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With its bold look and amazing on/off-road performance, the original Ford F-150 Raptor wasted little time in attaining legend status during its 5-year run from 2010-2014. When production ceased with the arrival of the new aluminum-intensive 2015 F-150, Raptor fans knew it was only a matter of time until a new version would return. Well, that time is now and the all-new F-150 Raptor has come back with a vengeance. More powerful, more capable, more technically advanced and more attractive in a take-no-prisoners sort of way, the 2017 Raptor significantly expands on the all-around awesomeness of its predecessor. Our first encounter that included street driving, high-speed desert running and technical rock-walking left no doubt about that fact. 

Lighter, stronger, bolder  

Like the current F-150, the new Raptor makes extensive use of aluminum where feasible, saving up to 500 pounds in the process. However, where its predecessor used a standard F-150 frame, the Raptor now has a 100-percent unique chassis composed of fully-boxed and largely high-strength steel that Ford says make it the strongest platform in the entire F-Series lineup. Available in SuperCab (134.2-inch wheelbase) or SuperCrew (146.0-inch wheelbase), both with a 5.5-foot bed, the 2017 Raptor also has a 6-inch wider track and nearly two more inches of ground clearance. 

Also: Class of 2017 – New Cars Ready to Roll

Designed by Ford Performance to capture the look of a desert racer, the 2017 Raptor amps up its visual aggressiveness with model-specific bodywork from the A-pillar forward and the cab back. Like its body, the rear box is made from high-strength aluminum. However, the Raptor’s front clip is lightweight resilient composite and features a new grille treatment highlighted by the prominent “FORD” block letters as well as functional hood and fender air extractor vents. Other form-follows-function touches include new upper and lower active grille shutters that trim aero drag by 5 percent, tucked-in bumpers that permit steeper approach/departure angles, a new cast-aluminum front skidplate and underbody protection that now extends to the back of the transmission casing.

Although the new Raptor’s passenger compartment shares much in common with a regular F-150, it adds more deeply bolstered front buckets as well as a unique performance steering wheel and a roof-mounted auxiliary switch panel that makes it easier to add controls for various aftermarket accessories. It also has the latest Sync3 infotainment system, 360-degree camera and all of the F-Series safety features.

More power and enhanced efficiency   

Veteran Raptor lovers may rue losing the throatier sound of a naturally aspirated V8, but we found little to fault in the second-generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that now nestles underhood. It develops a stout 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque compared to the 400/400 numbers of the 6.2-liter V8 that moved its predecessor. Formidable in its own right, this new EcoBoost V6 gives the lighter 2017 Raptor a 16 percent better power-to-weight ratio and a 23 percent better torque-to-weight ratio. Collectively, those enhancements help Ford’s ultra-pickup officially sprint from 0-60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds for the first time. 

Backing the potent EcoBoost V6 is Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous 6-speed. Offering a conventional console-mounted lever and finger-friendly magnesium shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel, its wider ratio span and reduced internal friction make the Raptor feel more responsive and contributes to its 16-mpg combined EPA rating, 23 percent better than its predecessor. 

Simply stunning when the pavement ends

Knowing the new Raptor had some serious tire tracks to fill, Ford chose to push the limits of its off-road potential to astonishingly high levels. By one empirical measure, that translates into a 20-percent quicker lap time around one of the company’s grueling evaluation loops than the first Raptor. Key to that performance is its more advanced all-wheel drive system that matches an all-new torque-on-demand dual-range transfer case with an upgraded Terrain Management System. The former features a unique AWD/4WD capability plus driver-selectable mechanical locking for 4x4 High and 4x4 Low ranges while the latter offers six different modes – Normal/Sport/Weather/Mud and Sand/Rock Crawl/Baja. These modes automatically optimize the engine, transmission, braking, steering and stability control at the push of a button or be custom-tuned to meet personal preferences.  

Complementing its added ground clearance, the redesigned Raptor also boasts specifically-engineered Fox Racing Shox shock absorbers. Now with 44-percent greater internal capacity and new 9-stage bypass damping, they deliver better control and consistency to yield more comfortable on-road cruising and greater confidence when the Raptor is bounding over less hospitable terrain. Coupled with the chassis redesign, they also offer 0.8-inch more front and 1.9-inches more rear total suspension travel. Rounding out the mix is an extremely capable Hill Descent Control system and grippier but quieter BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrain tires. This Raptor-specific low-rolling resistance 315/70 rubber is wrapped around 17-inch cast-alloy wheels, but Ford also offers an optional bead-lock forged-alloy rim for harder-core off-roaders.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Having participated in the original Raptor launch, I was fully prepared to be even more impressed with Ford’s efforts on this all-new, clean-sheet redesign. It didn’t take long to confirm that the benchmark has been raised as we traversed terrain specifically chosen to be notably more challenging than before. Whether blasting across the sand in Baja mode that quickens engine/transmission responsiveness or easing up a steep climb in the Rock Crawl setting that benefits from an even-deeper 50:1 ratio, the Gen II Raptor took it all in stride with nary a squeak or creak. Far more than just the sum of its extremely formidable parts, the 2017 Raptor is a study in go-anywhere ability that remains in a class of one. Rolling into showrooms now, the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCab opens at $49,520 and the F-150 Raptor SuperCrew starts at $52,505. 

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