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Raptor roars in the desert

The 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor combines off- and on-road high performance that is also a practical pickup truck.

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    • What’s Best: Stunning speed and agility on- or off-road.
    • What’s Worst: High fuel consumption, but that will matter little to the intended audience?
    • What’s Interesting: The transfer case on the Raptor combines the best of all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive.

BORREGO SPRINGS, CA: I’ve driven fast before, but never like this – and I did everything wrong.

My mount was the ground pounding, rock stomping, hubris spitting 2017 F-150 Raptor, which Ford claims has no equal when it comes to a high performance on- or off-road pickup truck.

The statistics surely back this up with a 3.5-litre EcoBoost turbo, direct injection V6 replacing the stout 6.2-litre V8 in the first generation Raptor.

At 450 hp and 510 lb/ft of torque the EcoBoost V6 has 39 more hp and 76 more lb/ft than the V8 and 85 more hp and 50 lb/ft that the “normal” EcoBoost V6 in the standard F-150.

F-150 Raptor

The brand name is a prominent and signature feature on the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor.

The 2017 Raptor is also 500 lb lighter thanks to the switch to aluminum in the body and cab, although the ladder frame remains steel.

There is a 10-speed automatic transmission that maximizes shift points and can, believe it or not, non-sequentially select the correct gear ratio for claimed best-in-class performance.

But the best part has to be the first-of-its-kind transfer case that has three all-wheel-drive and three four-wheel-drive modes. What it does is automatically route torque front or rear with a true mechanical lock-out rear differential for 4X4 High or 4X4 Lo, making it possible to tackle any terrain.

F-150 Raptor

The air extractors on the hood of the Raptor are functional and help exhaust the heat generated by the turbo when it is under load.

Ford calls it the Terrain Management System and it offers three AWD off-road combinations starting with Normal’s 4X2 under 40 km/h (25 mph) for best fuel economy, followed by Sport also in 4X2 but requiring more steering input effort and finally Weather, which is the best AWD setting for nasty weather with the Ford AdvanceTrac stability system and throttle response set for best traction.

Also Read: GMC debuts Sierra All Terrain X

When you encounter more challenging situations, that’s where the 4X4 setting comes in, starting with Mud and Sand with the rear differential locked.

Then there is Baja with the Raptor locked in 4Hi with the transmission set for quicker shift points and the engine using anti turbo lag technology to keep the revs up despite the depth and fineness of sandy terrain.

F-150 Raptor

The F-shaped headlights on the Raptor are another signature touch shared across the F-150 lineup.

Lastly, Rock Crawl is just that with the truck’s rear differential locked with a rear reduction to 50:1 to help scramble over just about everything.

I’ve driven on tracks for decades and one thing I learned a long time ago is never go all-out on a track you don’t know.

But this was different – at the western edge of the Mojave Desert meaning sand, sand and more sand.

F-150 Raptor

The new Raptor deletes the former 6.2-litre V8 in favour of the 3.5-litre EcoBoost turbo V6 with 450 hp and 510 lb/ft of torque with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

So when they asked who was the slowest driver, I shot up my hand and, by the greatest luck, was teamed with Eric Zinkosky, Ford Vehicle Dynamics Technical Specialist.

Zinkosky is the real deal. A confidant of the late Carroll Shelby, he’s a IMSA racer, worked at the heart of the Ford SVO division, but mostly he is godfather of the Raptor, having lead the program resulting in the new model he and I were about to storm out into the desert with.

Sand is unlike any other surface on earth because it is always shifting by wind or flash flooding. The ruts you might see today, all can be erased by the next morning. Some of the sand is as fine a talcum powder.

F-150 Raptor

These are the six drive modes available on the 2017 Raptor.

We were driving in the vast area stretching east from Borrego Springs across a desert floor that was an inland sea in the days of the dinosaurs, and as Zinkoky admonished, “Don’t get out of the truck. Everything out there has teeth or thorns.”

I was averaging about 45 mph and following the tracks of those who were ahead and that was wrong because I was only getting bogged down.

Another thing was I simply wasn’t going fast enough.

F-150 Raptor

Because the Raptor shares the same cab as the F-150 is also has the same interiors, such as this centre stack and console.

With Zinkosky at the wheel he said the trick was to think of the desert floor like a lake with ripples, then get fast enough to skim across tops in what he called being “on the plane”.

He was doing just that at 60 mph but noted his test-driving team routinely hit 90 mph.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was the simplest and one I should have remembered and that’s not to look at the surface right in front you. Better to look out 100 metres or more ahead to give yourself time to set up for what’s coming.

Also Read: Ram Rebel TRX concept offers 100 mph off-road

The other problem was I over corrected instead of letting the truck come back to me.

F-150 Raptor

The 2017 Raptor offers six drive modes including “Crawl” shown here as the trucks climb up a dry watercourse.

Now this was totally new, as letting any kind of vehicle start to step out is one step away from disaster.

But with the systems built into the F-150 Raptor, it can sense when things are starting to go wrong and set things right.

Once I started to relax and trust the Raptor, the more it came back to me – astounding.

Not surprisingly, my neck muscles were sore but I was very pleased with the results of the day.

The 2017 F-150 Raptor will be offered in SuperCab 4X4 starting at $67,899 and SuperCrew 4X4 starting at $69,899 with a standard 5.5-inch bed.

F-150 Raptor

For serious off-roading, a special 17-inch beaded wheel is available complete with locking ring.

Ford F-150 Raptor 2017 pickup 

BODY STYLE: Full-size, high performance truck

DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive with 10-speed automatic transmission, combination AWD/4X4 transfer case, locking rear differential

ENGINES: 3.5-litre EcoBoost turbocharged V6 (450 hp, 510 lb/ft)

PAYLOAD: SuperCab, 1,000 lb; SuperCrew, 2,000 lb

TOWING CAPACITY: (Properly equipped) SuperCab, 6,000 lb; SuperCrew, 8,000 lb

FUEL ECONOMY: 15.6/13.2/14.5L/100km city/highway/combined

PRICING: (Starting) SuperCab, $67,899; SuperCrew, $69,899


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