They want you to jump it. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.
“They” are Ford’s reinvigorated Special Vehicle Team, and ”it” is the once-rumored, now-official 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. By ”jump,” they mean catching air offroad over whoops and table tops at 50 to 70 mph plus. Think Baja 1000 trophy truck meets the General Lee, and you’ll start to get the picture.
“There’s nothing else like the Raptor out there,” said Jamal Hameedi, SVT’s chief nameplate engineer. “Nobody has done anything like this before.”
We’ve been writing about the fabled Raptor and its rumored offroad prowess since January, when Four Wheeler Magazine’s Sean Holman shared intelligence he’d been gathering, trying to uncover the shrouded nature of Ford’s latest high-performance project.
Much of what we wrote about the Raptor then was right on, but when Ford let us into SVT’s secret labs we were still awed by the depth, rigor and level of commitment Ford has brought to what will likely be one of the most talked-about trucks of the decade.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy, and the Raptor’s reception by those who neither understand nor relate to its purpose may be as difficult as the terrain it’s meant to cross.
“It’s a very polarizing vehicle,” Hameedi said. “If it’s not, we’re not doing our job.”
Inventing the Raptor
The birth of the Raptor began about three years ago, when Herman Salenbauch, Ford’s director of advanced product creation and SVT, and Derek Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of product development, sat down to create a halo version of the next F-150.
“There was always — even in the early days — a debate,” Salenbauch said. “Do we do on-road or off-road? If you had to reinforce the donor platform’s core image and DNA, you’d probably go to the ultimate version of a truck, versus taking a sports car formula and overlaying it on a pickup,” which is what SVT’s previous halo truck effort, the Lightning F-150, had been. “We decided it had to be off-road.”
On-the-ground research supported the decision to make the Raptor an offroad specialty vehicle. Salenbauch and his team traveled to SEMA in 2005 to study the offroad market. The segment was white-hot. Sales of parts and accessories were growing at twice the rate of street-performance segment.
Salenbauch said it also felt good not making tradeoffs, like lowering ride height for handling and limiting cab choices to only two doors for save on weight — both necessary for the Lightning’s tire-shredding launches.
“When you do on-road [performance], you have to give up something,” Salenbauch said. “You do one thing much more but you have to trade in something. We said off-road — we don’t have to trade anything. We could enhance everything. That’s pretty nice in a project. It’s an easy decision if you get better everywhere.”
The Raptor would be a completely different kind of performance vehicle from what SVT had engineered in the past.
“It was a great technical challenge, because the focus was going to be on the chassis and suspension versus putting a supercharger on an engine,” Hameedi said. “For the organization, this was a pretty awesome task.”
Test, Measure, Design
The team mapped out a 62-mile offroad performance and durability loop at Anza-Borrego Desert Park near San Diego on which to develop the Raptor. They laser-scanned the entire surface to record every rock, jump and rut. Every time Raptor engineering mules ran the circuit with a new component or other change, the instrument data collected was mapped against a virtual copy of the course to show where the forces acting on the truck’s components were coming from. If a part was damaged, they knew exactly where it broke and how much force had been applied to break it.
“(The design and testing) is grueling and thorough, but enables us to execute at a very high level,” said Kerry Baldori, the Raptor’s chief functional engineer. “In [the ‘90s and early 2000s] we would have tuned a car and let it go. Now we’re measuring road loads where we instrument ball joints, shocks and frames and most of the rest of the hardware.”
Hundreds of channels of data were recorded on the performance and durability loop, including steering wheel and suspension movement, shock temperature and chassis stress. There was so much information that it often took longer to run the data than it did for the trucks to run the course.
“We think we’re the first people to ever measure suspension forces analytically of a truck going through the air, landing and jumping,” Hameedi said. “Usually it’s over-design, jump it, break it, increase safety factor, try again. We took an engineering approach: Jump it, measure it and design it to those loads.”
With the running conditions and test approach settled, the next area of concern was the suspension. If street performance is all about controlled horsepower, then offroad performance is all about useable suspension travel.
The heart of the Raptor is its long-travel suspension. To create it, SVT teamed up with Fox Racing, a leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance shock absorbers and racing suspensions. Up until now, long-travel suspensions have only been available through the aftermarket as expensive retrofits of stock pickups.
Fox created all-new internal bypass shocks especially for the Raptor. They’re as radically different from the stock F-150 shocks as a Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang’s supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 is different from the base Mustang’s 4.0-liter V-6.
The packaging of the blue and silver shock absorbers is impressive; they make standard truck shocks look about as sophisticated as the absorbers on a Flintstones-mobile.
The independent front suspension’s shocks are coilovers, paired with unique-to-the-Raptor single-stage spirals. They have 11.2 inches of travel, versus 8.5 inches of travel in a base F-150. The extra 2.7 inches are needed to manage the high-impact forces sent through the Raptor after sticking a jump. The rear shocks are piggyback reservoirs paired with heavy-duty rear leaf springs. They keep the same 13.5 inches of travel as a base truck.
The 2.5-inch Fox shocks have larger diameters than both the F-150’s base shocks and the offroad FX4 F-150’s Tokico shocks. The extra size is needed to house the 47-mm (1.85-inch) pistons and internal bypass valves. They also hold the extra oil needed to cool the shocks and prevent fade from the extreme heat generated during rapid compression and rebound cycles crossing rough desert terrain at high speeds.
Unlike standard monotube shocks offered as original equipment in other factory-built off-roaders, bypass shocks provide tunable, progressive stiffening throughout the shock stroke by precisely controlling the flow of oil via secondary tubes, minimizing pockets of uneven hydraulic flow from heat or unequal pressure.
Most aftermarket bypass shocks use an external bypass setup, placing oil routing tubes with adjustable check valves on the exterior of the shock. The valves allow users to easily dial in different damping settings by increasing or limiting the flow of oil around the shock, depending on the environment, application and vehicle type.
Fox Racing’s internal bypass technology is slick and maintenance-free. Instead of placing the oil routers outside the shocks, Fox sealed them inside the main tube so that they can’t be adjusted. The valves have been replaced with very small gates, precisely placed for optimal damping in all conditions, based on thousands of hours of off-road Raptor driving. Hardcore off-roaders might not like this setup, but it solves several potential issues both for Ford and for less-obsessive desert-running enthusiasts. There are no external bypass tubes to be damaged by the front coilover springs rubbing against them or by offroad debris striking them; there are no worries about check-valve durability; and Ford doesn’t have to train consumers and dealers on how to tune the shocks.
Like every Ford vehicle, the shocks also had to meet Ford’s durability standards.
“They’ve been engineered to meet Ford's internal durability standards, 10 years or 150,000 miles, without being rebuilt or replaced,” Hameedi said. “They also had to start and finish 1,000 miles on the [Borrego] durability loop with no more than 30 percent degradation. Even in the toughest testing, oil temperatures [in the shocks] stayed around 250 degrees.”
Other suspension changes include unique upper and lower control arms with the letters “SVT” prominently cast into the lower wishbones, new tie rods, increased diameter half shafts, beefed-up ball joints and high-strength steel from the Super Duty, used to shore up the rear shock brackets. Front and rear bumpstop shock microcellular jounce bumpers provide additional impact absorption when the Raptor bottoms out.
Baja racing wasn’t the only inspiration SVT found in Mexico. To handle the high load forces in the rear axle, the Raptor’s rear axle shares heavy-gauge axle tubes with Mexican-spec F-150s, which tend to be driven overloaded more frequently than U.S. versions are. The extra mass in the back axle adds to truck's unsprung weight, which requires additional shock and leaf spring tuning so the rear end won't kick up after landing hard.
The rest of the F-150 platform was already strong enough for going off-road at speed.
“There wasn’t a need to strengthen the Raptor’s frame,” Baldori said. “It’s already bulletproof.”
The Raptor’s inaugural 320-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 engine with 390 pounds-feet of torque will be identical to the 5.4-liter V-8 available in the rest of the F-150 lineup, but that won’t be the case for long.
Several months after its summer debut, by the end of 2009, the Raptor will receive Ford’s brand-new, large-displacement, two-valve OHC 6.2-liter premium V-8. This is the engine formerly referred to as the Boss V-8, and the Hurricane before that. Final power figures haven’t been set, but it’s expected to be naturally aspirated and produce approximately 400 hp and more than 400 pounds-feet of torque.
There may be another engine offered for the 2011 model year or later, but Ford is being coy about that information.
Both the 5.4-liter and the 6.2-liter V-8s will be paired with the F-150’s all-new six-speed automatic transmission.
Standing in for supercharged mechanical enhancements, SVT has created a special powertrain operating mode, called Off-Road Mode, that’s entirely unique to the Raptor and works in two or four-wheel drive. Off-Road Mode, activated with the push of a button, changes the engine’s throttle map, leaving the butterfly valve full open when pushing the accelerator pedal down through its entire arc. That’s intended to give it linear throttle response, like a race truck, instead of high power at the beginning and tapered at the end, like a street truck. Off-Road Mode also changes the transmission’s shift points to hold its gear and not upshift after letting off the throttle at high speeds. It also locks out the sixth gear overdrive at the top of the transmission to keep the rpm high.
“If you’re going fast but getting ready to turn around a bend or see a big rock in front of you, you can lift off the throttle, get around the obstacle and get back (into the power band) immediately,” said Tim Smith, the Raptor’s vehicle dynamics and chassis engineer. “It won’t upshift on you. You have throttle response and torque to the ground so you can squirt right out of the scenario.”
A unique 4.10 rear axle also helps the Raptor reach peak power faster. Other F-150 models stop at 3.73 final drive ratios.
If Off-Road Mode sounds similar to tow/haul mode, used for pulling large trailers or moving big payloads, that’s because it is.
“In the beginning we used tow/haul during development because it was better than street mode,” Smith said.
The Raptor will still offer tow/haul mode, so you can pull up to 6,000 pounds if you like, but Off-Road Mode always takes priority. If you activate Off-Road Mode while driving with tow/haul engaged, the Raptor will change to Off-Road Mode, but if you’re in Off-Road Mode and select tow/haul, the truck will stay in Off-Road Mode.
Off-Road Mode also changes the antilock brakes’ calibration settings. At low speeds over deformable surfaces, it virtually disables ABS to allow full brake lockup so you can stop as quickly as possible to avoid hitting or traveling over an obstacle. But if you’re in a wash at high speeds, ABS kicks in much the same as it would in a street truck until you reach the lower speeds where full brake lockup can occur.
The Raptor also offers hill descent control, making it the first Ford-brand vehicle to offer the feature. It uses the truck’s ABS system to automatically modulate the brakes to slow travel down steep slopes so the driver can focus on steering.
4x2 Electronic Locking Rear Differential
The Raptor shares its electronic locking rear differential with the FX4 F-150. It’s supplied by GKN and fits inside the standard 9.75-inch rear ring and pinion case. The system locks the rear axle on demand to provide traction to both back wheels by pulling out the dial on the transfer case selector.
What’s cool about the Raptor’s locker is that it works in two-wheel drive at high speeds, like a Baja PreRunner. The FX4’s locker only works in 4-High (up to 25 mph) and 4-Low (up to 66 mph). Raptor is the only factory off-roader to allow this feature.
“Most Baja trucks are 4x2s, but on [competitive] trucks we evaluated, you couldn’t use the locker in 4x2 to go fast,” said Gene Martindale, SVT vehicle dynamics engineer. “The Raptor has the best of both worlds. You can use the locker in two-wheel drive and you can do things in four-wheel drive that you can’t do in a (two-wheel-drive) prerunner.”
Concerns about torque steer at speed stopped SVT from adding a front locker, for now.
Wheels and Tires
To fit the new tires onto the Raptor, the truck’s wheelbase was stretched 15 mm as part of the front control-arm enhancements.
The designers share the same philosophy as the engineers: Form had to follow function.
“When you look at Baja race trucks and prerunners, they have a very wide stance for stability,” exterior designer Bruce Williams said. “It’s all about the suspension; that’s the jewel of the truck. We wanted to show that off.
“The (Raptor) design program happened very fast. This was the first time a vehicle like this had gone through our studio, so it was a golden opportunity to do something never done before. I started researching online, reading magazines and watched the movie ‘Dust to Glory’ to figure out what is it that specifically captures the essence of these vehicles and see how can I do it in a modern way that shows that spirit.”
The most striking exterior design feature is the truck’s MIA blue oval in the grille. Instead, the Ford name is prominently stamped across the huge three-bar grille.
“That was figuring out how to say ‘Ford’ modern and differently, like the  Ford Bronco concept,” Williams said. “We weren’t sure how people would react when we had design reviews, but everyone who saw it liked it as the truck progressed, so it stayed.”
Every body surface except the doors is new, constructed from stamped steel. The flanks have a ”coke-bottle” form that, when combined with the SuperCab and short box, give the Raptor the impression of being a midsize truck when viewed from a distance.
The Raptor’s best aspect is the front three-quarters view, where there’s a lot going on. In packaging the Raptor around its offroad running gear, the truck gained an extra 6.6 inches of width in its track. The result is a purpose-built shape with coke-bottle fenders that provide coverage over the tires, but are sucked right back into the body at the doors. They’re functional and bold without being cartoonish.
“When we were doing the first clay model in the studio, we put the short box on it and started setting up the track width,” Williams said. “We were looking at it going, ‘This is unbelievable.’ The theme didn’t even matter, in a way, because you knew that just by having these proportions to start, the table was already set nice.”
Heat extractors on the hood add to the perception of width. Functional fender vents in front help tone down some of the surfacing contours and neatly show off the paint color through “SVT” initial cutouts.
The truck is so wide, it has only 5 to 10 mm of clearance making its way through the assembly line and on transporters. It has to follow the logistics plan of a heavy-duty dual-rear-wheel pickup as its being built. It also won’t fit through most automatic car washes.
The extra track width also meant the Raptor’s design had to adhere to federal regulations mandating marker lamps. This could have given the Raptor a pseudo appearance of a dually truck at night, but Williams and the team got creative. Nowhere in the government’s fine print did it say where the lamps had to go, so the team placed three bright-orange LEDs right into the Raptor’s grille, three in the center high-mounted stoplight and two each at the corners of the front and rear bumpers.
“This is really an engineering and design win,” Williams said. “As designers, we really like it. It amplifies the truck’s wide stance, and when it’s dark and coming at you, you’re going to know what this truck is from a mile away.”
The cabin is also upgraded. The seats are heavily bolstered to hold the driver and passenger in place whether the truck is on the ground or in the air. There’s a unique gauge cluster in the instrument panel with race-style meters. The center stack gets a new appliqué and the steering wheel has a red hash mark to quickly reference dead center.
Ahead of the shifter are new buttons and switches that control Off-Road Mode, hill descent control and any auxiliary equipment, like lights, added to the Raptor.
The 6.2-liter V-8 pulled hard and flat all the way to the truck's speed limiter (in Drive in 5th gear) on certain straight parts of the trail, hitting 100 mph!
Off-Road Mode held the gear each time Martindale let off the accelerator, catching up to 20 or 30 feet of air launching off dirt moguls, with all four wheels off the ground. After landing, he was able to almost immediately get the truck back in its power band to continue accelerating.
The Raptor cruised over 1- to 2-foot sand mounds at more than 70 mph, as the rapid vertical motion of the suspension was transferred into the cabin as a well-damped, though extreme, up-down motion that provided Martindale with a high degree of control and quickly gave passengers a sense of confidence in the Raptor's capabilities.
The Fox shocks sucked up all but the hardest hits, such as when we landed the front dead-on on the upward slope of a new mogul. During other hard landings, we could feel the truck start to bottom out as the jounce bumpers became the suspension's points of last resort. We never exceeded the limits of the jounces.
Our initial assessment of the Raptor: Performance is no longer limited to straight-line acceleration and cornering in two dimensions. In the Raptor, it's fun in all three axes.
High-Performance Prowess, High-Performance Inspiration
When the Raptor debuts, there are certain to be questions regarding Ford’s decision to build what is arguably the most extreme full-size offroad pickup ever, especially with full-size truck sales down and demand for fuel-efficient cars way up. Could Ford’s resources have been better used elsewhere?
Here’s what we think: Now is the time to do something outrageous — something like the Raptor. SVT has always aimed to deliver profit and value to Ford, and while the rest of the company concentrates on delivering thrifty vehicles, SVT will try to deliver excitement and break ground in capability. High performance prowess in tough conditions and high performance inspiration in tough times is what it’s all about.
2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Specs:
Base price: TBA
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8
Valvetrain: SOHC, three valves per cylinder
Horsepower: 310 @ 5,000 rpm (gas) / 320 @ 5,000 rpm (E85)
Torque (pounds-feet): 365 @ 3,500 rpm (gas) / 390 @ 3,500rpm (E85)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Axle ratio: 4.10
Suspension (f/r): Unequal-length control arms, coilover shocks/single-stage leaf spring, piggyback reservoir shocks
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Brakes (f/r): 13.78-inch vented discs / 13.7-inch vented discs
Wheels/tires: Cast-aluminum 17x8.5-inch/LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain
Wheelbase (in.): 133.1
Length (in.): 222.1
Width (in.): 86.6
Height (in.): 78.4
Track (in.): 73.6
Curb Weight (lb.): 5,888 (preliminary)
Ground clearance (in.): 11.2
Approach (deg.): 29.8
Departure (deg.): 26.1
Breakover (deg): 20.8
Maximum towing capacity (lb.): 6,000
Fuel capacity (gal.): 26.0
EPA mileage estimates (mpg): TBA
Seating capacity: 5