FIRST DRIVE | Adventure comes standard in the new 2019 Ford Ranger Raptor

Maxed-out off-road ability makes this new Ford the bakkie for serious 4x4 enthusiasts

23 May 2019 - 07:53 By Denis Droppa
Race-bred suspension and big tyres make this the gravel-munching bakkie of choice. Looks the part too. Picture: SUPPLIED
Race-bred suspension and big tyres make this the gravel-munching bakkie of choice. Looks the part too. Picture: SUPPLIED

Ford’s new Ranger Raptor is squarely aimed at harcore offroad warriors, or at least those who want to look the part.

Rather than getting involved in a muscle tussle with the more powerful VW Amarok V6 and Mercedes X350d, the blue oval’s flagship bakkie defines its own niche as an extreme turf-tackling machine that boasts race-bred suspension, the best ground clearance in its category, and the bundu-bashing looks to pull it off.

To better take on undulating terrain at higher speeds, the chassis has been completely reworked compared to a regular Ranger’s with the fitment of more robust shock absorbers from suspension specialist Fox, and increased suspension travel (by an extra 32% at the front and 22% at the rear).

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At the rear, the Ranger’s standard leaf springs are replaced by a coil-over suspension with a Watt's linkage that allows the axle to move up and down with minimal lateral movement. This enables it to deliver superior control and comfort while driving rough terrain at high speed.

Raising the ground clearance to 283mm (a full 51mm more than a standard Ranger) also gives this Ford some impressive obstacle-clearing stats: the entry angle is improved from 29.4° to 32.5°, departure angle from 21° to 24°, and the ramp-over angle from 22° to 24°, while the wading depth is an impressive 850mm.

Built to withstand high-impact off-road encounters, the chassis frame consists of various grades of high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steel, and has been designed to support the increased track and wheel travel. Underbody protection is provided by a 2.5mm thick steel belly pan which also plays a none-too-subtle cosmetic role.

Sports seats trimmed in Technical Suede for maximum grip, lightweight magnesium paddle shifters, and a red stripe in the 12 o ‘clock position to let drivers always know where the wheels are pointing. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sports seats trimmed in Technical Suede for maximum grip, lightweight magnesium paddle shifters, and a red stripe in the 12 o ‘clock position to let drivers always know where the wheels are pointing. Picture: SUPPLIED

The brakes are more powerful than a regular Ranger’s too, with larger front and rear callipers.

The track is also 150mm wider which has necessitated more flared fenders that make the bakkie appear like it’s being pumping iron at the gym, and filling the inflated wheel arches are high-profile BF Goodrich 285/70 R17 all-terrain tyres specially developed for the Raptor, on black wheel rims.

A black grille with a super-sized Ford badge — similar to the aftermarket kits that so many local owners fit to their regular Rangers — rounds off a look that is all snarling aggression and offroad-tackling intent.

The Raptor is less of a workhorse than other Rangers, however, as its payload is decreased from 860kg to 607kg and towing capacity from 3,500 to 2,500kg.

The muscle is provided by Ford’s new high-power 2.0l bi-turbo diesel four cylinder engine and new ten-speed automatic transmission, a powertrain that also recently became available in Wildtrak versions of the Ranger.

THE RAPTOR IS COMPREHENSIVELY STACKED WITH EXECUTIVE FEATURES AND DRIVER-ASSIST TECHNOLOGIES.

Its outputs of 157kW and 500Nm don’t match the hitting power of the 165kW/550Nm Amarok V6 or the 190kW/550Nm Mercedes X350d. The Raptor’s power delivery is pleasantly punchy rather than brutal, and perhaps out of synch with the bakkie’s hell-raising look. The 233kW/430Nm 2.3l petrol turbo from the Mustang might have made a better fit, methinks.

Still, there was enough muscle to test the dirt-duelling chassis which is the real star of the Raptor show. Ford SA hosted the media launch in the Northern Cape’s dunes and salt pans near Upington, where we spent a day testing the vehicle’s offroading prowess.

In the soft dunes, with the Terrain Management System set to mud/sand, the Ranger delivered a winning performance and its tall ground clearance ensured that the belly didn’t get beached. There was sufficient power to race to the top of steep dunes, and the mud/sand mode disabled the traction control so that maximum momentum was maintained.

It was on the fast rally-style course that the Raptor’s talents really came to the fore, where its ride height and long-travel suspension allowed it to be hustled at higher speed over big bumps than regular 4x4 bakkies. And when I say higher speed, I mean generally foot flat.

Six-mode Terrain Management System has a Mud/Sand setting for exploring vistas such as these. The Baja mode is the most fun though. Picture: SUPPLIED
Six-mode Terrain Management System has a Mud/Sand setting for exploring vistas such as these. The Baja mode is the most fun though. Picture: SUPPLIED

The race-bred Fox shock absorbers have position sensitive damping (PSD) to deliver a cushy ride in normal driving, while progressively stiffening as the pace and the bumps intensify. The speed at which the Raptor could attack bumps without the suspension bottoming-out was impressive, and it also had surprisingly little body roll in fast turns.

The six-mode Terrain Management System includes a playful Baja mode named after Mexico's famous Baja Desert Rally. This setting optimises the gear-shifting for maximum performance, sharpens the steering, and decreases the traction control intervention to allow for some power-sliding fun.

The Raptor’s tail-sliding action happens nice and progressively, rather than snapping out to punish the unwary. Very entertaining, and it’s an all-round forgiving vehicle in the rough and tumble of the dirt, allowing drivers to playfully explore their inner Sebastian Loeb.

On the tar the vehicle cruises comfortably and makes swift overtaking moves. The diesel engine’s refined and vibration-free, except under hard acceleration where it makes a pleasantly sporty growl.

The 10-speed auto transmission, when all is working as intended, is a slick-shifting thing that nicely gels with the bakkie’s general refinement. However the gearbox on our test vehicle developed an intermittent gremlin where it started unexpectedly hunting for gears and downshifting after an extended high-speed cruise. At least one other driver reported the same problem with his vehicle.

The Raptor is comprehensively stacked with executive features and driver-assist technologies. Among these, and aimed at serious offroaders, is a "breadcrumb" feature for the navigation system which leaves a trail in uncharted areas.

The Raptor is assembled alongside the rest of the Ranger line-up at Ford SA’s Silverton plant and is exported to several left- and right-hand drive African and European countries.

It’s priced at R786,400, which is a R180,200 premium over the next-best Ranger, the 2.0 BiT Wildtrak 4x4.

It has no direct rivals but its closest price competitor is the more powerful but less offroad-proficient VW Amarok Extreme V6 selling for R829,200.

All Ford Rangers have a standard four-year/120,000km warranty, three-year/unlimited distance roadside assistance and six-year/90,000km service plan, with 15,000km service intervals.

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