We strap in and helmet up, and Johnson twists the ignition key. The engine rumbles into life, and immediately I notice a meaner, harder edge to the exhaust note, tuned by NVH development engineer Hether Fedullo. Under hood is Ford's all-new 6.2-liter V-8 (see sidebar), which in Raptor tune develops 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque-healthy increases of 91 horsepower and 44 pound-feet over the 5.4-liter V-8 the Raptor SuperCab launched with last year. This will be the standard engine in the Raptor SuperCrew and a $3000 option on the 133-inch-wheelbase Raptor SuperCab.

We rumble out the drive and onto the highway. Barely five minutes later, Johnson swings off the blacktop and onto a stony desert road. He stops and 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 2WD, 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. "You can turn it all the way off," he says, "but you don't need to -- it stays out of the driver's way." The system monitors driver inputs, principally steering-wheel motions and brake applications, and steps in only when it notes a change in the pattern. "We figured if we did a bad job, people would find a way of disabling it." And with that, he punches the gas.

The 6.2 growls and the big Raptor quickly gathers speed. Though fast and open, the road is 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.