Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - Raptor
Unrivalled high-speed off-road capability, sublime on- and off-road ride comfort, precise handling, strong street presence, premium interior touches
Room for improvement
2.0-litre engine falls short of expectation, lower braked towing capacity and maximum payload, no autonomous emergency braking from launch, expensive
Ford Performance reinvents the wheel with its Ranger Raptor high-speed off-roader
25 Jul 2018
THERE is no denying that Ford’s Ranger Raptor is one of the most anticipated new releases on this year’s automotive calendar.
Few models have generated such hype. This is due the local market’s growing appetite for light-commercial vehicles, especially dual-cab pick-ups. And its appetite for performance vehicles. So it is a match made in heaven.
The Raptor nameplate has a reputation in North America for its high-performance edge, thanks to the F-150, so this represents a significant opportunity for Ford to step into the post-local car manufacturing era and offer a spiritual successor of sorts to its storied V8-powered Falcon ute.
However, the Ranger Raptor makes do with half the cylinder count and 40 per cent of the engine displacement of its dearly-departed sibling, plus it’s a diesel! But does that really matter? Is there more to the Ranger Raptor than just its outputs? Is it actually a high-performance vehicle?
We attended its international launch in the Northern Territory to find out.
It doesn’t quite feel right the first time you do it. You look up and see a deep, wide rut bisecting the path ahead … except this isn’t any ordinary off-road situation. You’re barrelling towards it at more than 130km/h. Welcome to Ford’s highly-anticipated Ranger Raptor.
You brace for impact, anticipating the jump and how sore every part of your body will be afterwards, but – seemingly – nothing happens. The Raptor jumps and lands gracefully as if it were an elite gymnast competing at the Olympics. An elite gymnast that is laughing at you for not pushing it harder, that is.
That’s the scary – or not so scary – thing about this Ford Performance model: it just eats up whatever you put in front of it. Perhaps the greatest compliment we could pay is it flatters the novice off-road driver, making them feel invincible when they wouldn’t dare attempt anything like it in another vehicle. The Raptor is simply that good.
The regular Ranger is already one of the most competent dual-cab pick-ups on the market today, so how did Ford up the ante so much and create a legitimate off-road racer? Well, most of the credit goes to the Raptor’s upgraded suspension.
It adds unique Fox Racing Internal Bypass twin-tube shock absorbers with Position Sensitive Damping to both axles, while the rear units also get a Piggy Back remote reservoir. An expensive investment that goes some way in justifying the Raptor’s high pricetag of $74,990 before on-road costs.
Furthermore, the Raptor matches the regular Ranger with its independent MacPherson-strut front axle but picks up a Watts link axle with long-travel outboard coil-over dampers for its rear end. The result is perplexing, both on- and off-road. For all its racing potential, the Raptor rides beautifully, delicately catering for all conditions.
Cruising at 130km/h on Northern Territory highways, the Raptor feels like it’s in its element, offering a better ride than the leaf-sprung regular Ranger, with bumps, lumps and coarse-chip surfaces handled with ease.
However, the ride on dirt roads is truly remarkable, with the Terrain Management System’s Baja mode coming into play. Corrugated stretches do little to change this quality, with the Raptor holding its composure as the level of intensity rises, refusing to let its rear end skip. Again, that’s the thing about the Raptor: you expect the conditions it can drive in to feel so much worse, but they don’t.
This level of confidence extends to ‘regular’ off-road courses, with the Raptor conquering steep inclines and declines – as well as demonstrations of articulation and rollover mitigation — all while in 4H with its differential lock engaged. Hill-start assist and hill-descent control are also key to its success here.
Another key element of the Raptor is its bespoke 285/75 BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tyres that are inherited from its F-150 cousin in the US. Their performance on-road is staggering, as they contribute to the impressive ride quality while creating very little noise. In fact, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are remarkably low altogether.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Raptor only rides well, because it sure can handle, too. Its ability to remain flat around the twisty stuff is unrivalled in its segment. Bodyroll is tightly held in check as the driver is – again – encouraged to push harder and harder. And don’t forget, this applies to both on- and off-road scenarios.
A perfect demonstration of this came when we jumped in the Raptor’s passenger seat for a hot lap of an off-road track that featured long stretches, tight corners, ruts, dips, sand, dirt, gravel and so on. The Raptor was able to fully unleash its potential in Baja mode, which loosens up the electronic stability control to allow some rear-end slip in 2H when pushed hard around bends. It genuinely felt like the laws of physics did not apply.
Remove the racecar driver from the driver’s seat and put a novice like us in instead and the result is not too dissimilar. One lap of a similar off-road course showed that a complete amateur could get the Raptor sideways but still feel completely in control. Driver aids will stop most people from making a fool of themselves, but the Raptor’s steering is so precise, it’s hard to not feel on top of things. And – again – it still wants more. Ridiculous.
The addition of ventilated disc brakes to the rear end, in place of the regular Ranger’s drums, is also a worthwhile but long-overdue upgrade. Meanwhile, stopping power is further enhanced by the front axle’s larger rotors and two-piston callipers. We can’t fault this package’s performance yet.
It only takes one look at the Raptor to realise it means business. When it was revealed, we were impressed by the exterior design, but seeing it in the metal is a different story. Its on-road presence is undeniable. This is highlighted by its front and rear tracks, which have both gained 150mm in width, while bulging fenders team with black wheelarch extensions to make it look truly mean.
However, its aggressive styling is not another example of style over substance, as each aspect is purposeful. The chassis-mounted front bumper features air curtains for improved aerodynamics, while a high-strength steel bash plate, underbody protection, heavy-duty skid plates and four tow hooks ensure it is truly off-road ready.
Inside, the Raptor feels a bit more special than the regular Ranger, thanks to its blue-stitched leather dashboard and flat-grey trim that combine with unique scuff plates, floormats, a gear selector, a handbrake lever and a steering wheel with magnesium paddle shifters to add a touch of premium to the cabin.
The front sport seats trimmed in Technical Suede and leather-accented upholstery prove to be particularly comfortable on long journeys, too. Other than these touches, it’s the regular Ranger many Australians have come to know and love.
Of course, we couldn’t write this review without acknowledging the elephant in the room: the Raptor’s 2.0-litre engine. Truth be told, the EcoBlue twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel unit is a stronger performer than the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-pot found in current high-specification Ranger variants.
Producing 157kW of power at 3750rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1750 to 2000rpm, the 2.0-litre out-muscles the 3.2-litre by 10kW and 30Nm. However, it does feel slower off the line, possibly due to its smaller high-pressure turbocharger with variable geometry that spools up first, than the larger-displacement engine.
Nevertheless, this feeling does not last long because when the larger sequential low-pressure turbocharger with fixed geometry fires up at higher engine speeds, as the 2404kg Raptor starts to hustle. Rolling acceleration under full-throttle is particularly strong, with the Raptor dispatching of the 3.2-litre with ease. Naturally, it can become noisy when pushed hard.
However, Ford claims the Raptor can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a leisurely 10.5 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 170km/h, with neither of these marks likely to get performance enthusiasts up and dancing, especially given V8-powered Falcon utes were the standard up until recently.
Given the precedent Ford has set with the US-market F-150 Raptor and its 336kW/691Nm 3.5-litre EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 petrol unit, the Ranger Raptor’s engine feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Of course, the Blue Oval is quite happy to point out that the Raptor brand is not about straight-line performance but rather off-road capability – but that doesn’t mean that calls for a higher-performing version will grow any weaker, especially when the 2.0-litre becomes an option for the regular Ranger. Maybe next time, hey?
That being said, Ford has done well to extract the best out of the 2.0-litre with the Raptor’s 10-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission co-developed with rival General Motors. Gear changes are both smooth, quick and intelligent, with its willingness to kick down when called upon appreciated.
However, the automatic is not willing to rev the engine until its 4750rpm redline, instead grabbing the next ratio as high as 4000rpm – unless the transmission is moved to its manual mode. Given the engine speed at which peak power is developed, it does make sense that it wants to move back into its optimum output band, but it’s stubbornness can be frustrating.
Buyers keen on the Raptor should be aware that it comes with a couple of key compromises due to packaging requirements, with its braked towing capacity and maximum payload limited to 2500kg and 758kg respectively – well short of the 3500kg and 907kg marks its volume-selling Wildtrak sibling can manage.
Furthermore, the Raptor will launch without autonomous emergency braking (AEB), despite the fact that the critical safety technology will be available on half the regular Ranger’s grades when its updated model arrives soon.
Its standard fitment of lane-keep assist is welcome, but AEB has become a consumer expectation. However, Ford Asia Pacific has told GoAuto it will be added as part of a rolling update, likely next year.
Nonetheless, while the engine will remain a talking point until something changes in that department, the Raptor can only be considered a success given what it sets out to do. Ford wanted to create a high-speed off-road weapon that will empower drivers to explore their limits before the Raptor reaches its – and that’s exactly what they’ve made.
If you told us that a 157kW 2404kg Ranger could be legitimately considered a high-performance vehicle in 2018 – albeit off-road – we would’ve said you’re nuts. Turns out we live in a whacky, whacky world.
While it doesn’t officially enter showrooms until October, Ford Australia says it is currently holding about 1000 pre-orders for the Raptor and hopes to deliver them all by Christmas. And what a Christmas present it will be. High-speed off-roading sounds like a pretty good December 25 to us.
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