We drive Ford's new Ranger Raptor
The blue oval's much-awaited flagship bakkie is almost here and Mark Smyth went all Baja with it in the dunes of Morocco
Move over accessorised Ford Rangers of Boksburg, the king is coming. Okay, maybe more the prince, but it is royalty, at least as far as the bakkie world is concerned.
Finally South Africa will have a Raptor, a model designed and engineered to be a high-performance off-roader, to charge along gravel roads, to plough through sand tracks and to fly over bumps as though a Baja 1000 trophy is up for grabs.
But we are not talking about the king, the legend, the F-150 Raptor. Instead this is die Raptortjie, the Ranger Raptor and there’s a great deal of excitement around it. That’s good for SA, because it is a proudly South African product, built at the Ford Motor Company Southern Africa plant in Silverton near Pretoria and exported to a number of countries around the world.
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We’ll get our first proper chance to experience it on local soil when it launches here in mid-May, but in the meantime, we recently went to the very north of this great continent to drive it in the dunes of Morocco.
Firstly, it’s vital to understand what this vehicle is about. It’s not the bakkie equivalent of a Focus RS. There’s a power war going on in the bakkie market at the moment - Mercedes has its X350d and Volkswagen has its Amarok V6 TDi. The Ranger Raptor is not in that fight. It only has 157kW and it takes 10.5 seconds to get its 2,510kg backside to 100km/h.
That’s because Ford has chosen to go with a 2.0l EcoBlue bi-turbo diesel, the same engine as in the Wildtrak and apart from increasing the lower part of the torque band by 250 revs, it’s basically the same unit. It’s adequate on-road, particularly if you buy one simply for bragging rights over all the fakes out there, but it doesn't have the power to back up its big fight boxer attitude.
The power it does have, together with 500Nm of torque, is channelled through the ten speed transmission of the Mustang to 17-inch wheels wearing massive 33-inch rubber. Those wheels are attached to Fox semi-racing shock absorbers which offer 30% more travel at the front and 23% more at the rear as well as position sensitive dampers. They also contribute to the Raptor, at 283mm, having 51mm more ground clearance than a regular Ranger.
The Raptor is also a massive 168mm wider and 44mm longer than a stock Ranger. Major reasons for this are of course those bigger wheels and shocks which sit within flared arches and unique design touches to the exterior to give what chief designer Dave Dewitt calls a “form follows function approach.”
He told us that he and the design team in Australia wanted to ensure that the functionality of the Raptor is communicated through its exterior design. That it is - the Raptor looks mean. It looks ready to take on some nasty terrain, it looks ready to leave the X-Class and Amarok back on the road where they can play at robot to robot racing.
There are changes to the interior too, with sports seats to keep you slightly snug while bouncing along tracks, a sports steering wheel with the Raptor logo, and a bright red race car style marker so you know when it’s at dead centre. The rest is regular Ranger, which means plenty of practicality combined with a few lifestyle touches and Ford’s latest generation Sync 3 infotainment system.
There are also magnesium paddles so you can flick through those ten gears.
Beneath all its menace it’s also a proper off-roader so you get a dial to change on the fly between two-wheel drive, 4-Hi and 4-Lo, as well as a rear diff-lock.
There is also a Terrain Response System with six driving settings, ranging from Normal and Sport for the on-road stuff to Sand, Mud and Rocks for the more hard core requirements. The final setting is the real fun though - Baja, named after the legendary off-road race in Mexico that inspired the first Raptor models. It dials back the traction control, increases the throttle response and basically puts you into maximum attack mode.
And to attack you not only have those semi-racing shocks, but a completely new rear suspension built into the ladder frame chassis. The engineers have ditched the Ranger’s rear leaf springs in favour of a Watts link independent set-up attached to those coil-enveloped shocks.
There’s also a unique rear tow bar piece, which includes a tow hook that can accommodate up to 3.5 tons for when you need to pull someone out of the rough stuff.
It tackled some rock crawling, charged through sandy tracks and provided some serious fun in specially marked out Baja playground spaces. The suspension cushioned the bumps and jumps far more than any standard Ranger or even many an expensive SUV. And it did so while travelling at a fair old speed at times.
The engine is definitely its weak spot. It makes a decent sound for a four-cylinder diesel and I could have sworn the sound is digitally enhanced but Damien Ross, chief programme engineer for the Ranger Raptor, assured me that it isn’t. For the many people who will buy the Raptor for its attitude and status, the engine will not be an issue, but some will be disappointed that Ross and his team have not transferred more of the exterior attitude into what’s under the bonnet.
If you need anything more then you’ll have to discuss it with Ford’s motorsport people, but they are going to want a substantial sum of money and the Raptor is likely to have a substantial price tag as it is. Ford SA won’t tell us how substantial yet, but the UK price is just shy of fifty thousand pounds which directly translated is a million bucks. The Wildtrak costs R678,200 so we’ll leave it up to you to guess.
If you’re after a bakkie that handles like a Porsche on the road then the Raptor’s not going to be for you, nor is it for you if you are expecting a roaring engine straight from the depths of hell. But if you want something that is immensely fun off-road and which has more bad-ass attitude than you’ll find at a Friday night Boksburg pub brawl, then your anticipation of the Raptor’s arrival will be well worth it.