You can put a new off-road truck through its paces all you want out on the street or on the track and it will only tell part of the story. To really test a truck’s off-road muscle, you’ve got to punish it for days on the harshest real-world conditions around.

Like the Baja 1000, Mexico’s legendary desert racecourse.

Down in the Southwestern United States, in terrain that mimics the Baja’s grueling conditions, Ford engineers put the 2017 F-150 Raptor through a workout over 1,600kms that proved it’s the toughest — and smartest — off-road pickup the company has ever made.

They ran the F-150 across sandy washes and over deep-rutted silt beds, up steep climbs in deep sand, through tight trenches, and over tabletop jumps. Cruising at speeds as high as 160 kph, while at other times grinding it out at low speed over incredible obstacles, the prototype vehicles (consisting of 2015 and 2017 components) performed like an off-road dream.

The all-new 2017 F150 Raptor
The all-new 2017 F150 Raptor

The truck’s toughness starts with a purpose-built frame that has more high-strength steel than the outgoing Raptor. Yet at the same time, an exterior forged from high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy shaves a crucial 500 pounds off the vehicle’s overall weight. That adds the kind of nimbleness (not to mention improved gas mileage) you want when maneuvering through tight trenches.

Meanwhile, under the hood, the F-150’s brain has changed the game, you might say. A new, second-generation 3.5 liter EcoBoost engine produces more power and torque than the prior generation Raptor. That’ll get you up and over those sand hills in a snap. (Just imagine the rooster tail that would kick up.) An all-new 10-speed transmission provides optimal gearing, and improved efficiency.

Ford engineers also took the F-150’s off-road technology developed over the years and remolded it into the all-new Terrain Management System for the 2017 model. It features six preset modes you can shift into for optimal driving performance depending on conditions.

Who’s afraid of a little weather? When it’s raining or snowing, or icing over, you can shift to “weather” mode to better hold the road. Want to blast across the desert at high speed? (Of course you do!) Choose “Baja” mode. “Rock” mode handles low-speed rock crawling. “Normal,” “street,” and “mud and sand” modes complete the package.

As if those advances — from engine performance to a reimagined transmission — weren’t enough to get you were you’re going no matter the terrain, the F-150’s suspension has also been upgraded. The Raptor comes standard with new FOX Racing Shox that dampen and stiffen the ride over rugged ground and keep the truck from bottoming out. The shock canisters, both front and back, are also larger, having grown from 2.5 inches in diameter to 3 inches.

Of course, those assets come packaged just like you might expect, in a handsome, chiseled body that turns heads — and not just when you’re speeding past admirers.

Slated to enter the market in fall 2017, the all-new F-150 Raptor represents a great leap forward in design and performance in the series. You may not be headed for the Baja 1000 or a rallycross race anytime soon. But how cool is to know there’s a terrain-tested truck this far ahead of the competition that’ll carry you through the snow and ice of Ontario, the rocky terrain of Alberta, and the deep woods of Quebec?