2017 Ford Raptor First Drive

When Ford introduced the F-150 Raptor in 2010, it was a fairly revolutionary proposition. While a high riding pick up with prodigious output was nothing new, the Raptor’s mission as a truck that could handle Baja-style, high-speed off-roading while remaining friendly enough to be used as a daily driver was something no other automaker had attempted.

2017 Ford

Coupled with its bulging fenders, oversized tires and overall purposeful look, it was no surprise that it immediately caught the attention of the enthusiast contingent. Despite having essentially no direct competition from another OEM, Ford continued to improve upon the Raptor’s design, adding more function and capability along the way.

After taking a three-year hiatus, the Raptor returns to the fold with an extensive list of revisions, which seek to improve its capability while keeping it both accessible and charismatic. The result is a truck that’s stronger, lighter, faster, and as close to tailor-made for the post-apocalyptic society as possible straight from the factory.

Modernized Inside and Out

Ford has gone to great lengths to push the F-150’s design to the forefront of the industry from both a mechanical and technological standpoint, and those efforts pay off handsomely with the latest iteration of the Raptor. It’s up to 500 pounds lighter than its predecessor in certain configurations, due in no small part to its new all-aluminum bodywork.

The Raptor’s drive modes get a big overhaul as well. Gone is the clunky off-road system from the previous generation, replaced by six unique modes three designed for the street and three for off-road. Baja Mode is perhaps the most interesting among the group as it not only adjusts the traction and stability control systems along with the transmission’s shift schedules, but also incorporates an anti-lag feature that keeps the V6’s turbochargers spooled up regardless of engine revs, resulting in instantaneous throttle response anywhere in the rev range particularly crucial when negotiating inhospitable terrain at speed, as we discovered.

Behind The Wheel

The first leg of our multiple stints behind the wheel took us on a SoCal road trip from San Diego to Borrego Springs, a small desert town just a few miles away from the Salton Sea. This gave us a chance to see how the new Raptor would behave out on the road, which is realistically where most new Raptors will spend the vast majority of their time.

Out here the V6 showed its worth, dishing out gobs of low-end torque with admirably linear power delivery past about 2,500 rpm. The V6 is not as much of a crowd pleaser as the old V8 from an audible perspective, but the performance improvement that the turbocharged engine provides is undeniable.

An optional camera system allowed us to keep tabs on the truck’s positioning through areas where the approach angle made it difficult to see the terrain directly in front of us, and the Raptor’s hill descent control kept things eminently stable while traversing the loose terrain we headed back down the trail in this 5500-pound bruiser.

Going Baja

While the truck’s behavior was impressive during the street and rock crawl sections, it was our stint on the high-speed off-road course that showed us what the Raptor is really all about. Once on course, the Ford engineer riding shotgun instructed us to fire up Baja Mode and stab the throttle. Gleefully, we obliged.

While that’s remarkable out of context, it’s even more impressive considering the fact that this is a warrantied, factory-produced pickup designed to be used like a typical daily-driven F-150 and it carries an MSRP starting under $50,000 to boot. If you’ve got the coin and a hankering for four-wheel-drive thrills, there simply isn’t a better alternative on the market today.

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