Cabbing it to LaGuardia at 5am is never fun, but I wasn’t too bothered because what waited for me in Borrego Springs was a series of high speed desert romps and physics defying hill climbs in Ford’s all new F-150 SVT Raptor. SVT, or Special Vehicle Team, is Ford’s in-house performance division responsible for breathed-on models like Mustang Cobra, Mustang GT500, SVT Focus, SVT Contour and the exotic GT supercar. Raptor is their latest and greatest effort and follows in the tire tracks of Ford’s original performance truck, the SVT Lighting. But where the supercharged, 380 HP Lightning did a wonderful job of going like stink in a straight line, the Raptor was imagined to be the first high speed off-road performance truck offered by an automotive OEM.
Going fast on smooth surfaces is easy. Try doing it on a dirt road with massive boulders and craters the size of old Buicks to get in your way. Such was challenge SVT engineers faced when bringing this niche “performance off-roader” to life. Much of testing and development leg work was done in Anza Borrego, which happens to be the largest off road park in North America and home to 500 miles worth of dirt roads to play on. Ford ran every prototype for 1,000 miles through a specially designed 62 mile loop to ensure the truck was as durable as it was capable. They even entered one of the pre production units into the Baja 1000, a grueling endurance race that takes place on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in the fall.
SVT did not simply bolt stiffer shocks onto F-150 and call it a day. From the A-pillars forward, the only parts directly carried over from the stock F-150 are headlights. Yes, the Raptor is night and day different from the already capable full size truck to which it is based and is bursting with technology and heavy duty components to help you get er done. To start, the Raptor is a full 7 inches wider than F-150, which comes across when viewing the flared front and rear fenders and positively imposing grille. In fact, the Raptor is so damn wide that it has DOT-mandated marker lights you’re used to seeing on top heavy duty tow trucks. In Raptor, these lights are integrated into the grille, which is certainly cleaner than bulky roof-mounted units and looks cool when the sun goes down.
From a hardware standpoint, the Raptor is all business. The rear axle tube shafts, for instance, are thicker and made from a higher grade steel than on Super Duty trucks. The suspension has been completely reworked up front with new upper and lower wishbones and Ford worked with Fox Racing on special internal bypass valves to increase damping when the shocks compress. Ford tells us the internal bypass set up is a factory first for a production vehicle and is 7 times stiffer than F-150 at bottom out. They also tell us that the shocks’ oil viscosity is similar to what you would find inside a fighter jet. Couple this in with up to 11.2 inches of suspension travel in front and 13.4 inches in back and you have a truck that can take just about anything you can throw at it north of 90 MPH. Pretty impressive.
Ford would not comment on production numbers for Raptor but tells us they already have 1,700 pre-orders in the bank. Not bad considering the truck starts near $40,000 and we are in the throws of a recession. Look for the Raptor in dealerships right about now.