Gravel rash: Ford Ranger Raptor rated on and off-road
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Arms elbow deep, sand filling each fingernail, nervous chuckles concealing regret as the sea creeps ever closer in the background.
Then from the horizon, a pair of other off-roaders — saviours — emerge. We climb up from the ground and wave them down in this time of need. Out hops a character in dreadlocks, dressed in white like some kind of biblical apparition.
“Got any drugs or alcohol?” he asks.
“Uhh … nah mate. But we can probably help with that second one?”
I didn’t expect to start this Ford Ranger Raptor story with a tale of getting it stuck. That wasn’t in the script. This is meant to be an all-conquering off-roading beast after all.
But, just as wearing cowboy boots does not make one John Wayne, ownership of a Ranger Raptor (priced at a tall $84,990) does not turn a pair of hapless townies into off-roading aficionados.
None of this was the Raptor’s fault. No amount of manufacturer prep can prevent operator error from wedging a lower suspension arm on an errant log. Thankfully a pair of well-prepared surfers and their humble Nissan Patrol rescued us — our tails well and truly between our legs as we scurried back to firm terra firma.
Click here to read our seven-day diary with the Ford Ranger Raptor
When it’s not digging a hole through Muriwai beach to the other side of the planet, the new Ford Ranger Raptor is the staunchest looking off-roader on the market. Beefed-up guards and arches cover a widened track and meaty 33in BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres. Chiseled lines on the bonnet give emphasis to its jaw-line and the bold, proud Ford grille lettering.
When this thing rolls past, everyone stares.
Changes in the cabin aren’t nearly as vast. Blue stitching frames the padded dashboard and more, while standard Ranger seats get chucked in favour of a comfortable pair of heated suede and leatherette buckets. Magnesium paddle shifters and a new steering wheel are also Raptor exclusives, with almost everything else formed out of cheap but durable plastics.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the engine.
It’s a 2-litre four-cylinder bi-turbodiesel that makes 157kW of power and 500Nm of torque between 1750 — 2000rpm: 10kW/30Nm more than Ford’s popular 3.2-litre five-cylinder, and equal torque to the Holden Colorado (and, by proxy, the HSV SportsCat range).
It’s a surprisingly pleasant engine in daily commuting. In low RPMs it’s quiet, and works well with Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission. It's a gearbox that we thought was a little fussy in its Mustang application, but things feel a little more natural and predictable in the Raptor.
Plant your foot, and off the mark it feels much more eager than its 3.2-litre cousin thanks to a thirst for revs and the secondary turbo's supply of instant response before tag-teaming with the other turbo at the top end.
The smaller engine means improved fuel consumption — although admittedly not by much. On the motorway we managed to achieve 7.2L/100km, while on a combined cycle we averaged 9L/100km; slightly above Ford’s 8.2L/100km claims but still impressive for a 2400kg ute.
As noted in our Darwin launch debrief, it even sounds good ... for a 2-litre. In high revs, it conjures a hearty thrumming noise — like a halfway house between the five-cylinder and a boxer engine.
The problem, however, is that Ford’s captive audience has had a tough time interpreting all these numbers and specifications, and aligning it with the idea of a performance vehicle. And indeed, the Raptor’s 10.4secs 0-100km/h time is unlikely to impress many. It’s sharp off the line, true, but in a rolling-start race the 3.2-litre engine would give the four-banger a run for its money. And don’t mention the Volkswagen Amarok V6 Adventura, with its ability to hit 100km/h in under eight seconds.
Because of these elements, the Ranger Raptor will be disqualified as a performance vehicle in the eyes of many. And that’s a shame, because those who write it off early will miss out on one of the most hysterical, chuckable, ludicrously capable vehicles of any segment.
On gravel, it’s a genius.
There are many reasons for this; most of which are reflected in the “nerdalicious” numbers. Approach, departure, and break-over angles sit at 32.5, 24, and 24 degrees respectively. Ground clearance is 283mm, helping achieve an 850mm water-wading depth and 30 per cent more wheel travel than the rest of the range.
Worth noting too are the upgraded brakes — 332mm rotors all round, with the fronts gaining additional ventilation.
But numbers, as usual, tell only part of the story. And perhaps the most impressive thing about the Ranger’s off-road skillset isn’t wheel travel, but rather the perceived lack of wheel travel when the going gets tough.
Very little of the jarring sensation that you’d expect makes its way into the cabin. In general gravel driving things remain quiet and smooth inside. More challenging surfaces tend to get smoothed out extremely well. And big bumps — the kind you'd incur by hitting a huge pot-hole or leaping off a jump — are tempered by freakishly good rebound rates.
In layman's terms; the initial jolt remains, but all of the subsequent shake, rattle, and roll is almost completely eliminated.
This is almost entirely thanks to the Fox Racing 2.5in internal bypass shock absorbers that somehow numb the majority of corrugation from adverse surfaces while simultaneously retaining plenty of confidence-inspiring feel through the steering wheel.
It’s a marvelous balance that makes the Raptor remarkable on gravel. The only way to perceivably have more fun in anything else on dirt would be to go the aftermarket. I mean that.
The one trade-off to the 'softer' damping is a reduced towing and payload capacity. Towing steps down from 3500kg braked to 2500kg, and payload sits at 758kg. In short; a Ranger Raptor with better towing capacities would be a less engaging, less capable beast off-road.
In this setting — the one it’s built for — even the 2-litre engine shines. Zero to 100 doesn’t matter when you’re getting sideways and eating up jumps, and its bi-turbo bones and revvy demeanour are perfect companions off-road thanks to the amount of torque available down low and the instantaneous way in which it's delivered.
And, what of that $84,990 price-tag?
Well, the Raptor doesn't necessarily look or feel like more than 80 grand of car inside. But, this pricing destination is where the ute market has been headed for a while. At $13,000 more than a top of the range Wildtrak, you get quite a lot of cosmetic change and unique technology for the money — not to mention a vehicle that feels far more capable, far more fun.
There's arguably more change under the skin here than in the $80,990 Holden Colorado SportsCat+ by HSV, or the $89,900 Volkswagen Amarok V6 Adventura.
So, by all means, point out its straight-line shortcomings, its tall pricing, and lost towing capabilities. And if you’re scoping out a Ranger predominantly for road use, an XLT or Wildtrak will perhaps fit your needs better.
But, for those who want to explore, get filthy, get airborne, and play the social peacock every now and again, the Raptor is the best in the business.
But pack a shovel, just in case.
2018 Ford Ranger Raptor
Pros: Ironman looks, incredible body control, surprisingly refined
Cons: Price, not fast, reduced towing capacity