First Drive Review: 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor SuperCrew 6.2

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Crew cab pickups with four full-size doors have exploded in popularity over the past decade because they have space to fit a family and can still be called upon to do a job. But most crew cabs aren’t exactly vehicles that sizzle with style and performance – until now.

The 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor SuperCrew is the truck your kids want to play with in the sandbox and the rig that can carry your whole family when that sandbox is the Mojave Desert. Or the frozen forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as we found out last week during our first drive of the latest version of Ford’s adrenaline-pumping go-fast off-road pickup.

We spent a day exploring the Raptor SuperCrew’s limits at Smithers Winter Test Center in Raco, Mich., just outside Sault Ste. Marie, and cruising and bruising around Michigan’s snow-plowed rural roads near the frozen shores of Lake Superior.

Before it became a vehicle test center, Smithers was a U.S. air base and missile site. Now its runways and open tracts of land have been turned into a cold-climate proving ground used by various automakers. The first time we drove the Raptor, it was over 100 degrees in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near San Diego. This time, the mercury didn’t move above 15 degrees.

Ford paired us up with an engineer and had us try out the Raptor SuperCrew in three exercises around Smithers to test the new truck’s off-road chops.

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One of the biggest challenges facing new Raptor owners is figuring out all of truck’s different hardware and software tools so it can run hard over virtually any off-road terrain.

There’s conventional four-wheel drive plus an electronic locking rear differential to improve traction at all four corners. An off-road mode changes the truck’s power delivery and shift points so it performs like a desert racer -- gears are held longer, and throttle response becomes linear throughout the power band instead of weighted toward the low end during normal driving. Hill descent control automatically modulates the brakes so the truck can crawl down steep inclines while allowing the driver to focus on steering. And Advance-Trac stability control can be left on, set to Sport mode or turned off entirely, depending on how confident the driver feels drifting the truck at high speed. All of these tools can be used in just about any combination.

It’s a shame there isn’t a driving school for new Raptor owners because pushing the Raptor to its limits around a facility like Smithers (with just-in-time expert advice from a co-pilot and nothing nearby to hit) is one of the best ways to learn the handling limits of the truck and how all the tools work together and individually.

Substituting for personal support is a brand-new truck app that’s unique to the Raptor’s standard 4.2-inch trip computer display housed in the instrument panel. A screen called “Raptor Mode” tells you the status of the truck’s critical off-road systems. Consider it situational awareness of how angry the truck is.

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The new "Raptor Mode" app in the F-150's productivity screen

Skid Pad Test

A 300-foot circular skid pad test was up first. Split into two rings, the doughnut-shaped track’s outer ring was coated in a layer of powdery snow while the inner was a sheet of ice as well-groomed as an NHL hockey rink. We stuck to the snow because beneath it was a layer of ice, so we had the best of both surfaces.

Three laps wasn’t enough time to get a consistent rhythm going with the Raptor SuperCrew, but by the last lap we were able play with the truck’s control settings and had built up enough feel for its 145-inch wheelbase (compared with 133 inches in the SuperCab) that in the final lap we were yawing the truck hard around the circle with its nose pointed inside as the truck slid around the ring following the motion of its center axis.

In January, we tested a SuperCab Raptor in similar icy conditions outside Detroit. We quickly learned it was best to turn off almost all of the electronic nannies and leave the truck in two-wheel drive. We repeated almost the same approach with the SuperCrew, except we used four-wheel drive because the doughnuts we were doing were much larger in circumference and we could get our speed higher.

As you’d probably expect, when pushed hard to break traction, the Raptor SuperCrew felt like it was skidding around the icy ring in slow motion compared with the SuperCab. Handling was more predictable and laid back, but once the truck started to slide, it was also harder to recover. In the SuperCrew, it takes more forethought in low-traction situations to anticipate where you’ll lose grip than in the SuperCab. And once control is lost, it’s really lost — though the truck communicated incredibly well through the steering and suspension to let us know when that was about to happen.

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The 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor - as aggressive on ice as Tonya Harding

Another tool that became one of the most valuable assets the entire day was the Raptor’s 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 making 434 pounds-feet of torque.

In the desert, if you’re sliding the Raptor hard around a dry wash, approaching sweeping turns you can let off the accelerator and expect the sand to suck the truck down to help shed momentum without using the brakes. On low-friction ice, if you let off the accelerator, the truck wants to keep going straight like a hockey puck. Part of the learning curve doing doughnuts on snow and ice was figuring out how to modulate the throttle to reduce the amount of understeer and to keep applying throttle to dig the rear wheels in the snow and ice to find the least bit of traction to allow the truck to keep making circuits without spinning out or sliding off the outside. In the case of the 6.2, throttle was our friend.

Slalom Course

The next exercise was a slalom course over an icy runway to see how fast we could push the Raptor, threading it between sets of cones.

To compensate and mask the SuperCrew’s longer wheelbase and longer moment of inertia, Ford’s engineers have given the bigger four-door a quicker turning ratio (16:1 vs. 20:1 in the SuperCab) so the steering feels similar to the shorter SuperCab’s when pushed hard. In practice, we still had to remember we were pushing 300 pounds more mass in the SuperCrew plus its extra wheelbase.

The slalom also made us realize how well the Raptor’s meaty LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires performed in such low-temperature conditions. For rolling stock optimized for the desert, they provided very good lateral grip as we slalomed through the cones. According to the Ford engineer riding shotgun with us, Ford and BFGoodrich made a last-minute change before the original 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor 5.4 went into production to change the tires’ compound for improved handling on snow and ice.

Road Course

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The last test at Smithers was a three-lap road course. It featured 90-degree and 180-degree single and S-turns, plus a lengthy straightaway to push the Raptor hard over snow and ice-covered grass and dirt. After the first two laps — again, to build a feel for the truck’s limits and to pre-run the course —we engaged the Raptor’s electronic locking rear differential to provide maximum traction at the back wheels through the slick turns. Combined with aggressive throttle use and rapid left-right steering-wheel movements, the rear locker quickly straightened the truck out after we pushed hard through the turns with the strong 6.2.

Hitting the straightaway, we loved how much torque the 6.2 had on demand. Ford has tweaked the six-speed transmission with a new one-way clutch. It allows for higher speed 2-1 and 3-1 downshifts at wide-open throttle than the gearbox previously allowed and can even handle a 4-1 downshift at wide-open throttle if you need speed in a hurry.

Surprisingly to us, the SuperCrew Raptor exhibited less body roll than we think the SuperCab Raptor would have on the same course. Ford’s suspension engineers did their job well. Front and rear spring stiffness has been increased by about 8 percent to keep the ride frequency (the rate at which the suspension oscillates up and down) the same as the SuperCab. The triple internal bypass Fox Racing shocks – which are the heart of the Raptor’s special long-travel suspension – have also been retuned to provide increased damping and to match the new spring rates. It’s possible the cold temperatures– no higher than 15 degrees – also played a role increasing the viscosity of the shock oil to help tamp down roll.

On the Open Roads

After tackling the different tracks at Smithers, we hit the road for several hours of driving around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on public roads. A major difference between the SuperCrew and SuperCab is driving range. The SuperCab is only available with a 26-gallon gas tank while the SuperCrew has a standard 36-gallon fuel reservoir. That should come in handy exploring the backcountry or towing a trailer that weighs up to 8,000 pounds (compared with 6,000- pounds for the SuperCab). During our brief drive, we averaged 13.7 mpg, according to the Raptor’s trip computer.

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Also helping with towing duty is a more powerful 800-watt fan (it’s 600 watts in the SuperCab) to draw more air through the radiator. The radiator also has a lower cooling fin density to encourage greater airflow. The optional Raptor Luxury Package adds spotter mirrors on both sides of the truck instead of just the driver’s side like other Ford trucks, which helps with both towing and off-road visibility to help eliminate blind spots.

Some of the same traits we noticed while flinging the Raptor around Smithers were also noticeable when we were only in high-range four-wheel drive with all of the stability control systems enabled. The SuperCrew again showed virtually none of the fore-aft body motion that we’ve noticed several times in the SuperCab coming to a stop. We also didn’t notice any strange driveline noises or binding that we noticed during our first Raptor drive in Anza-Borrego and most recently in the SuperCab we tested in January.

The only strange nuances picked up on were probably related to the cold temperatures. There was some chain lash noise from the four-wheel-drive system, and in two different trucks we heard what sounded like fuel injector impulses. We’ve not heard that in SuperCab Raptors.

We played around more with the Raptor’s handling on the park roads leading to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. There were lots of twists and turns on the plowed roads with ice, snow, elevation changes and 2- to 3-foot snow banks.

Without the ability to pre-run the road like we had at each course at Smithers, we learned the hard way that the Raptor still can’t overcome physics when pushed too hard. Twice we left our mark on the soft snow banks by the sides of the road when we hit an unexpected patch of ice or took a blind turn too aggressively.

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Even though we were running the frozen roads hard, the Raptor’s ergonomics were a big help. Its heavily bolstered seats kept us from becoming fatigued as we piled on the miles while fighting the slick conditions.

Throughout the day, we took turns with another journalist at the wheel, trying out both the front and rear passenger seats. The front passenger seat was just as comfortable as the driver’s seat while the back of the Raptor SuperCrew offered ridiculous amounts of legroom that can only be considered limo-like. You could easily fit three kids in the back plus luggage in front of them when you have a big road trip.

This brings us back to why Ford is making such a hard-core off-road crew cab pickup truck. Ever since the Raptor SuperCab was rumored, Ford received inquiries asking about the possibility of a long-wheelbase truck. In our brief drive of the truck – without having jumped it (yet) – the SuperCrew Raptor lives up to the stellar reputation the SuperCab has managed to create.

Ford isn’t the first to make a highly capable full-size crew cab off-road pickup in recent years – that honor belongs to the Ram Power Wagon – but with its wide stance, muscular looks and daring high-speed capability, this is the truck we think adventuresome parents looking to haul their kids and family gear will choose.

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Point Iroquois Lighthouse on the shores of Lake Superior

Comments

FORD always has been the KING, always will be the KING!

government motors will CONTINUE to be second rate garbage.

@Lou,

The day we met. I'm screwed now.

Ha!

Same here.... same here....

I think that the picture for this link is still stored on your main server and each time the system reloads itseft - it pulls up the old photo.
Just a guess.
I pulled a stunt once on an uptight secretary. I put a picture of a bunch of super obese "chippendale" dancers on her desk top and it took weeks to ditch the image.
it was hillarious - man was she crabby.

Not that I am comparing GM's AllTerrain concept to an obese Chippendale dancer. LOL

Mike, it would be very cool if we could click on the articles pictures and have them pop out to a large size with good resolution. The little pics are nice if you're just reading through the article, but it's hard to see detail.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

Ford is King???? King of what CRAP? GM is the better truck and the only thing ford is king of is recalls!

Besides, GM owns the title of MOTOR TREND TRUCK OF THE YEAR!!! It's a title they earned and not given out by a ford fan.

Motor Trend Magazine is more of a car magazine. Not a real authority on trucks. Kind of like Consumer Reports rating autos/trucks. It is not their specialties.

I respect the awards, given to trucks; by Four Wheeler Magazine, Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off Road Magazine, and Truck Trend Magazine, more.

Anyone at pickuptrucks.com have info on the huge shipping delays for the Raptor? We're talking about paid-for orders from customers that are taking months to be delivered or on "quality holds" with no information from Ford. May want to check into it. Great truck but not so much if customers can't get them.

Bob, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but could you please keep the trolling to a minimum? Thanks.

In addition to what Buy American said, their editor in chief is Angus McKenzie, who is Australian. Australians don't know anything about American pickups. :)

I'd like to see what the EcoBoost can do in the Raptor. Though, it wouldn't get the fuel economy of a regular EB F150, I'm sure it would do better than the 6.2.

@ Alex - I've been silently hoping the same. Ford, put the EcoBoost in the Raptor for 2012.
@ Mike L - be our voice!

@MMP: I hear ya and agree. :-)

2 months with my 2011 Super Crew - 2 trips to the dealer for service on the drivetrain. Service alert by Ford Engineers trying to solve the clunk sound leaving 1 st gear and when braking to come to complete stop. So dissapointed! 2 other Super CrewvRaptors came in for the same problem when I took mine in for service. I enjoyed my first 2 weeks! Even went down for the San Felipe 250 Baja Race in Mexico. Ask about this problem before you buy! Hoping for a quick solution.

@Richard - I'm sorry to hear you aren't enjoying your new Raptor. Thank you for letting us know about the problem though and keep us posted if Ford comes up with a solution.

I have now had my SVT Raptor for a year, 2011 Crew Cab with the 6.2, Nav and Fox - Absolutely think it is the finest vehicle I have owned. Previous trucks included a Silverado (2010) and Ram (2008) as well as a pair of earlier F-150s (98 and 04). This truck is and does everything that others only hope to do. It handles like a sportscar. It tows anything and everything. The off-road abilities are off the map. It looks phenominal. I drive mine through city traffic to and from work most days, on the highways and back roads whenever I can, and have managed to maintain a shade over 15mpg. I have friends with the eco-boost F-150, the Ram and the 5.4 F-150 who can't get that mileage. Hating this truck = jealousy! It's a '10'. If you have not driven one, don't be negative until you do!

I have now had my SVT Raptor for a year, 2011 Crew Cab with the 6.2, Nav and Fox - Absolutely think it is the finest vehicle I have owned. Previous trucks included a Silverado (2010) and Ram (2008) as well as a pair of earlier F-150s (98 and 04). This truck is and does everything that others only hope to do. It handles like a sportscar. It tows anything and everything. The off-road abilities are off the map. It looks phenominal. I drive mine through city traffic to and from work most days, on the highways and back roads whenever I can, and have managed to maintain a shade over 15mpg. I have friends with the eco-boost F-150, the Ram and the 5.4 F-150 who can't get that mileage. Hating this truck = jealousy! It's a '10'. If you have not driven one, don't be negative until you do!



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