tires offered as standard equipment. (Want a two-wheel drive Raptor? Sorry.) Our intrepid tech editor, Sean Holman, who broke the news about the Raptor program two years ago at fourwheeler.com, was one of the first journos who got a chance to testdrive one a couple of months ago, and he files his initial impressions this month on page 20.
We think it's a good thing to see a company such as Ford continuing to invest in the high-performance side of its business, even in challenging economic times, as well as building a fullsize pickup truck that's built to the demands of four-wheel enthusiasts at a time when many OE manufacturers seem to be turning away from the off-road sector. We're certain Ford's patience and foresight will eventually pay off, and the Raptor's economy of scale makes it eminently possible. Because the truck is based on an existing platform and uses a lot of existing components from the Dearborn parts bin, Ford doesn't have to sell a ton of SVT Raptors to turn a tidy profit. And with more than 1,500 Raptors already pre-sold before the first truck has even rolled off the assembly line, we think it's a safe bet to say that we'll see this truck in production for a number of years to come.
On the subject of new trucks, we can't think of a better proving ground to test the mettle of any "real" 4x4 than the legendary Rubicon Trail. On the other hand, it's also a great place to break lots of drivetrain parts, and that's likely why most OE manufacturers, save Jeep and Hummer, tend to shy away from the place when evaluating their newest products. So when the folks at Toyota invited us to join some members of their engineering team for a shakedown run of the all-new 4Runner on the Rubicon last summer, we jumped at the opportunity. We wanted to see how a genteel SUV like the 4Runner would handle the really rough stuff, and we figured the new 'ute might provide us a glimpse into the future of the Tacoma pickup, too. What we saw pleasantly surprised us, and you can see the result starting on page 32.
Also in this issue is comprehensive coverage of Top Truck Challenge 2009, the 17th running of our annual week-long 4x4 über-event at Hollister Hills in central California. This year's field was pretty evenly divided between conventional frame-based trucks and ground-up custom tube buggies, and while we've always had a smattering of buggies in our field in recent years, we've been hearing more frequently from readers of late complaining that pitting trucks and buggies against each other is a little like comparing apples and rutabagas. After all, the event's called Top Truck Challenge, right?
We posed the question in our "Letters" column last month, but in case you missed it, we'll ask it again: Should we divvy up TTC competitors into separate Truck and Buggy classes and hand out trophies to a winner in each class? Tell us what you think, for while we think our Top Truck format has been pretty successful over the years, we're always looking for ways to make the event even better-and most importantly, to Keep it Real and relevant for you, our loyal readers.