Mountain Wheels: Ford’s brutal F-150 Raptor is king of the off-road machines |

Mountain Wheels: Ford’s brutal F-150 Raptor is king of the off-road machines

Though driving on the highway can get a bit bouncy, the Raptor shows its worth in off-road driving.
Special to the Daily |

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor 4x4 Supercab

MSRP: $48,325; as tested: $63,245

Powertrain: 450-HP 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 with 10-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 16 combined (15 city, 18 highway)

While it is a vehicle whose on-road character is strangely reminiscent of one of those 1950s exercise machines with the vibrating belt (maybe you remember your grandmother using one), that’s precisely what the dudes (and dudettes) who dream about a monstrous machine like the new Ford F-150 Raptor are looking for.

Boisterous, brutally speedy and superbly imposing, the updated Raptor is faster, wider, lighter and stronger than its trend-setting original model, all the better for those Baja race trips you’ll invariably be doing on the weekends.

With unbelievably enormous 315/70 mud tires on sharp-looking 17-inch wheels, I’m not sure you’ll enjoy your time on the freeway to California (or Moab, or even Denver, for that matter), but the minute you hit gravel, Raptor suddenly makes sense.

This is a purpose-built race machine masquerading as a street-legal truck, and like Ford’s Focus RS on the track, when Raptor is out careening through sand bogs and or making 100-MPH-plus blasts through river bottoms, everything makes sense. Upgraded suspension and increased ride height will make any off-road experience seem like a day at the races, with capability and control that’s unlike any other more-than-full-sized dirt machine.

Before I drove the truck, the notion of the new powertrain (including a 3.5-liter twin-turbo engine and a high-tech 10-speed automatic transmission) did not seem to immediately connote quite the same mix of macho as the old 6.2-liter V-8.

But that new technology has made the wide-bodied truck infinitely more brutal, with 450 horsepower (up 39 HP from the old V-8 and an impressive 85 more than a regular 3.5-liter EcoBoost) and nearly infinite access to the truck’s 510 lb-ft of torque from that amazingly versatile, double-digit automatic transmission.

You’ll also get as much as 23 percent better fuel mileage than on the original V-8, with a respectable 18 MPG on the highway — not so bad for a big beast like this.

With more aluminum than a Jaguar, Raptor has also dropped nearly 500 pounds, and the cumulative effect is pure insanity in an off-road setting. Those giant tires, the oversized and improved Fox shocks, plus a six-inch-wider track and (in my Supercab-sized model) a 133-inch wheelbase all mean an experience that’s like a side-by-side quad from hell.

My Subaru and Mazda test vehicles did not fare so well in the Front Range’s recent hail storms, but a fellow writer using the Raptor said the aluminum chassis didn’t get a single ding — even as golf-ball-sized hail struck so hard that it set off the car alarm.

The cool thing is that Raptor is still amazingly easy to drive (minus the bouncy-bounce on freeway pavement), with those big wheels and all of the truck’s largesse not requiring any extra effort — maybe besides parallel parking. The adjustable steering feel is also good for making those giant wheels race-precise or a bit softer for highway travel.

Mine was also pre-equipped for trailer-towing duty, with a dynamic hitch assist system to make connecting and rolling with a trailer an easier process.

Raptor’s biggest impact is its brawny looks, and the truck has certainly got those in droves. Other soft-roader machines may look like they have skid plates or insane aerodynamics — on Raptor they’re gigantic and fully functional, including an open-air lower fascia that seems like it’s straight off a dedicated race truck. Low-weight running boards also give it added coolness.

Raptor also shares all the positive comforts and roominess of the F-150 family inside the cabin, even if you’re not wearing a helmet for your imaginary race experience. Reminiscent of that full spray-in bedliner in the back, the truck’s dash and AC vents also get a flat black treatment; a steering wheel the size of a mountain bike tire (with a helpful red mark for centering the wheels when you’ve jumped 10 feet in the air) and 8-inch-long gear-shift paddles also contribute to the custom race look.

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