Raptor Flight is not only for the birds

John Gilbert

Widened F150 takes on entire new personality as the 450-horsepower Raptor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Widened F150 takes on entire new personality as the 450-horsepower Raptor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Full crew cab with graphics and unique, purpose-built Fox shocks make the Raptor unbeatable off-road, smooth on it. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Full crew cab with graphics and unique, purpose-built Fox shocks make the Raptor unbeatable off-road, smooth on it. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

It doesn’t really matter what your favorite pickup truck is, everybody
knows the Ford F150 is the top-selling weapon in the pickup wars, and
that the Ram is making an unprecedented upsurge to compete, while
Chevy lovers patiently wait for their new Silverados. But with all the
models by all the manufacturers, if one has to stand above and beyond
the rest, it is the Ford Raptor.
It also would be the perfect time to be driving a Raptor, up in the
North Shore country of Lake Superior, around Duluth, because September
and October are the times of the heightened attention and display of
the raptors of the bird world, who form a trough-like parade as they
migrate along the North Shore landscape until they reach Duluth, then
head south. The easternmost end of Skyline Drive that outlines Duluth
has a turnoff named Hawk Ridge, where professional bird-watchers
gather to count the various breeds of different hawks that fly by.
This, in fact, is Hawk Ridge weekend, when the area will become
carnival-like with their displays and booths and information, as well
as snacks, and the occasional expert displaying captured and banded
hawks to the assembled crowds. It’s the perfect time to head up there
on a Sunday afternoon to hang out, wander around the displays, enjoy
the passing hawks and eagles, and maybe even listen to the Vikings
game. And if there are too many interceptions, shut off the radio and
take advantage of the half-dozen hiking trails.
And if you were driving a Raptor, it would be just that much more appropriate.
The Raptor is more than just a tarted up F150. It is an over-the-top
attempt to modify the popular F150 into the most capable serious
off-roader in the market. You could, I’m convinced, hop in the
amazingly widened Raptor, switch the control button to whatever suits
you best, and drive to the Arctic Circle — without ever setting a
wheel down on a road.
It has a special frame, special suspension, unique shock-absorbers, a
special high-output engine, a beefed-up transmission, and a fantastic
interior to set it all off. For all it has, it costs you, of course,
with a base price of $55,840, and adds $17,520 in options. Now, it
wasn’t all that long ago that you could buy a pickup truck for
$17,520, and now that’s just for the options — sending the total
sticker price to $74,955.
OK, nobody who is sane will recommend you should buy a $75,000 pickup
truck, but if you have the budget for it, my recommendation is don’t
take one for a test-drive unless you have your checkbook with you.
The striking exterior is led by a blacked-out grille with gigantic
lettering that runs from headlight to headlight, spelling out
“F-O-R-D,” as if anyone sharing the road with it won’t know it’s a
Ford.
The striping and graphics are neat, but they pale in comparison to the
overall appearance of a full-size pickup that goes beyond full-size by
its sheer width. Naturally it gives you more interior room, but it
also gives you amazing stability for the most serious, rock-climbing
adventures you can think of.
Color-keyed Recaro bucket seats are optional, but hard to  pass up once you sit in them. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Color-keyed Recaro bucket seats are optional, but hard to  pass up once you sit in them. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The nav screen can show two views when backing up, including overhead view. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The nav screen can show two views when backing up, including overhead view. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Driver’s eye view shows control center of Raptor with its adjustable rock-climbing electronics. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Driver’s eye view shows control center of Raptor with its adjustable rock-climbing electronics. Photo credit: John Gilbert
You climb up on the light, plastic running board to hop inside, and
sit in the blue-suede Recaro bucket seats, which hold you,
cocoon-like, in place for swerves, dips, unscheduled hops into thin
air, and that’s for either on-road or off.
To get to the capabilities, we start with the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost
engine, worth 450 horsepower and 510 foot-pounds of torque, and a
10-speed transmission. The length goes from 220 to 231.9 inches, and
the width is stretched to 86.3 inches. Height is a mere 78.5 inches,
and when you see it against other full-size trucks, it looks low and
sleek.
With all that power, it will go 0-60 in a mere 5.2 seconds, and while
its EPA fuel estimates are 15 miles per gallon city and 18 highway, we
found both of those reachable, clocking mostly 16-17 in city driving
and occasionally getting it up to 20-22 on freeway trips.
The challenge, of course, is that driving in Minnesota this summer
means doing the orange-barrel slalom from Duluth to Minneapolis, as
well as when you are within either city.
The exterior tips you off that something special is in your rear-view
mirror. The lights include a neat outline of the headlights, night and
day, with distinctly sharp LED headlights and foglights, and those
little lights atop the cab that resemble those that adorn heavy-duty
work trucks.
But when you put it all together, to go foraging where the off-road
rock-climbers like to play, you learn immediately that the suspension
is in another world. When Ford was building this version of the
Raptor, it went to Fox, the competition shock and suspension experts,
and worked with them to perfect and install Fox Live-Valve
electronic-control shocks that are so high-tech they can go from soft
to stiff in 40 milliseconds. When you’re bouncing along over rocky
terrain, if the computer senses that you are airborne, the shocks use
their oil-flow insides to stiffen, so that when you come down from
wherever it is you are airborne, the Raptor won’t bottom out the way
softer shocks would.

 

Giant F-O-R-D adorns the grille, in case bystanders can’t identify the Raptor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Giant F-O-R-D adorns the grille, in case bystanders can’t identify the Raptor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Think about that. These shocks, unique to the Raptor, are so advanced
they can sense miniscule alterations in your travel and adjust almost
as if anticipating what’s going to happen.
You also can set the Trail control for crawl speed. People who are
either sane, or haven’t ventured into serious off-roading, may not be
aware of how important it is to be able to crawl slowly up and over
the biggest boulders, and then keep your speed in check when you
descend. The computer-activated Fox Shocks in the Raptor will crawl
up, over, and down, so you can focus on steering and missing the
largest and most treacherous chunks and boulders.
To me, though, the most impressive thing is that when you come off the
trail, out of the wilderness or mountains, and get the Raptor out on
the highway. Driving on Duluth’s Swiss-cheese-like streets and
suburban roadways, you would accept and forgive the Raptor if it
jolted and jarred your bones, because it is so firm off the road, you
anticipate harshness and rigidity on the road. Yet the Raptor
suspension is surprisingly compliant on the road, and it seems to
almost float over the corrugated roads.
I’m willing to accept that I might be wrong, but I found the Raptor
was smoother-riding than the standard, garden-variety F150. If that’s
all because of the Fox shocks, then we all should have them.
You have this Trail control knob that can be set for whatever terrain
you are engaging, including gravel, sand, snow, normal
roadways…whatever.
I felt I had accomplished something when I made it through the
narrowed freeway lanes without conking an orange barrel or two, and I
felt even more in command when I drove into a parking ramp that
required a couple of sharp corners. As I pulled in, my wife, Joan, let
out a bit of a shriek because she was sure I had scraped the ceiling
of the ramp entrance, and when I circulated up a level, we heard the
scraping again.
Turns out, it was the little antenna poking up and touching the roof
of the ramp. Ford thinks of everything — even a curb-feeler for your
roof.
Without a doubt, the pickup battles will continue to rage, and the
specialty versions that command top dollar from every manufacturer can
bring in more profit. But the Raptor makes it no-contest for choosing
the absolute king of the road.