San Diego, California, just a stone's throw from the US-Mexico border and sharing much of the terrain with our neighbor to the south, seemed like a logical jumping- off point to realize our urges to get behind the wheel of the most controversial truck Ford has ever developed. After all, most of the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor's off-highway capability, inspired by Mexico's Baja peninsula, was developed and tested in the Anza-Borrego desert, northeast of San Diego.
As we rolled in to the Ford rendezvous point, we saw enough Raptors lined-up to populate a spec series in SCORES's legendary Baja 1000. It was about that time that this tempting thought crossed our minds: We could have had the most badass Lobo in all of Mexico.
All of this, in addition to the 9.8 inches of minimum ground clearance (compared to 8.7 for an FX4 model), becomes very meaningful when heading down a desert trail at speed, clobbering whoops, breaking through sand berms, and laughing off errant cranium-sized rocks as if they were bugs strikes against the windshield. The wider-than-Hummer H1 track makes deep sandy ruts insignificant as the wheels drop in and out of them, allowing the chassis to remain parallel to the ground and perfectly stable.
The venerable 320hp/390 lb-ft 5.4L V-8 and six-speed automatic that came in our testers were wholly adequate, making the most of the 4.10:1 gearing. The exhaust note is delicious, with a noticeable bump in sound and volume without being obnoxious. Those who live to roost should wait for the late-availability SOHC 6.2L premium V-8 coming in February. It'll be a $3,000 option and is estimated to produce 400hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.
Sliding around corners hot is just how one drives a Raptor, and surprise encounters with various desert impediments that seem poised to rip off bumpers and front axles in lesser trucks go from a cringe to a shrug as the Raptor flies over them like a Stealth fighter over SAM missile sites. No damage to report, thanks to a sturdy skidplate system. But just in case you find yourself in over your head and in need of stabbing the "Whoa!" pedal, you'll find comfort in knowing that all '10 F-150s have an improved braking system. It is simply phenomenal in the Raptor, with fade-free pedal feel and response previously unheard of in a Ford truck.
While driving through the desert sideways, it is always important to find a good seating position, which is easy with the Raptor's power seat and adjustable pedals. The captain's chairs are comfortable enough to be considered for showroom floor placement at La-Z-Boy, while gripping you as tight as anything this side of a Corbeau racing throne.
A huge steering wheel is your interface with the Raptor, and it is endowed with an orange leather mark at 12 o'clock, in the event you lose where center is. And while you are heading down a fast wash one-handed, you might look around to enjoy the cabin surroundings, which are far and away the nicest available in a fullsize truck.
Interior options include some lively orange leather inserts and appliqués on the Molten Orange and Tuxedo Black trucks (Oxford White and Flame Blue are also offered), a fantastic Sony stereo, a voice-activated navigation system, complete with Sync and Sirius Travel Link that is capable of displaying traffic, overlaying weather radar, as well as giving you sports scores and gas prices in your vicinity. The backup camera, which is the best in business with its progressive green, yellow, and red marks is also available, and help when backing up on a tight trail.
Judging by the instant recognition of the truck out in the public, we'd say styling is strong. The "F O R D"-emblazoned bull-nosed grille is the centerpiece to a visual display of strong design acumen. Ford trades in the standard F-150's squarely butch duds for some shapely flanks that add some organic elements to the F-150's blocky design. The front fenders are made of composite, while the rear bedsides are stamped steel. Beveled pockets are used so that the standard F-150 headlight cluster and taillights can remain, albeit with a more sinister-looking smoky hue. And forget any preconceived notions that the hood vents are mere eyeball candy - they are entirely functional. Another element that is pure function is the five clearance lights that span the width of the truck in the front and rear. At 86.6 inches wide, these lights are a federal requirement and give the Raptor a unique look when going down the road at night.
All we would have needed to do was head out of the parking lot in our Raptor and turned right to cross the border. We imagined that the Raptor badges could have been easily removed and replaced with those of the Mexican Ford Lobo. With the romanticism of driving off into the Baja Sunset to a seaside palapa filling our heads, we quickly remembered our jobs, family, and good standing within the law enforcement community, reminding ourselves that our own selfishness shouldn't get in the way of our very first printed driving impressions.
Starting with a simple tip, it was three years ago that we began researching and following the Raptor program. The Raptor was started as a successor to the much-loved SVT Lightning when SVT, fulfilling the truck side of their one-truck, one-car strategy, decided it was better to make an extreme truck out of a truck than it was to create a compromised sports car.
Two years ago we broke the story of its existence on fourwheeler.com, and it has been one year since we had the print exclusive (January '09) that introduced it to the world. And it was all of about five minutes in to the 22-mile desert hot lap when we realized that the Raptor has arrived. Years of sleuthing and research all culminating in this: An OEM truck capable of whomping over whoops and sand drifts, blowing through river wash corners sideways at ridiculous speeds and airing out over cross ditches - all with a full factory warranty.
So what makes a Raptor? The spec sheet shows that the Raptor is based on a Ford F-150 Super Cab with a 5.5-foot box, a configuration for 2010 that is unique to the Raptor. To make the ultimate OEM truck, SVT focused squarely on the chassis, which receives a 10mm increase in wheelbase and 3.5-inch-per-side increase in track thanks to massive aluminum lower control arms, heavy-duty upper arms with giant ball joints and a modified steering rack with performance tie rods. With specially developed internal 2.5-inch triple-bypass Fox shocks with 47mm pistons and unique high angle 31-spline CV-axles, the Raptor achieves 11.2 inches of front wheel travel. Out back, a two-leaf spring pack works with the piggyback-reservoir versions of the Fox shocks to deliver 12.4 inches of wheel travel to the widened 34-spline 9.75-inch rear axle. Limiting travel at both ends are microcellular jounces.
Obscuring the prerunner-grade suspension from view are specially constructed and Ford-spec'd BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A tires in the 35-inch equivalent LT315/75R17 size. These tires are mounted on 17x8.5 cast aluminum wheels and even include a matching fullsize spare under the bed.
The Raptor is loaded with features, including an excellent Hill Descent Control that works in both forward and reverse and an Off-Road Mode button that allows the driver to select what level of intrusiveness he wants his electronic nannies to exhibit. Another industry-first feature specific to the Raptor is a rear locker that can be used in any mode (4-Hi, 4-Lo, and 2-Hi) and at any speed. Ford also provides four Super Duty-style auxiliary switches for powering aftermarket accessories, such as lighting or onboard air.
Dirt experience aside (one will most likely spend most of their time on an asphalt highway than on the Sand Highway), you'd be hard-pressed to think the Raptor is such a radical departure from the standard F-150. From the only slightly elevated interior noise level to the way it goes down the road, it feels very much like a standard F-150, a key element to the Raptor program's goals. SVT engineers were quick to point out that they wanted a vehicle that was not compromised on the road. In that goal they have mostly succeeded, though there are a few areas that snitch on the Raptor's off-highway bias. We think that the steering, which is nothing short of perfect in the rough, suffers from being a bit too heavy and slow on the road. On twisty mountain roads, we found the Raptor to handle reasonably well, but with gobs of moderately increasing understeer, requiring far too much steering angle on the tightest turns.
We also feel the shocks could be more supple in initial travel. This isn't your buddy's prerunner with a marshmallowy desert ride; this is a firm-riding OEM truck that had to pass all of Ford's internal requirements for handling and stability. Because of this, there is some compromise to the shock valving, which we feel is too aggressive for the first inch or two of travel, allowing broken pavement, hard-pack fire roads, or square-edged bumps to transmit impact through the structure. Once larger imperfections are encountered, the position-sensitive Fox shocks are all business and tuned right where you'd expect them to be.
Other things we'd like to see are a front mechanical differential to really round off the Raptors trail credentials. Not that the truck needs it per se, but because the driving experience would be even sweeter and all off-pavement halo vehicles should have mechanical traction aids in both axles. We'd also like to see the addition of a driver's and rear passenger grab handles, which are sorely missed when bouncing around in the back of the cab, or when simply climbing in to the driver's chair.
Overall, the Raptor makes for an incredible machine. Take away the fancy marketing, strip away the "Born in Baja" tagline, and you are left with a widely appealing pickup truck. A real pickup truck that can be had with trailer mirrors, a trailer brake controller, which can tow 6,000 pounds and carry a payload of 1,000 pounds. We can imagine customers out there who might not need the Baja capability, but still want a capable truck to get to far reaches of their property, up a snowy road, or through muddy trails.
Ford made the right move by bringing the Raptor to production and if brisk initial sales are any indication, there is a market for a high-performance pickup truck that has a foot of wheel travel, gets 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, and costs less than $40,000. Unless you need a different cab configuration, we wonder why anyone wouldn't spend the $2,930 premium over the equivalent FX4. You could easily spend the difference in fiberglass and paint alone on a project truck, really revealing what a value the Raptor is.
Ford has a game-changing, state-of-the-art vehicle in the Raptor, and it is unlike any factory-built 1/2-ton truck before it. Sure, there are many stock vehicles that could have driven where we did, just not in the way we did it, or with the smile we had when we were done. Look for our 2010 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year competition to see how the Raptor holds its own in a head-to-head battle of new pickups.
Styling, chassis, interior, highway manners, trail manners, locker, Off-Road Mode
Stiff ride on the street or in mild terrain, lacking interior grab handles, no mechanical front diff
After years of watching and waiting, Ford has delivered the goods
Level It Out
Like all factory pickups, the Raptor comes from the factory with a nose-down or "stink bug" stance. For those who don't plan on loading up the bed, we think that a leveled Raptor would be more appealing from a styling standpoint, as well as a functional one as it would increase the approach angle. As we were examining the cut-away of the front Fox shocks, we noticed a curious "manufacturing artifact." Hidden behind the spring perch appears to be a little present left by the team at Fox Racing Shox. Shown here by the arrows, the factory Raptor shocks have three detents with a wire clip. We surmise that you could level out the Raptor without ever taking the shocks off the truck. All you would need is a coil spring compressor and some common hand tools. The middle detent appears to be enough to level the Raptor, while the second one is there for those who want a nose-high stance. Now, you are on your own if you make the mod and we can't vouch for any warranty claims, but the option appears to be there. Thanks Fox!
Still confused about all of the different Raptor modes? Here is a easy-to-understand matrix showing you exactly what the different settings do for the driver.
Vehicle model: 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Base price: $38,995
Engine type: 5.4L EFI V-8 FFV
Valvetrain: SOHC, 3-valves per cylinder, variable camshaft timing
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 320 @ 5,200/310 @ 5,000 (Gas)
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 390 @ 3,500/365 @ 3,500 (Gas)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic Overdrive
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Transfer case crawl ratio: 44.5:1
Suspension (f/r): Coil-on-shock, long-spindle double-wishbone independent, aluminum lower control arm, forged steel upper arm/Live axle, Hotchkiss-type, leaf springs and outboard shock absorbers
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes (f/r): 13.8-inch vented discs / 13.7-inch vented discs
Wheels/Tires: 17x8.5 cast aluminum / LT315/70R17 BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A
Wheelbase (in): 133
Length (in): 220.9
Width (in): 86.3
Height (in): 78.4
Track (in): 73.6
Curb weight (lb): 5,863
Min ground clearance (in): 9.8
Approach (deg): 29.8
Departure (deg): 26.1
Breakover (deg): 20.8
Max payload capacity (l.): 1,020
Max towing capacity (lb): 6,000
Fuel capacity (gal): 26
EPA mileage estimates (mpg): 14 city/18 highway
Seating capacity: 5