MEGA SHOOT-OUT | 2019 Ford Ranger Raptor vs VW Amarok vs Mercedes X-Class
Brenwin Naidu tests which bakkie is best between the Ford Ranger Raptor, VW Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI 4Motion Highline and Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic Power
Mediating a discussion about supremacy in the SA pick-up ambit might leave one with injuries - and that's not hyperbole. The other day, around a fireside, this writer bore witness to a debate about the subject that roused impassioned and borderline aggressive responses.
They were akin to the knee-jerk reactions some proffer when engaging on significant matters like economic transformation and land reform. A curious indictment of how unhealthy our obsession is with this automotive category, perhaps. But commercial vehicles keep the wheels of enterprise turning, that is certain.
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The so-called leisure-focused double-cab is an interesting format because it strives to emulate the virtues of a sport-utility vehicle in addition to workhorse capabilities.
This week we assembled a trio of the foremost contenders in this regard, constituting a rather elite niche. You see, these three are among the most powerful examples of the breed you can buy, serving outputs in excess of 150kW and with torque figures of 500Nm and up. Performance-oriented pick-ups, in other words, that promise to dispatch your pursuits with impressive velocity and car-like composure.
Now before you finish proofreading your eloquent piece of hate mail, let it be known that this story was not intended to provide the last word in consumer advice. Rather, it is an account of a fun (and enlightening) day out at Gerotek Testing Facility in Tshwane, in the Ford Ranger Raptor, Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI 4Motion Highline and Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic Power.
The agenda was simple: a sprint test on the main straight, a shakedown on the gruelling suspension track and unsettled mirth on the dynamic handling circuit.
Why no bashing through the wilderness? These products have obvious and proven competencies on dirt. Our mission was to distinguish performance on tarmac, where you spend approximately 95% of your time.
Wielding the most potent mill in this company, you would think the presence of the Mercedes-Benz X350d would render our acceleration battle a foregone conclusion. Its 2,987cc, turbocharged-diesel V6 is good for 190kW and 550Nm, shifted via a seven-speed automatic. They claim 7.9 seconds. We achieved 8.9 seconds. It is the second-heaviest vehicle here, tipping the scales at 2,227kg.
Next came the turn of the Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI — a derivative that had some saying a GTI badge should have been included standard when it was launched in 2017. On the frigid Thursday of our test, the six-cylinder Volkswagen seemed to have the most truculent soundtrack.
A furious din emerges under hard acceleration, courtesy of the 2,967cc turbocharged-diesel unit, which delivers 165kW and 550Nm. Factor in its relatively light mass of 1,960kg and our recorded sprint time of 7.9 seconds is understandable. The manufacturer claims eight, which is the same number of forward gears offered by the smooth-shifting automatic on duty.
The aggressively styled Raptor, cutting a profile that simply belittled its peers, stirred expectations. We were in denial, of course, because the outcome was an inevitable one. It is the heaviest in attendance, with its ballsy regalia and other accoutrements giving it a figure of 2,324kg. And while the output from its 1,996cc, twin-turbocharged-diesel is stout (157kW and 500Nm), four cylinders fell short versus the might of a sextet. Ford says their flagship Ranger is good for a dash of 10.5 seconds. Our best was 12.4 seconds.
If competitive, straight-line rapidity is on the agenda, you will want the Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI. The Raptor might leave you feeling gutless: imagine if Peter Clemenza had not planted the gun for Michael Corleone to use in that crucial Godfather restaurant scene...
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT
The suspension track at the Gerotek Testing Facility will destroy weak vehicular specimens. After all, it was built to test tough military equipment.
At one end, you have a Belgian paving block. This runs into a series of corrugations - angled and parallel - as well as a potholed surface that would make a Johannesburg Roads Agency spokesperson blush.
The first victor of the day, the Amarok, would go first. It should not be forgotten that this was probably the refinement leader of the pack when it was initially launched in 2010. We trundled through, vocal chords receiving a thorough vibratory workout as the chassis shook, remarking a short while into the journey that this was bearable at 30km/h. Nodding to my passenger in approval, the Volkswagen, with its leaf springs at the rear, put on a decent show.
How severe a retraction we would have to make after an outing in the Mercedes-Benz! It made the Volkswagen feel like a bone-jarring rattletrap by comparison. Clearly, the superiority of coil springs and a five-link setup cannot be shied away from.
Lest we forget, the X-Class was touted as the first premium pick-up in the world. And this felt like a genuine claim after our suspension track experience. Those Nissan Navara underpinnings are good. If good is the chosen descriptor for that platform, we need to reserve well-considered superlatives for the Raptor. Part of me wants to laud it as the Rolls-Royce of its genre.
Acceleration is not the forte of this Ford; the real trump card of the Ranger lies in the under-the-skin fortifications that enable a cucumber-cool finesse over any surface you can think of. As with the X-Class, we have coil springs, in addition to Watt’s linkages (limiting side-to-side movements of the axle). Add shocks developed by Fox Motorsport and you have a double-cab that offers ride quality so peerless that the experience could only get better if pneumatics were on the table.
FLYING OFF THE HANDLE
The Raptor is unlikely to be your poison of choice when faced with the prospect of getting from one side of a mountain pass to the other - unless said pass consisted entirely of a dirt-road surface, which would allow you to engage that desert rally-inspired Baja mode. On the serpentine layout of asphalt at the Gerotek handling circuit, however, its muck-biased rollers with a chunky tread pattern ensured understeer like a walrus.
Those BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A K02 (285/70 R17) tyres are great for the salt pans of Upington but present a trade-off with on-tar performance, in addition to erring on the noisy side. Note to the cameraman: it was not our intention to scare you away from your filming point at the outside of the corner - the Raptor just ran that wide.
The X350d, in contrast, impressed with its notable composure under duress. Spongy brakes aside, we enjoyed the surprising directness of its steering and the seemingly well-controlled nature of weight transfer through corners. This character was no doubt aided by the fitment of road-oriented Continental PremiumContact 6 rubber (255/60 R18), a choice generally reserved for passenger car classes.
But it was the Amarok with its mixed-use Continental CrossContact LX hoops (255/60 R18) that elicited the most enthusiastic responses from a dynamic perspective. A nimbleness that was aligned with its quoted weight, confidence-inspiring anchors and precise tiller give it a feel that belies its double-cab status. That further enforces those ideas of accompanying GTI badges.
With prices from R737,300, it is also the least expensive contender in the mix. Quick in a straight line and entertaining on a sinuous layout, the six-cylinder Amarok still makes a strong case if you want an asphalt-disposed pick-up. It also appeared to be the most economical. Parked in the test basement yesterday, we took stock of consumption figures after our seven-day stint clocking in excess of 500km. The Volkswagen showed 10.8l/100km, the Mercedes-Benz 13.2l/100km and the Ford 13.3l/100km.
If you want to make marshmallows and silk of treachery underfoot, the R786,400 Raptor will do nicely. Just be committed to living with its idiosyncrasies in regular, real-world settings.
And if you want to pay upwards of R904,188 for the Mercedes-Benz X350d, then you may have more fundamental decision-making issues that a fluffy, light-hearted piece like this is unlikely to remedy.