DIG IT IN THE DIRT

Ford‘s Rap­tor one-ton­ner, rea­son­able on the road, is un­touch­able in the Out­back

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - MOTORING - BILL McKINNON

Most 2018 one-ton­ners ride and han­dle pretty much like 2008 one­ton­ners — badly, es­pe­cially on the goat tracks that pass for Aus­tralian coun­try roads. So it’s fit­ting that Ford and Holden en­gi­neers, who know a thing or to about how to set up chas­sis dy­nam­ics for lo­cal con­di­tions, have now made a cou­ple that can ac­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ate a cor­ner at speed, and even hit a pot­hole or two en route, with­out want­ing to plough straight into the mulga, swap ends or roll over.

Holden’s Colorado, re-en­gi­neered by HSV, emerged ear­lier this year as the HSV Sportscat. Its chas­sis up­grade is fo­cused on im­prov­ing cor­ner­ing re­spon­sive­ness, sta­bil­ity, brak­ing and road­hold­ing at speed on the bi­tu­men, where it now shares class han­dling hon­ours with VW’s Amarok V6, the best of them in stan­dard form.

Ford has taken a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent approach. Its new Ranger Rap­tor han­dles fine on the road but in the dirt, es­pe­cially on Out­back tracks, it is un­touch­able.

VALUE

The Rap­tor costs $74,990 — $11,000 more than the top-spec Ranger Wild­trak. You’re get­ting much more than a few bolt-on tough-guy/go­fast bits for the ex­tra spend, though.

Stiff­ened with high strength steel at crit­i­cal load points, the Ranger’s lad­der frame sup­ports a new rear sus­pen­sion and alu­minium con­trol arms at the front. On each axle, the wheels are 150mm fur­ther apart than in the Ranger.

There are coil springs all-round and the per­for­mance shock ab­sorbers are de­signed specif­i­cally for high speed off-road driv­ing.

Sus­pen­sion travel is sub­stan­tially greater than in the stan­dard Ranger. The Rap­tor rides 56mm higher at 283mm and ford­ing depth is 850mm.

At each end, vented brake discs ar­rest the 17-inch al­loy wheels shod with meaty BF Goodrich all-ter­rain tyres. Heavy duty, full cov­er­age steel bash­plates are stan­dard.

Ford’s new 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel (157kW/500Nm) turns a 10-speed au­to­matic. The part-time, dual-range 4WD fea­tures ad­justable Ter­rain Man­age­ment elec­tron­ics — for fast driv­ing on dirt — and there’s an ag­gres­sive off-road “Baja” cal­i­bra­tion.

In­side, the Rap­tor matches Wild­trak spec, adding plush, sup­port­ive, heated sports seats, mag­ne­sium pad­dle-shifters and blue high­light stitch­ing on the leather-look dash and door trims. Prop­erly con­toured, the per­fo­rated leather wrapped steer­ing wheel has a marker at 12 o’clock so you can tell at a glance where the front wheels are pointed.

COM­FORT

Load car­ry­ing is not the pri­mary brief, so the Rap­tor is more softly sprung than a typ­i­cal one­ton­ner. Max­i­mum tow­ing weight drops to 2500kg (from 3500kg in the Ranger) and pay­load to 758kg (from 961kg).

The shocks are lightly damped in the ini­tial stages of travel, be­com­ing pro­gres­sively more re­sis­tant as they work through their long stroke.

In com­par­i­son with the con­stant jostling, shak­ing and thump­ing you get in most stan­dard one-ton­ners, the Rap­tor’s ride is calm and quiet. Big hits get nowhere near the body, which stays flat and prop­erly tied down even as the sus­pen­sion is work­ing hard at speed on a gnarly track. It’s also sta­ble, con­trolled and con­fi­dent, with vir­tu­ally no ner­vous­ness or back-end bump steer on cor­ru­ga­tions.

At crawl­ing pace in se­verely rut­ted, rocky ter­rain, it’s in a class of its own for con­trol and com­pli­ance in all de­grees of ar­tic­u­la­tion.

SAFETY

The Rap­tor goes with­out au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing and adap­tive cruise, now stan­dard on the Ranger Wild­trak. Ford says these will be avail­able next year. Lane de­par­ture warn­ing and lane keep as­sist are stan­dard but I couldn’t get ei­ther to work on the test car.

DRIV­ING

The num­bers aren’t pretty: 0-100km/h in 10.5 secs is slow, even by one-ton­ner stan­dards, while 2332kg makes it the class barge.

VW’s Amarok V6, the Mercedes X350d and HSV’s Sportscat are quicker and lighter, the Amarok by more than 2.5 sec­onds and 250kg.

Twin se­quen­tial tur­bos, a tuned torque con­verter and tightly packed ra­tios give the Rap­tor a strong launch feel and ex­cel­lent re­spon­sive­ness on a light throt­tle. Peak torque is all over at 2000 rpm. Mod­est midrange per­for­mance is flat­tered by the 10-speed’s timely, smoothly segued shifts.

Our test car av­er­aged a thirsty 10.3L/100km in 450km of mainly open road driv­ing.

Off-road, in low-range Rock mode, the Rap­tor does it easy, with a gen­tle throt­tle cal­i­bra­tion and no loss of trans­mis­sion re­fine­ment. A lock­ing rear diff is stan­dard. I pointed it at a few steep, tricky hills, pushed the rel­e­vant but­tons, and it went up — and down — as if they weren’t even there.

At rea­son­able speeds on bi­tu­men, the Rap­tor is tidy and planted with well-weighted, ac­cu­rate steer­ing and de­cent brakes. In tighter cor­ners, it can’t hide its high cen­tre of grav­ity.

On-road grip wasn’t the core brief for the tyres but they hang on sur­pris­ingly well on a dry sur­face, re­quir­ing a cau­tious approach in the wet.

HEART SAYS

Hey, it’s big, it’s bo­da­cious, it’s blue and it screams big, swing­ing man­hood. What’s not to like?

HEAD SAYS

It’s the off-road equiv­a­lent of a Porsche 911, half the price of an AMG Merc and I won’t have to pay lux­ury car tax or FBT.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES

HSV SPORTSCAT+ FROM $68,990 This has the best on-road han­dling in the class but you need to spend an ex­tra $3600 on premium sus­pen­sion. It shares the stan­dard Colorado’s 147kW/500Nm 2.8-litre four/sixspeed auto. Tacky styling job and cramped driv­ing po­si­tion. VW AMAROK TDI550 V6 HIGHLINE FROM $60,490

VW is ad­ver­tis­ing drive-away deals from $58,990. Un­beat­able value for a 180kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6/eight-speed auto with the strong­est per­for­mance (0-100km/h in 7.8 sec­onds), the best on-road ride/han­dling com­pro­mise and the best cabin in the class.

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