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.