Editor's Desk: Desert Storming - Testing the SuperCrew Raptor
The yard is bordered by small sheds and littered with pickups and trailers. An old tractor rests quietly in one corner. Then, in the predawn gloom, you notice the bright-red Hughes MD500 helicopter, the three gleaming Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCabs lined up next to it, and then a couple of hulking, oddly indistinct shapes -- black-bagged bad-boys standing high and wide: prototype Raptor SuperCrews, still under wraps. We're here at a secluded ranch in a quiet corner of the Sonoran Desert to join the Ford SVT engineering team for the last leg of a 1000-mile durability test, the final step before the Raptor SuperCrew is signed off for production.
This is no ordinary durability test: Basically, we're going desert racing.
Every inch of the Raptor SuperCrew's exterior is covered in heavy black plastic camouflage. The SVT guys have even built a false canopy over the bed to make it look like a full-size SUV. But there's no disguising the 10 inches or so of ground clearance and the 17-inch alloy wheels shod with meaty 315/70 BFGoodrich tires. Or the gleam of the long-travel Fox Racing Shox internal-bypass shocks in the wheelwells.
Inside are a rollcage and five-point harness safety belts. SVT vehicle dynamics engineer Matt Johnson slides behind the wheel. I climb into the passenger seat and check out the GPS navigation device in front of me. The 66-mile test loop has been programmed into the system, with yellow and red crosses marking the hazards according to their severity. My job -- apart from hanging on and not barfing into my full-face helmet -- is to make sure I call them out.
Just before 7.45 a.m., we strap in, helmet up, and Johnson twists the ignition key. He selects off-road mode, which alters the rate at which the throttle responds to gas pedal inputs and also recalibrates the ABS for loose surfaces. Johnson elects to keep the Raptor in two-wheel drive, but pulls out the button to lock the rear diff. Then he selects sport mode, which reprograms the stability control system to allow more freedom to slide the truck, and punches the gas.
The 6.2 growls and the big Raptor quickly gathers speed. Though fast and open, the road's narrow and stony, jinking left and right in places. Hungry-looking boulders dot the verges. Johnson's relaxed, but on it, deft gentle inputs on the steering wheel, eyes scanning the road ahead for hazards that may not have been there yesterday: "One of the things we had to learn is there is a randomness to the desert." I glance down at the readout on the GPS screen in front of me. We just touched 99 mph.
The first 20 miles or so are fast and rough. The rest of the loop is slower -- and really rough. We're pounding across whoops and washouts, and the way the suspension soaks up everything the desert throws at it is truly astounding. About halfway through the loop, Johnson pulls over. It's my turn to drive. I'm not allowed to say anything about the SuperCrew itself, as it's still several months away from launch. What I can say, however, is this: After a couple of miles, I can scarcely believe I can horse a 6000-pound rig this fast through country this rough. Time and again, the big Raptor simply shrugs off impacts that should have suspension parts popping through the fenders.
The goal is to complete each loop in about 90 minutes, and if an average of 40 mph or so sounds slow, consider that, on one section, nicknamed the Pole Line, the suspension will go from full compression to full rebound -- that's 11.4 inches of travel up front and 12.2 at the rear -- nonstop for up to eight miles, the shock pistons reaching velocities of 160 inches per second. I'm not going to drive the Pole Line -- "It's just not fun," says Johnson. So I after half an hour or so of pounding the Raptor SuperCrew harder than I've ever pounded any vehicle in my life, I pull over and hand it back.
Development engineers are the unsung heroes of the auto biz. They find what works, and fix what doesn't, before your next truck reaches the showroom floor. More important, though, they dial in the human factors that mere computers couldn't possibly figure out, the nuance and character and refinement that make one truck different from the other. Ford has some of the most sophisticated virtual chassis development tools in the industry -- stuff that makes Gran Turismo look like, well, a video game -- yet the SVT team still physically tested 40 different shock iterations before deciding on the perfect setup for the production Raptor.
At 4.15 p.m., SVT vehicle dynamics supervisor Eric Zinkosky cracks a smile. After four days in the desert, the Raptor SuperCrew prototype has covered precisely 1017 brutal off-road miles in 24 hours running time. Truck Trend drove maybe two percent of that mileage, a tiny fraction in the overall scheme of things, but enough to tell us this much: That Raptor SuperCrew is one tough truck.
Truck Trend editor Allyson Harwood will return next issue.