By Matt Stone
Shelby American has turned its focus from modifying Mustangs into a whole new area: the SVT F-150 Raptor. The all-new package was announced at the 2013 New York International Auto Show and garnered a boatload of attention because it would be Shelby's first foray into the world of off-roading.
You can get the Shelby treatment on any 6.2-liter Ford Raptor, in either extended cab or full quad cab body styles, with a choice of several graphics packages in white, matte black, silver, Azure Blue and red.
Shelby started with what some already consider to be a monster of a truck, the 6.2-liter Raptor (the 5.4-liter model is not eligible for the reworking); our test unit was a 2013 model. Power adders were a must, and they came in the form of a Shelby/Whipple supercharger and intercooler setup, which amped the horsepower from the stock 411 to a more Shelby-like 575.
It includes an open-element cold-air intake system, and Shelby finished the job with a "Stinger" exhaust and drainpipe-sized, polished stainless Borla dual exhaust tips. Shelby side front fender air extractors and dual fans in front of the intercooler help keep things cool under the hood.
Shelby wisely left alone the SVT-developed suspension. Its amazing Fox shock absorbers and special spring rates offer an unbeatable combination of ride, handling, body control and off-road compliance. Shelby left it unmodified, but is considering an optional, more hard-core off-roading suspension if there's interest. Our tester wore off-road-biased optional Shelby Method 18-inch wheels and 35/12.50 R18LT BF Goodrich Mud Terrain T/A tires. Other options included a Shelby roof-mounted light bar and special front and/or rear bumpers. The factory-installed Torsen front differential, traction control system and hill descent control remain in place.
The cabin got a Shelby tuneup as well, including the requisite logos and individualized ID plate. The dash received fuel pressure and boost gauges, niftily engineered into the air conditioning vents.
Before we hit the dirt at the off-road Northwest OHV Park in Bridgeport, Texas, we drove the Shelby Raptor on the freeway and on side streets to get a feel for its everyday nature, which is friendly and very fast. The stock 6.2-liter gets the job done under normal circumstances, but that wouldn't be Shelby enough. The blower package delivers an intoxicating blend of power, plus intake, exhaust and blower noise. The engine rumbles at idle, albeit fairly quiet when cruising in low rpm, but it barks and howls when you dig deeply into the right pedal. The combination of blower whine, intake road and exhaust blend to remind you — and everyone else — that there's something special under that big hood.
The fortified 6.2-liter V-8 is really impressive off the line, particularly in passing maneuvers. The blower install and transmission get along fine; that's not always the case as many aftermarket superchargers throw off engine management systems and transmissions with uneven power delivery, or with jerky up or downshifts. Not so in this rig. The power curve is strong and linear.
Need to pass on a hill? You can control the six-speed automatic with its manual mode, or summon up 3rd gear and strong power with the throttle pedal. Considering that this rig weighs 3 tons, its acceleration is fierce yet manageable. It's only natural that the knobby off-road tires create a bit of noise on the highway, but it's not over the top, and the aggressive tires soon proved their worth on the 305 acres of trails, rutted hard pack, water and mud. Average trails could be traversed in 2WD High as the long travel, compliant suspension and beefy rubber were up to the job. When the going got tougher, 4WD High was usually all that was needed; we also experimented with the Raptor's Off-Road mode and 4WD Low to see what they are about, but they were seldom needed. Hill descent was a wonderful bit of computerized magic; we pointed the Raptor's big face down some pretty aggressive inclines and let the hill descent system crab us down the hill in complete control, with no throttle or brake modulation required.
Who doesn't love water crossings? The Shelby Raptor certainly didn't mind them. There were a couple of instances where the front bumper was fully submerged, and the tires were walking on soft silt or on underwater sand, but the truck remained sure-footed and never failed to pull itself out of the muck. Naturally, there's power to spare, and the tallish ground clearance and impressive breakover angles keep the Raptor true to its off-roading mission.
What does all this power and beauty cost? The Raptor base price is $44,915 (including destination); fully loaded examples like our SuperCrew run more like $52,000. Add to that the "Shelbification" cost of $17,995, plus the optional Shelby wheels and Goodrich mud-terrain tires, and you're talking more than $70,000 for the whole package. Is it worth that? That's up to you. More important (to us, at least) is that this truck feels factory engineered at every level, effortlessly absorbing everything we could throw at it, with nary a burp or hiccup along the way. It is well-built and well done.