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2017 Ford F-150 Test Drive Review
It’s been two years since Ford took the Raptor away from us, and the off-road world has waited in dusty anticipation for the last 104 weeks. Well, it’s finally time to bless your shocks and skid plates, because the Raptor has returned for 2017 with a new platform and a 450-hp, twin-turbo V6 delivering 510 lb-ft of torque that proves the juice was definitely worth the squeeze.
It’s hard to imagine back just 7 years ago to a world before we had the Raptor. It exploded onto the off-road scene and became the most successful SVT offering in history. When the F-150 was redesigned for 2015, we knew that meant a new Raptor wasn’t far behind. But 2 years can feel like an eternity without a Raptor. For its return, Ford utilizes the P552 platform that serves as the new F-150’s underpinning, massaged its 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V6, and made substantial suspension and chassis upgrades to ensure the legend of the Raptor won’t die with its V8.
Look and Feel
Mean and capable are the two words that immediately float to mind when staring at the Raptor, and stare you will. While the differences between the original Raptor and its standard F-150 brother may have been more dramatic, this Raptor leans more toward function than form. Your average econobox enthusiast might even mistake it for a regular F-150 with a lift and some knobbies, but the changes are ever so much more than skin deep. Beyond the improvements that went into the revamped F-150—the aluminum body construction, the stiffened frame, and the added safety systems—the Raptor has its own unique improvements, like custom-designed 35-inch tires, a beefed-up Fox Racing suspension, and a new torque-on-demand transfer case for nearly effortless off-roading.
Every manufacturer boasts about the increased use of high-strength steel and other “next-gen” materials in its products, but few have embraced it as thoroughly as Ford. One could argue this is a reaction to the bent-frame “scandal” (which wasn’t really a scandal) that occurred with the original, but regardless of the reason, the new P552 platform upped the use of high-strength steel in the frame from 23% to 77%, and the 2017 Raptor adds even more reinforcement underneath. Additionally, the frame and body were modified to give the Raptor a 30-degree approach, 22-degree breakover, and 23-degree departure angle. Go for that jump with renewed confidence—Ford says the Raptor will take it.
Of course, that’s partially due to the updated Fox Racing suspension, which offers 3-inch, nine-stage bypass shocks sitting a full half-inch larger than before and providing a full 13 inches of front-wheel travel and 13.9 inches in the rear—increases of 0.8 and 1.9 inches. They were designed along with the new, custom BFGoodrich tires to provide maximum off-road performance at speed while still allowing for an endurable ride on the road. That’s important, because Ford wants people to look at the Raptor as a daily driver that can still tackle any terrain you throw it at. Single-purpose vehicles are so 20th century.
To that end, my test vehicle was fitted with a bevy of equipment and features that rocketed the base price of $49,265 all the way up to $67,735. If you go with the SuperCab configuration, you’ll have the shortest-length production F-150 by more than a foot, but my test vehicle was upgraded to a SuperCrew for $2,985. The 802A Equipment Group added another $9,345 to the sticker for the luxury of features like heated and cooled 10-way power front seats with memory, power-adjustable pedals, an 8-inch touchscreen with Sync 3 and Sync Connect, a power-tilt-and-telescoping steering column, power-folding heated auto-dimming side mirrors with integrated turn signals and LED security lamps, remote start, an upgraded HD Sony stereo with satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate controls, power-sliding rear window with defroster, 360-degree camera with split-view display, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts, an integrated trailer brake controller, two additional USB charge ports, inflatable rear safety belts, and more lighting inside and out than you could imagine. But most importantly, the 802A group comes with the 4.10-ratio front axle with a Torsen differential—likely the reason most will shell out the extra cash.
A Tech Package added the new safety systems that made such a big splash with the new F-150, tacking on lane-departure warning with lane keep, adaptive cruise with auto braking, plus auto high beams and wipers for an additional $1,950. These go a long way toward achieving the daily-driving goal that Ford wants. Beyond that, it’s a slew of little add-ons that help the price creep toward 70 grand, and some are pretty astonishing from an ROI perspective. Carbon fiber accents around the cabin add another $995, but aren’t very noticeable. Orange accents on the leather seats look smart and tack another $750 onto the bill. A spray-in bedliner is perhaps the best value at $495, followed closely by a twin-panel moonroof for $1,295 that absolutely transforms the environment in the cabin. For those with old knees, a $375 extendable tailgate step helps overcome the lifted suspension for bed access, and a heated steering wheel and second-row heated seats contribute $155 and $125 to your bank manager’s retirement fund, respectively.
A Raptor without a V8. Did you ever think you’d see the day? Remember what we used to call pickup trucks without a V8? “Cute.” But when Ford takes its venerable 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, fits it with high-compression pistons and a turbo compressor, additional cooling, and a true dual-exhaust system with an x-pipe in order to achieve 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, “cute” is the last thing that comes to mind. Step on the skinny pedal, and peak torque arrives at 3,500 rpm, with horsepower following at 5,000. With the new industry-first, 10-speed transmission co-developed by Ford and GM, you can still cruise at 70 mph on the highway and be spinning at only 1,800 rpm. This is the same transmission you’ll see in the Camaro ZL1 and the 2018 Mustang, so that’s good company to keep, but there are some small problems. I found it crashing and banging a bit when cold, and if you get aggressive with wheelspin and allow the engine to spool up, it’ll sometimes get confused and not know what gear to choose for a while. That’s not a good problem to have in an off-road speed machine, but then wheelspin isn’t the best recipe for off-road success, either.
But the main intent here was to up the Raptor’s efficiency with all that added power. At 15 mpg city, 18 highway, and 16 combined according to the EPA, the 2017 Raptor is thirstier than the outgoing model, and in my week of thrashing this monster, I still managed an average of 14. That’s not great, but with a couple hundred miles of highway cruising and several hours of off-roading at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, I’m still impressed. These numbers were additionally aided by a claimed 500-lb weight loss thanks to the aluminum and composite body panels, though independent testing has put that number closer to 300 pounds.
That weight loss was also intended to help the ride. Ford concentrated on making sure on-road performance wasn’t sacrificed for off-road prowess and co-developed components like the BFGoodrich tires to work in concert with the platform and suspension to that end. The result is a giant truck on an off-road suspension and knobby tires that handles more like a slightly smaller truck on a regular truck suspension and all-season radials. Technology is impressive, but physics are physics. Still, I was impressed at the ride, and you will be, too. Body roll is especially well-mitigated, and even with those knobbies it’s still quite quiet at speed.
But all this ignores the major upgrade for the 2017 Raptor: a torque-on-demand transfer case that works in concert with the mechanically locking 4-wheel-drive (4WD) system and the electronically locking rear diff. While the Raptor comes with all the usual driveline settings of rear-wheel drive (RWD) plus Hi & Low 4WD, this transfer case allows the Raptor to act like an AWD vehicle, automatically applying power to the front wheels only when it’s needed. Couple that with Ford’s Terrain Management System that adjusts throttle response, shift points, steering feel, utilization of the transfer case, and the electronically locking rear differential for whatever you’re trying to drive over, and nearly anyone can jump into the Raptor and destroy some dirt. There’s even a Baja mode that acts as a 4WD or RWD sport mode—allowing all the off-road capability you could want via increased throttle response, heavier steering, a more permissive AdvanceTrac setting, and higher shift points for the transmission.
Form and Function
And because of all the Raptor's added safety and luxury, you can destroy that dirt in total comfort. Try that in your typical Baja racer. Yes, according to Ford, the Raptor can tackle the Baja 1000 off the showroom floor… if you know what you’re doing.
For a bit of context, my off-road experience is derived solely from living on a dirt road, driving across my parents' property, and short excursions to camping sites. I’ve not done much recreational off-roading until now, and with the Raptor things were easy. The lower-level trails were tackled without even venturing outside of the RWD setting, and if things got difficult, AWD got the job done without incident. This hugely capable truck makes anyone feel like they know what they’re doing, which I suppose can get dangerous, but there’s a whole lot of fun to be had. If the intended function of the Raptor was to bring off-roading as a hobby to a wider swath of the public—or at least that section of the public with an extra 50-70 grand to spend—then I have to proclaim “Mission Accomplished.”
The fact that the Raptor can do that while still providing all the creature comforts and usability you’d expect out of a daily driver, barring some less-than-impressive fuel economy, only reinforces the idea. The Raptor gets it done and gets it done in style. Ambient lighting inside provides a touch of class without any inappropriate opulence, and the wealth of LEDs outside mean you'll never get left in the dark. Comfortable seats still provide enough support so you won't be thrown around while venturing beyond the pavement, and a giant rear seat section is large enough for actual adults—6-plus-footers completely welcome.
Ford made sure its 13th-generation F-150 is packed with tech, a testament to its impressive legacy of making that truck the best-selling vehicle in America for the last three decades and the best-selling pickup for four. Standard blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic and trailer coverage impress, but the addition of the Technology package rounds out the Raptor with nearly every feature you could want. Adaptive cruise with collision mitigation means traveling to your off-road destination won’t wear you out before you hit the hills, lane-keep with warning and intervention means you’ll get there in one piece, and the auto wipers and high-beams mean the truck handles changes in the weather without you having to do a thing.
The optional 360-degree camera with split view is perfect for parking, attaching a trailer, and especially for rock-climbing. Why get out and check your clearances when you can see it right on the 8-inch touchscreen, and with a standard washer you'll never have to get out and clear it of dirt, either. The new Sync 3 system is a huge improvement over MyFord Touch, and with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, pairing your smartphone is a snap.
The Raptor also comes with 6 Aux switches already wired into the loom, ready for you to attach your choice of accessory without having to worry about cutting into the harness. This might be my favorite tech feature of the Raptor, as it shows Ford’s willingness to get into the mind of its consumers and deliver not just what they want, but what they need.
The Raptor enjoys an overall 5-star safety rating from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with only the Rollover test garnering a 4-star rating. Likewise, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Raptor its highest rating of Good in all tests.
Standard front, front-side, rear-side, rear-body, and front-head airbags are complemented by inflatable rear belts and the usual suite of traction and stability control, a rollover safety system, and brake assist. While the Raptor hasn’t been independently tested, the F-150 showed a 60-0 braking distance of 132 feet, which is below average for the segment, but the Raptor’s off-road tires should lengthen that a bit.
Additionally, the driver’s off-road display shows your pitch, roll, steering angle, and driveline status, so you'll know exactly when you’re approaching the limit, and the camera for the 360-degree view comes with a standard lens washer so the screen will never be obscured.
And here we come again to the point where we justify spending up to 70 grand for what could be considered a toy, or at least a second vehicle. But with the updates to this generation of the F-150 and the Raptor in particular, it no longer needs to be relegated to second-vehicle status. It’s a “have your cake and eat it too” situation, in which a vehicle that is literally capable of competing in an off-road race can legitimately be your daily driver as well. Sure, you could have 90% of the fun to be had here by picking up a used second-hand truck and tossing on some upgrades, but you wouldn’t be able to do it in this much comfort, nor would you be able to pick up a business client or colleague in it. The Raptor makes that possible.
It’s the exact same formula Ford used with the Shelby GT350: accessible performance with everyday usability. You’ll have to calculate just how much that’s worth to you, but there’s nothing on the market right now that can do it better for less money.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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