This truck is good so you don't have to be.
By Chris Perkins, Apr 21, 2017
I know virtually nothing about off roading. Well let me back up. I know you need knobby tires, ground clearance, and four-wheel drive for off roading, but other than that, I'm a total neophyte.
After attending the Ford Performance Racing School's Raptor Assault–a new program designed to show F-150 Raptor owners what their trucks can do–I don't think I'm much better at it, but I'm not sure that matters.
That's because the Raptor does all the thinking for you, making it hilariously easy to bomb around like a reckless teen in a luxurious full-size pickup that takes an astounding amount of punishment. My coworker Bob–who has real off-road experience–described the Raptor as a "Nissan GT-R" for off roading, and he's totally right. The Raptor allows me, a complete and total newbie, to exploit its impressive capabilities very quickly.
It's designed to make you feel good.
Ford invited a handful of journalists to the Utah Motorsports Campus outside Salt Lake City to experience a condensed version of the Raptor Assault. The day started with a few rock crawling exercises to get us more familiar with the Raptor's abilities and how to switch driving modes safely, but after that, it was off to the trails.
Some miles away from the track, we turned off the highway and hit the dirt. First, we tackled some very mild dirt trails in a valley surrounded by Utah's snow-capped mountains. Our instructor, speaking to us over the radio, told us to leave the Raptor in Mud/Sand mode, which keeps the four-wheel drive in 4 High and automatically locks the rear differential. We unlocked it via a button on the console, but otherwise the Raptor handled everything.
The ten-speed automatic sticks to its lowest gears, mitigating turbo lag, and traction control handles the rest. Here, it takes no time to get up to speed, and our group is soon tackling the trail at what feels like serious speed, splashing in the mud along the way. So much for taking things slow and easy off road.
At this point, the instructors had us ramp things up even more, switching from Mud/Sand to the Raptor's party piece, Baja Mode. In this mode, the Raptor stays in 4 High, but traction control loosens up quite a bit, and the transmission programming is even more aggressive. We didn't open the Raptor up too much at this point, since the trails here were narrow and there was more Baja to come. But not before we tackled some more difficult terrain.
After another brief highway jaunt, we found ourselves at the head of a steep rocky trail, with much narrower passageways and huge rock faces. I was intimidated at first, but switching the Raptor into Rock Crawl mode got rid of my fears. Here the Raptor engages 4 Lo, and locks the rear differential, to make tackling steep passageways a cinch. We climbed up rock hills so steep, you could only see sky from the windshield. Of course, the Raptor had that covered too with a front-facing camera that automatically engages in Rock Crawl mode and stays on until you pass 15 mph.
Admittedly, we had the help of spotters–which you need in situations like this–but again, there was no stopping the Raptor. One of the school's instructor's argued that, yes, technically a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a more capable off-roader in these situations, but having climbed to 6000 feet without breaking a sweat, it's hard not to be impressed by the Raptor. Sure, you can do a lot in the Wrangler, but would you do it with the same ease?
We headed back down the trail onto a high-speed desert track to fully exploit the Raptor's Baja mode. After a brief sighting lap, we were off kicking up dust and hucking the Raptor around like it was a tiny rally car. Bouncing and sliding on dirt at 60 to 70 mph is easily the most incongruous way to drive a full-size pickup, and definitely the most fun.
Amazingly, the Raptor doesn't even feel stressed by any of this. In fact, you'd probably get tired from all the bouncing more quickly than the truck would.
What's weird about all this off-road tomfoolery is that I didn't really feel like I earned any of it. Ford just plopped me behind the wheel of a Raptor, radioed in an instructor and let me have at it, letting the truck goad me into doing things beyond my skills. It's like an Iron Man suit for off roading.
If I learned anything at this Ford Performance school, it's just how easily you can push the Raptor very hard without it having an issue. All it takes is selecting the right drive mode.
You could argue the Raptor makes off-roading too easy. Perhaps people like me shouldn't be able to do what I just did. If you think that, there are plenty of other off-roaders on the market that'll reflect your purist tendencies. But for those who want a comfy pickup truck that lets them have a blast off road with relative safety, the Raptor is king.
The Raptor Assault is free (minus lodging and airfare) for anyone who buys a new F-150 Raptor, and I'd highly recommend it. The school will push you way beyond what you thought possible, and help scratch the surface of the Raptor's incredible abilities.
The Ford F-150 Raptor Will Turn You Into An Off-Road Hero