After leading the team that brought the $400,000 Ford GT supercar to life, Jamal Hameedi turned to his next assignment: a pickup truck.

It might seem like a curious move. Why take the man behind a 600-horsepower sports car and put him to work on Ford’s eminent F-series pickup line, a vehicle ubiquitous on construction sites and farms?

But Hameedi’s project, the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, is no ordinary truck. In a recent drive through badlands east of San Diego that Ford uses to test off-road vehicles, the Raptor proved capable of reaching triple-digit speeds off road without breaking a sweat.

Hameedi is Ford’s global performance vehicle chief engineer. His projects include road rockets such as the Fiesta ST and Focus RS as well as the Shelby GT350 and GT500. That’s why Ford tasked him with developing the second generation of its Raptor high-performance truck.

It turns out that the 2017 F-150 Raptor and Ford GT have more in common than just Hameedi. Each uses a version of the automaker’s high-performance, twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine.2017-ford-raptor-engine

Both include Ford’s first use of dual-injection: direct injection to increase performance and efficiency, and port injection to eliminate carbon buildup that can clog fuel systems. In the Ford GT, the EcoBoost V6 makes more than 600 horsepower. In the Raptor, it produces 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque.

At this level of performance, his goal in designing the new Raptor is to push the boundaries set by the original.

“It’s also demoralizing to the competition,” Hameedi told Trucks.com.

A Surprise Success

High-performance pickup trucks represent an automotive segment that happened almost by accident. Nearly a decade ago, Ford wanted to leverage its line of top-selling F-Series trucks and its product planners suggested optimizing a pickup for off-roading. The SVT Raptor went on sale in 2009.

Ford was caught off-guard by how rapidly demand picked up.

“It was a fun vehicle that was relatively quickly developed and was opportunistic,” said Mike Ramsey, the automotive analyst at Gartner Inc. “It did way better than they expected.”

Other automakers are now jumping into the off-road pickup market.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled a fully working Ram Rebel TRX concept vehicle at the State Fair of Texas in September and says it is considering production.

General Motors launched its midsize Colorado ZR2 off-road pickup truck at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

Nissan showed an off-road concept truck at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year.

And Toyota has its Tacoma TRD Off-Road.

Automakers want in because the segment is highly profitable. Unlike the rest of the full-size pickup market, the Raptor typically sells without discounts and incentives, said Doug Scott, Ford’s truck group marketing manager.

Ford is careful to keep it that way. It tailors production to fall just short of demand with sales between 70,000 to 80,000 Raptors since the 2009 launch, according to executives’ estimates.

2017 Ford Raptor off-road. (Photo: Ryan

2017 Ford Raptor off-road. (Photo: Ryan Zummallen/Trucks.com)

The truck’s resale value is one measure of how well this strategy works. According to auto price forecasting firm ALG, 3-year-old Raptors retain over 90 percent of their value compared with a regular F-150 Crew Cab, which is worth just under 50 percent of its original sticker price at the 3-year mark.

“It’s quite a remarkable premium,” said Eric Lyman, ALG vice president of industry insights. “It goes to show how high the demand is for these trucks.”

Although they won’t talk sales expectations, Ford’s executive team said it will make sure Raptor production trails consumer demand.

Off-Road Athlete

There’s no doubt that Ford has thrown all its technical know-how into the Raptor, which is based on the F-150 pickup, but with higher ground clearance and a 6-inch-wider track.

As he circles the truck, Hameedi points out the all-new magnesium transfer case, the 10-speed transmission developed in tandem with General Motors, the 5-millimeter aluminum skid plate designed for protection as well as aerodynamics. The Raptor seems less off-road pickup truck and more sports car for the trails.

The new engine is a big contributor. While its displacement is smaller compared with the 6.2-liter V8 used in the first-generation Raptor, its output is higher. Horsepower has increased to 450 from 411 and pound-feet of torque rose to 510 from 434.

The new engine, combined with an aluminum body that dropped the weight of the Raptor by 500 pounds, helps the truck achieve 16 mpg in overall fuel economy, a 23 percent improvement from the previous model.

But cutting that weight presented a new challenge, said Chris Paiva, a Ford vehicle dynamics engineer.

The weight helps the truck dig into loose surfaces and maintain control. The new, lighter Raptor relies on technology to do that job.

Ford improved its intelligent traction control and developed the transfer case with five driving modes: Normal, Weather, Mud and Sand, Rock Crawl and Baja, which keeps power on tap by preventing the turbocharger from dropping below 20,000 rpm. BF Goodrich KO2 tires developed specifically for the 2017 Raptor round out the package.

2017 Ford Raptor interior. (Photo: Ryan Zummallen/Trucks.com)

2017 Ford Raptor interior. (Photo: Ryan Zummallen/Trucks.com)

At speed on high mountain passes, the EcoBoost V6 provides consistent and powerful thrust. In Sport mode, manual shifts of the magnesium paddle shifters are blindingly quick. Handling may be most impressive of all. The Raptor isn’t nimble, and its immense width cannot be ignored, but through high-speed cornering the truck settles into a position and holds in place to reduce body roll. Despite 2 extra inches in ride height, the Raptor doesn’t seem overly high or feel top-heavy.

While it may be well-versed on the street, the Raptor begs to go off-road. Where on-road the Raptor seemed floaty during hard acceleration, here it’s perfectly suited to maintain high speeds under duress.

The Fox shocks (upgraded from 2.5 to 3.0 inches in diameter) soak up constant pounding when at full speed. Noise dampening is superb. Even at 85 mph the driver can converse about the desert scenery without trouble.

New Truck Territory

Analysts say technologies like these could allow Ford to explore opportunities in new segments.

“Everybody is very jealous of what FCA is doing with the Wrangler, so I would fully expect that what [Ford is] doing with the Raptor will work its way into the Bronco,” said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at the AutoPacific consulting firm.

“I think that’s where they’re laying the groundwork for where they’re going,” Sullivan said.

Ford will need to keep innovating to fend off challenges from other truck brands.

“The competition isn’t standing still here,” Sullivan said.

FCA is planning a significant evolution for its 2019 Ram 1500, and the upcoming Chevrolet Silverado will use technology called Dynamic Skip Fire to shut down up to six of the cylinders in its V8 engines.

2017-ford-raptor-white-front

2017 Ford Raptor off-road. (Photo: Ryan Zummallen/Trucks.com)

For the time being, however, the 2017 Ford Raptor is unmatched.

The 2017 Raptor will start at $49,520, including delivery fee, and will easily surge above $60,000 with options. The average price of a light-duty, full-size pickup truck is about $40,000, according to J.D. Power, which tracks automotive sales and pricing.

“Even though 90 to 95 percent of Raptor owners will never use a tenth of its capability, they like the way it looks,” says Ramsey. “It’s really not all that different from a sports car.”

Like the Ford GT, the Raptor serves as a halo for the brand, Ramsey says, signaling to drivers of more common trucks just how cool the brand can be.

Sullivan agrees.

“A lot of it is an image thing,” says Sullivan. “It’s a lot like the Wrangler: ‘Just in case the zombie apocalypse comes, I will be OK.’”

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