It'll be hard not to drive like a hooligan in the Ford Ranger Raptor
With a driving mode inspired by the Baja cross-country motor race, and a chassis that can take all the abuse you throw at it, the Raptor is the meanest Blue Oval bakkie on the market
The forces of a rapid change in elevation ought to jolt your senses good and proper.
Note how certain parts of the anatomy pucker when your Kulula flight to George takes a slight dip, flustered by turbulence.
Perhaps you once found yourself in an office lift suspended by pulleys with a smidgen of slack. Not enough for the beneficiaries of your life policy to rejoice, but just enough to unsettle that coffee and add another layer of unease to the discomfort of sharing a confined space with strangers.
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On any given Saturday, one can pay to have their viscera stirred, aboard a ride named after a fat and violent serpent at Gold Reef City amusement park. The line between excitement and danger is a fine one.
As we summitted a hill at about 125km/h in the Ford Ranger Raptor, the thrill of our quick ascent reached its crescendo with a tangible moment of silence. In those milliseconds the primal parts of the brain were zinging as it revelled in the sheer gravity of this event: those 285/70 R17 BF Goodrich tyres were no longer touching the ground.
A vivid experience in which the sands of the hourglass stopped for a bit. Icy spirits thawed and cynicism melted like butter. The three occupants of the vehicle were overcome with exhilaration; zest for life and living renewed. Tears may or may not have been shed at the overwhelming sensations.
The touchdown was tougher to romanticise, with a dramatic, pendulous effect on the organs and a collective clenching of buttocks as the pick-up smooched, then firmly embraced terra firma. But we all agreed it would be fun to have another run.
Luckily, our hosts went all out to engineer ideal conditions in which to exploit the capabilities of the new, top-tier pick-up. That included closing off a rural road in Upington exclusively for the purpose of this air-grabbing endeavour. And letting us loose on a vast salt pan in this far-flung Northern Cape region, with a landscape desolate and intimidating in its disorientating vastness.
Special terrain befitting a special product, that was certain.
First thing we need to get out of the way: this is not a Ranger for the asphalt drag strip. While the punch from its 1,996cc, four-cylinder, twin-turbocharged engine is ample (157kW and 500Nm); additional venom would not have gone amiss given the expectations roused by the Raptor title. After all, buyers enjoy the same output in Wildtrak guise, employing an identical engine and 10-speed automatic transmission.
The six-cylinder derivatives of the Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class will probably kick the Raptor in the shin and run off, in a straight-line duel anyway. Lesser models within its own range will do the 0-100km/h dash more expediently. So, forget about outright pace - and look past the obvious aesthetic enhancements too. The true drawcard of the Raptor lies beneath its skin.
The Ford Performance division took a holistic approach to chassis development, resulting in what one could believably describe as the dynamic leader among pick-ups on the market today. The existing Ranger frame was revised extensively for bespoke Raptor specification, with reinforced sections designed to support the increased wheel travel and increased frequency of hooliganism from the driver.
Off-road motorsport specialist company Fox was enlisted to manufacture position-sensitive damping shock absorbers, with variable rates that adjust to deliver comfort on-road and compliance on the rough stuff. Aluminium control arms were blended into the mix, as well as a redesigned, coil-over rear suspension. The appropriate rubber, with a formidable tread pattern, rounds off the skeletal fortifications.
Which translates into an incredible depth of ability that will largely go unused over its lifespan. Of course, the same could be said of many of the mechanically and technologically accomplished wares seen on our roads in 2019. In the Raptor you would do well to seek out those makeshift rally stages at the weekend.
The underpinnings of the Raptor seemed to relish abuse, in the form of high-velocity jumps and corrugations that would likely stop any other pick-up in its tracks. Feel free to quote me: this Raptor is the most comfortable, composed offering of its kind in the category.
Once settled in the main seat, with model-specific design featuring greater lateral support and more effective bolstering, you notice that the steering wheel has a motorsport-inspired directional marker. We gave that red stripe at the top of the rim a good workout, creating miniature sandstorms while drifting around our proving ground in two-wheel drive, with the Baja driving mode engaged.
You read right: a whole setting inspired by a cross-country motorsport through the Mexican peninsula. On activation, a display of a checkered flag and - a cactus - is shown on the instrument panel. Ostensibly as a reminder not to drive like a prick on public roads, though you are piloting the meanest Blue Oval pick-up on sale.
The Ford Ranger Raptor is priced from R786,400.