By Grant Davis
If you ever wondered what it was like to drive a Tonka truck, climb into the 2011 Ford SVT F-150 Raptor Crew Cab 4×4 supertruck and mash the gas pedal. Doing so uncorks a 6.2-liter, 411-hp V8 with a throaty roar that sends the dump-truck sized 35-inch BF Goodrich knobbies bounding down the road. If you’re traveling on mud, sand, snow, rocks, or the pot-holed streets of Boston, start grinning. Life just got fun. The near one-foot of travel in the Fox Racing shocks and 10-inches of ground clearance, wide stance (7 inches wider than a normal F-150 and aggressive SVT wheels achieve what Hummer failed to do for its entire existence, make an all-world assault vehicle that looked like and is a blast to drive. Seriously, I’ve driven 200-mph supercars, $350,000 luxury cars, and this $50,000 super truck produced as many, if not more, smiles per mile than those cars.
The appeal is that this Raptor gives the driver absolute freedom think about going anywhere he damn pleases. No need to worry about fragile body panels, low-profile tires, and delicate suspensions—just stomp the gas and go. With its four-wheel drive, locking rear differential, and Sport option, which tightens up the automatic transmission’s shift timing, you can take this 6,000-pound truck airbourne, send roostertails of mud flying (or sand, if you’re in Baja). Hell, I even used it to create a short cut out of a strip mall parking lot by simply rolling over a concrete median and onto the street. Is it any wonder that the Border Patrol ordered one of these to cruise the Arizona desert? It’s the fastest, most gonzo thing on wheels down there.
The six-speed transmission is programmed to hold a lower gear, longer so that drivers can tap more power coming out of turns in sand and mud and keep their momentum. This same feature also happens to make the Raptor a much sportier ride on twisty pavement. Don’t worry about excess body roll. Those same Fox Racing shocks that prevent the wheels from exploding through the corner panels also keep the truck grounded in high speed corners—with some help from the 12.7-inch wide tires, of course.
Cage Fighter Exterior, Plush Club Interior
Inside, the luxury-spec’d Ford delivered to me went all out with full leather and an ear-splitting Sony sound system with Surround Sound powered by a massive 900-watt sub-woofer underneath the rear seats. The latest version of Ford’s SYNC (http://www.fordvehicles.com/ sync ) Navigation/Communication/Audio system proves that it’s still the gold-standard in terms of design, funcationality, and ease of use. The front seats are fat and plush and sized for, ahem, Americans.
In case sitting more than 2 feet off the pavement isn’t high enough for ya, you can jack the seat up another few inches and see over everything but a semi—you’ll want that height to see over the hood as well. The three seats in the rear are plenty large enough to carry three small dudes in relative comfort for an hour or so. In short, if you asked a 10-year-old to design a pick-up, this SVT Raptor would be the end result—except that it couldn’t turn into a submarine, shoot rockets out of the headlamps or fly to the moon. Yet.
Ford’s SVT performance division is usually associated with making the company’s street cars smoking fast. Think Mustang, Taurus, and the compact Focus. Who knew they could put the continent’s best-selling vehicle since the Carter Administration on steroids and build the absolute perfect four-wheeler for that vast empty country stretching from the Canadian Arctic through the Rocky Mountains and desert Southwest into Mexico—hell, let’s just throw in all of Latin and South America.
Range Anxiety? Yes
If there is one downside to a truck this big and brawny, it’s that it guzzles fuel faster than the Florida Gators football team sucks down Gatorade (http://www.gatorade.com/default.aspx#home ) during practice. I averaged around 10-12 mpg which, coupled with the 26-gallon tank, translates into a range of 300-odd miles. That doesn’t suck, but it’s not enough range to make me want to explore all the empty spaces on the map in, say, the Yukon, or take the long way to Lake Tahoe via Salt Lake City. (It does however cover the distance between Bishop and Las Vegas via long straigh dirt roads where going 90 mph the whole way is a possibility.) Fortunately, we are talking about a pick-up here, so throwing a few 10-gallon jerry cans of fuel and enough supplies to survive in the wild is a viable option. Still, the limited range speaks to the Raptor’s target use, balls-out fun off-road, not round-the-world exploration.
And let’s be honest here: gobs of power, fuel economy be damned, is what the people want here. God knows, it’s what I wanted. Last year’s Raptor was scorched for having a less-than stellar powertrain with 310-horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. It was considered adequate, but not super-truck fun. They’ve got that now, and the future looks even better. Ford has already tweaked the 6.2-liter engine to churn out 500+ horsepower and raced it at the Baja 1000. If there was any chance to let loose a red-blooded American “Yee-haw!” this is it.