First Look: Ford’s New Raptor

Show trucks are a time-honored tradition the vehicles industry. Many of these one-offs never make it to the production line; their real purpose in life is to build interest in a particular model line or simply to astound car buffs with the possibilities of what if?

The Ford Raptor pickup was probably conceived in that light by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, but it actually made it to the assembly line. And when it actually debuted in 2010 as part of Ford’s F-150 truck lineup, it quickly found a niche in the marketplace. Alas, four years into its run, production was halted. But today, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford announced the Raptor was back, this time in a SuperCrew version.

Like the revamped Ford F-150 pickup, the new Raptor takes advantage of high-strength steel and aluminum-alloy components that together reduce overall weight by 500 pounds. The diet helps improve the truck’s power-to-weight ratio. The new truck is now powered by a second-generation high-output 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that produces more power with greater efficiency than the current 6.2-liter V8. A 10-speed transmission is also on board. The 2017 Raptor also boasts a new four-wheel-drive system, which includes a torque-on-demand transfer case that utilizes an advanced, easy-to-use off-road mode driver-assist technology.

This Terrain Management System (TMS) enables the driver to select varying modes “to optimize” driving dynamics in changing driving conditions--snow, mud, sand, etc. TMS is no doubt a result of Ford’s extensive research into what drivers want from their vehicles. Increasingly, this research points to changing attitudes about what a truck should do. Many younger drivers prefer trucks to “think” more; hence the increasing reliance on electronic control systems for steering, four-wheel drive, braking, and the like. I remember when auto-locking hubs entered the truck market in the mid- to late 1980s. Longtime offroad hunters harrumphed about it, but plenty of truck owners signed on because it made offroad driving easier. We’ll see more of this down the road.

The 2017 F-150 Raptor will be built at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan and will be available this fall. Pricing is not yet available.