As subtle as an IED going off next door. As indulgent as making out on
a park bench with a pretty woman. As offensive as wearing a baby seal
fur coat to a PETA convention.
This is the 2010 Ford SVT Raptor.
In these sickeningly PC times, we're grateful that Ford mustered the
guts to introduce the Raptor. Not only is this a full-size pickup, but
it's a purpose-built machine designed for high-speed off-road running…
not exactly what the Tread Lightly organization had in mind. This
truck won't win many friends in Washington, DC or at the local Sierra
For this we rejoice.
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Manufacturers have offered off-road packages for decades. Equipment
usually includes skid plates, bigger tires, differently calibrated
dampers, and maybe some extra driveline cooling. Packages like these
often improve low-speed off-roading capabilities, but compromise
higher-speed on-road driving with mushy steering response and floppy
Not so in the SVT Raptor. The Special Vehicle Team's goal was to
create a truck that could be driven off road like a Baja pre-runner
while retaining civil, if not exemplary, on-road ride characteristics.
Suspension travel is key to running at high speeds off road. To
achieve nearly a foot of travel for the front and rear suspension,
Ford widened the track of the base F-150 Super Cab by seven inches,
allowing for greater articulation with stock suspension pick-up
points. The new, longer, lower front control arms look as thick as
frame rails. The front suspension uses double wishbones. Coil springs
surround the shock absorbers. Raptor-specific leaf springs suspend the
live rear axle.
Off-road damper specialist FOX Racing Shox partnered with Ford to
develop the front and rear dampers. Regular production shock absorbers
overheat and go flaccid after a few miles of washboard roads. Their
pencil-thin, non-pressurized construction can't handle such inputs,
which are mild compared to racing across the desert.
The Raptor's unique FOX units are as thick as mortar cannons and
substantial enough to literally go off-road racing. (Ford ran a
prototype Raptor in last year's Baja 1000.) Pressurized with 200 psi
of nitrogen, these three-stage units have vast reserves of expensive
and effective oil coursing through their internal passageways, helping
ensure top performance. Plus, their aluminum finish looks cool deep
within the Raptor's wheel wells.
Spring rates have actually dropped compared to stock F-150s. The
combination delivers genuinely outrageous off-road performance with an
on-road ride that is smoother and more livable than many premium
trucks with high-end 20-inch rims and low-profile tires.
Huge BFGoodrich 35-inch tires surround 17-inch alloy wheels that
measure 8.5-inches wide. The TA/KO 315/70-17 tires feature a special
tread compound and pattern that provides surprisingly great feel, a
completely unexpected characteristic.
Other special hardware includes substantial skid plates, an
electronically locking rear differential, a seriously recalibrated
stability control program, and practical hill decent control.
The wider stance necessitated a new body that is eight inches wider
than a base F-150. At 86.3-inches, it nearly matches the width of
HUMMER H1, and requires additional marker lights to comply with DOT
regulations. The front clip is made from SMC polymers, as are the rear
fenders. The front bumper is hydroformed steel. The roof and inner box
are carryover pieces.
The semi-Frenched headlights showcase the truck's width, which it
wears well. The big FORD grill even looks reasonable in this setting.
Inside, the excellent front seats that were new on the 2009 F-150
provide even more comfort and lateral support. Bigger bolsters work to
keep you in your place whether you're shooting off-ramps or dry
Room in the rear of the extended cab isn't commodious, but it's
adequate for shorter trips or for carrying extra gear. The trickest
interior piece is the leather-wrapped steering wheel with the red
stripe at twelve-o'clock high. This visual is especially helpful when
off-roading when the wheels are so crossed up that you can't tell when
the fronts are pointed straight.
I must admit that I harbored personal ambivalence toward the SVT
Raptor, and it began immediately upon the truck's debut at the 2009
Detroit auto show. I thought it was a waste of precious engineering
talent that Ford could have better put toward something more
practical. My presumption was that the Raptor's performance might be
fine for walking-pace off-roading, but would be a lazy lump in the
city and a lethargic hog on the highway. The world didn't need another
Oh me of little faith.
Keying the familiar 5.4-liter Triton V-8 to life causes a satisfying
V-8 burble behind the passenger's rear wheel. Short 4.10 gears put the
engine's 310 horsepower to good use, so the Raptor feels ready to
strike even in city environs. The transmission, a six-speed automatic
with paddle shifters, is the only gearbox. The interurban ride is
On the highway and two-lanes, the SVT's engineering magic becomes more
evident. The Raptor can be bent enthusiastically through corners. It
neither falls on its face nor understeers off the outside of canyon
Most amazing was the way the tires and steering communicated what was
happening at tread level. It is not hyperbole to say that a deft pilot
can discern the granularity of the asphalt by reading the information
telegraphed up through the steering wheel. This quality becomes even
more important when running fast off-road.
Also important to everyday life is the noise of the big BFGs. They're
as quiet as a standard on-road truck tire, which given their huge size
and aggressive tread pattern, comes most unexpectedly.
Our only significant complaint about the Raptor's on-road ride is
endemic to this type of pickup body style. The wide body-side opening
and wheelbase (shorter than the limousine-like crew cabs) can't fully
eliminate giggly secondary ride motions that get annoying on some
Prior to driving the Raptor, my not insubstantial off-road experience
was relegated to rock crawling and back woods trail riding. Scaling
steep granite escarpments or slogging through thick Indiana mud could
do nothing to prepare my senses for racing across the desert at 80
At least when you're running on an unfamiliar racetrack, there are
turn-in cones and you can usually see the exit of each corner. When
you're a novice blasting across the desert, there aren't any cones or
gator bumps to guide you, and you're totally at the mercy of your
navigator who's giving commands like, "Bear a little right just pass
the second bush up there." And be warned, all the freakn' bushes look
the same when you're negotiating wash in a full-on power slide.
Ford's makeshift demonstration course ran through public land set
aside for vehicular recreational use in Southern Californa's Borrego
desert. The high-speed "track" traversed 22-mile loop of dry riverbeds
and flats with surfaces ranging from loose silt to hard-packed sand.
For these conditions, we chose two-wheel-drive hi-mode, locked the
rear differential, and switched the stability control system into its
The off-road mode shuts off yaw control and recalibrates the ABS to
allow the wheels to lock some, shortening stopping distances and
improving steering response.
It takes a while to get used to driving fast on sand. Lifting throttle
and turning in slightly to get the back end to rotate helps, and our
course rewarded being heavy on the throttle. The locked rear axle lets
the aggressive driver steer with the throttle, and the suspension
keeps the wheels in contact with the desert floor … a good thing if
you want to stop or change directions.
The suspension proved its mettle several times, including when I
missed a turn-in at one ubiquitous creosol bush. The error and
resulting power slide put the tires on a 45° collision course with
what looked to be a substantial ridge created by a recent storm
runoff. I braced for the impact and quickly wondered how many times
the truck would barrel roll after the tires were knocked off their
My navigator and I felt the impact. It was literally nothing. The
Raptor couldn't have cared less. The suspension absorbed the shunt
with no change in direction or upset to the chassis.
Ever watched the Baja 1000? It felt like that. The SVT Raptor wins yet
There was a time only a few years ago that Ford's Special Vehicle Team
was doomed. The 2010 Shelby GT500 and SVT Raptor clearly signal that
SVT is back.
After talking with Jamal Hameedi, SVT's chief nameplate engineer, it
seems that SVT will continue to focus on V-8 Mustangs and F-150s. The
RS group, an internal partner to SVT, will likely address smaller cars
like the upcoming Fiesta and Focus.
Coming This Winter
Ford announced that the SVT Raptor will also be available with a 6.2-
liter V-8 that is expected to produce 400 horsepower and 400 lb.ft.
torque. The engine is a shorter stroke, bigger bore block, so it
promises to be a quick revver.
Weighing in at a substantial 5,863 lbs., the Raptor will put the newly
available power to good use.
Attempting anything akin to our Raptor's romp in the desert with a
normal four-wheel drive truck would be ill advised. Its suspension
would beat itself to pieces and major driveline components would spin
themselves into tangled masses.
But so what? Hovercrafts are cool, too, but there aren't many of them
The Raptor is a truck almost nobody asked for. If you're a HDRA/SCORE
racing fan, or a desert rat who is already into ATVs or buggies,
consider yourself an almost infinitesimal fraction of the truck-buying
public. And lucky. The 2010 Ford SVT Raptor is your dream truck. Use
it daily and then bomb around the desert on weekends.
The base SVT Raptor starts at $39,000…just $2500 more than a similarly
equipped F-150 SX4 that doesn't have nearly the same off-road
capabilities or style. Plus, the Raptor can still tow 6,000 pounds, so
none of a regular F-150's practical capacities are compromised.
The trouble is, as good as the Raptor is, most of us don't live near a
desert. This environ is about the only place where the Raptor's
incredible performance can shine. What a shame. Once exposed to its
performance, you'll risk being hooked and catch yourself looking up
desert real estate on eBay. Don’t forget your seal coat.