Desert Drive: 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor 6.2L V-8
More power means a better match
You may recall we had the world exclusive opportunity to drive the brand-new 6.2L V-8 Raptor under the watchful eyes of a large group of Ford engineers several months ago at their top-secret Anza Borrego testing facility. (They also showed us their Crew Cab Raptor.) As you read in the story and saw from the video and photos, it was exceptionally fun. (We even got a helicopter ride.) But now we're interested in seeing what this Raptor can do without hand-wringing PR wranglers and design engineers in the passenger seats.
As you might have guessed, we found out the 411 horsepower SVT Raptor (up almost 100 hp from the 5.4L option) loves to run wild in wide-open spaces In fact, a vast desert landscape is exactly the type of terrain the SVT engineers had in mind when they were building (some might say overbuilding) the Raptor. We took our bright neon blue 2010 6.2L Raptor to the high desert about 60 miles above the Los Angeles basin, to the wide-open spaces of the Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle area. The terrain is made of hundreds of dirt roads, rutted by ATVs, buggies, motorcycles, and other rugged four-wheelers. Suspensions get the most abuse out here, as shock absorbers overheat and often break completely off the chassis mounts as harsh, rapid-fire inputs stress parts well beyond their limits. Add desert temperatures above 110 degrees F (naturally we had to do this in July).
Much of our initial testing was through open desert, zigzagging in and out of large clumps of brush acting as lane dividers for the various two-tracks leading to our dry-lake destination. From the moment you fire up the bigger-engined Raptor, the most obvious difference beyond richer exhaust note is the extra 90 horsepower, which lightens up the truck's feel and response. Not that the 3-valve 5.4L V-8 was a slug, but it required you to rev the heck out of it to make the 6000-pound Raptor come alive. Additionally, the 6.2L V-8 (with only 2 valves per cylinder) offers 40 more pound-feet of torque, which seems to make the 6-speed transmission a touch faster to respond. In fact, we found ourselves using the throttle to do some of our steering around corners and in between sagebrush as we ran through our off-road course. But the increased power of the new 6.2L is only half the story of how much fun it is to drive Raptor through the desert.
You can't drive a Raptor and not call out the giant Fox Racing shocks that swallow ruts, bumps and whoop-de-doos without an ounce of the rattle or slam your body, relying on visual input, is expecting. The massive front upper and lower control arm, combined with the super-cooling abilities of the reservoir shocks, allowed us to blast through sections of backcountry two-track road at 60, 70 and 80 mph like a Mexico-racing Trophy Truck on the last leg of the Baja 1000. Can there be any great joy than driving a purpose-built vehicle on the exact terrain or track on which it was design to run best? It's practically impossible not to smile and while smashing your foot to the floor. (We know; we tried.) We especially liked the electronically controlled Off Road Mode settings that allowed us to turn down and even shut off all the traction and throttle controls. This type of nanny we can live with. On our little outing, that directly translated into more tire-drifting fun in the middle of the 2-square-mile-wide dry lakebed. (Note to all enthusiasts: If you've never driven on an empty, wide-open, dry lake bed, put it on your bucket list).
It's also worth noting that the Raptor isn't just a truck for high-speed or even airborne thrills. It does have a low-range gear in its transfer case. The massive 35-inch tires provide a ton of ground clearance; the low-range gearing allows the Raptor to crawl with the best 4x4s around; and the long wheelbase and wide track keep it from getting bogged down in the ruts and holes all the Jeeps have dug up on just about any extreme trail. After playing with the Raptor's 4x4 system and Hill Descent Control on jagged hillclimbs and steep dropoffs, we can say this truck is as expertly equipped for slow-go trail navigation as it is for high-speed, cross-desert exploration.
Still, as fun as the big-motored beast is for fast and slow motion, it is an odd pickup. Maybe nowhere else in the world of trucks is there such a one-dimensional vehicle - a fullsize vehicle with less payload capacity than a compact. From what we understand, most are equipped with the integrated trailer brake controller (an $230 option with the standard Trailer Tow Package), yet can only tow 5000 pounds - about the same as a V-6 compact pickup or a seven-passenger crossover. Maybe this engineering and packaging template works with high-dollar sports cars, but something seems out of whack here. Maybe to combat that exact issue, Ford included special pricing for the base and fully loaded Raptors, and by "special" we don't mean crazy extra performance costs like an AMG, RS, or M-Series. There is a strong value argument here. Base pricing starts just over $38,000, and you can order the 411 hp motor ($3000-and worth every penny); the top-level sound and nav system for $2430; a power moonroof for $950; extreme graphics, if you like that sort of thing, for $1075; and the luxury package for $1950. Even if you ordered EVERYTHING, it still gets you underneath $47,000, about the average transaction price for a four-door fullsize pickup truck. But you get one of the most unique and capable (in its own way) pickups ever built.
Clearly, Ford is doing all of us high-speed-loving truck lovers a favor here by spreading the engineering costs over a much larger and wider F-150 product lineup. And for that we thank them, no matter how long it can last. But we especially thank them for making the Raptor the first Ford truck to get the new 6.2L V-8. More power makes this rig a better truck.
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