First Drive: 2011 Ford SVT Raptor SuperCrew
Would you welcome an extra foot?
This seems like a bad idea: Ford takes an amazingly capable factory-built turn-key off-road racer and adds a 300-pound foot to it. That hyphen isn't misplaced. We're not talking torque here-300 extra pound-feet are always welcome. No, the SVT Raptor has been stretched by a foot to make the rear seat roomier than MT's corporate suite at the Joe Louis hockey arena. That extra metal, glass, and 10 surplus gallons of fuel-tank capacity mean that this supernumerary foot weighs as much as a linebacker. Adding so much mass and length to a performance vehicle seems as unwelcome to us as polymelia or polydactyly (growing a surplus arm/leg or finger/toe).
Of course, the upside to this growth spurt is added capability. The new SuperCrew Raptor's longer, sturdier chassis can haul 100 pounds more gear (1030 versus the SuperCab's 930) and it can tow an additional ton (8000 versus 6000 pounds). Ford credits the original Raptor's greatly increased tow/haul capability relative to its SVT Lightning progenitor with nearly doubling that hot-rod pickup's annual sales rate, so more of a good thing should be better, right?
Maybe, but SVT drive programs never involve such quotidian drudgery as hauling gravel or lugging an Airstream down the Interstate. Press-junket agendas are crammed with such photo- and telegenic pursuits as launching 3-ton-trucks off dunes in southern California, plunging them into Michigan mud bogs, or (this time around) sliding them sideways across snow-covered ice on a cold-weather proving ground in far northern Michigan.
To make the stretched Raptor behave as much as possible like the original, the steering ratio was tightened from 20:1 to 16:1 to preserve turn-in responsiveness on the longer wheelbase, and the spring rates were stiffened by 8 percent to match the SuperCab's ride frequency. (The Fox Racing triple-bypass shock damping rates were tweaked to match.)
The 411-horse, 434-pound-foot 6.2-liter V-8 that joined the Raptor lineup midway through its freshman year now comes standard, and required little modification to shoulder the increased load capability. A higher wattage cooling fan (600 to 800 W) and a higher pressure radiator cap (20 versus 16 psi) did the trick. A new one-way clutch in the standard six-speed automatic improves the smoothness of the 1-2 upshift and permits 2-1, 3-1, and even 4-1 downshifts at wide-open throttle. But the best news on the transmission front is that after decades of bleating on the part of practically every enthusiast car critic, Ford is providing full manual control of ratio selection, via a simple +/- rocker switch on the shifter. Slip the gearshift into the "M" position and she won't upshift at redline or WOT, and downshifts are allowed at any speed that won't over-rev the engine. Or leave the shifter in "D" and click the minus switch to lock out some of the upper gear ratios, permitting full automatic shifting up to the top selected gear. This setup is just a pair of steering-wheel shift-paddles shy of perfection.
Further efforts at continuous improvement include new standard features like telescoping steering, a picture-in-picture convex spotting mirror on the driver's side, a 110-volt plug in the console, and a 4.2-inch information screen in the main gauge cluster that tells the driver which way the wheels are pointing, the truck's pitch and roll angles and fuel consumption, and what modes the various off-roading aids are set to. Two new option packages bundle power-folding mirrors and remote starting, and a backup camera and trailer-brake controller.
Our sub-arctic adventure starts out at Smithers Winter Test Center near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, with a mile-long giant-slalom course on groomed snow. Another subtle revision quickly becomes evident: The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires' compound has been tweaked to improve adhesion at low temperatures, and the knobby tires claw so hard at the snow that deep stabs at the throttle combined with copious steering-wheel-flicking of the Finnish type are required to kick the tail out and negotiate the wide gates in the customary sideways fashion. This exercise also illustrates the astute tuning of the AdvanceTrac stability control's Sport mode, which affords the savvy driver a liberal dose of oversteer before gently intervening.
Next up is a 300-foot glare-ice circle ringed with snow-covered ice, which serves primarily to provide photo opportunities. With all the traction aids working their hardest, the maximum speed at which the truck can hold its line on the ice is 15 mph, but a perfect opposite-lock drift can be maintained by engaging RWD mode and placing the rooster-tailing rear tires on the snow and the slowly rolling fronts on the ice (not that any Raptor owner will ever be able to apply this useful finding).
The most valuable exercise is a three-lap pretend rally stage around Smithers' undulating snow-handling course that offers ample opportunity to twiddle all the off-road traction aids. To start with: 4WD-hi, rear electronic differential lock engaged, Off-Road mode on (this delays upshifts and keeps the rear diff locked at speeds above 15 mph), and AdvanceTrac Sport mode. After struggling to get any rotation in the first two turns I disengage the E-locker and the handling brightens up considerably with the inside rear wheel free to spin enough to set up a gentle drift. Disabling AdvanceTrac altogether really brings the truck to life, unleashing the ferocious 6.2-liter's 434 pound-feet to claw away at the snow in the direction of the next straight while drifting beautifully through each bend. A flick of the wrist to engage RWD mode robs the truck of too much valuable traction from the better-loaded front axle, slowing the progress dramatically.
What is most striking is how this truck-with a track width 2 inches wider than that of the gargantuan mil-spec Hummer H1-manages to feel so light and tossable (even with that supernumerary foot). There's never a moment of doubt as to where the tires are or what needs to be done with the controls to place them on the precise patch of grippy dirt poking through the snow just past that apex. This is as true in the controlled confines of a closed track as it is later on the icy and snowy local highways and logging roads near the picturesque Tahquamenon Falls State Park. As we take turns in the front and rear seats during the afternoon drive, we begin to appreciate the Raptor's reasonable ride quality and the ridiculously roomy rear seat.
The downside? Well, it's not cheap: At $45,290, the extra foot costs $2765. And as various Middle East populations test the limits of their individual regimes' tolerance for revolution, the truck's drunken-sailor appetite for premium fuel is alarming. Resetting after the morning's heavy-footed flogging, our trip computer indicates an average fuel economy over the public-road drive of under 11 mpg. Yikes.
The bottom line: Our cold-weather shakedown of the newly stretched Raptor suggests that, among the target audience of outdoorsy extreme sportsmen, this more capable Raptor's extra foot may prove as enticing as the bonus body part involved in diphallia.(Look it up, guys).
|2011 Ford SVT Raptor SuperCrew|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door, pickup|
|ENGINE||6.2L/411-hp/434-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||6200 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||232.1 x 86.3 x 78.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.6 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||11/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||306/241 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.59 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|