Living in Montana, a pickup truck is an incredibly useful (and usually well used) piece of kit. Life here involves long winters with lots of snow, and for many, including me, it also involves lots of gear: skis, bikes, canoes, campers, atv trailers, shedding dogs, and kids. So, when I moved to Bozeman, MT several years ago I decided to add a full size pickup truck to my constantly revolving garage. I thought to myself, pickup trucks are tools, nothing more. So I searched high and low for a truck that had all the right running gear but none of the frills. I settled on a Chevy Silverado 1500 in “Work Truck” spec (WT in Chevy language, the base trim package below LS, LT, RST etc…). It had a 5.3L V8, manual 4WD transfer case (none of this button or dial stuff, but a real lever!), 3.42 axle ratio with a transmission cooler, and small diameter steel wheels. It did not, however, have: carpets (just vinyl on the floors), heated or cooled seats, heated steering wheel, a sunroof, 22s with banana peel tires, or any other frills. I was very proud of this configuration, and took pride in lording my pickup’s authenticity over the owners of gussied up Cowboy Cadillacs. Perhaps I spoke too soon.
After about a year of my self imposed austerity, I admitted I was lying to myself, and I bought a brand new Ford Raptor. This thing is a rolling homage to American materialism and excess. Huge power, huge suspension, huge wheels, and all the mod cons you can think of. And I love it.
Unbeknownst to me at the time I bought it, Ford offers a free driving program to new purchasers of Ford Raptors, fittingly called “Raptor Assault.” I suppose this makes sense in an owner's culture where there is more information in the forums about how to conceal a weapon in your truck than discussion of leather care. Regardless of the promising name, since you usually get what you pay for, and also figuring that the suck-bag lawyers would vamp the life out of any program offered by a big corporation like Ford (full disclosure, I’m a lawyer), I was not hugely optimistic. But, it’s offered in Tooele, Utah, not too far from where I live, and I figured I’d visit some friends in Utah and make a weekend out of it. And I am so glad I did.
This program is marketing genius. I walked away with a new-found appreciation for the capability and durability of the Raptor, as well as the genuine enthusiasm they have at Ford Performance (note: the program is run by a subcontractor, but the fact that the Ford Performance guys got this by the bean counters and lawyers is pretty sweet and shows some genuine pride in their product). I’ve driven my Raptor off road plenty, but I had absolutely no idea what this thing can do until I attended Raptor Assault.
Tooele, Utah is a quiet valley just west of Salt Lake City. It is home to both the former Miller Motorsports Park, and huge swaths of BLM land. BLM land is owned by the federal government, and generally provides the least restriction on land use, perfect for Raptoring. (Side note: I think the Raptor is the only car name that is both a noun and a verb). The day starts with a fairly banal chalk talk in a classroom, but that’s dispensed with quickly, and you head out to a parking full of 2019 Raptors. They are mechanically bone stock but loaded with factory options. They do have some bolt on aftermarket bars, a bed cage, lights and a bed mounted spare. The company that made these bolt-ons is a local Utah company called Impulse Offroad. You can contact them at email@example.com if you like what see in the pics. I happen to really like the front bar and light, and will be making an inquiry for my own rig.
Once seated in the trucks we stayed on campus for some demonstration type stuff on a paved hill. This was not necessarily fun, but it was incredibly informative to see the kind of angles a Raptor can handle. I was on a 32 degree side hill with an instructor hanging on the downhill side at one point, and we also explored approach and departure angles. Then, it was off to a big decreasing radius turn on dirt to start to feel the truck slide, and to experience different drive modes. We practiced inducing under steer and recovering, controlling lift throttle over steer, and neutral handling. This one corner was very informative. The drive modes in this are so much more than just a tweak in transmission shift points. They induce some typical stuff like changes in transmission mapping and throttle response, but they also change the brake balance depending on mode, and choose between multiple different four wheel drive modes. The four wheel drive options include a twin clutch on-demand all wheel drive system (like what you might see in many AWD cars), and a transfer case that locks in 4WD (like most light duty trucks), with both high and low ranges (and of course regular two wheel drive on dry pavement).
In "Mud and Sand" mode there is heavy front brake bias and little to no ABS interference to create a wedge of dirt and sand in front of the front tires on emergency stopping which is actually more effective than ABS in those conditions. On the other side of the spectrum, in "Baja" mode the brake balance is shifted back, traction control is limited, but ABS is still active. This means that at high speed the truck brakes very flat with little nose dive, but doesn’t skid on braking, while allowing the driver to rotate without traction control interfering. I appreciate that Toyota (TRD Pro), Ram, and Chevy (Trail Boss) have off road packages, and I also assure you I am not a Ford fanboy, but I can tell you the capability and tech on this thing is orders of magnitude greater than anything else out there right now. Competitors have already taken notice, and good on Ford for instigating an off road arms race that will end up with many more options for off road enthusiast consumers.
The real fun began when we got off-campus and headed out into the desert. The caravan of Raptors sounded amazing. At the risk of starting a flame war here, I will say that when you are in a lineup of 15 Raptors all deep into the rev range, even a twin turbo V6 can tingle the spine. When we got to the dirt two track, I was shocked how fast the lead instructors hammered through the desert. Impacts that would have made my skin crawl in my own truck happened at every corner. This type of high speed desert driving is where the Raptor really shines. You just cannot believe how well the suspension absorbs the hits, and actually controls the truck (the energy goes into the suspension slowing the truck, and brakes are hardly needed).
Next was some rock crawling. This is not necessarily what the Raptor was designed for, but it was very impressive for a rookie driver to see what it can do. I think a die-hard rock crawler would not bat an eyelash, but considering the speed we carried before we got to the technical stuff, it was pretty incredible.
Finally, we went back to the campus for several runs through the baja course (1.5 mile loop?), and then a few attempts each at a jump. The baja runs were just laugh out loud fun, and getting a 7,000 lb. truck air born, even if just a few inches, is a mind warp.
The whole thing is wrapped up with a hokey award ceremony that reminds you that this is all backed by someone trying to sell cars. But it didn’t take the shine off a great day. Not only was I stunned by the performance, but the thing that really blew me away was that three days a week from March to November the Raptor I was driving gets flogged by some ass-hat who paid too much for a pickup and wants to get his money's worth. And yet it was still tight as a drum. That is a true testament to what Ford has built.
In the interest of completeness, I will mention a few issues that I have with the Gen 2 Raptor after about a year of ownership. First, Ford has created a huge cabin in the crew cab, but at the expense of bed space. Two six footers can sit front and back both with their legs crossed, which is amazing, but that results in a bed where you can't put a pair 185 cm skis in lengthwise, or a bicycle without removing the front wheel. Personally, I wish Ford had taken about 2-3 inches of cab space and put it in the bed. Second, the piped in noise is cheesy. We all know that a turbo V6 doesn't sound as good as a V8, just own it. Third, 10 is too many forward gears. The big issue I have is that I like to choose the gears myself when in Sport or Baja mode because I don't want to be at the top of the rev range all the time. But with 10 to choose from, you just get lost, it's too many for sport driving. Finally, it's mind boggling to me why the '17 and '18 trucks don't have an oil temp gauge. You can't even get it with an OBD II reader, although that is cured for '19. With a turbo motor that can see some high temps and also running in a cold climate where I want to know when my oil is warm, I'd like to monitor oil temp not just water temp.
All in all Ford has done a great job with this program. It wasn't as ruckus as a day in the desert with your buddies, but it was surprisingly unsanitized, and definitely informative. It was, to say the least, a Raptor Assault on the Senses.
Many thanks to Jeremy Henrie at Photo GP for providing the Raptor Assault watermarked images. Check out his website at www.photogpimages.com. The pictures below of the white Raptor with no graphics/decals (and no water mark) are the author's Raptor at the Gold King mine in Telluride, CO.
The author participated in this event as an owner, no consideration was given in return for this article.
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