It would be difficult to conceive of a vehicle better-suited to demonstrating TTAC’s diversity of automotive reviewers than the massive and massively outrageous Ford Raptor. Robert Farago would have eviscerated it with a zero-star diatribe on the inadvisability of building three-ton boutique trucks with borrowed funds. Sajeev Mehta would rhapsodize about the graphics but demonize the chunky controls. Daniel Stern might be have complained about the lighting system. As fate would have it, however, I’m the fellow who got the Raptor to review. So I took it mudding.
In many ways, the big-bird Ford is merely the donor F-150 writ large, both in excellence and shortcomings. From the aero-look 1997 model onward, Ford has provided the best full-sized truck money can buy and equipped it with the worst engines in the class. The Raptor does nothing to change this situation. In terms of build quality, on-board electronics, comfort, and equipment it’s simply better than the rest, but the 5.4-liter “Triton” engine is as miserably inadequate as ever. The 6.2-liter “Boss” V-8 is supposedly arriving any moment now, but until then pickup buyers who demand first-class thrust will need to look in the direction of a HEMI-powered Dodge or Sierra Denali. Not that anything short of a JATO rocket would make the Raptor genuinely quick. It’s a massive vehicle, drawn to an outsized scale and then further widened with bespoke bodywork and suspension components. Compared to the 1995 F-150 XL regular-cab I drove as a demonstrator in my auto sales days, the Raptor might as well be from a different class of truck, or possibly a different planet entirely.
The press-preview journalists got to drive the Raptor up and down a variety of sand dunes and pre-arranged “whoops,” but I had to settle for driving up a tall residential curb at steadily increasing rates of speed. I finally lost courage at the 50-mph mark, not because there was a problem with the SVT’s ability to absorb the curb, but because the children playing in the adjacent yard were becoming more and more difficult to miss without tipping the truck up onto two wheels. (I’m just kidding. Save your comments.) Suffice it to say that this would be an outstanding vehicle for bank robbers, drive-by artists, or anyone else who might find themselves bounding across urban terrain at full tilt. Nothing else can touch it under these circumstances.
As a relative novice to the world of off-roading, I felt singularly inadequate to review the Raptor’s broken-field prowess. To find out whether or not the big Ford was a faker, I obtained the assistance of my colleague Sid Noblitt, who recently followed the “Paris-Dakar” rally on a single-cylinder motorcycle. Sid and I went to his personal 160-acre playground to try a variety of stream crossings and plowed-field mischief. It had rained for nearly a week, ensuring that the ground literally swallowed the Raptor’s tires down to the axle whenever we came to a halt for more than a moment or two. Still, it was relatively easy for me to climb mud-slathered hills at full speed and to reach near-freeway speeds across ruts that would pitch a motocrosser over the bars. A few times I got stuck and Sid literally pushed the Raptor out of trouble with his bare hands. No idea how he did it, given that he weighs about a thirtieth of what this monster truck does.
Perched six feet off the ground in the Raptor’s aesthetically-questionable, two-tone cockpit, I felt hilariously removed from all the differential-locking and traction-controlling going on beneath me. The 1997 F-150 benchmarked the contemporaneous Crown Victoria for NVH; this one probably matches a Lexus ES350, at least until wind noise comes into play. There’s a full SYNC and navigation system to amuse the itinerant off-roader; it’s possible to check movie listings and recent sports results while spinning all four wheels up and over fallen trees. I returned the truck to Ford with mud on the friggin’ roof; at 6′2″ I still couldn’t figure out a way to wash it adequately without resorting to a stepladder.
How, then, shall we rate this Raptor? Against the competition, it’s a five-star truck, primarily because it has no effective competition short of a Pinzgauer. Measured on the social-responsibility scale, it’s a terrible affront to humanity and should immediately be erased from history in the Orwellian fashion so beloved of America’s self-appointed intellectual elite. As a toy, it’s capital fun and worth every penny. Perhaps the best method by which to measure this rather unique product is against the Platonic ideal of a factory off-road-special half-ton truck. By that scale, only the weedy engine prevents it from being as good as one can imagine such an object. We’ll deduct one star for lack of poke and call the SVT F-150 what it is: the best-ever entry in its lonely, but fascinating, category.