With the first-ever Ranger Raptor, Ford is pioneering what may become an important splinter of the top-end double-cab segment. And, with such a radical new product, Ford needed a spectacular launch location to best show off its capabilities, so we made our way to the Australian Outback to get our first taste of the new performance bakkie.
If you have been anywhere near a road in South Africa, you may have already spotted a Ford Ranger Raptor... however, your eyes would have deceived you. In a bid to capitalise on the brand cache and status factor created by Ford’s F150 Raptor, which is sold in the United States, local Ranger owners have resorted to (mostly cheap and nasty) aftermarket kits that turn their tame Rangers into garish monstrosities.
The official Ranger Raptor will only arrive in South Africa early in 2019 and, as we would find out, the upgrades go far deeper than a plastic body kit.
Ford gave the Ranger Raptor its international debut in the expansive and untamed Northern Territory of Australia.
So, what’s changed?
For the Raptor, Ford has made extensive changes to the Ranger chassis to ensure that the newcomer can cope with the unique demands of caning your bakkie off-road without voiding your pricey asset's warranty. The chassis is, in fact, a hybrid of that found under the Everest and the Ranger, but significantly strengthened to handle big impacts and high-speed travel along badly surfaced roads.
For extra stability, the rear suspension has been softened by a fair margin to provide improved handling abilities. The pay-off is immediately noticeable, especially when tarmac turns into gravel. On one of the world’s largest cattle farms, unhindered by speed limits, we were comfortably cruising at around 130 kph and hugely impressed with the grip available and the low noise and vibrations making it through to the cabin.
Whereas motoring journalists are usually requested to treat test cars with great care, Ford said the Raptor should not be spared.
The downside is that the Ranger Raptor can only handle a 600-kg load on its rear bed (down from approximately 1 050 kg, and the tow rating is down from 3.5 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes.
One of the most notable changes is the significantly wider track. The Raptor is 150-mm wider at each axle than a standard Ranger, and 50-mm taller. As a result, the car looks far more imposing, with aggressively flared wheel arches and redesigned front and rear bumpers that increase approach-, breakover- and departure angles, as well as accentuate the Raptor's width. What's more, the extra-wide track is critical to the offroad stability of the Raptor... and is undoubtedly going to be more important in setting the official Raptor apart from the knock-offs in the parking lot.
The widened tracks of the Ranger Raptor not only contribute to the newcomer's broad-shouldered look, but aids off-road stability.
The oily bits
The Ranger Raptor's suspension has been completely overhauled and now features a new coil-over rear suspension using a Watt’s link setup with a solid rear axle, which is claimed to provide superior lateral control off-road while also helping improve ride and handling.
The dampers undoubtedly steal the show. They are sourced from Fox Racing and designed to absorb an enormous amount of stress, and specially tuned to settle quickly after a huge jump and/or bump. The entire braking system has been replaced by a high-performance arrangement, while the 17-inch wheels are shod with all-terrain BF Goodrich 285/70 R17 tyres (they are fitted as standard and were specifically designed for the Raptor).
The Ranger Raptor's all-terrain BF Goodrich 285/70 R17 tyres are standard fitment as was developed especially for the vehicle.
In the metal, the Ranger Raptor is so different from a standard Raptor that it almost looks like a different model. For the most part, this is down to the extra width, but every new element combines to make the Raptor look special. The bold Ford badge across the nose is unmissable. The magnesium alloy running boards are fitted as standard and protect the bodywork as well as helping the vertically challenged, such as myself, climb aboard.
However, Ford has been careful not to overdo the styling, and it is, in the best way possible, more subtle than some of the radical aftermarket kits available. For the tribal tattoo brigade, this may actually be a turn-off, but I suspect most buyers will be impressed when they see it in the metal.
Although there are many Rangers adorned with aftermarket Raptor-look kits, the raised, wider newcomer's kerb appeal is undeniable.
In fact, I commented to the design team from Ford that perhaps the downside of releasing the Raptor is that it makes the standard Ranger look dull and softcore by comparison...
The Ranger Raptor is the first Ford to use a brand new, twin-turbo 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel, which is mated with a relatively new 10-speed transmission, developed in a partnership with General Motors. The engine has come in for much criticism for, on paper at least, not providing the sort of firepower worthy of the Raptor nameplate. In a world of 190 kW Amaroks and Mercedes X-Classes, the peak outputs of 157 kW and 500 Nm (as claimed for the Raptor) do seem somewhat anaemic. With a 0-100 kph time of around 10 seconds, this is no robot-to-robot racer.
However, where the engine shines is in the linear characteristics of its power delivery, which is arguably more important in a performance vehicle. The Raptor's handling is easy to balance on the throttle and the relationship between the transmission and engine is quite extraordinary.
The 10-speed transmission makes optimal use of the Ranger Raptor's 500 Nm. The motor isn't as punchy as a V6, but it's very flexible.
The linearity is a result of the twin turbo setup, which features one turbo smaller than the other, connected in sequence, with the added trickery of bypassing the smaller turbo at higher speeds. The result is a turbodiesel-powered bakkie that exhibits virtually no turbo lag, which is no mean feat. While, on occasion, my co-driver and I did want more oomph out of the engine, the Raptor’s handling ability far outshines what it "lacks" in grunt.
There is nothing on the market today that offers the capability of the new Raptor. I’ve never driven a vehicle that can take as much punishment as this; drivers can hammer this vehicle in a way which, until now, has only been possible in bespoke off-road racing vehicles. But here, you get a warranty.
At the launch event, Ford had carved out a large offroad playground for us to drive the Raptor with abandon. The instructor who accompanied me was a hugely enthusiastic legend from the world of Aussie V8 racing, and he seemed to be having as much fun as I was.
The Ranger Raptor's well-balanced chassis allows drivers to balance the bakkie's handling on the throttle.
It must be said that normally on car launches we are asked to be careful and employ “mechanical sympathy”, all of which is fair enough. There was none of that on this launch. I got shouted at for slowing down and was constantly encouraged to “hit it hard”. I attacked the multiple “S” section of the track at around 90 kph. And as I was drifting the Raptor through the switchbacks, I felt like an absolute hero.
I pummeled through riverbeds and hit at least 130 kph on a horribly surfaced straight stretch along the treeline. The final leg of the track featured jumps that we hit at over 100 kph and ramped the Raptor clean off the ground. It was an utterly exhilarating experience and I'm not being humble in saying that the Ford almost certainly flattered my off-road driving ability, which, up until that very moment, was scant. The way this vehicle settles after a huge jump or undulation is frankly ridiculous, and the control and, moreover, "sense of control" afforded to the driver inspire much confidence.
The Ranger Raptor's sure-footed handling and ability to stabilise itself after traversing an obstacle at speed, inspires confidence.
If you have the location and the opportunity to thrash this bakkie, you will have enormous fun. This is smile-inducing motoring at its very best.
Normally, with on-road sportscars, the more extreme its handling abilities are, the more unusable the car becomes in everyday situations. However, that is not the case with the Raptor. By virtue of its radically altered underpinnings, the Raptor is better to drive on-road and on gravel than a normal Ranger. The ability to deal with poor surfaces is much improved and, despite those enormous, knobbly tyres, there is little road noise to speak of. All of these characteristics make for an even better experience on gravel. If ever there was a Bush Lamborghini (with respect to the Italian firm's ill-fated LM002 of yesteryear), this is it. For those who live far from tarred roads and need to get to their destinations in a big hurry, there is no better vehicle.
Little has changed in the interior, but the changes that have been made are effective in reminding you that you’re driving something quite special. A Ford Performance steering wheel with Raptor insignia looks and feels the part, while the instrument cluster is unique to the model and has been rejigged to feature a proper, analogue tachometer, which replaces the vertical, digital rev counter in the standard Ranger.
The best elements of the upgraded interior, according to the author, are the supportive, sculpted front seats.
The transmission selector has been revised and the dashboard features a graphite grey inlay, which matches the large, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which, to be honest, I never used – the transmission is very good at doing its thing and I found is generally best when left alone.
The seats are a real highlight. Unique to the Raptor, they not only look sporty, but offer impressive comfort and support. They hold you in place in a way that, in a vehicle that can perform like this off-road, is almost a safety feature.
Infotainment is provided courtesy of Ford’s more-than-sufficient Sync 3 system and navigation is fitted as standard. In fact, there are few, if any options on the Raptor, it’s ready to go right out of the showroom.
The Ranger Raptor challenges its driver to make the most of the off-road conditions at their disposal... at considerable speed.
Pricing and optional extras
While local pricing has not been confirmed, there are whispers that the car will make it to our market at under R800 000, which given the new climate of million-rand bakkies, will be impressive if Ford pulls it off. The Raptor, including its powerplant, will be locally built for our market.
While a full list of options is yet to be confirmed, there will be precious few boxes to tick if you decide to place an order. You may want to add a protective armadillo-style bed cover, which the dealer will fit for you. Ford has recently changed supplier for the item (further details will be made public next year).
The Ranger Raptor possibly marks the emergence of a performance-bakkie niche, one that goes beyond mere horsepower and luxury.
For those who believe in using their bakkies to the utmost of their abilities, there is enormous appeal in owning a vehicle that's capable of far beyond what the average owner might ever utilise or experience. Manufacturers have been exploiting this for decades to sell sports cars, the vast majority of which never see racetracks. In the same way, the average owner might never race their Raptor off-road, but the fact that they could is a big draw.
It's potentially an industry-changing gamble from Ford. The Ranger was Ford's first ever global pick-up, and this is the first global Raptor. If the company can develop a thirst for off-road vehicles in this segment, and capitalise on the ever-increasing status symbol factor of owning a high-end bakkie, there is potential for huge success, and I suspect the business model will be rapidly copied by competitors. In fact, I’ve just seen a highly-modified racing Hilux outside my office... and so it begins!