Review: 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

Editor's Rating: star rating

Good for Ford for green-lighting the SVT Raptor. If you need a fun off-roader that can tackle the toughest terrain, this is it

You've got to wonder if the corporate bean counters were all on vacation when Ford (F) green-lighted the new F-150 SVT Raptor. It's hard to believe such a wild and wicked truck ever made it into production.

Developed by Ford's high-performance-oriented Special Vehicle Team (SVT), the Raptor is a rugged version of the F-150 pickup truck aimed at young male buyers who are into desert off-roading. That means the Raptor is specifically designed to crawl over boulders and careen down rutted back roads at 70 miles per hour. Picture a pickup truck adapted to run the annual Baja 1000 race.

Off-roaders usually retrofit pickup trucks and SUVs with huge tires, heavy-duty suspensions, and skid plates to be able to do the things the Raptor can do. In the Raptor, all that stuff comes standard. Believe it or not, this truck even comes with the same factory warranties as the regular F-150.

The Raptor has surprised Ford by selling better than expected. Since the model hit dealerships last June, about 2,500 have sold in the U.S. and Canada, and there's a backlog of orders for about 4,500 more, according to Mark Grueber, Ford's F-150 marketing manager. The company now expects to sell 7,000 or 8,000 Raptors this year, Grueber says. That's a small fraction of overall F-Series pickup sales (413,625 in 2009)—but a lot for what was expected to be a tiny niche product.

The reason for the Raptor's great-than-expected popularity, I suspect, is that it's a versatile weekender truck that comes packed with extra gear at a relatively low price. The Raptor can handle just about any kind of difficult terrain (whether snow, mud or sand), has major trailer-towing capacity, and is surprisingly quiet and comfortable in everyday driving. It's also a head-turner: It's more than seven inches wider than a regular F-150, and has a unique "brick wall" grille and front fascia, as well as LED marker lights liberally sprinkled around its exterior.

No one really needs a truck like this, but it sure is a fun toy. Color choices include a cool metallic Blue Flame and a wild Molten Orange (with complementing orange interior trim for an extra $395). For another $1,075, there's an optional "digital mud" splash decal (as Ford designers describe it) that makes the truck look like its perpetually emerging from a river bottom.

The Raptor starts at $38,995 with a 5.4-liter, 320-horsepower Triton V8, which is only $2,360 more than for an FX4, a version of the F150 with all-wheel-drive and more limited off-roading upgrades. For an extra $3,000, the Raptor also is now available with a new 6.2-liter V8 that increases horsepower to 411 (and won't be available on other F-Series trucks until 2011). Four-wheel drive is standard, and the only transmission is a six-speed automatic.

It would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to add all the new model's off-roading upgrades to a regular pickup, Grueber says, but it would be hard actually to duplicate a Raptor. Standard equipment includes 35-in. BFGoodrich all-terrain tires specially formulated for the truck, protective undercarriage cladding that includes a huge cast-aluminum plate under the engine, and a rugged suspension system bolstered by high-tech racing shock absorbers that keep the truck from bottoming out under extreme jarring. There's even a full-size 35-in. spare tire.

Technology upgrades include an electronic-locking differential, as well as trailer-sway and hill-descent control systems. The transmission has a special off-road mode that improves performance by shutting off electronic stability programs, changing throttle settings to hold the transmission in each gear longer, switching the antilock brake system to a special setting, and allowing the rear differential to stay locked at high speeds.

Standard safety gear includes front, side, and head-protecting air bags, as well as stability and traction control. The Raptor doesn't have government crash-test ratings, but the regular F-150 has five-star ratings in all categories except rollovers, where it earned only three stars.

Not surprisingly, fuel economy isn't great. Even with the smaller engine, the Raptor is rated to get only 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway.

Behind the Wheel

I first got interested in the Raptor last fall at an off-road driving event in the Poconos. The locking differential and hill-descent features allow the truck to crawl over boulders and down steep, rutted hills with remarkable aplomb. It's the only pickup truck I've seen that can hold its own with Land Rovers and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon over truly rough terrain.

I ended up test-driving the Raptor in some of the nastiest winter driving in years. Among other things, I drove one from Manhattan to Northeast Pennsylvania the evening of the huge late-February snowstorm that sent 18-wheelers careening into ditches and shut down Interstate highways to most traffic. The Raptor was one of the few vehicles that got through. I even got up the unplowed country road to my house in more than a foot of snow. The only other vehicle I've test-driven that might have made it is a Hummer.

As with other big pickups, getting in and out of the Raptor is a chore. You have to hoist yourself off the running board up into the cab, and there are backward-opening half-doors to get into the rear seat, which (as in other extended cab pickups) is cramped. Once behind the wheel, however, you have a definite feeling of power and security, because the truck is so wide and you're sitting up so high. The front seats are heavily bolstered to keep driver and passenger in place during heavy-duty off-roading but are also quite comfortable during everyday driving.

The Raptor is available with most of the usual options, including a hard drive/navigation system with steering-wheel-mounted sound system controls ($2,430), a luxury package that includes an upgraded sound system, power-adjustable and heated front seats and adjustable foot pedals ($1,950), a power moonroof ($995), and a backup camera ($450).

Curb weight is nearly three tons, so this truck is no speed demon. Even with the smaller engine, however, my test-vehicle accelerated from 0 to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, which isn't bad for such a behemoth.

The Raptor has excellent hauling capabilities. Maximum towing capacity is 12,300 lbs, and in addition to trailer-sway control there's an optional trailer braking system ($230). One downsied is the truck's bed is only 67 in. long. An optional bed-extender ($195) creates additional space, however, by allowing you to haul cargo with the rear gate folded down. The extender stows against the sides of the bed when not in use.

Buy It or Bag It?

As might be expected, 95% of Raptor buyers are male. At a median age of 45, the typical buyer is only three or four years younger than the regular F-150 buyer, Grueber says, which he thinks is probably because many of the younger buyers the truck is targeting at can't afford its $40,000-plus price tag. The Raptor's strongest markets are Las Vegas and Phoenix (where there's desert nearby), but it's selling surprisingly well in the Midwest and Southeast, Ford says.

When the company surveyed buyers, only 23% said they use the Raptor mainly for trail driving. Among other uses, 13% said they drive it mainly in deep snow, and 9% said they bought the truck as a collector's item, Grueber says.

The Raptor is comfortable in daily driving, but its wide body, cramped rear seat, and mediocre fuel economy make it relatively impractical. To me, it's a fun second or third vehicle for use mainly on vacations and weekends by people with rugged outdoor lifestyles. It's a lot of truck for the money.

Click here to see more of the 2010 Ford-150 SVT Raptor.

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