PINCKNEY, Michigan – The F-150 SVT Raptor was an instant hit after its introduction in 2011. The huge success was befitting of this all-muscle version of Ford’s best-selling vehicle, which was built for off-road driving. So it’s not surprising that the blue oval brand has just premiered a new generation at the Detroit Auto Show.
The second-gen Raptor is built on the same platform as the current F-150, aluminum body included. Some trims are up to 227 kilograms lighter than the previous generation, even though they’re more powerful, better equipped and feature a seriously improved suspension, gearbox and all-wheel drive system.
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There are two versions of the new Raptor. With two doors and a stretched cabin, the SuperCab starts at $67,899, while the four-door, full-cabin SuperCrew starts at $69,899. The SuperCrew also adds 12 inches (30 cm) to the wheelbase and comes with a bigger gas tank (136 litres compared to 98). If the price is a little frightening, you might be comforted to know that the first Raptor kept 87% of its value after two years, which is pretty amazing.
An all-American all-terrain machine
I drove the 2017 Raptor for the first time during the test runs organized at the North American Car of the Year Awards. On the incredibly narrow roads that surround Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney, Michigan, intense rain made the test drives much more fun—and informative. Featuring a brawnier aluminum body, sizeable black grille and massive tires, the Raptor devoured the strips of dirt, gravel and asphalt like a famished ogre, never missing a step. Not one.
I took on corner after corner, quietly working the steering wheel and the accelerator, and I felt like I was driving one of those incredible Trophy Trucks used for desert racing—but a significantly more refined version. This isn’t really surprising when you consider that the Raptor was put through its paces in the deserts of the Western U.S., as well as on the narrow, winding roads of the Midwest. In short, this vehicle can hack it. And then some.
Fewer cylinders, more muscle
Under the new Raptor’s hood is a second-generation, twin-turbo EcoBoost V6. This 3.5-litre mill delivers 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. of torque, which is substantially more than the 411 horsepower and 434 lb.-ft. served up by the 6.2-litre, naturally aspirated V8 that powered the initial Raptor. The new engine doesn’t rumble as loud as the old one during flat-out acceleration, but it still makes itself heard!
All this comes with the promise of a 23% reduction in fuel consumption thanks to direct and indirect fuel injection and a 10-speed automatic gearbox that is just 25 mm longer than the old six-speed gearbox. The new transmission is more modern, robust, fast, smooth and precise—and it even allows the driver to change gears using large magnesium paddle shifters mounted behind the leather-bound sport steering wheel.
The Raptor’s official fuel consumption rates are 15.6 L/100 km city, 13.2 highway, and 14.5 combined. These figures won’t be keeping the Prius up at night, but that wasn’t the intention either.
Hefty from all angles and comfy on the inside
The 2017 Raptor is 6 inches (15 cm) wider and 2 inches (5 cm) lower than the average F-150. That’s wide enough to include three yellow lights in the black grille, as required for super-wide vehicles. Bulging fenders cover wider tires and wheels, which have been spaced 15 cm further apart for added stability at high speeds.
The new Raptor’s aluminum body rests on a fully boxed frame, the most robust in the F-150 family. It contains more high-strength steel to better counter flexion and torsion on tough trails—and to provide solid anchor points for the Raptor’s high-performance suspension.
The cabin in both spacious and practical. Especially in the SuperCrew, with its four large doors. The seats are wide, comfortable and nicely sculpted, and the driving position is very decent. The standard grey-tone finish is functional, though bordering on dull. The optional colour accents are a worthwhile investment.
The Raptor has the same dashboard as the other F-150s, but the centre block and eight-inch touchscreen are exclusive, along with the dials, onboard computer and the menus for the applications that control towing and all-terrain driving. A series of icons and displays keeps you informed of the current status of and settings for a plethora of systems. This includes the front-wheel turning radius, which is measured at up to 24 km/h and is the perfect complement to the front-camera image when you’re heading into tight corners.
Several ways to power the wheels
The new 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor’s Terrain Management system is much more advanced than the one we saw in its predecessor. This system allows the driver to choose from six different driving modes, each of which adjusts the settings for the accelerator, steering, gearbox and all-wheel drive system, depending on the conditions.
Rock mode is good for crawling up rocky paths at slow speed, while Baja mode is best for blasting across the desert or through sand dunes. Street mode sharpens the Raptor’s reflexes for more sinewy roads, while Weather mode tempers responses for slippery surfaces. Mud-and-Sand is the setting of choice for—you guessed it—driving through mud or sand, while Normal is another self-explanatory selection.
There’s also a new transfer case that distributes the twin-turbo engine’s impressive torque to the front and rear wheels—either freely thanks to a centre clutch or according to predetermined parameters. All-wheel drive mode allows you use the accelerator to let the rear slip on Michigan’s dirt roads or simply glide gently down the city’s dry or snowy roads. It also comes with the usual mechanical modes with a high-low locking rear differential. The Torsen limited-slip front differential helps serious off-roaders climb steep or slippery roads and paths.
The Raptor comes with LT315/70 BFGoodrich T/A KO2 tires, which are 35-inchers in all-terrain jargon. You can have them mounted on the optional forged aluminum wheels with beadlocks to prevent the tire from slipping onto the wheel when maximum torque is applied while tire pressure is reduced.
These massive KO2s offer great traction and comfort on all surfaces. The feedback is surprisingly good for tires this wide and with such deep treads. The four massive disc brakes are extremely effective, as they offer great bite, are easy to modulate and plenty powerful.
Fearless and flawless
The front suspension is a Raptor exclusivity with double A-arms, coil springs and cast aluminum lower struts. In rear, the torque that’s transmitted to the differential (with a 4.10:1 ratio) is managed by the perfect choice of classic leaf springs.
All four wheels are equipped with Fox Racing Shox. Whereas as the canister diameter on the first-generation Raptor was 635 mm (2.5 inches), the new generation has 762 mm (3.0 inches) for better and more consistent performance. In front, the total travel distance is now 330 mm (13 in.), up from 284 mm (11.2 in.), while in back it’s 353 mm (13.9 in.), up from 305 mm (12 in.). For those who are interested, the F-150 equipped with the FX4 package offers 7.4 and 9.5 inches of travel in front and back respectively.
The patented “internal bypass” valves on these parts ensure precise damper control across its entire travel distance. The three-ton, 450-horsepower pickup is remarkably stable regardless of the road and weather conditions. The same thing for its road (or track) handling and ride. Driving down Michigan’s smaller roads, I couldn’t find a bump big enough to lift the Raptor like in the desert, but there’s no doubt that it can, without the slightest effort and remaining in full control.
There’s no problem on trails either, except that there’s a good chance branches will scratch the body because the vehicle is so wide.
Reaching higher and farther
After successfully completing all four races in the Best in the Desert series—including the classic Mint 400 in Nevada—with a development version of the Raptor, Ford Performance decided to take it to the next level. The brazen bunch registered a 2017 production Raptor in the ultimate desert race, the Baja 1000.
Other than the required safety and navigation equipment, this pickup was exactly the same as the ones coming out of the plant in Dearborn, Michigan. That said, the springs and dampers were also adjusted to its slightly higher weight. This Raptor not only completed the 1000-mile (1609-kilometre) trek with standard engine, gearbox, wheels and tires, it also covered an additional 644 kilometres to bring driver Greg Foutz from the finish line in Mexico back to his home.
The new F-150 Raptor is a high-performance, all-terrain, four-season machine that’s both fun to drive and practical. Not to mention that it’s comfortable and spacious enough for four adults, even five on occasion—especially in the SuperCrew. It comes with its own 5.5-foot (1.4-metre) bed with fold-away extension and plenty of hooks to secure it. On option, you can get spray-on or inserted body protection.
The Raptor’s 8000-pound (3630-kg) towing capacity is more than enough and the vehicle comes with all the equipment you’ll ever need. This includes Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist which comes with lighting to make it easier to connect. There are lots of good arguments to convince your better half that the Raptor is the perfect choice for your family.