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2017 Ford F-150 Raptor First Drive Report By Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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2017 Ford F-150 Raptor It’ll take you by force

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The invitation asked: “Are you ready for an adventure?” I thought, why not?

I would need to travel to California’s Mojave Desert. A quick check of my calendar showed I could do that.

The Ford Truck and Performance teams were inviting me along with other auto writers to experience the all-new 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor in the Anza Borrego Desert in Southern California. Why there? Well, Ford development engineers continually use the more than 500 miles of rigorous trails, dry washes and sand traps, 2,400 feet of elevation change and a climate that averages around 100⁰F for nearly a third of the year to develop and test F-150 Raptor.

We would have the opportunity to take the tough and capable all-new F-150 Raptor on an “ultimate high-performance off-road truck experience.” Word was out quickly that we would do street driving, rock crawling and high speed desert driving.

This necessitated a quick update to my bucket list. ADD: High speed desert driving.

I’ve driven the new F-150 on the road, but a new element here would be the 450HP and the entire Raptor package. And, I’ve rock crawled a bit and done some mild trail driving in a number of different off-road capable SUVs and pick-ups. But…high speed desert driving! I had visions of the Baja 1000 and the Dakar Rally.

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The 2017 model is the second-gen Raptor now based on the all-aluminum bodied new F-150. Being about 500 pounds lighter allowed Ford engineers to strengthen the fully-boxed, high-strength steel frame and chassis for greater torsional rigidity. There are two wheelbase offerings, one for the SuperCab (134.2 inch) and one for the SuperCrew (146 inch). Both have a 5.5 ft. bed. Suspension travel is increased to 13 inches in front and 13.9 inches in the rear. Ride height has been increased with two inches more ground clearance and front and rear overhangs enable a 30-degree front approach angle, 22-degree breakover angle, and 23-degree departure angle. FOX Racing 3-inch diameter shocks have nine-stage damping for suspension control.

The Raptor uses second-gen BF Goodrich KO2 tires uniquely designed for the Raptor’s high performance off-road capability. They’re mounted to 17-inch bead-lock capable rims. Racing through the sands the tires did a great job keeping traction even in the sugar-grained fine sand climbing up into a sand bowl. Driving through dry creek beds at 60 mph speeds the sidewall lugs gripped the trail-edge and kicked us back to the trail track. The tires sing a bit on paved roads coming from their knobby tread, but that’s a minor trade-off for being able to hit the dirt or sand at any whim.

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Powering the Raptor is an all-new second-gen 3.5-L high output 450HP EcoBoost V6. Twin turbos provide the power boost and 510-ft.-lb. of torque. There is a true, divided dual exhaust system running to the rear. Raptor has its own dual-fan air-charge cooling system plus a heavy duty trailer-tow engine cooling system with its own twin-fan setup.

A new 10-speed automatic puts the power through to a four-wheel-drive torque-on-demand transfer case. Ten speeds may sound like a lot, but the transmission doesn’t use all of them all the time. Engine power and torque, as well as efficiency, is optimized through non-sequential gear selection that selects the right gears based on the need. Magnesium steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are handy for fast up and down shifts.

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A six-mode driver-selected Terrain Management System includes Normal, Weather, Mud and Sand, Baja, and Rock Crawl modes. Each mode chooses 2H, 4H or 4L to provide the most suitable drive system. In Rock Crawl a 50:1 crawl ratio got us climbing over large boulders and up a 17-percent rock trail grade. Baja mode is what we needed for the desert run. I hit speeds somewhere around 85mph on a long dry lake bed. The transmission was mostly in 3rd, 4th and 5th gear keeping the Raptor at the peak of engine power and torque.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

With another auto writer as a driving partner we first set out to rock crawl. Speeds are for the most part under 10 mph, and often just a crawl. The articulation designed into the Raptor allows for severe attitude and terrain changes sometimes with one wheel hanging in the air. Hill descent control makes for steering-only down grades. I often thought we’d be scraping along but the high ground clearance proved me wrong. We easily climbed a 17-percent incline rock trail being guided by an outside spotter. By the way this wasn’t just a quick drive. We were out on the trail for close to 2 hours.

On the high speed run across the desert sand I was paired up with a driving coach. Note that I had never previously driven at “high speed” in the sand and I was curious as to what speeds we could hit. Safety is foremost and we both wore helmets as well as a HANS device (Head And Neck Safety restraint). With the ups and downs, moguls and sand washes my body, head and arms did lots of bouncing around. Braking, I was advised, needs to be gradual otherwise the front tires dig in too much. I did “coast” into a few moguls and got a bit airborne out of my seat on a couple of them. We screamed through the desert with the engine continuously in the high 3,000 to 4,000 rpm range. Of yeah, windows closed and air conditioning on. How comfy!

At the start of this Raptor adventure, I paired up with another auto writer for an on-road drive from a bit northeast of San Diego to Borrego Spings, California. We spent about 2 ½ hours sharing the driving duties and checking out the Raptor’s everyday on-road manners. No doubt the F-150 is big and the Raptor sits up tall making for great outward sight lines. Ford put deep bolstered seating (leather or cloth) in the 5-passenger Raptor that was not at all too confining for my medium build and proved beneficial to keep me in place during my off-road excursions that would come. We didn’t monitor actual fuel consumption, but note that the 2017 Raptor has a 23-percent improvement in the combined EPA test-cycle rating (15mpg city/18mpg highway/16 mpg combined).

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On the convenience side of things, making every day use easy, there’s Ford’s Sync 3, a nav system, a 360-view camera with split screen display that proved great for our rock crawling down some narrow trails and of course backing up. At the tail end of our road drive to the desert we descended down from about 5000 feet elevation from dusk into darkness on two-lane twisties. The automatic high beams proved to be handy, switching the headlights from high to low and back while we concentrated ahead.

Outside, the Raptor has a six inch wider track, flared wheel arches and new bumpers. Vents on the front hood and fenders pull out heat. There’s a front skid plate and also underbody skid plates that provide protection and also improve aero.

The 2017 Ford Raptor is in dealer showrooms now. Priced starting at $49,520 for the SuperCab, Ford expects 80-percent of buyers or maybe a bit more to go for the $52,505 4-door SuperCrew. Take a look at for more details and specs. I would tell you to search here at The Auto Channel to look at other purpose-built high-performance off-road trucks, but there is no other. The 2017 Ford Raptor is all alone in the field. So the choice is easy. Go for it.

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Rest assured, the 2017 Ford Raptor develops all the force needed to take you through virtually any off-road adventure. And, I have happily checked off one more item on my bucket list. High speed desert driving: CHECK!

© 2016 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

This report comes from an invitation-only Ford launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Ford Motor Company provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.

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