Ford’s F-150 has been America’s bestselling truck for 40 straight years and its bestselling vehicle for 30. Despite all the Accords and Priuses that dominate the West Coast, this is the country’s most popular mode of transportation.
The Raptor is the high-performance, off-road version of the F-150. It’s not a monster truck, but it’s a truck, and it’s a monster. Base price: $49,520.
Ford introduced the first Raptor in 2010 and has held off the second generation until now. It was worth the wait, and the weight: Using new principles that Ford developed for its entire line, the 2017 F-150 Raptor is quicker, more powerful and 500 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
The new Raptor has shed the old V-8 and is now powered by a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Smaller in size and heft than the earlier engine, it makes 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque – up from 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque.
The more powerful punch increases the truck’s towing capacity by 2,000 pounds and increases the fuel economy by 23 percent, according to Ford. The company says there’s a 22 percent increase in the torque-to-weight ratio, too.
A drive around town reveals some of the Raptor’s talents. Although it sits higher and wider than the traditional F-150, the Raptor Supercab has a shorter wheelbase. It accelerates easily – thank you, torque – and corners well.
Equipped with a lot of glass and a very good rearview camera, it’s even easy to parallel park.
The half-doors open to expose a rear seat with fair legroom and headroom or plenty of cargo space. (A Supercrew version features four full doors, and even more cargo space, but also rides 12 inches longer in the wheelbase.)
In the city and on the highway, the Raptor is well-behaved. For a car with such a powerful engine, and strapped with such meaty 17-inch wheels, it’s pleasantly quiet, even at full freeway speed.
Designed more for work than for commuting, it doesn’t have a lot of creature comforts in the cabin. There are only two cupholders, set between the front seats, but there is ample storage space in the doors, the center console and the glove compartment.
These contain a wealth of electronic support, too, including several plug-in spots for small devices, a 12-volt plug-in for larger ones, and even a 110-volt/400-watt AC plug for bigger gear.
That’s not counting the six auxiliary “upfitter” switches above the driver’s head, which can be used to operate after-market add-ons such as external fog lights, tow winches or the sort of roof lights you only see during times of trouble _ those used by tow truck companies and law enforcement agencies.
A full appreciation of the Raptor requires dirt. So, doing my due diligence, a friend and I strapped two motorcycles into the 5.5-foot bed and headed off-road.
Ford based the Raptor on its Baja 1000 race vehicle, fitting it with extended travel shocks, 17-inch off-road tires, skid plates, tow hooks and more.
While I did not test the truck at Baja level – 100 mph in deep sand, through rock gardens or airborne over jumps – I did give it a pretty good shakedown cruise.
At 60 miles an hour, on a dirt road, over washboard and ruts left by recent rains, the Raptor was Cadillac-comfy, as quiet and restrained as it had been at the same speed on the highway.
The smooth ride is due in part to the Baja-ready suspension, which offers a stellar 14 inches of travel in the rear and 13 inches up front. That’s about 6 inches front and rear better than a standard F-150 with Ford’s off-road package, and more than enough to manage the humps and bumps we encountered.
Though the drive to our riding spot didn’t involve any climbing, it did include some washouts and one massive mud puddle. Eager to see how the Raptor would manage the sticky stuff, I drove into the deepest section, stayed in two-wheel drive and waited to see who would win.
The mud won. After a slight attack of anxiety, and a bit of inelegant wheel spinning that dug the mudhole a little deeper, I shifted into four-wheel-drive and let the Raptor extricate itself.
It’s good at that sort of thing, and engineered for it. Transmission selections on the steering wheel include Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Rock Crawl and Baja. I played around with several of these, but couldn’t find any terrain that really challenged them.
Customers looking for reasons not to buy a Raptor will find them. The truck comes with only one engine – though presumably it could be fitted with the diesel engine Ford has promised to put in its 2018 F-150s – and only the short bed size.