For a minute there, it was looking like we were going to be playing with the LEGO kit of the Ford Raptor come Christmas. However, we were unable to source one of these nifty kits for our — ahem — kids to play with, so we opted for the Technic Getaway Racer instead, and the Raptor was sadly forgotten.
But then we got word that we’d have a real Raptor to play with, but we would need to put on our big boy shorts because this was no LEGO kit; this was the all-new 2017 F-150 Raptor. High fives were handed out, a small impromptu dance routine ensued, and a flight to Southern California was booked.
After the runaway success that was the 2010 to ’14 Raptor, the all-new model is likely one of the most anticipated trucks of all-time, and without question one of the highlights of the year for us. Unlike the massive 6.2 liter range-topping V8 found in the old truck, all Raptors now sport a heavily modified twin-turbo EcoBoost V6. And to differentiate it from the base F-150 (a lighter and more advanced model than the one that informed the original Raptor), the truck gets a revised suspension to accommodate a set of massive FOX Shox, a fresh set of traction controls for tackling any environment, and an all-new fascia that’s even more brutish than the old one.
To date, over 90,000 people have configured one of these pickups online via Ford’s vehicle configurator, with even more expected to do so once the 2017 Raptor goes on sale. Dealers in Vegas are now having to limit the number of people who make cash deposits due to the unprecedented surge in demand, and with a base price at around $50,000, the Raptor could soon give the red-hot Focus RS a run for its money as the Ford Performance vehicle to have.
While we got a major adrenaline rush after hours behind the wheel of the all-new truck, Ford’s engineers and designers were on hand to flesh out our understanding of why this Raptor could be the best F-150 variant of all time. Here are a few key things we learned about this kick-ass chassis.
1. Loads of drive modes and a 10-speed are what we need
Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission and a slew of drive mode configurations allow the Raptor to transform from street monster to off-road animal with the flip of button or a twist of a knob. From rock crawling settings that come armed with an adjustable downhill descent control, and a mud/sand setting for when things get really thick, to the AWD weather configuration and Baja mode for increased revs and anti-lag technology, the Raptor has a setting for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Toss in Normal, Sport, and Comfort steering modes, a set of magnesium paddle shifters, and a transfer case that features a clutch-based torque-on-demand system to meld AWD and 4×4 prowess, and you’ve got performance and peace of mind all in one place.
We picked the brain of longtime Ford drivetrain specialist Kurt Nickerson, who has been with The Blue Oval since the days when three-speed automatics were the norm. According to Nickerson, developing the 10-speed transmission had as much to do with writing code as old-school engineering. This transmission sits just 25 millimeters longer than a typical six-speed, its “Adaptive Learn Mode” tracks your driving style to offer improved drivability and shift inputs, and wheel-mounted magnesium paddle shifters grab gears sharper the faster you go. Altogether, the gearbox itself took over four years to develop.
2. Hello turbo and goodbye lag
The 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque don’t mean squat if they aren’t linear and overlap in a symbiotic manner, which the latest Ford Raptor does perfectly. Take a 22% improvement in torque-to-weight ratio, throw in a duo of higher boost turbochargers, both port and fuel injection to lower emissions and Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) woes, some electric waste gate adjustments, and a true 3-inch exhaust that offers 50% less back pressure than a typical 3.5-liter EcoBoost F-150, and you’ve got a massive jump start right out of the gate.
But the Raptor’s larger intercoolers, radiators, and high-flow fans deserve their time in the spotlight as well, all of which make the truck that much more capable. This beast also features piston-cooling oil jets, a lighter weight camshaft setup, a variable displacement oil pump, and a dual-chain cam design for reducing parasitic loss across the board. Throw in a two-piece oil pan and a tricked-out ECU for controlling it all, and you’ve got a seriously mean Baja racer for the streets.
3. It’s lightweight yet heavy-handed
Here’s a fun fact: The 2017 Ford Raptor retains the same cab design of both the SuperCab and SuperCrew F-150, but everything from the A-pillar forward and from the rear glass back is unique to this chassis. Like all other F-Series trucks, the Raptor receives a military-grade Arconic aluminum alloy body atop a high-strength steel box frame, making it over 500 pounds lighter than its predecessor but notably more agile. But the Raptor’s unique sheetmetal allows for 30-degree front approach angles, 22-degree breakover angles, and 23-degree departure angles. But it’s the Raptor’s footwork that’s the star of the show.
Off-road suspension specialist FOX went above and beyond with the new setup on the Raptor. Both the all-new 3-inch racing dampers and the taller ride height allow a nine stage damping process for increased control and clearance, while integrated hydraulic bump stops make bottoming-out a thing of the past. With 0.8 inches of increased wheel travel up front and 1.9 inches in the rear over the old model, the 2017 Raptor boasts a whopping 13 inches of front suspension travel and 13.9 inches of wiggle room out back.
Engineers at BF Goodrich have modified their K02 tire to feature unique compounds and sizes tailor-made to this chassis, which are designed to work with the Raptor’s new bead-locking 17-inch forged alloy wheels. Those machined aluminum running boards aren’t just for looks either, as they’ve been carefully engineered to prevent rock chips from ricocheting off the bulging rear fenders and hind quarters of the cab.
4. All tuck, no roll
All those raised ride height adjustments and performance upgrades don’t mean anything if crucial components on your chassis are hanging down, so Ford has made sure the Raptor’s undercarriage is as snug as possible. Redesigned bumper rakes, tightly tucked protection plates, and a specially-routed dual-port 3-inch exhaust hug the underside of the frame to make clearance a priority.
Despite all of these clearance upgrades and increased ride height, the Raptor remains very controllable in cornering, as its high-performance springs, lower curb weight, and re-calibrated stability control systems allow it to handle as if it were a smaller and lower automobile. Drive modes also play a crucial role in how this nearly 3-ton behemoth behaves, as on-board computers track your driving style and make adjustments on the fly to better suit the pickup to your driving style. With over 73 inches of track beneath it, and the aforementioned BF Goodrich tires keeping you planted both on- and off-road, the Raptor’s imposing presence does more for drivability than one might expect.
5. Off-road and on point
Our final lesson came to us courtesy of both a two hour on-road drive to the gypsum dust-laden desert near Borrego Springs, California, and off-road as we hauled ass across the barren landscape that birthed the original Raptor years ago. While we’ll reserve our driving impressions for now, there are a few details that are worth noting regarding the way in which this truck has been calibrated for various environments. On the tarmac, the Raptor has been designed to offer a ride quality that’s more comfortable than one might expect, and although its signature dual-port exhaust emits a gutsy growl, the cabin is a surprisingly tranquil place that borders on luxury-grade. Its drivetrain can also be popped into Normal or Weather mode on the fly, and for greater control, Sport settings make carving through a canyon worthwhile, as the steering firms up, and those steering wheel mounted magnesium paddle shifters allow added control when in manual mode.
As civilized as the new Raptor is on the streets, it’s off-road where it really bares its claws. All of the aforementioned upgrades and performance tweaks have been implemented to allow this beast to conquer everything Mother Nature has off the beaten path, and while snow was in short supply during our drive, there was plenty of sand and rock for us to pit the pickup against. Weather mode is designed to keep AWD on tap at all times. Sand settings allow both a locked 4-Hi transfer case and a rear differential for conquering loosely compacted terrain. Baja setting offers unique shifting schedules to keep boost levels up, which according to insiders at Ford was a royal pain in the ass to perfect. Finally there’s Rock Crawl mode, which utilizes a gear reduction of 2.64:1 to give 50:1 crawl ratio settings and a customizable downhill descent control system that pairs nicely with Ford’s available 360-degree multi-camera setup.