Hitting a five-foot high mound of earth at 50mph seems a spectacularly stupid idea, even in something as over-endowed in the tyre and suspension department as an F-150 Raptor. But I’ve been building up to this, determined to bag the jump shot both I and Ford’s photographer know is there for the taking. At 30mph the Raptor’s Baja-spec Fox dampers dismiss the supposed take-off like it’s a speed bump. Nearer to 40mph the suspension is just about fully extending its stroke, smoothly compressing through its nine-stage bypass valves into rally-car style hydraulic bump stops like it was nothing.
Brave pill time. I gun the new turbocharged EcoBoost V6, the back end squats as dirt sprays from all four BF Goodrich tyres and the last number I see on the digital speedo before hitting the ramp is in the high 40s. There. We. Go!
You’d expect the Raptor to take all this in its stride. This is, after all, what it was built to do, this latest version proven in the Baja 1000 desert race in stock, roadgoing trim. In true American style there’s now more of everything too, including 150mm more track, another 50mm in ride height, more suspension travel, extra driving modes and a new 10-speed gearbox. OK, the V8 has been downsized to a 3.5-litre V6 but power has gone from 411hp to 450hp while torque has increased from 434lb.ft to 510lb.ft. These changes and a 200kg-plus weight saving from the switch to aluminium bodywork means this is the biggest, meanest and fastest stock Raptor yet.
But while we’ve all loved it from afar will the dream of driving one in the UK actually turn out to be a nightmare? A fleeting European visit by a US press car is my chance to find out. And outside my house the Raptor certainly looks outrageous, towering over my regular car and dwarfing my neighbour’s Ranger Wildtrak.
Navigating suburban streets takes a little acclimatisation, not least because it’s around 10 per cent bigger in every dimension than a VW Amarok (one of the bigger pick-ups you can buy here) and, of course, left-hand drive. Imported Raptors with right-hand drive conversions are available, though you can expect to pay over a hundred grand. And whichever side you’re sitting on this is a stupidly large vehicle for UK roads, not least when it comes to parking and other such practicalities.
Not that practicalities are going to be high on your priorities if you’re thinking of running a Raptor over here. You do so because you love the look of it and because your inner child says driving a real-world monster truck is cooler than any supercar.
And possibly more fun. That suspension travel may give it an odd, floaty sensation and the steering is pretty vague whichever of the three modes you’ve got it in. But those fancy dampers are actually very clever, body movements well-controlled and the Raptor surprisingly sure-footed and less wallowy than you’d ever expect. And you’ll not be worrying about kerbs, potholes or the generally rubbish surfaces on the roads either.
The elephant in the room remains the loss of the V8 for a turbocharged V6. Objectively the Raptor is plenty fast enough and the new engine’s muscular torque delivery is better-suited to shifting a machine of this bulk. Combined with the 10-speed auto (coming soon to the Mustang) it’s a little bit monotone though, even if it does sound more purposeful from the outside. Worth the improvement from the 6.2’s 13mpg to the EcoBoost’s 16mpg? Hardly a deal breaker and if I were in the market for a Raptor I’d probably be inclined to look for the V8 version, no matter the V6 shares 60 per cent of its components – including block, heads, cam covers, ignition and fuel injection system – with the engine in the GT.
It’s the only real question mark over what is otherwise a grin-a-minute experience. In rear-wheel drive mode the relatively crude stability control offers more than a sense of its willingness to do big, lazy drifts, though you’ll need a lot of room if you’re ballsy enough to disable it completely. In the name of science I try stamping my left foot on the brake with the traction control off and hitting the throttle. And, yes, it’ll spin up its rear wheels like a line-locked Mustang.
If you drive it smoothly and use the weight shifts to your advantage it’s an absolute hoot to drive along a twisty road too, the sightlines over hedges meaning you can see what’s coming and plan your attack accordingly. And, let’s face it, if you have to mount the verge to make space for oncoming traffic it’s hardly a problem.
Don’t waste your time trying to rationalise the Raptor. Like others in the Ford Performance stable its spectacular party piece is also a demonstration of the engineering that’s gone into it, the Focus RS getting its drift mode, the Mustang its Line Lock burnouts and the GT its switchable, slammed Track configuration. You’d be as daft exploring any of these on the road as you would the Raptor’s Baja mode but that each of these diverse range of cars shares the same sense of fun is enough to warm the heart of any fast Ford fan.
Read the full feature in the May 2018 issue…