by Gabe Beita Kiser
It's midnight on a recluse collection of rolling hills off the beaten trail marked by a sign that reads, "For Official Use Only." A raspy but muted exhaust note peaks and then drops off as headlights, aimed towards the sky, come crashing down seconds later and illuminate the dust kicked up by the violent high velocity impact shrugged off by Fox Shocks. The driver's door opens and a cackling 5'8" figure emerges, eclipsed by the Ford F-150 Raptor's gargantuan body.
3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
If there is any evidence in this world as to why Ford has been the longtime master of America's pickup segment, this is it. The F-150 Raptor is more than the sum of its parts, which include aluminum body panels and beefy off-road suspension with chunky dirt-grabbing tires to match. It's evidence that even without the delicate tailoring of a unibody chassis, a large lumbering Ruby Red Metallic mass of badassery sitting on a ladder frame can have a soul, and a spritely one at that. Despite a masculine exterior that seems to have gone to a plastic surgeon who mistook testosterone for botox-an aesthetic that invokes dagger-shooting stares or thumbs up depending on who's looking-the Raptor is much more nimble than it looks.
It's a piece of heavy rock-mauling machinery, but try telling that to the cavernous, comfortable, and quiet interior. Our SuperCrew Raptor had seating for five with rubber floor mats that were all business, but the full panoramic sunroof, leather seating surfaces that can be heated or cooled up front, a premium audio system with plenty of bass on tap, and Ford's SYNC 3-one of our favorite infotainment systems in the business. Provided the driver manages the weight correctly when turning and leaves enough room for braking, the Raptor can be as enjoyable as a luxury car in the city, the oceanic 145-inch wheelbase providing a smooth ride with the 10-speed automatic skipping gears for fuel efficiency.
This isn't a happy accident either, Ford worked closely with Fox to make the suspension that way as good on pavement as it is off road. The result is a "stepped" suspension that has nine zones, made by installing valves that regulate fluid flow, allowing the truck to take a pounding from rocks and high dune jumps but not flop around like a fish at each paved corner. It's dual nature affords it two abilities: one as the world's most comfortable city escape vehicle in case of the apocalypse and the second as a complete animal in any situation the driver desires. There's 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque under the hood and more than enough suspension hardware to make speed bumps and curbs an afterthought.
That's enough to make the driver feel like the world has opened to up to them. Like a sports car, it's got the power to get off the line and keep pulling into oblivion, but unlike a sports car, it won't even hesitate when a speed bump is on the horizon or if circumstances dictate a curb must be cleared with or without the throttle matted. That sense of ability can be intoxicating and corrupting, proving too tempting during five days of driving in the dense city. So much so that when Friday came around, the decision was made to get out of the city and explore any mode other than Normal. With high beams on and windows down, the Raptor left the city in its rear view mirror and started up a lonely paved road through the hills in Marin County.
It soon became apparent that Ford wasn't kidding when it claimed the Raptor has some semblance of on-road control. Switch over into sport mode with power still going to the rear wheels and the 3.5-liter twin turbo EcoBoost engine comes alive. It has a raspy and loud yet somehow muted yell to it, all of which blends with the hiss of the two turbos to echo off the surrounding hills while the red center-striped steering wheel sawed back and forth, a wide-eyed driver surprised at just how quickly corners could be dealt with using liberal stabs of brake and quick acceleration upon exit. Try to speak and out comes a whooping sound. Try to experience fear and out comes a surge of confidence that quickly becomes cockiness. This truck can do anything.
It can even, after driving onto prohibited roads, flip into Baja mode while either four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive are engaged, and kick up dust. Four-wheel drive Baja mode keeps the truck stable at speeds just shy of three figures while on straight sections of dirt paths, making Mother Nature have to challenge the nine-zone Fox shocks by sending boulders at the Raptor or spontaneously opening up a canyon-sized hole in the ground if the aim is to tip the party over. Two-wheel drive Baja mode is what the hooligans want. It has all the benefits of Baja mode, the 10-speed keeping the engine revved and the turbos spooled for instant torque, but it's built to enable to Raptor to traverse slippery surfaces sideways with the front wheels at full opposite lock.
The state of elation one can reach with the Raptor has the effect of throwing a wrench into the performance-seeker's plans to buy a Camaro ZL1, or any other high-horsepower beast for that matter. Sure, the Camaro is fast on the track, but the Raptor is fast everywhere. It's obviously much more versatile, reserving the ability to cram friends into the large luxurious cabin with logs thrown into the back-not a care in the world for the bed thanks to spray-in bed liner-all for a beach bonfire. But that versatility costs money. The hardware for a base Raptor, the real meat and potatoes that makes this truck what it is, starts just over $50,000 for a SuperCab version. Our feature-laden SuperCrew Raptor didn't go for a dime under $69,995.
Gas won't be any cheaper either because despite the engine downsizing and an ever-present start/stop system, our model averaged 10.1 mpg. Thing is, there's hardly another truck to compare it to. The Ram Power Wagon is perhaps the closest, but it's built for the delicate off-roader and can't last under the violence that the Raptor can endure. That's why, despite its cost, the Raptor ends up being such a bargain. There's only a single check to cut and factory warranty even remains intact. In fact, the only things likely to be pulverized, aside from rocks of course, is your mid-life crisis and your driving record because like any good muscle car, the Raptor invites trouble. Enjoy it while you still can.