Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is an elegant off-road dominator
Imagine Batman and the Joker are interested in fractional ownership of the same pickup truck. The caped crusader would want it all-black, eminently capable of off-roading, with a penchant for getting airborne. His nemesis might favor it in a crazy shade of orange, with a maniacal engine under the hood and an anarchists' disregard for fuel economy.

The truck would be order and chaos fused together. Yin and yang.

It would be the 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.

Based on the F-150, a truck that's been the most popular vehicle in the U.S. for decades, the Raptor package adds a whole mess of menace and off-road accoutrement. The result is something you can take from the dealership straight to your torture chamber of choosing (be it rock, sand or mud) without making any modifications.

This is because the upgrades have been made for you, by Ford's Special Vehicle Team.

The group started the transformation from mild-mannered F-150 to havoc-wrecking Raptor by dropping into it Ford's largest regular-duty V-8. This 6.2-liter leviathan produces 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with a tow mode and manual shifting.

The Raptor's predilection for getting dirty is further enhanced with off-road goodies such as an electronic locking rear differential for added traction, a hill descent control system and an electronic four-wheel-drive system. Towing capacity is rated at 8,000 pounds.

This Ford also has a dedicated off-road mode that changes the throttle response, delays the transmission's shifting and gets more liberal with the traction control.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change the Raptor package makes to the standard F-150 is the heavy-duty suspension and tire setup. Rather than develop the suspension in-house, Ford turned to Fox Racing Shox, a suspension company whose name will ring familiar to anyone who recently swung a leg over a mountain bike, snowmobile, ATV or dirt bike.

Fox developed massive shocks that give the Raptor 11.2 inches of suspension travel (the distance the shock compresses) in the front and 12.1 inches in the rear. Pair these to the 35-inch BFGoodrich tires and you have a truck that sits well over 6 feet tall.

Exterior changes from the F-150 come in the form of an all-black grille, flared fenders to accommodate the Raptor's 7-inch-wider track and a distinctive hood, front bumper and skid plate. The color palette is limited to black, white, orange, blue and silver.

These upgrades create a truck that absolutely dominates off-road driving in a way no other stock truck can. Although the Raptor handles low-speed maneuvers with above-average competence, it's when the Ford really gets moving that it shines.

The Ford snarls with pleasure as its suspension, tires and wide track help it float over ruts, rocks and generally any obstacle that might cause other trucks to lose their cool.

This should come as no surprise since the Raptor's pedigree lies in Baja 1000 racing trucks.

Point the truck at a jump and floor it, and you'll chicken out long before the Raptor does. As you soar through the air making sure your common sense is stowed and your fillings are in the upright and locked position, the Fox shocks are preparing for your landing.

A design feature enables the shocks to become progressively stiffer as they move through their travel, thereby making it difficult to bottom out the suspension. If you do, the burly skid plate is waiting to protect the truck's nether regions.

On the road, the Raptor spews sinister intimidation like few other vehicles. Imagine looking in your rear-view mirror and seeing Gravedigger. But while piloting a truck with a presence this daunting is addictive, it's also imperfect.

Tire noise isn't atrocious, but this Ford's suspension setup creates the feeling that you're driving an oversized marshmallow. The truck leans and rolls prodigiously around corners, and steering is vague and cumbersome. The Raptor's extra girth makes parking and navigating tight spaces a chore.

In addition, the various modifications make the Raptor heavy. Curb weight for this vehicle is 6,200 pounds, hundreds of pounds more than a standard-issue F-150. This means you're going to need all 411 horsepower (and maybe most of your gas tank) to hit the 6.6-second zero-to-60 time that Car and Driver recorded.

This 3-ton heft also means you'll probably end up on the low end of the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy rating of 11 miles per gallon in the city and 14 mpg on the freeway. My 220 miles with the Raptor yielded an average of 11.1 mpg.

Despite the Raptor's preference for the road less traveled, it does treat its occupants to a high level of luxury. My loaded example (in Tuxedo Black, no less) featured a Sony navigation and sound system with Sync, leather seats that are heated in the front, heated mirrors and a rear-view camera. These options added $6,355 to the Raptor SuperCrew's $45,290 base price.

The SuperCrew is the four-door version of the Raptor, and its interior is positively cavernous; legroom for rear passengers is greater than that of a full-size Mercedes. Furthermore, a flat floor in the rear of the Raptor and seat cushions that fold up mean that when not coddling passengers, the back seating area can hold a lot of cargo.

Buyers who need less interior space can save themselves $2,765 and get the SuperCab setup, with two full doors and two smaller, rear-hinged doors. The length of the bed is the same for both Raptors, at 5.5 feet.

All Raptors include safety features such as four-wheel ABS, traction control with a rollover stability feature, six air bags, an integrated trailer brake controller and trailer sway control.

Ford's SVT did a fine job channeling its dark side when creating the Raptor. The company has created a niche in the pickup truck market, and it should have no trouble dominating it. It is by no means a vehicle for everybody; it's not even right for many truck buyers. But it's right for a few.

Yes, Mr. Wayne. It's right for you.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com