It seems like everybody’s talking about the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, and for damn good reason. After driving a few different versions in the desert near the Mexican border, we couldn’t be more pleased with its design language and engineering. It’s been years in the making, and unlike all things Ranger and Bronco, The Blue Oval has been anything but secretive about its street-legal Baja race truck. Specs on the hardcore 4×4 have been trickling across our newsfeed for a while now, and while hype over the Focus RS is still strong, the king of desert racing has the limelight right now.
But since this isn’t your garden variety F-150, the kind of clientele Ford is catering to is pretty unique, and unfortunately the majority of the people who will buy one of these machines will more than likely never use it to its full potential. They may tailgate with it on the weekend, get it muddy on the way to the campground, and maybe even ascend a midsize mesa or two in order to play with various traction settings, but things like Baja and Rock Crawl Mode will likely remain untouched.
It’s not that people don’t want to play with all the settings and test the Raptor’s limits, it’s just that very few people have access to environments where they can hold it at redline while going 90 miles per hour across the desert in Baja Mode. As one outspoken automotive journalist at the drive event noted, “Having the means to buy a hardcore 4×4 like the Raptor is one thing. Having the time, place, and proper connections to put it through its paces is another.”
After spending several hours driving the latest Raptor on the canyon roads leading out of sunny San Diego, and then traversing the barren landscape outside of Borrego Springs, California in multiple drive modes, we tend to agree. This truck is made in small batches for a reason. Ford doesn’t want everyone to be able to get a hold of one because not everyone needs this kind of truck, and even fewer rightfully deserve it. If you honestly plan on doing damage with the off-road side of this EcoBoost war hammer, then by all means, buy one. But if you think of it more as a status symbol, used for bragging rights and burnouts, do the next guy in line at the dealership a favor and opt for another kind of F-150.
1. Engineered for rock crawl kings, not posers
While most of the slow-speed 4×4 fans out in Moab will argue that Jeep retains the rock crawling crown, those without a sense of brand loyalty and who enjoy bouncing from boulder-to-boulder will find this pickup to be a fantastic alternative to Fiat-Chrysler’s and Range Rover’s offerings. With downhill descent control engaged and a 50:1 crawl ratio working overtime to keep the locking rear differential on its toes, there is no stopping this 5,500 pound slab of Detroit steel. With its upgraded suspension travel capacities, tucked 3-inch dual exhaust, increased approach, breakover, and departure angles, and 360-degree camera views, there’s a lot to like in the new Raptor if you are into slow and steady exploring.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the people who are waiting in line for one of these beasts will keep it squeaky clean, and you’ll more than likely see entirely too many of them hanging out the window as they attempt burnouts on the Vegas strip in 2017. This truck was not over-engineered just to have some aftermarket wheels and an LED kit slapped across its underbelly, so pickup posers be forewarned: You are an embarrassment to real 4×4 truck enthusiasts everywhere, and should probably find a new hobby instead of hogging all the fun stuff.
2. Park rangers rejoice, as the AARP crowd cringes
Ever imagine a Raptor in U.S. Department of Agriculture Green? Personally, we think Ford’s hardcore F-150 would look badass in that milky park ranger crème de menthe color, especially with a big old brushguard up front and a roof rack riddled with rally-style fog lamps. Aesthetic wishes aside, we think the average park ranger would find the F-150 Raptor to be the perfect complement to their daily work routine. It has all the off-road prowess they could ever need, undercarriage shielding galore, both SuperCab and SuperCrew cabin configurations, various bed sizes, and towing capacities that top-out at 8,000 pounds, thus making it an ideal contender for the average forest ranger, assuming the service wants to shell out that much cash for a truck.
On the flipside, the redesigned Raptor is by no means an easy vehicle to climb in and out of, even with its sturdy all-aluminum side steps installed. With 450 horsepower up top and 510 pound-feet of torque on the low, this truck is not designed for the feeble or anyone with a history of heart problems. Power hits the pavement in a split second in this truck, so driving it all-out definitely requires an acute level of mental and physical prowess.
3. High speed 4×4 fanatics will fawn, environmentalists not so much
Driving across the Anza-Borrego Desert at full blast was without question one of the coolest things we’ve done all year, and after two hours of hooning Ford’s latest creation we can attest that its high-speed Baja cruising is indeed its strong suit. While not everyone has access to a sandy, gypsum-rich state park, there are plenty of potential Raptor buyers in places like Nevada and Southern California that would benefit from such a unique drive setting. Simply slap it into Baja Mode, make sure your steering feedback is in Normal setting, and marvel at how revs remain at redline to keep both turbos on the attack, while the locked transfer case allows the truck’s one-off BF Goodrich K02 tires to tackle rocky terrain without remorse.
Even though the new Raptor gets a 23% improvement in efficiency over the old 6.2-liter V8 model (due in part to its outstanding 10-speed automatic gearbox), it still gets an 18 mile per gallon highway rating from the EPA. All those tow hook block-off plates, aluminum body panels, active grille shutters, and sleek undercarriage shields can’t hide the fact that this truck is over 80 inches wide, comes with a very thirsty engine, and has the same ride height as The Iron Giant. This is a gas-guzzler that relies on 91 octane or higher, and with zero signs of a hybrid model on the horizon, environmental stewards are only left with the reassuring thought that without a diesel variant, rolling coal will not be synonymous with this generation of Ford Raptor.