A confession: I'm not a truck guy. I hail from Britain where not even our workmen drive pick-up trucks, most opting for the decidedly less cool but often more practical Ford Transit van. And off-roading? Well that's a drive through a muddy field in a Land Rover.
But when Ford offered me a week with their latest and greatest F-150 Raptor I enthusiastically accepted. Partly because when you grew up obsessed with Jurassic Park, driving a truck called Raptor just sounds cool, and partly because, well, just look at this thing.
On looks alone the Raptor is impressive, eschewing the chrome grill of a workman's F-150 for an oversized Ford logo, huge flared wheel arches and a big steel skid plate.
Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost, (the same basic engine block as the new Ford GT) mated to a 10-speed automatic gearbox. That's good for 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque that sends the 5700 lb Raptor to 60 miles per hour in just about five seconds. That's quicker than the V6 Mustang in Ford's lineup.
On the road, especially in Sport mode—one of six switchable drive modes that drastically alters the car's response—the Raptor is surprisingly nimble, thanks partly to the weight savings of aluminum panels and the relatively small engine block. Don't get me wrong, this thing is huge—a full six inches wider than the standard F-150. It's the first car I've driven where the 360 degree parking camera wasn't just a nicety but essential.
It cruises just fine, but the 10-speed gearbox is probably overkill and at normal road and highway speeds the Raptor takes a while to settle on the right gear ratio. Using the truck's racing-style paddle gear shifters, ones very similar to the Ford GT, is a little silly but also very fun—which is exactly what this vehicle is about.
But if you buy a Raptor and keep it only on pristine paving then you're missing the point. On the loose stuff is where it wants to play. We threw the truck around a narrow gravel track in upstate New York and it didn't let up even for a second. In the Mud/Sand mode, which locks up the rear differential for more traction, I could put down as much power as I dared and the Raptor was still there for me. And while thrilling, it was striking how comfortable the ride was thanks to the Fox Racing suspension—an impressively tuned setup that smooths over rocks and potholes, while not making the truck feel tippy in corners.
Ford calls the Raptor's off-road setting "Rock Crawl" mode, but it's better described as Rock Eating mode. With the truck's knobbly BFGoodrich KO2 tires at full road psi (no deflation necessary), the Raptor went over every rock and boulder and fallen log I pointed it at without the slightest complaint. I am an off-road novice and the Raptor made me look a lot better driver than I am.
If there's one regret I have from our testing it's that we didn't even begin to find the Raptor's limits, and believe me we tried. At $63,000 (as tested) it's not an everyman's truck but, it is bags of fun for those willing to challenge it.