As I waited for the garage gate to roll-up, letting me access the narrow alley behind Roadshow HQ in San Francisco, I reminded myself, “You are behind the wheel of a 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor. It’s over six and half feet tall. Do not scrape the top on this gate.”
The gate rose and I crept out, cranking the wheel hard to the left to avoid the cars parked on the opposite side of the narrow alley. As I pulled forward, I dropped a wheel off the curb but hardly noticed. This is the current king of off-road trucks. It bounces off curbs as gracefully as a soccer ball bounces off Lionel Messi’s foot.
I arrived at my destination only to face my next challenge: parking on the street. My SuperCrew tester had a wheelbase of 12 feet and an overall length of just over 19 feet. It is not the truck for the mean streets of San Francisco. I found a large spot on a side street, put the truck in reverse and offered up a small prayer to the parking gods. They answered with the Raptor’s 360-degree camera. I had enough visibility to put my curbside wheels up on the sidewalk — the truck is over 7 feet wide after all — and avoid the parking meter, a tree and three random poles all placed within 6 inches of the curb. Go me!
The Raptor arrived in a flurry of shock and awe in 2010. It was a no-holds-barred beast, offering more rough-and-tumble than any other truck released up until that point. The Raptor was like driving around on a middle finger pointed directly at sensibility. To dirt lovers like me, it was amazing. Many of those same dirt lovers are a little concerned over a few changes for 2017 — namely, the loss of the 6.2-liter V8 engine and its new aluminum body.
Ford swapped in a smaller, 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 engine, which puts out 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Whine all you want about the smaller engine, but it beats the old power plant’s 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque. The aluminum body cuts 500 pounds off the truck, so you’ve got more power and less weight. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Ford increased the wheel travel for this second-generation truck, giving it 13 inches in the front and 13.9 inches in the rear, making the Raptor a Baja prerunner right off the showroom floor. Some might even argue it’s an actual Baja race truck, never mind the prerunning. Ford entered it in the 2016 Baja 1000 where it finished on the podium after 1,000 grueling Mexican miles on dirt, and then the team drove the damn thing home to Arizona the next day instead of putting it on a trailer.
But it’s not just a whoop-bomber. The Raptor’s six drive modes and nifty transfer case make it a rock cruncher, mud blaster, speed demon, snow monster and, believe it or not, just a normal truck. Well, as normal as a Raptor can be.
A mode for every terrain
All the fun happens in Baja mode. A push of a button and the transmission goes into four-wheel drive and torque splits evenly between front and rear. An antilag feature keeps the turbo spooled up, even when you’re not on the throttle. Driving off road is often about feathering the throttle, and the antilag turbo ensures that you don’t lose your torque. The top five gears of the 10-speed automatic transmission are locked out, so you can keep the revs high, regardless of using the paddle shifters or letting the truck shift on its own. The best part is that you can override the transfer case to keep the Raptor in two-wheel drive, forcing all the power to the rear wheels — all the better for dirt shenanigans.
Rock mode locks the rear differential and puts the engine in four-low with a 50:1 crawl ratio for maximum traction up steep and craggy hills. When it comes to rock crawling, it’s all about angles, and the Raptor has some good, though not stellar geometry, with an approach angle of 30 degrees, breakover angle of 22 degrees and 23 degrees in departure. That’s about the same as the, but it is way less than the admittedly smaller . Not that either of those are true competition for this beast, but just know that if rock crawling is high on your list of priorities, a nimble two-door Jeep will most likely be better for you.
If you find yourself in the mud or sand, the Raptor can be locked into a 50/50 torque split in four-wheel drive as the rear differential locks automatically to get the most out of a low-traction situation. The truck will hold gears a bit longer and traction control turns off, the better to keep power going to those wheels as you climb up a sand dune. The BF Goodrich KO2 35-inch tires are excellent here, especially when you air them down to get even more traction.
Weather mode utilizes the Raptor’s fancy transfer case, putting the truck into a kind of all-wheel drive. Power can be diverted to the front wheels when the computer senses a loss of traction. The throttle has less of a punch to keep you from spinning your tires in slippery situations and traction control is turned all the way up. It’s a pretty cool trick and the Raptor is the only truck on the market with this kind of transfer case.
With this kind of extensive off-road terrain management technology, the Raptor makes you a better driver than you probably deserve to be. The truck does most of the work for you, although you still must have the courage to attempt to side-hill 45-degree slopes or attack a gnarly section of foot-and-a-half-deep whoops north of 60 miles per hour. If you have the guts, the Raptor rewards you handsomely with an intense feeling of being connected with the truck and the terrain. All is right in the world as you and your truck conquer Mother Nature.
You’ll inevitably find yourself on dry pavement with the option of Sport or Normal modes. Both keep the truck in two-wheel drive, but Sport mode has a faster throttle response and the transmission holds gears longer. It’s my mode of choice because Normal has an automatic stop-start function and the transmission upshifts at the altar of the almighty miles-per-gallon deities — that’s all a bit too much for my taste.