FTE‘s Raptor Off-Road Adventure!

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raptor

Beating the living daylights out of our ’17 Raptor was our intention. Being in total disbelief about its impeccable composure wasn’t.

Ford is currently reaping the fruits of its labor. After years of uncertainty during the financial collapse of 2009 and having to alter its business strategy and fighting against government-funded competition wasn’t easy. It took its toll. But now, the sun is shining.

The Ford F-150 Raptor almost didn’t happen. The original badass Ford truck, the Lightning, simply couldn’t come back to life, and an off-road high-performance truck didn’t sound too appealing. Once it was finally approved, Ford thought it would fill a small niche and be a so-so seller. But, boy, they were wrong!

Raptor

Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves at Badlands Off-Road Park in Indiana, where we are surrounded by a few hundred acres of pristine off-road terrain and a second-generation Raptor. This particular truck, a sweet Avalanche Grey SuperCab model, is the definition of what the Raptor is, or at least what it should be. While SuperCrew configurations are cool and convenient, this shorter, lighter, and relatively basic Raptor is the business.

At $57,800, it’s even cheap! OK, maybe not cheap, but economical compared to other $73,000 samples we’ve driven. By all means, this is what the Raptor is all about. Now, it was up to us to find out what it’s made of.

72 Hours of Raptoring

Badlands Off-Road Park would be our home for three days and two nights. We arrived on a Monday afternoon to avoid the weekend crowd, towing a 29-foot Salem camper with our very own 2017 Ford F-150 XLT. The Raptor served as “bodyguard” for much of the drive there from Indianapolis, drawing stares from most passing drivers.

Raptor

After setting up camp, we headed out to the trails before sunset. This was simply a reconnaissance mission to examine the terrain, especially after heavy storms had hit the area in days past. Of course, it’s impossible to just “take it easy” when you have 450 horsepower under your right foot, but for the most part, we stuck to our mission.

The next morning, it was on. We picked up our rental Polaris RZR 570, which would serve as camera and exploratory vehicle. There’s nothing scarier than tackling an unknown puddle with someone else’s $60,000 truck, so the RZR’s nutty capabilities would help keep Ford’s test vehicle safe. Shortly after 9 a.m., we hit the park with the intention of doing clean photo shots first, and dirty shots last.

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Three Times the Torture

When the average person goes off-roading, they explore a hill, river crossing, mud hole, or whatever other obstacles, once. When you’re doing a professional photo shoot, getting the right shot may require you to do so five times.

These gorgeous shots you see here are the result of 12 hours of constant shooting in 90-degree weather while battling mosquitoes the size of butterflies. And did we mention summer is peak mating season for Indiana rattlers?

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“Keep climbing, turn left–your other left–and stop!” I am ordered by the photographer. The Raptor is sitting about three-quarters of the way up a hill, with the front left up on a big rock, and the brakes are squealing for mercy. “Got it!” the photographer said. The truck’s Terrain Management System features six programmable systems, and the “Rock Crawl” mode quickly sorted out wheel-slippage, generated traction, and swiftly helped us to the top of the hill. There isn’t a stock truck that’d be able to remain still and stable on a hill like that—period.

There were plenty of times when we didn’t get the shot, and the procedure had to be done again and again. Drive through mud holes, slide the back-end, crawl that boulder…three or four times each. Every time, the Fox Racing shocks and BF Goodrich K02 tires amazed us with their unyielding performance.

2017 Ford Raptor

Endurance

The Raptor was born in the Baja 100, a tortuous race of speed, but also endurance. After a full day of shooting, we were ready for a break, but the off-road beast wasn’t. That’s when we understood just how “Built Ford Tough” it really is. This isn’t just a hyped-up marketing campaign.

The second day brought more complex obstacles. We no longer had to take photos and go through them multiple times, but this time we could have fun. This meant we were attacking trails at three times the speed and our laughter was twice as loud. Dunes presented us with the perfect opportunity to apply the “Baja” driving mode, which sharpens throttle response but relaxes the traction and stability controls for maximum sideways action.

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You don’t need to be a pro driver to feel like one in Baja mode. The thick Ford Performance steering wheel is a joy to maneuver, and the pedal feel is always on-point. Just remember, breaking performance on sand isn’t quite the same as pavement! Eventually, it came time to tackle tight, muddy trails, where the Raptor’s width made it extra challenging.

It’s easy to appreciate the truck’s robust presence from outside, but inside it feels quite normal. That’s until you arrive at a system of swampy trails, and realize those Jeep tracks ahead of you look as narrow as a kid’s Power Wheels. And you guessed it, the truck’s “Mud” driving mode rendered our “just-in-case” tow strap and rubber boots useless. It was sure-footed, technical, and easy to slay sloppy trails.

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The Drive Home

All in all, we logged about 29 hours of actual off-roading. As we rolled out to civilization with both Ford trucks, we were floored at the Raptor’s versatility.

The same truck we had just tortured for two days straight was now rolling down the highway at 75 mph without a hint of wind noise, let alone weird vibrations or audible squeaks. The new 10-speed transmission shifted so smoothly that we had to concentrate in order to realize it.

The 2017 Ford Raptor simply soldiered on like it never left our driveway—well, except for the mud, branches, and leafs stuck to it.

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Photos for FTE by SG Photo 

Jerry Perez is a regular contributor to Ford Truck Enthusiasts, Corvette Forum, and 6SpeedOnline, among other auto sites.

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