I know what you’re thinking. So the baja-busting, off-road monster known as the Ford (F) F-150 Raptor is the best recreational vehicle for suburban (and some urban) weekend adventurers? Overkill you say? Well, hear me out.
The hulking brute may seem like a bit much, but don’t let that deter you from thinking it’s anything but super capable, and gasp, actually comfortable.
Let’s begin in upstate New York, where if you’ve been paying attention, is where New Yorkers are now headed for the summer (as opposed to the oh-so played-out Hamptons). The Hudson Valley-Catskills region has become the weekend vacation land du jour for Manhattanites, but it also turned out to be a fertile proving ground for our Raptor test drive.
Before diving into the test, we need to note some changes for 2017’s model. Compared to the last F-150 Raptor, the 2017 version is 500 pounds lighter than before because it’s got an aluminum body combined with a steel frame.
Add to that an all-new Torque-on-Demand four-wheel drive transfer case, 3.0 inch FOX Racing Shox and a 3.5L EcoBoost V6-engine pushing out 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque, and you have the recipe for the new Raptor.
The Raptor also comes with custom 17-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain K02 tires. These beefy, baja-racing inspired tires initially gave me pause as my girlfriend and I were going to embark on two-hour highway drive, but I soon discovered we had nothing to worry about.
Driving the Raptor around the streets of Manhattan was a little hairy given how massively huge this thing is, but it proved quite nimble to maneuver even in the tightest of spaces. The optional 360-degree overhead view helped out tremendously.
Once on the highway, despite being on massive knobby tires, the ride was smooth. There was no harsh ride or loud noises coming from the tires—you would have thought you were driving in a sprightly Ford Focus.
Now to that engine. Give it a little gas and you hear it roar to life, with the added bonus of that turbocharger whine kicking in. Paired with a 10-speed gearbox that Ford is now using with the F-150, shifting was smooth, not jerky, and the auto-transmission didn’t seem to have to hunt too much to find the right gear. Oddly, the Raptor comes with column-mounted paddle shifters. I honestly had no use for these given the circumstances, but I guess it’s nice to know they are there if you need that level of control.
Some critics have noted the 3.5L EcoBoost wasn’t powerful enough for a vehicle weighing over 5,700 pounds. I initially had this concern, but soon discovered that once you put the Raptor in sport mode (one of six modes in the Raptor’s Terrain Management System), the truck seemed to come to life with faster throttle response and the ability to hold gears longer. Now there power Raptor fans have been aching for.
Riding through the Catskills
Once off the highway, the Raptor proved every bit the capable performer as we drove with confidence down the curvy two-lane highways near Hunter, New York. I longed for gravel and dirt roads, where the Raptor shined with gobs of traction and power to push this beast around these roads with no problem all.
Some of these low-valley roads were wet and muddy, and the Raptor glided over them with ease. Now the standard setting for this vehicle is two-wheel drive, and if you’re not used to it, traction can slip in wet, muddy conditions and the truck’s back end will slide into oversteer. It can be a lot of fun, but also unsettling when it catches you by surprise. Stick to four-wheel drive in these conditions.
The steel bed in the back (5-½’ in the Raptor) proved utilitarian enough with its tie-downs and a retractable tailgate step. Throw a couple mountain bikes in the bed and drive to your favorite spot, and you will have yourself a fun, rough-and-tumble weekend—which is exactly what we did at Windham Mountain’s downhill bike park.
After getting beaten up biking down the rough, muddy trails, getting into the Raptor’s crew cab was like entering an oasis. You may as well have been in a luxury SUV with the soft leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Ford’s Sync 3 eight-speaker sound-system with Apple Carplay, storage and USB ports galore, and even two-toned stitching on the dash. Seats were massive with plenty of space in the airy cabin.
I was also a fan of what Ford is calling High-Intensity LED Security Approach Lamps located throughout the vehicle. When you hit the unlock button on your key fob, the Raptor lights up and illuminates everything around you as a safety feature. Now for a car that looks as loud and boisterous as the Raptor, I found the “all lights on me” aspect of it to be totally in sync with the truck’s ethos. I loved it; my girlfriend however did not, as she would much rather have a low-key exit and entrance wherever we may be going (especially when trying to sneak into a show at the barn at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, but that’s a story for another time).
Starting at around $50,000, the F-150 Raptor isn’t exactly a cheap vehicle. And with many options out there, depending on one’s needs, outdoor adventure (and mild recreational) enthusiasts have their hands full with making decisions. But if you’re looking for—and I believe this is a technical term—the baddest-ass adventure vehicle out there, one that will get you both to the mountain top and the bed and breakfast in style, it doesn’t get better than the Raptor.
Did I forget to mention you can Baja-race this truck too?