Ford SVT engineer Hether Fedullo is effusive. She's explaining to us that the oil in the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor's dampers is a proprietary concoction that resists high temperatures so well that it endured the entire Baja 1000 without succumbing to heat-induced fade. This magic juice alone costs more than an entire conventional damper, and the Raptor has three levels of damping that varies according to shock position.
We must not be driving fast enough, then. Fedullo is wearing a helmet, yet she's managing to conduct this technical seminar from the passenger seat of the 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor as we rocket over a rock-strewn desert with knee-high whoops at a speed that would be illegal on any public highway.
This Raptor, then, is clearly a different kind of street-legal pickup truck.
A New Kind of Truck
Prior to the project receiving the green light, the idea of a high-speed off-road truck in the style of a Baja pre-runner was certainly different enough to strike fear into the hearts of certain risk-averse corporate wonks at Ford. Change can be intimidating.
After all, the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is not intended to be a typical off-road package; it is meant to offer an unprecedented level of capability without compromising on-road manners. The Raptor is supposed to be a comprehensive rethink of what a pickup can do.
Executing the Raptor's finer points entailed some unconventional approaches by the SVT team. They set up shop in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California, the largest park of its kind in the continental U.S. and ground zero for desert racing, then built a portable shock dyno and got to work.
SVT engineers devised a 62-mile loop here to hone the Raptor's off-road chops, and drove the truck on it for 1,000 miles as one of many durability tests.
Travel, Lots of It
High speed in the desert demands more suspension travel than the base F-150 offers, yet the SVT team could not relocate the existing suspension pickup points of the chassis to get it. If you remember geometry class, however, you know that adding track width will increase suspension travel.
A beefier rear axle with a shorter 4.10:1 axle ratio, new upper control arms and special squeeze-cast aluminum lower front control arms increase the Raptor's track width by 7 inches, resulting in 11.2 inches of front suspension travel and 12.1 inches at the rear. The Raptor sports so much track width that NHTSA essentially classes it as a dually and requires it to wear auxiliary lighting.
All of the bodywork forward of the A-pillars is unique to the Raptor. Whether in person or in photos, the Raptor looks so tough it's as if Clint Eastwood is glaring at you. Everything is functional. The 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires are covered by the meanest-looking fender flares since Robby Gordon's Hummer H2 Paris-Dakar racer. The hood and fender vents are real. Beefy steel skid plates protect the underbody. Even the running boards double as protection from rocks spraying off the front tires.
Damping, Lots of It
Meeting the performance targets for the truck hinged on effective damping, and as development progressed, SVT realized that the traditional OEM damper supplier with which it was working wasn't going to cut it. Jamal Hameedi, SVT chief engineer and a former race engineer for a Baja Trophy Truck, recalls, "I just went on the Internet and started researching alternatives."
From this grew a partnership with Fox Racing Shox, a California-based manufacturer of dampers for motocross bikes, off-road racing vehicles and even military applications. This odd-couple pairing proved instrumental to the Raptor's success. Fox brought high-end off-road motorsports know-how to Ford's stringent OEM qualification tests for durability and the difficult performance parameters for the Raptor project.
A conventional damper that varies damping force based only on the speed of its internal guts can be dialed in for on- or off-road terrain, but it struggles when tasked with the mission to excel at both. Fox's internal bypass feature -- said to be patented -- allows damping force to vary based on damper stroke.
As such, the Fox dampers allow a compliant ride around town when only a small portion of the suspension's travel is exercised. Explore the full range of travel by pounding it over some whoops off-road and the dampers progressively firm up to prevent the suspension from bottoming.
Driving, Lots of It
The result is that the Raptor is a revelation off-road. Terrain that would break normal pickups is shrugged off with ease. Rocks, whoops and ruts don't faze it. And the faster you go, the more capable it feels. Powersliding the Raptor through a desert wash, the steering is surprisingly accurate and the brake pedal firm and responsive. You feel invincible in the Raptor.
On the road, the Raptor rides and handles like a well-sorted conventional pickup. It's plush, yet not floaty or pitchy, and body control during cornering is surprisingly good for a tall, 5,863-pound pickup. Those giant tires that you expect to make a deafening roar at speed? Absolutely silent.
Put simply, the Raptor could be enslaved to life as a daily driver on public roads and the owner would be none the wiser to the truck's towering capability. The cabin offers supportive seats and a well-sculpted steering wheel complete with a useful on-center stripe. At the base of the center console is a handy row of four powered and fused switches to control anything from aftermarket lights to a blender.
You'll notice we haven't yet mentioned the powertrain. That's because the chassis is really the Raptor's main event, and the carryover 310-horsepower 5.4-liter three-valve V8 is simply overworked when lashed into the tall and heavy Raptor. Worse yet, the six-speed autobox constantly hunts for gears in a desperate attempt to keep fuel consumption at bay. It's annoying at best.
There's an Off-Road mode that remaps the shift schedule -- along with the throttle, ABS and stability control calibrations -- but it's still not quite enough to elevate the 5.4-liter past merely adequate. The optional 400-hp 6.2-liter V8, scheduled to arrive in dealers this winter, promises to address this shortcoming.
All Raptors have the 4x4 Super Cab configuration and are rated to tow 6,000 pounds and offer a 1,000-pound payload capacity. With hill-descent control and an electronically locking rear differential, there's little the Raptor can't do and few places it won't go.
Base price of the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor with the 5.4-liter V8 is $38,995 including destination ($41,995 for 6.2-liter versions), which is roughly $2,500 more than a comparable base F-150 4x4 Super Cab. That's a whole lot of extra capability for not much more dough.
Or you can justify the Raptor another way. Green is in, and the Raptor allows us to explore all those far-flung places we're preserving without needing to pave them first. Share this logic with the Prius weenie that's giving you the stink eye and watch his head explode.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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