Ignoring a Paved Road Near You
You don't need a flat-billed hat or limbs covered in tattoos to appreciate the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, but they help. If nothing else, such items will help you pass muster with the rest of the crowd that will buy this truck. Really, though, all you'll need to truly appreciate it is a desire to drive fast over rough terrain. This is because the Raptor is a truck -- that's right, a truck -- that's engineered to be driven. Flat-bill or not.
This purposefulness became clear to us on the last day of our 10-day evaluation. The decisive moment came mere fractions of a second after the truck left the ground -- an important distinction in the driving of off-road machines. You see, any desert-dwelling flat-biller can find himself and his pickup in the air given enough hubris, horsepower and Hamm's -- items which seem common enough in off-road circles. But it's the inevitable return to earth that distinguishes the Raptor.
It wasn't until the horizon reappeared from beneath the F-150's hood and all 5,957 pounds of Molten-Orange truck glided back to the ground with astonishing grace that we realized what Ford has created with the Raptor. This is quite possibly the most unique and entertaining vehicle sold in North America.
This thing is serious fun and we're not even truck guys.
A Truck Meant for Driving? Really?
Until now, trucks have, in our minds, existed to serve a few specific purposes, like hauling bulky cargo or performing heavy towing. Driving them daily meant tolerating the compromises that come as a result of these purposes -- a busy, rough ride, a huge turning circle and awkward control feel and response.
The basic underpinnings of the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor are all F-150, and the powertrain remains largely unchanged. Under the hood is the company's standard-issue 5.4-liter V8 cranking out 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel. A more powerful 6.2-liter 400-hp engine will be available this winter. Every Raptor features part-time four-wheel drive and utilizes an electronically shifted two-speed transfer case.
Sounds like a regular F-150, and yet the Raptor is an engaging driving tool. We don't use the word "driving" with the same intention we would with regard to a Nissan GT-R or Porsche 911 GT3, but the Raptor certainly shares a similar dedication of purpose with those machines. It's just that, in this case, the purpose is very, very different.
What's more, the high-speed desert off-roading for which this truck is intended requires a special mix of the right equipment and the right driving style. The subtlety of input, the importance of weight transfer, timing and, most of all, confidence in your equipment are all key to keeping an off-road truck shiny side up. But none of that matters if what you're driving doesn't have the goods.
And it's here where the Raptor excels.
The Real Test
We took the F-150 SVT Raptor to the Stoddard Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area in the Mojave Desert south of Barstow, California, for a bare-knuckles sorting of the truck. Until now, it had only been evaluated in the carefully controlled confines of Ford's media events.
Stoddard Valley has been known for decades for its brutal off-road trails, and it is fraught with tattooed flat-billers driving wide-body Baja-style pre-runners. This, friends, is off-road hell. Or heaven. Which one depends on the flatness of your bill, the quantity of your ink and the cost of your dampers.
Stoddard Valley's most defining feature is its rocks. Huge rocks both loose and embedded cover every inch of the place and make for a relentlessly brutal surface. They also destroy any tire that isn't dedicated to surviving this type of terrain (in fact, the support truck we took along left with two flats).
Then we did what we came here to do: pound the snot out of the Raptor without the Ford thought police telling us where to go or how to get there.
Whoops? What Whoops?
As with anything in life, there are limits. Even trophy trucks have limits. But finding the limits in the Raptor means driving more aggressively over more radically uneven terrain than even the most mechanically unsympathetic flat-biller can fathom. This truck allows us to glide with guiltless impunity over the Mojave at speeds that would send every other truck made today home on a flatbed. Find the right speed and knee-deep whoops don't even exist. Same thing with the right kind of jump -- you won't even know you left the ground in most instances.
There's a level of control available here that we've never witnessed in a truck. The Raptor's response to low-grip driving techniques is astounding. Sure, it's big and heavy and won't rotate into a corner as quickly as a car, but it doesn't need to. What obstacles it can't go around, it can go straight over. The steering offers enough feedback to slide the big truck comfortably, and the brake pedal remains confident after miles of pounding.
If we had to gripe we'd ask for quicker steering, since things can get a little busy behind the wheel with the current 20:1 steering ratio. And the transmission needs a manual gate for better control over up- and downshifts. Another 100 hp wouldn't hurt, either, but now we're just whining.
Honestly, the Raptor's chassis so far exceeds the abilities of any other vehicle sold today that it should be given an award. This level of damping control simply hasn't been accomplished elsewhere, and it makes the Raptor a special machine -- an incredible truck that can perform incredible feats.
The key to the Raptor's abilities are its Fox Racing Shox dampers, which utilize three-position internal bypassing to increase compression damping as the shock travels deeper into its stroke. This allows the damping to be roughly four times stronger at the end of the travel than it is at the beginning.
The front suspension has also been completely redesigned and includes a cast-aluminum lower control arm, new upper control arm, tie rod and half-shaft joints. As a result of the additional front suspension travel, the Raptor has a much wider track, and the truck is more than 7 inches wider than a standard F-150. Wider fenders accommodate the change in track width, while proprietary 315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain TA/KO tires have been developed to serve the Raptor's off-road needs but maintain livable levels of road noise.
Ford has also filled the Raptor with electronic technology, much of which is largely lost on anyone hell bent on screaming across the desert at full tilt. Once you calibrate the Raptor in off-road mode, throttle response gets bumped up and the transmission's tendency to shift up early in order to save fuel is diminished. But if you plan on having real fun in the dirt, you'll need to fully slip off the electronic leash by pressing and holding the stability control button for 5 seconds.
There's an electronically actuated, locking rear differential, which unfortunately makes the Raptor refuse to turn very sharply in most situations. A transmission that can be manually shifted would help you to better utilize the improved traction while driving hard at high speed. As is, this feature is useful for low-speed off-roading, and there's hill-descent control, too.
Ford's roll stability control adds a margin of safety while driving the Raptor on the street, plus there's a trailer brake controller if you have towing in mind.
By the Numbers
Acceleration on pavement isn't terribly inspiring, with 60 mph requiring 8.4 seconds (8.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The quarter-mile consumes 16.2 seconds, at which point the big orange truck is ambling along at 85.6 mph.
Braking isn't embarrassing for a thing as big, heavy and soft as the Raptor. It hauls down from 60 mph in 133 feet. Brake feel is more confident than most full-size trucks.
Turning this monster through the slalom cones isn't a precision operation. Thanks to the grippy pavement of our test track, the Raptor seemed sluggish and its width was a liability, so it yielded a speed of only 55.5 mph. Its 0.70g skid pad performance comes with the ability to hang the tail out, but doing so isn't terribly rewarding on dry pavement.
These numbers are remarkably close to the 2009 Ford F-150 Supercrew we last tested, which produced a 55.9 mph slalom speed and 0.69g on the skid pad.
Still a Truck?
A Gross Vehicular Weight Rating of 6,950 pounds gives the Raptor a payload capacity of only 993 pounds -- less than most half-ton trucks. A soft suspension also means its tow rating has to take a similar hit, and we calculate it to be even less than the 6,000-pound capacity that Ford claims. Still, there's enough towing capacity to get your watercraft to the river, so most flat-billers won't complain.
More important, there's little compromise in ride quality versus other full-size trucks. Really, the Raptor rides far better than the Toyota Tundra, and its massive tires are uncharacteristically silent.
The 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor starts at $38,995 including destination fees, but our test truck equipped with an extended cab and a 67-inch cargo bed rang up a substantial price tag thanks to a pile of options. The Molten Orange paint and graphics package totaled $1,570, while things got really expensive inside the cab. The Luxury package, which includes power-adjustable pedals, power heated mirrors and heated power seats, added $1,950. Navigation radio added another $2,430. Add in a few other amenities and the total comes to $45,045.
It's tempting to think that's a lot of coin, but really it's only about $3,000 more than a comparably equipped F-150 in standard form. And there's no way that truck is going to cut it with the flat-billers.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds says:
My wife and daughters were aghast when they first stepped out of the minivan and saw the Molten Orange 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor poised in our driveway.
"What's that kindergarten mess all over the side?" asked Sarah, 10, my youngest. She was referring, of course, to the $1,075 Raptor Graphics package. And at a cost of over a grand, she had a point. But I was undeterred.
"Want to go for a ride?" I asked the assembled group. "Let's go get some yogurt."
"No way," said my wife. The Molten Orange paint ($495) and the orange interior accent panels (another $395) were clearly not helping. "Someone might see me in that thing. It looks like some kind of sandbox toy."
Bingo. That's precisely what it is and exactly why I like it -- exactly why the guy with the flat-billed Metal Mulisha hat down the street likes it, too.
The Raptor's SVT-developed suspension and massive 315/70R17 BFG All-Terrain tires are optimized for off-road performance, not payload capacity. Pick something else if you want to tow or haul very much. And if your idea of off-roading is defined by the classic notion of creeping over stacks of boulders on narrow goat trails in low range with a spotter up ahead, look elsewhere. This is not your truck, either.
Sure, the Raptor has rock-crawler equipment like four-wheel drive, a low-range transfer case and a lockable rear differential, but I'd do just fine with a true two-wheel-drive, desert-style pre-runner version if they offered it. (Pity they don't.) And that's because the extra-wide suspension (a track that's 6.6 inches wider than stock) with nearly a foot of suspension travel and exotic triple-bypass Fox Racing shocks screams Baja 500 pre-runner, not Rubicon Trail rockhound.
I want one, and I think that's because the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is the four-wheel equivalent of a dirt bike, except here a like-minded buddy can ride inside, rather than merely spot for you.
I figure that I can shave almost two grand off the price by steering clear of the graphics and the Orange Julius color scheme. Maybe then the girls will relent and ride along on a desert road trip. If not, I know plenty of like-minded buddies who'd jump at the chance.