It's not often that lifted trucks designed for off-roading are described as nimble, but that's exactly the word that comes to mind while riding shotgun in the 2010 Ford F-150 Raptor as it blasts through the desert outside of Borrego Springs, California. Racing through desert washes at 95 mph is more comfortable and confidence-inspiring than commuting to work in your average F-150.
The amazing part of this experience is that Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT), which developed the Raptor, doesn't have any real experience with off-road trucks. Sure the 1990s SVT Lightning was an incredible performance truck in its day, but it didn't even have four-wheel drive, let alone the ability to drive off-road. Tuning a truck for high performance is completely different once you leave the pavement.
Don't expect a high-output, Lightning-like engine in the Raptor. Ford's initial production run will make do with the familiar 5.4-liter Triton V-8 that produces 310 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. There will be a 6.2-liter V-8 offered as a 2010.5 enhancement to the Raptor, but the extra power (about 400 hp and 400 lb-ft) isn't really needed. Instead of absolute power, this truck is all about a comfortable, confident ride both on pavement and off. We experienced everything from 50-plus-mph jumps off-road to 80-mph blasts down the highway, and the Raptor felt rock solid at all times.
Ultralong suspension travel (13.2 inches in the rear and 11.2 inches up front) doesn't produce much more body roll than in a standard F-150, but internal-bypass Fox Racing shocks really soak up the bumps. Raptors will be 7.7 inches wider than other F-150s and have a full 6.6 inches more track width to enhance high-speed stability. This is a big, wide truck - the Raptor has a mere 10 millimeters of clearance at some points on the assembly line, and it just barely fits on delivery trucks and train cars.
Sadly, the Raptor makes no sense outside of the desert racing world. With the collapse of the economy, questionable demand for performance vehicles, and political pressure to stop producing gas guzzlers, the Raptor seems like a terrible idea for the current market. But all of that worry fades away as you hit a trail at speed. The Raptor really needs to be experienced first-hand, because there's simply nothing else like it on the market - and there may never be again.