First Drive: 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

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That's a shame, because the Raptor is simply incredible when the ground goes soft. Steering that's a bit too slow and light on pavement suddenly feels confident and dead-on accurate, and the extra bit of body roll allows for a relatively silky ride over terrain that would shake apart many passenger vehicles. A number of tweaks, including beefier control arms, bigger brakes, a redesigned power-steering system, a stiffened structure, and the aforementioned 35-inch BFGoodrich tires (which increase the tread width more than six inches and require flared front and rear fenders) keep the truck and the driver in one piece. But the biggest addition is the dampers. The triple-bypass Fox racing Shox get progressively stiffer as they compress, meaning the Raptor can soak up just about everything the desert has to offer without bottoming out.

What this list of modifications doesn't tell you is how effortless everything feels to the driver. After letting some air out of the tires, just pull out the transfer-case-control switch to lock the rear differential (it'll stay locked at high speeds), put stability control in competitive mode with a tap of a button, and press another, equally nondescript-looking button to go into Off-Road Mode (which adjusts ABS to allow for more lockup and brings on more aggressive shifting and throttle mapping). That's it. Mash the pedal, and you're off in a spew of sand. Before you know it, you're power sliding between boulders, charging across whoops at 60 mph, and confidently cresting hills even when your eyes tell you that you're about to drive off a cliff. Oh, and you'll get airborne. Like the best on-road-performance cars, the Raptor quickly makes you feel like an excellent driver.

For now, the Raptor is available only with an extended cab and a 5.5-foot box. More power is on its way in the form of a 6.2-liter V-8. Whether we'll see more variants depends largely on how many people these days are looking for a street-worthy off-road racing truck that gets 14 mpg in the city (we got about 6 mpg in the desert). Even with the economy still out of sorts and the SUV's heyday far behind us, we're guessing there will be a taker for every one of the approximately 1500 Raptors Ford has built so far.

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