When it comes to the Ford Raptor, your first thought might be of speeding through a sand wash or racing in Mexico. That perception makes sense, as Ford did heavy promotion of the race version Raptor's run in the Baja 1000 and ran an advertising campaign that showed the truck jumping dunes and creating roostertails of sand. That decision may have been a blessing and a curse for Ford. The campaign showed some of the truck's impressive capability, and the completion of the Baja confirmed the pickup's toughness. However, it also may have convinced some Raptor buyers that the truck is indestructible, and the focus on the high-speed sand might make people think this truck is somewhat one-dimensional. And that's not the case.

Since the truck's launch, Ford has worked to change perceptions of the Raptor. The company has invited media to romp in sand (of course), snow, and mud. The truck has a suspension designed for off-road use that works in many types of terrain. On this drive, the first for the 2012 model, we went rock-crawling -- specifically slickrock-crawling -- in Moab, Utah. We tried out the truck's new features, two of which were key for the rocky terrain.

As Ford's high-performance division Special Vehicle Teams explained, the goal is to make constant improvements to the vehicles they build, whether by fine-tuning a car or truck or by adding features based on customer input. We saw examples of both here. For 2012, a new anodized blue interior package is available with all exterior paint colors except Race Red (a decision by the designers, we presume). There are now aluminum details in the cabin as well, a change that still looks good, and the blue is a better color scheme to live with than the previous models' orange. Other styling changes include new graphics on the bedsides and hood, and Molten Orange exterior paint has been replaced by the new red.

But the reason we went to Moab was to see how the Raptor works in what seems like an unusual environment for this truck. We took a group of SuperCab Raptors on Hell's Revenge -- 6.5 or so miles of difficult, technical rock-crawling that took all day to complete. It's a road that is sometimes narrow, has varied elevation, and included some bonus water crossings. Despite the fact that this truck is wider than a standard F-150 -- and 6.4 inches wider than a single rear-wheel Super Duty -- and has a relatively long wheelbase, it did quite well on the trail. We didn't get to test the top speed offered by the 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8, but can report that it still has a wonderful, deep rumble and the low-end torque came in handy. And for 2012, highway fuel economy has improved by 2 mpg, thanks to a recalibration.

The two improvements most important here were the truck's new Torsen front differential and a front-facing camera. The Torsen improves grip in the front end of the truck. This one uses a helical gearset to send torque to the front wheel that has the best traction. The Torsen improves the Raptor's crawling capability and got the truck up obstacles that it couldn't have overcome a year ago. Other helpful features were the electronic-locking, 4.10:1 ratio rearend, Hill Descent Control, and Off-Road mode, which allows the transmission to hold gears longer and changes the throttle map. We spent most of our time with the truck in low range, using all these features when appropriate.

The Raptor made its way through the obstacles on the trail with little difficulty. The only notable damage was to some of the trucks' tailpipes. The on-road ride was very comfortable, thanks to the soft, compliant suspension based around Fox shocks. That same benefit was just as evident in Moab. One passenger commented that this was the most comfortable off-road ride he'd ever experienced.

The other feature that was very helpful out there was the front camera. This is an option, offered only on trucks with the navigation system. (It uses the nav screen.) This may seem like a frilly option, but it is actually a godsend. The Raptor is a large vehicle with a long hood, and on steep inclines where all you can see is sky, the grille-mounted camera not only shows you where the trail is, but displays guidelines and shows the angle of your truck's line based on steering input. You can see the line you want to take and line up the truck accordingly, without needing to rely (as much) on a spotter. And, if you end up dousing the front of the pickup in mud, there is a washer for the camera lens, on the same stalk as the windshield wiper control. You can't use the front camera when parking on paved surfaces, unless you put the Raptor in Off-Road mode and into low range. Nor can you use it when speeding through sand, as it is limited to use below 15 mph.

Ford proved that the Raptor is much more capable than perceptions may suggest, and improved its off-road abilities even more for 2012. Yet it is still a great daily driver. At about $43,000 to start, it isn't cheap, but for buyers interested in going off-road, the Raptor has a lot to offer.

2012 Ford Raptor SuperCab
Base price $43,000 (est)
Price as tested $50,000 (est)
Layout Front-engine, 4WD, 4-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine 6.2L/411-hp/434-lb-ft SOHC V-8, 2 valves/cyl
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 133.3 in
Length x width x height 220.6 x 86.3 x 78.5 in
Curb weight 6000 lb (mfr)
GVWR 7000 lb
Max payload capacity 1000 lb
Max towing capacity 6000 lb
0-60 mph 6.9 sec (est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 11/16 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.52 lb/mile
On sale in U.S. December 2012