The Raptor Provides Mad Max–Style Desert Racing, Straight From the Factory

No car can hold a candle to the Ford Raptor’s fun-factor.

Say you’re cruising on a two-lane highway at 75 mph and there’s virtually no road noise making its way into the cabin. The 10-speed gearbox keeps the engine humming quietly, and you’ve got a whole weekend’s worth of ski and snowboard equipment in the backseat. You spot a dirt road cutting a path through the desert up ahead. Its access gate approaches quickly. Surely you’ll have to pass it by — this quiet, comfortable, cargo-swallowing vehicle isn’t cut out for driving anywhere but on pavement. Right?

Wrong. Chucking the Raptor into corners at 80 mph and blasting through dried-up riverbeds is the most fun I’ve had in a vehicle in the 15 years I’ve legally been allowed to operate one.

That’s no throwaway statement — I had to sift through a lot, and the new Ford Raptor is so much more than the sum of its parts, which is crazy seeing as it’s made up of a lot of impressive hardware. The first-generation Raptor was quite enjoyable, thanks largely in part to the 6.2-litre V8; but it was a blunt instrument that never came across as being particularly special. By comparison, the new Raptor feels confidently over-engineered. It’s clearly special from the moment you lay hands on its chunky steering wheel. By drastically reducing weight and adding a modicum of efficiency, Ford has moved the Raptor from the category of “weekend plaything” to “everyday weapon.”

Throughout my drive, I repeatedly found myself laughing for no reason. The damn thing just filled me with joy. Whether blasting so-bad-it’s-good country music with all the windows down or flipping the factory-installed fighter-jet overhead auxiliary switches back and forth or sitting on the tailgate on top of a sand dune at sunset, the Raptor facilitated a good, reasonable time. However, it’s when I left reasonable behavior behind that I really began to understand what an incredibly special vehicle the Raptor is.

First I ripped along the edge of the Pacific and did drifts and donuts at Oceano Dunes SRVA, an otherworldly vehicular playground that’s just 3.5 hours north of Los Angeles. With “Mud/Sand” mode selected, I set out to explore the ocean-side sandbox, more concerned with the rapidly setting sun than I was with getting stuck. Ford’s AdvanceTrac system, combined with 4 High and an electronic locking differential, kept the Raptor clawing forward over some very soft sand.

Chucking the Raptor into corners at 80 mph and blasting through dried up riverbeds is the most fun I’ve had in a vehicle in the 15 years I’ve legally been allowed to operate one.

Then it was on to the wildflower-encrusted spaces of Carrizo Plain National Monument via a dusty trail that goes up and over a section of the Tremblor Mountains. The highest accessible vantage points the mountains had to offer were accessible via offshoots from the main trail — with “Rock Crawl” mode engaged, I didn’t have to pass them by. The sweeping vistas of the basin to the west and California’s Central Valley to the east would have remained foreign to me had it not been for the Raptor’s can-do attitude.

The Raptor is all about facilitating a good time, whether that means doing donuts on top of a mountain or eliminating any reason to break a sweat during the steep descent from said mountain. It exists to put a smile on your face and the face of everyone that it comes into contact with. Why else would Ford give the Raptor a “Baja” mode that allows the operator to live out desert racing fantasies?

It drinks fuel with reckless abandon, the fender flares make it a pain in the ass to park most of the time and the current MSRP is laughable. But who cares? It will always deliver on the front that matters most: making you feel like it’s there for no other purpose than to make you happy. How many trucks — hell, how many vehicles in general — can you say that about? The 2017 Raptor is in a league of its own. It defies logic. And whatever your local dealer is asking for it, it’s not enough.

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