The 2017 Ford Raptor Is a Desert-Dwelling, 3-Ton War Hammer

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Ford Baja race truck inspired
Ford’s new Raptor was inspired by Baja race trucks | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Ford Raptor is the kind of truck that should come with its own heavy metal soundtrack and a set of Kevlar-reinforced hiking boots. It’s got this overly aggressive-tread-wear-I-want, zero-blanks-given kind of attitude, and frankly, buyers wouldn’t want it any other way. Remember our collection of vehicles engineered to withstand the zombie apocalypse? Well it looks like it’s high time we added one more mean machine to that list.

As America’s fixation with both practical pickups and hardcore off-road trucks continues to define what matters to most buyers, the reigning heavyweight readies for another round in the ring. Aluminum bed controversy and EcoBoost fuel economy fiascos aside, the F-150 is without question a masterful piece of engineering that does a great job of being both a hardworking assistant to the average farmhand, and an ideal platform for customization.

Ford Raptor interior
Ford Raptor’s sporty interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

After an intense morning of flying across the desolate Anza-Borrego desert at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour and then crawling across a mountainside strewn with jagged rocks and perilous precipices, we had a thought. Not only does the latest Raptor live up to the hype and then give you more than you bargained for, but it is also competitively priced. It sure skyrockets to well over $60,000 with enough options, but it also offers a ton in stock form compared to loaded versions of the Tundra TRD-Pro or the Ram Rebel, both of which run around $50,000, and more than likely, so too will the Duramax diesel-equipped Chevy Colorado ZR2 when it emerges.

A $48,000 starting price and $10,000 in packaged options technically aren’t what one would call small bananas, but when you think about the amount of engineering and performance gains contained in this beast, it doesn’t seem all that steep. It’s a hardcore 4×4 that’s been designed to conquer the most extreme environments imaginable, and is wisely being marketed toward anyone looking for a rugged truck lifestyle. While the 2017 Raptor may not be the final answer to every pickup enthusiast’s prayers, it is brilliantly over-engineered in almost every way, and we found it to be an absolute hoot to hoon and quite capable in its ability to haul.

Suspension geometry testing
Suspension geometry testing | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The 2017 Raptor receives an all-new, 3-inch Fox Shox setup that has been calibrated to tackle nine different zones of position sensitivity, and with a wide array of other re-tuned components keeping footwork planted, handling and control are top notch. Driving in rear-wheel drive mode down abandoned desert highways, we quickly discovered that this was not so much a branded battering ram as it was a 3-ton war hammer, complete with a bludgeoning side for crushing off-road obstacles and a sharpened battle ax end for surprisingly sharp highway handling.

While Normal mode tweaked the electric steering feedback to an easy-to-drive setting, and a Comfort option loosened things up for easy city turns and for backing trailers up, a Sport setting responded with very tight turns in exchange for a little elbow grease. Calibrations in the powertrain department can also be maneuvered on the fly by dropping drive mode into the Weather setting, which takes the best all-wheel drive options Ford has to offer and keeps them on deck in case things get dicey. But even in rear-wheel drive mode, with knobby all-terrain BF Goodrich K02 tires screaming in protest, the Raptor remained surprisingly flat and controlled when turned sharply, and not once did we feel like it was acting like an uncompromising pickup.

Ford Raptor driver displa
Ford Raptor incredibly detailed and awesomely geeky driver’s display | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Inside the cabin, you get all kinds of helpful tech, lots of comfort and convenience features, and the useful F-150 layout one expects. But beyond all of the typical central storage spaces and rugged knobs and buttons, you’ll find extra goodies exclusive to the Raptor, like a race-inspired steering wheel, magnesium paddle shifters, custom embroidered seats, and an overhead toggle box loaded with auxiliary switches. It’s the same old F-150 interior American truck buyers know and love, but spiffied-up, with a Baja 1000 rally theme and one hell of an optional tech package.

Dubbed the “802A Equipment Group,” it runs a cool $9,345 and includes things like 10-way heated/cooled power driver and passenger seats, LED bed lighting, and a lengthy amount of upgrades too long to list in one sitting. Additional tech upgrades also give buyers things like an 8-inch touchscreen with 360-view cameras for off-roading and back-up purposes, and a digital driver display that is both attractive and informative.

All of this and additional goods like a duo of Smart Charging USB Ports, a 4.10 front-axle with Torsen differential, ambient lighting, and inflatable rear safety belts on SuperCrew models really make a loaded Raptor stand out as a winner in our book. With integrated trailer brake control and “Pro Trailer Backup Assists,” power folding sideview mirrors with high-intensity LED approach lamps, and a remote start system that can activate the tailgate release remotely, kick-ass and convenient never seemed more synonymous with one another.

Off-road Ford 4x4
Off-road Ford 4×4 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But it’s off-road where the Raptor really rallies to the tune of its 450-horsepower battle cry: This generation has been engineered from the ground up with Baja racing as its true calling. Where the old model had one off-road setting, the new Raptor has six options that can be mixed and matched with the aforementioned steering adjustments. Drivers can choose Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja, or Rock Crawl modes, and as the truck’s computer system follows your driving habits, it will make adjustments to better accommodate your preferred style.

With regular street driving all wrapped-up, it was time to hit the desert in 4×4 mode, which required neck braces, head-gear, and a well-trained Raptor specialist by the name of Steve. After arriving at our gypsum-filled sandbox, we put the truck in Baja mode, made sure steering was in a Normal setting for easier turns, and away we went. Steve tells us that out of all the calibrations made to this version of the Raptor, Baja mode was without question the most troublesome component to fine-tune, as it is not the kind of off-road driving F-150 transfer cases are typically accustomed to.

Redesigned Ford F-150 4x4
Redesigned Ford F-150 Raptor | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But fine-tune it they did, and now Baja mode is one of the Raptor’s greatest strong suits. After throwing more sand, silt, rock, and rattlesnake bones across the Borrego Desert than we care to count, we can confirm that holding this EcoBoost behemoth at redline makes all the difference when driving through this kind of environment. By keeping both turbos spooling at high speeds and popping the driveline into a 4-Hi setting that is conducive to locking the transfer case, you’re rewarded with a drive experience that is equal parts ferocious and fun.

After our two-hour sandbox blitz came to a close, it was time for a slow stretch of rock crawling, which the Raptor tackled with plenty of sure-footed fortitude courtesy of its new 10-speed gearbox and downhill descent control. With undercarriage and wheel geometry cameras engaged, 30/22/23 degree clearance angles at the ready, and BF Goodrich K02 one-off tires slightly deflated, nothing could stop us as we climbed, crawled, descended, and bounded from one rocky outcropping to another. The truck’s 4.5-millimeter thick front skid plate and all that undercarriage shielding add some peace of mind in these situations, and Ford’s engineers deserve a nod for redesigning those running boards to double as rock deflectors.

Baja Mode in the Ford Raptor
Baja Mode in the Ford Raptor | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Drive time complete, we stepped back and reassessed what some of our favorite touches were on Ford’s sharply-clawed  mountain climber. We really dug how the precise 10-speed automatic gearbox came clipped to a duo of rally-inspired magnesium paddle shifters. It compliments the modified 3.5-liter EcoBoost nicely, and plays beautifully with all of those drive settings in order to keep all 510 pound-feet of torque twisting, and with that true-dual 3-inch exhaust hacking back pressure in half, boost builds without bias as to what gear you’re in. Meanwhile, things like those D.O.T.-sanctioned integrated running lights, active grille shutters, hood vents, Raptor-exclusive interior touches, and the ability to add almost any F-150 option imaginable to it are all just icing on the cake.

The latest Ford Raptor genuinely is a certified Baja 1000 badass, but with more on-road driving jurisdiction than one would ever expect. But like all cars, it also has its flaws, as the smaller stock F-Series pads and rotors showed notable signs of fade both on- and off-road, and were prone to coating our forged bead-locking wheels in brake dust. Other foreseeable issues are the blunt and unapologetic FORD grille, which is truly a love it or hate it centerpiece, and how downhill descent control speeds can’t be increased or decreased in one mile per hour increments with the click of a paddle shifter.

Forged bead-lock wheels and BF Goodrich K02 tires
The new Raptor boasts forged bead-lock wheels and BF Goodrich K02 tires | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But even the stock brake issue is a small qualm. Most Raptor buyers will either never push their pickup to the point where it feels like it needs better brakes, or they’ll opt for an aftermarket solution if they are that serious about it. While some may falter at a $48,000 starting price and pricey package options, we have zero concern that Ford will be able to move every single one of these beasts. Amazing engineering aside, Raptor buyers already know what they want and have the dough to make it all happen.

Judging by the overwhelming interest in this platform, we are also curious to see what future incarnations of the Raptor will look like. We have the feeling that this badge will more than likely find its way onto other vehicles as well, and with diesel options already on standby, and Rangers and Broncos on the wing, things are looking bright for Ford and 4×4 fans alike.