Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: March 8, 2017
MECAGLISSE TEST TRACK, Quebec - I got the invitation a couple of weeks ago: a few days frolicking in the snow with a couple of Ford products. Why yes, I would certainly enjoy tossing a Focus RS out in the snow and see just how “drifty” Drift mode really is.
But that’s not all that would be there. The 2017 F-150 Raptor was set to make an appearance as well. Redesigned as part of the new F-150 line-up, the Raptor is built upon the same aluminum bodywork and receives the same 10-speed gearbox found in its more utilitarian counterpart. And if that’s what we consider the standard F-150, then its Raptor big brother is an exercise in ultimate pragmaticism.
Thoughtfully revamped by the folks at Ford Performance, the Raptor receives a host of upgrades to add to its zombie apocalypse survival prowess. Covered in armor to protect the beast, the Raptor adds skid plates for the under belly, heavy duty (yet lightweight) aluminum running boards, and an upgraded exhaust integrated into the rear bumper to maximize its rock crawling abilities.
Under the hood, Ford pulled the 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 in lieu of the second generation 3.5L V6 EcoBoost found in the standard F-150. Though in Raptor form, the 3.5L gets a double shot of steroids – enough to kick performance up to a peak of 450 hp. Torque figures are similarly increased as well to a maximum of 510 lb-ft (up from 470 lb-ft).
That’s not all though, the new motor adds 39 hp to the outgoing V8, with weight savings of over 180 kg. It’s enough to whisk this nearly 2,700 kg truck across the road at a very brisk blistering pace. Ford’s 10-speed is still new and it takes a moment for the transmission to select its gear. In full Sport mode, shifts come quickly but abruptly.
To prove their mettle, Ford carved out an off-road track in rural Quebec’s Mecaglisse Motorsport complex to highlight exactly what the Raptor can do. Out in the snow, slush, and ice the Raptor’s standard BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires were put to the test as well, utilizing every ounce of its tread to maximize grip.
How did it all hold up? This truck flies through the rough terrain. In the slippery conditions and foreign territory, pushing the Ford was nerve wracking, but it responds eagerly to steering input. The rear end is lively but controlled. The revised FOX SHOX springs have been beefed up, adding an extra 4.5 cm and 4.8 cm of front and rear suspension travel. This allowed the chassis to absolutely shine over the divots and undulations in the road keeping the body level and soaking up the bumps.
To get a true sense of what the car could do, Ford then passed the keys off to their professional drivers who gave us a few hot laps around their test track. Let’s just say they faired much better. All of Ford Performance’s weight reduction, advanced engineering, and pragmatic design have culminated into a truck that dances atop the snow.
Those who want to keep their automotive antics to the snowy asphalt can look to the brand’s other serious performance vehicle - the Focus RS. Equipped with a 2.3L EcoBoost derived from the Mustang (the RS gets a different cylinder head, turbos, and unique cooling setup for the transverse mounting layout) the Focus pumps out 350 horses to all four wheels via a tricked out AWD system.
Out in the Mecaglisse Motorsports complex, Ford left us a blank sheet of ice and a number of Focuses (Foci?) to try out its advanced All Wheel Drive capabilities. Equipped with a set of studded Nokian tires, the RS excelled like a proper rally car - entering hairpin corners tight to the apex and coming out the otherside completely sideways with the steering wheel at full opposite lock. I’d like to take the credit for the awesome feat of machismo as my sublime driving skills... but that would be baseless and likely a lie.
In fact, the icy conditions made for the perfect place to display Ford’s clever torque-vectoring AWD implementation in the RS. Utilizing a variant of the GKN developed Twinster arrangement, the electronically controlled twin-clutch Rear Drive Unit in the Focus is capable of shuffling 100% of the available rear torque between each wheel. Ford Performance then utilizes some software to harness the torque vectoring data and implement it with the electronic stability control in a way to promote power-oversteer. Enter “Drift Mode.”
When activated, the all-wheel drive system will send a maximum of 70% of available torque to the rear wheels. The rear drive unit then splits that torque to each individual wheel based on the car’s yaw. That’s not all - all of this works in conjunction with the current steering input. Thus, if you catch the drift early and prod the throttle, the car will reward you with more tail-happy goodness. If you’re too late to the catch, the stability control will step in to save you. Does it work? Absolutely.
On my first lap around the icy track, I was a bit late to catch the first big drift, the stability control system immediately kicked in to cut the power and balance the car. On my second lap over the same corner, I caught the drift early and the car compensated me with glorious amounts of oversteer. It takes a moment to get used to it but Drift mode works quite intuitively and offers a large amount of play before the car needs to step in.
It’s staggering to look at the progression of Ford’s Performance division. There’s a lot of complaints from enthusiasts that mainstream OEM’s aren’t doing anything to satisfy their needs. The Focus RS and updated Raptor further solidifies Ford’s commitment to offer knockout performers in every enthusiast segment they dabble in. So the next time your friend moans about how nobody makes anything fun anymore, feel free to point them to the nearest Ford dealership with a big grin.
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