A scant 30 minutes had passed after taking possession of this 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor until we had all four of its wheels off the ground. We'd have done the deed even sooner, but our destination – a Baja-style test track in the middle of the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona – was, understandably, far enough out of town that no locals would be able to complain of excessive noise or mini dust tornadoes encroaching on their own tracts of brush-filled paradise.
After all, the modern conveniences of day-to-day life just don't mix with such uncivilized activities as seeing how much air you can put between your truck's skid plates and solid ground.
And therein lies the beauty of this particular beast. Since when did such niceties as in-dash navigation with voice-activated SYNC, a leather interior with heated seats, dual-zone climate control and satellite radio count as standard equipment in a truck that was built primarily for 100-mile-per-hour blasts through the desert?
Since late 2009, actually, when FoMoCo unleashed the first version of the F-150 SVT Raptor on an unsuspecting public. Unlike all previous products from Ford's Specialty Vehicle Team, including the F-150-based SVT Lightning, this truck does its best work once the pavement ends and the really nasty stuff begins.
It's no secret that we've loved the Raptor ever since our first experience behind the wheel, and now it's better than ever before. How so? Keep reading to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips and Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL
Our biggest and perhaps only real complaint with the Raptor when it launched was that its 5.4-liter V8 engine was underpowered for the kind of shenanigans its heavy-duty chassis and beefed-up suspension encouraged. Ford heard our cries for more power, and rectified the situation with a new 6.2-liter V8 that was adapted for Raptor duty after first seeing action in Ford's Super Duty truck line.
Here's the first bit of truly great news: Everything positive that we said about the original Raptor carries over completely intact with the 6.2-powered version. That includes the solidity of the fully boxed ladder frame, which is a full seven inches wider than the standard F-150, as well as the 17-inch wheels with specially-crafted BF Goodrich All Terrain tires.
You'll find knobs inside the Raptor 6.2 to switch between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive high and four-wheel drive low. When the going gets really tough, the tough can get going by locking the rear end and engaging Off Road Mode, which uses electronic wizardry to change throttle and transmission shift maps along with the thresholds of the standard stability, traction and ABS brake controls. Finally, there is a handy-dandy Hill Descent Control function that will keep you from shooting up or down steep inclines too quickly.
And if you do happen to get in over your head despite all the efforts of the truck's hive mind of computer systems, the most important carryover bits and pieces would be those that make up the front and rear suspension. There are 11.2 inches of bump-ingesting travel up front and 12.1 inches at the rear. Damping duties are ably handled by a special set of Fox Racing Shocks that sport triple interior-bypass valving, enabling them to do things like leap tall mountains in a single bound. These suspenders are extraordinarily impressive and all but impossible to find fault with.
Now, let's get back to that Baja test track. We quickly found that you don't just drive a Raptor. You pilot it. The first thing we did after arriving at our not-so-secret testing location was to point the truck's massive front tires in the general direction of the track's largest ramp and bury the accelerator pedal. After that initial successful takeoff and landing, we repeated the deed over and over again... completely in the name of science, of course. Suffice it to say, the process of jumping a three-ton pickup truck never gets old, but we were still curious how the bright orange machine would handle the rest of the track's obstacles.
A couple of laps around the testing circuit proved a handful of points. First, it may indeed be possible to break a Raptor, but you'd need to do something truly stupid to make it happen. We're talking an act so completely without rational thought that it would have to be eligible for a Darwin Award if you didn't make it. A more likely scenario, however, is that you scare yourself into common sense at the first sign of pushing too far into the Raptor's prodigious bag of capabilities.
Second, the biggest obstacle to earning your Raptor Pilot's license is the guts to keep your foot on the throttle in spite of your brain's ever present urgings to maintain control over life and limb.
Third, once you find the elusive switch that shuts down your brain's dogged insistence on self preservation, the Raptor will take on almost anything that Mother Nature has in its arsenal. Vespa-sized boulders, tire-swallowing holes and trenches large enough to halt a blitzkrieg are all dispatched with an air of invincibility. If you find yourself unsure of whether or not an area is passable, it probably just means that you're not going fast enough to jump it. We're actually not joking here – the truck's shocks are designed with multiple levels of damping force, which basically means the biggest of hits are soaked up at least as compliantly as smaller obstacles, and the rebound is much less likely to be jarring when you're moving at a decent speed.
The final off-road tidbit we learned during our visit to the track is that the 6.2-liter engine is a much more willing and able partner than the previous 310-horsepower 5.4-liter Triton V8. Perhaps that goes without saying, but the fact of the matter is that the Raptor easily handles every one of the 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque the new engine is capable of dishing out.
And now it's time for the real revelation the Raptor has been hiding from you all this time: It's an extremely obliging machine when it's time to leave the desert expanses and head back home. What seemed just moments before like something created specifically to jump across the gaping hole of an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland is now a good old Ford F-150 pickup truck... and a luxurious one at that.
Amazingly, the ride is smooth and well controlled while driving on surface streets. Further, the cabin is quiet and cozy enough inside for front-seat passengers to carry on a conversation with those in the back seat without yelling. Steering is reasonably tight considering the giant rubber balloons on which the Raptor rides. The steering feel is a bit too light and quick for our tastes, but it's certainly on par with the rest of its off-road oriented full-size truck competitors.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the Raptor is its dismal fuel economy. We averaged a woeful 13.7 miles per gallon in everyday driving, which included more long slogs on the highway than balls-to-the-wall stretches of off-roading.
It's something of a contradiction in sheetmetal, the F-150 SVT Raptor. On one hand, it's a vehicle bred specifically to tackle the Baja 1000. On the other, it's refined enough to take you and the Mrs. out for a surprise night on the town. Well, that's assuming she doesn't mind being seen in our tester's bright orange paint and matte black graphics package. We'd at least take a pass on the matching interior scheme.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but we thoroughly enjoyed the week we spent with the 2010 Ford Raptor 6.2. All the good stuff we've ever written about the Raptor applies to this newest version, but sadly, our opinion that it needs more power remains.
Clearly, the 6.2-liter V8 is the engine Ford's Raptor should have been blessed with from the very beginning. Naturally, we'll gladly take the extra 101 horses over the previous engine, but in reality we're still left wanting more, and we have to wonder how Ford's more fuel efficient but surprisingly powerful 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 powerplant would feel in this off-road application.
Still, at a base price of $41,995 (a reasonable $3,000 premium over the outgoing 5.4, which is no longer available for 2011), you won't hear us complaining very much at all about the fun-per-dollar quotient of the 6.2-powered Raptor. While a plane ticket might cost less, you won't have more fun flying than on the back of this bird of prey.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
NOTE: Thanks to Matt Farah from The Smoking Tire for allowing us to photograph his personal 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor for this review. The Raptor in the jump shots was used for the review itself and is identical except for the addition of a graphics package.