The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor debuted last year to rave reviews, and for good reasons. It is the first out of the box prerunner-type truck that can be purchased at your local dealership. Equipped with Fox Shox, long-travel suspension, V-8 power, and a locking rear differential, it walked away with our 4x4 of the Year crown 365 days ago. If there was any complaint from last year's truck it was the lack of power, and this '11 version makes up for that with an additional 91 ponies (411 hp, 434 lb-ft) coming from a 6.2L (379ci) V-8. The '11 will also be available with a larger SuperCrew four-door cab, but it was not ready at the time of our testing.
From the bottom the Raptor reminds us of many other American-made pickup trucks. In fact, some described it as "the Standard," meaning simple, basic, and rugged with good skidplates, although the transmission pan, exhaust, and rear driveshaft are exposed.
The interior and exterior styling of the Raptor is bold, but with the performance to back it up. Our truck's Molten Orange paint carries over to the interior with an accent package. The bright color is already starting to wear on some judges who have seen many such Raptors on the street. Interior comfort is high with seats like a big couch and a simple straight-pull transmission shifter, and yet the small center dash buttons and dials for the radio and HVAC are confusing, especially when you're rocketing through the desert.
The big truck is a road hog at 97 inches wide, yet feels good going through city or highway traffic due to crisp steering and brakes and wide screen visibility. Though we enjoy the massive power gains of the 6.2L over the previous 5.4L, there is a high-speed exhaust drone that reminds you this is a muscle truck roaring down the freeway.
The Raptor can crawl. The 315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires dwarf the competition and make short work of most boulder fields. However, the wide body and even wider side steps (gravel deflectors) cannot stand up to big boulders. Plus, we would like to see a front locking differential instead of brake-based traction control. Though rockcrawling isn't impossible, it's less technical and more brutish in the Raptor, as you just barrel over everything and hope you fit.
The high-speed section of the test should have been where the Raptor walked away from the competition, but with half the field featuring four-wheel independent suspension (4WIS) we really noticed the unsprung weight of the solid rear axle in comparison. The truck has plenty of power and strength to bomb across washboard roads and through desert whoops, but the ride has been spoilt by the smoother 4WIS competitors. The suspension soaks up the big hits, but was rough, jittery, and skittish. Also, the transmission seems to hunt for the right gear when at the upper speeds.
The Raptor is king of the hill in hillclimbing. The truck's locking rear differential continues climbing, and the suspension keeps tires firmly planted to find traction. At the same time the wide stance and long wheelbase keep it stable, inspiring a sense of security.
In the sand dune section of the test the Raptor felt big and heavy against the others. The power was there, but wheelhop and transmission episodes made it hard to get the right momentum.
The Raptor with the bigger engine is still the one to get. It hauls in the desert where it was born. It is big, bold, and fun.
•Bigger V-8 power
•Stable at speed
•Too wide for some trails
•Exhaust and looks are loud