We ride shotgun in Ford’s all-new halo truck

Out of the 70-plus trucks and crossovers at the 2016 Truck Rodeo put on by the Texas Auto Writers Association, the 2017 Ford Raptor got the most attention. This event, after all, was the first time any journalist had access beyond static displays at auto shows or press images and videos. Sadly, Ford wouldn’t let anyone behind the wheel other than its in-house hotshoe from Ford Performance. Nevertheless, I was among the first outside Ford to experience the second-generation Raptor’s off-road capabilities.

Ford had set up a high-speed course in a hay field along side the vehicle staging area at the Longhorn River Ranch, TAWA’s new location for its annual truck and SUV event. The grassy field provided plenty of rolling hills and sharp ridges over its sprawling acreage, perfect for the Ford driver to show off the Raptor’s handling abilities.

Upon startup, the high-output 3.5-liter EcoBoost quietly rumbled to life with a distinct noise that could only come for a V-6. The driver, Ford’s Seth Goslawski, slid the 10-speed transmission into drive and keyed the Terrain Management System into Baja mode. The truck automatically put itself in 4WD high and cut back its ESP and traction nannies. Seth punched the throttle and the truck shot forward in a surprisingly non-dramatic fashion given the slick grass still wet with morning dew. Much that can be credited to the 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires.

Continue reading for the full story.

Later that day…

I found myself riding with Doug Scott, Ford’s Truck Group Marketing Manager, in the new 2017 Super Duty and in deep conversation about the Raptor’s capability. “Hey, are you guys going to let Seth give rides on the main off-road course sometime today?” I asked. Doug said something like “We haven’t been, but I don’t see why we can’t start. Wanna take a ride?” You can guess what I said.

Loose gravel on the hard-packed desert trail allowed the Raptor’s tail to effortlessly dance sideways under throttle. The rocky path that had been a challenge for the gaggle of crossovers provided no issues for the Raptor.

With Seth back at the wheel, I rode shotgun up the “level three” off-road course, the Rodeo’s most difficult trail. Loose gravel on the hard-packed desert trail allowed the Raptor’s tail to effortlessly dance sideways under throttle. The rocky path that had been a challenge for the gaggle of crossovers provided no issues for the Raptor. Even the deep ruts and hidden, tire-swallowing holes were soaped up with ease. The Fox shocks and thick suspension components didn’t shutter or groan under the abuse. They simply worked.

Seth’s background in auto racing became fully apparent as the trail opened up, allowing for more speed. Generous throttle inputs pushed the truck forward and the 10-speed’s paddle shifters provided fast shifts, though not to the dual-clutch level. The truck squatted down under power, heightening the sensation of speed. Hard braking pitched the truck forward as we approached a hairpin turn, the ABS system working overtime as the truck squirmed over the loose gravel. The huge steering wheel-mounted paddles seem impossible to miss, regardless of hand placement on the wheel. The steering came across as direct and light. Even though I was not behind the wheel, it seemed Seth was hardly working to throw the truck around hairpin curves and to induce opposite lock to fix for oversteer.

First Ride: 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor High Resolution Exterior
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First Ride: 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor High Resolution Drivetrain
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Even the deep ruts and hidden, tire-swallowing holes were soaped up with ease. The Fox shocks and thick suspension components didn’t shutter or groan under the abuse. They simply worked.

Seth selected 2WD as the trail ended, allowing even more fun. The flat and wide gravel service road running through the ranch proved equally trilling at speed, with the EcoBoost bellowing its throaty song. It might not be the V-8 rumble we love about the first-generation Raptor’s 6.2-liter, but any complaints about the sound are quickly killed by the vast improvement in performance.

Ford has obviously done its homework with the second-gen Raptor. Its 500-pound diet is accentuated by the hefty increase in power, while the upgraded suspension works better than before at soaking up rough terrain. The Raptor’s unique bodywork talks the talk, unashamedly boasting of its capabilities. Riding in the Raptor gave me a new appreciation for suspension tuning and how critical it is for performance. Just like a track car, the suspension setup is a big part of the truck’s personality. And it’s that personality that will undoubtedly grab truck buyers by the heart (and wallet). I’m expecting Ford to blow past its previous Raptor sales with ease. It’s apparent Ford expects the same.

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