COVER FEA­TURE

I can fly!

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

We trav­elled all the way to Dar­win in Aus­tralia to drive fast and fu­ri­ously in the Ford Ranger Rap­tor.

It was the off-road drive ev­ery­one’s been wait­ing for: The Ford Ranger Rap­tor. We trav­elled all the way Down Un­der to a farm that’s big­ger than the en­tire is­land of Ire­land to put the new Rap­tor through its of­froad paces. And we mean ‘off-road’ as in Harry Flat­ters over very rough ter­rain.

Three years. That’s how long Ford Per­for­mance spent de­vel­op­ing the Ranger Rap­tor.

It is no longer a Ranger. It’s a be­spoke off-road rac­ing weapon. One that can en­ter a cross-coun­try rally in stock trim and run head to head with most of the pro­duc­tion-class ve­hi­cles.

It’s also a lovechild of a Ranger and an Ever­est.

A new union is formed

The de­sign brief for the Rap­tor was to the point: it had to flat­ter the novice and re­ward the ex­pert.

A stan­dard Ford Ranger lad­der frame chas­sis was de­signed to of­fer a rea­son­able com­pro­mise be­tween be­ing able to re­li­ably carry a ton of weight and of­fer­ing a com­fort­able ride. To do so, it fea­tures work­horse-like blade springs at the rear, which means it can han­dle that weight and it is per­fectly ser­vice­able as a daily run­about, too.

The Rap­tor had to be much more than a daily run­about that can carry a ton. It needed to be able to ne­go­ti­ate the rough­est of ter­rain at a great rate of knots, like a pukka off-road racer. At the same time, it still had to of­fer a de­scent on-road ride.

Ford Per­for­mance en­gi­neers came up with a novel idea: take the Watt’s link rear sus­pen­sion of the Ford Ever­est SUV and marry it with the front in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion from the Ranger.

They en­sured that the chas­sis could take some se­ri­ous knocks by adding plenty of re­in­force­ment (var­i­ous grades of high­strength low-al­loy (HSLA) steel). They widened the front and rear tracks by 150mm, added sev­eral up­graded

sus­pen­sion parts that can han­dle a lot more stress than the stan­dard items and teamed up with Fox to sup­ply a be­spoke damp­ing so­lu­tion.

Said a sus­pen­sion de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer: “We were like kids in a sweet shop with the Fox set-up be­cause we could lit­er­ally tune it ex­actly the way we wanted it. By just adding dampers you buy off the shelf, you have to take what you get.

We needed to de­cide if we wanted an off-road rac­ing ve­hi­cle with plenty of wheel travel and less re­bound, or more of a rally car set-up, with less re­bound, travel and body roll. In the end, we ended up some­where in the mid­dle, which of­fers a com­pro­mise be­tween good off-road damp­ing and on-road com­fort.”

Be­cause of this unique sus­pen­sion set-up, the Ranger’s pay­load has dropped from one ton to 750kg. Not that it mat­ters one bit, we reckon. This is not a work­horse that will be re­quired to lug around a ton of build­ing sand. It’s some­thing far more spe­cial and be­spoke.

An­other ma­jor up­grade over a stan­dard Ranger bakkie is the over­all brake set-up. A nor­mal Ranger is fit­ted with drum brakes at the back, just dandy for bring­ing the bakkie and a ton of weight to a safe stop.

The Rap­tor needed a lot more stop­ping power and the brak­ing sys­tem is com­pre­hen­sively up­graded.

At the front, the twin-pis­ton cal­lipers are 9.5mm larger than that of a stan­dard Ranger, and there are also ven­ti­lated ro­tors (332 x 32mm). Disc brakes have been fit­ted on the back, and the sys­tem now comes with a brake ac­tu­a­tion mas­ter cylin­der and booster to in­crease stop­ping power. The ven­ti­lated ro­tors are 332 x 24mm in size, aug­mented by a new 54mm cal­liper.

Lastly, there are the BFGoodrich KO2 all-ter­rain tyres (285/70 R17). Hah, you say: I can buy those over the counter in Pre­to­ria! Well, not quite.

Amer­i­can tyre com­pany BFGoodrich spent 18 months de­vel­op­ing a be­spoke tyre for the Rap­tor, work­ing closely with the Ford chas­sis en­gi­neers. Ac­cord­ing to de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer Si­mon John­son, the com­pany ex­per­i­mented with seven dif­fer­ent pro­to­types, fea­tur­ing dif­fer­ent compounds and side­wall con­struc­tion com­bi­na­tions, be­fore they ar­rived at the fi­nal prod­uct.

The BF tyres are fit­ted on blacked-out 17-inch Rap­tor-style rims.

AG NO MAN! A TWO-LITRE?

This is now the bit where the men who wear Ford tat­toos on their shoul­ders will fall onto their swords: Ford de­cided a two-litre four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel en­gine would pro­vide propul­sion. And the en­gine would be linked to a 10-speed au­to­matic gear­box.

The good news for Ford fans is that the new en­gine de­liv­ers more power and torque than the Ranger’s cur­rent 3.2-litre five-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel, peak­ing at 157kW and 500Nm of torque, while be­ing more ef­fi­cient at the same time.

The two tur­bocharg­ers work to­gether in per­fect uni­son: a smaller, high pres­sure turbo boosts the en­gine at lower en­gine speeds, elim­i­nat­ing turbo lag, while a big­ger, lower pres­sure tur­bocharger gets into the ac­tion higher in the rev range, adding plenty of ex­tra horses.

The new en­gine has un­der­gone ex­ten­sive de­vel­op­ment, too. For in­stance, both tur­bos were heated to the point where they were glow­ing red and they still had to run for 200 hours, non-stop.

The 10-speed au­to­matic gear­box is the next piece of the puz­zle. With such a wide ra­tio-span, the gear­box en­sures the twin-turbo en­gine is al­ways on the boil. In other words, no mat­ter the speed or sit­u­a­tion, when you hit the ac­cel­er­a­tor, the gear­box se­lects the best ra­tio in the blink of an eye and off you blast.

Around town, dur­ing nor­mal driv­ing, the shifts are so slick you’d never guess there are 10 ra­tios at play. If you re­ally feel frisky, you can go all man­ual with the gear­box, too, with light­weight mag­ne­sium pad­dle shifters lo­cated be­hind the steer­ing wheel that al­low the driver to shift gears with­out tak­ing his hands of the steer­ing wheel.

There’s also a low-range trans­fer case and you can se­lect be­tween 2H, 4H and 4Low. A rear dif­fer­en­tial lock, hill de­scent con­trol and a trac­tion con­trol sys­tem are also stan­dard, and the Rap­tor rides 50mm higher than a Ranger Wild­trak 4x4.

BAJA MODE, OR BUST!

Ford Per­for­mance de­vel­oped some unique com­put­er­con­trolled trac­tion and sta­bil­ity con­trol pro­grammes for the Rap­tor.

There are var­i­ous driv­ing modes but Baja mode – as per the fa­mous Amer­i­can off-road race – takes cen­tre stage.

In this mode, the elec­tron­ics al­ter steer­ing and throt­tle re­sponse and the gear­box au­to­mat­i­cally holds onto the ra­tios longer, ag­gres­sively gear­ing down when you hit the brakes, even blip­ping the throt­tle for those down changes. The trac­tion con­trol al­lows a bit more lee­way so you can hang the tail out some­what but it will still pull in the reins when a cer­tain thresh­old is reached.

Baja mode also en­hances the sound of the rather ef­fi­cient and quiet en­gine but not by open­ing a flap in the ex­haust sys­tem. In­stead, the com­puter chan­nels some mas­cu­line, imi­ta­tion en­gine sounds to the driver through the in-car en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. It’s a sub­tle and ef­fec­tive way to add some oc­ca­sion to the oth­er­wise re­fined driv­ing deal but per­for­mance purists may feel

a tiny bit hard done-by.

RAP­TOR STICKER, ANYONE?

Con­sid­er­ing all the fake Rap­tors on our roads, this is one as­pect of the Ranger Rap­tor that had to be spot on. It had to be a cut above the sticker-and-plak bri­gade. And we reckon Ford has nailed it.

Thanks to the 150mm wider wheel tracks, spe­cial flared Rap­tor front fend­ers were de­signed, made from com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als. Th­ese items cer­tainly look the au­then­tic part and are aug­mented by black flared wheel arches for the rear wheels, too.

The front bumper is a unique fea­ture, with Ford tak­ing cen­tre stage in big block let­ter­ing and there are new LED fog lights and air-cur­tain ducts.

The Rap­tor also gets blacked-out metal side steps (or rock-slid­ers, in Rap­tor speak). And there are dis­creet Rap­tor stick­ers added to the rear flanks and the tail­gate.

As far as per­for­mance bakkies go then, the Ranger Rap­tor cer­tainly looks the gen­uine au­then­tic part.

WHAT ABOUT CABIN FEVER?

The cabin will be fa­mil­iar to driv­ers of the lat­est Ford Ranger. But the Rap­tor ups the ante with some unique touches, which add just that ex­tra bit of spe­cial.

The in­stru­ment clus­ter fea­tures some unique fin­ishes and then there’s the thick­rimmed, leather-cov­ered steer­ing wheel with the unique, rally-car style red on-cen­tre marker at the top of the wheel. The best part of the in­te­rior in our books though, is the front sports seats, cov­ered in Tech­ni­cal Suede ma­te­rial with unique stitch­ing and the Rap­tor name em­bossed on the back rests.

HIT THE (TAR) ROAD

On the smooth tar roads lead­ing out of Dar­win, in the north of Aus­tralia, the re­fine­ment of the driv­e­train is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous. You hardly no­tice the gear changes and that 500Nm of torque en­sures there’s no need to rev the en­gine to smithereens to over­take slower traf­fic.

The high-pres­sure tur­bocharger that op­er­ates at lower revs does a great job of elim­i­nat­ing lag, so there’s plenty of shove avail­able.

Also very ob­vi­ous was the lack of road noise from the BFGoodrich tyres. The com­pany’s pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion all-ter­rains may have lasted a life­time and were pretty much punc­ture proof, but they did get rumbly and noisy.

The new KO2, and es­pe­cially the unique ver­sions fit­ted to the Rap­tor, have no such is­sues. They are as quiet as any high­way ter­rain tyre. Cruising at higher speeds, the ride was re­ally com­fort­able, too, the cabin a lux­u­ri­ous and re­fined space.

And then there were the cor­ners: this is where the Rap­tor started to come into its own. In a nor­mal Ranger you can tackle cor­ners at speed but there’s a fair amount of body roll in­volved as the rear leaf springs and steel springs are de­signed to han­dle plenty of ver­ti­cal load, (weight) but are less happy when high hor­i­zon­tal forces come into play (like hus­tling it through a cor­ner), tend­ing to move side­ways (to a small de­gree).

With the Ford Ever­est’s Watt’s rear link set-up and the coil-over Fox dampers, that hor­i­zon­tal move­ment is lim­ited and the rear wheels re­main in much bet­ter con­tact with the road. Body roll is also much less. The re­sult is a bakkie which you can send through the cor­ners at high speed, with pre­dictable, safe and en­ter­tain­ing han­dling.

The BF tyres add to the im­pres­sive dy­nam­ics, pro­vid­ing re­ally good grip. You’d have to go ape to get the tyres to start com­plain­ing.

GO ON, MATE! HIT IT!

In­ter­na­tional per­for­mance car launches are no­to­ri­ously reg­u­lated. And for good rea­son, too: over the years we’ve seen some pretty scary driv­ing from some jour­nal­ists. To keep things safe when per­for­mance cars are in the game, pro­fes­sional driv­ing in­struc­tors in the pas­sen­ger seat of­ten keep a lid on any ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing.

This event was a turn-up for the books. Ford has set out a long rally stage, over some pretty rough ter­rain. We had a driv­ing in­struc­tor in the pas­sen­ger seat (a former Aussie Su­per­cars driver, no less). In­stead of slow­ing us down, he was egging us on to go faster. And faster.

This is where the Ranger Rap­tor em­phat­i­cally came into its own. This was ex­actly what it was cre­ated for: to cover rough ter­rain at rally-car speeds. And to do it all day long.

With Baja mode en­gaged, a power slide was just a prod of the ac­cel­er­a­tor or a flick of the steer­ing wheel away. We hit jumps at great speed, the Ranger air­borne, and land­ing as if it was rid­ing on a cush­ion of air. Pow­er­ing out of slow cor­ners, that 500Nm of torque en­sured we could blast away with no per­cep­ti­ble lag.

Han­dling was im­pec­ca­ble. Chug the Rap­tor into a cor­ner and you could lit­er­ally feel those rear BFGs in full con­tact with the ground with no side­ways sus­pen­sion move­ment... then they grip, pro­vid­ing a stable and pre­dictable base from where you could point the Ford through the cor­ner, floor it, and you went there. Glo­ri­ous, it was. We left the 10-speed gear­box to its own de­vices. It did a swell job, keep­ing the en­gine revving in all the good places where the grunt lives. And the brakes... they worked re­ally well, too, no mat­ter how hard you hit them, never dis­play­ing a hint of fade and manag­ing to bring the heavy Ranger to a quick, as­sured halt.

Flat­ter the novice, and re­ward the ex­pert, they said.

Oh yes, you can tick that box. A few times over.

SUM­MARY

The Ford Ranger Rap­tor will go on sale in SA in the first half of next year. It is ex­pected to sell for around R800 000, which will pit it against the likes of VW’s Amarok V6 and Mercedes-Benz’s X250d.

Frankly, nei­ther the Amarok nor X-class gets close to the Ranger Rap­tor in the per­for­mance de­part­ment. Yes, the VW will be quicker in a straight line but as an over­all per­for­mance pack­age it’s got noth­ing on the Rap­tor.

The two-litre en­gine may be a sore point for some Ford ‘big­geris-bet­ter’ fans, but truth be told, it is more than up to the Rap­tor chal­lenge. No, when you floor it it won’t make you gasp for air be­cause of the G-Forces of the ac­cel­er­a­tion. But it also won’t cause you to start pag­ing through af­ter­mar­ket per­for­mance part book­lets to try and find an­other 100kW.

As part of the over­all per­for­mance pack­age, pro­vid­ing brisk of­froad per­for­mance and a re­fined end ef­fi­cient on-road drive, it’s a great fit.

But it’s the dis­creet yet pow­er­ful look of this bakkie, and the han­dling and the per­for­mance off-road which re­ally stand out here, and cause us to start think­ing of in­no­va­tive ways to fi­nance that R800 000 sticker price. Like in­vest­ing in a bal­a­clava.

We just hope Ford sales­per­sons will work in a sec­tion of dirt road on their stan­dard Rap­tor test route. Oth­er­wise prospec­tive cus­tomers will never re­alise how good it re­ally is in the rough.

Above: Loads of chas­sis re­in­force­ment means the Rap­tor can take some se­ri­ous knocks. Be­low: The cabin is fa­mil­iar but Ford added a few things to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from the rest of the range. Far right: At the rear, the Rap­tor is fit­ted with the Ever­est's Watt’s link rear sus­pen­sion.

Far left: The eas­i­est way to spot the Rap­tor: the wider wheel arches, built to house the track in­crease of 150mm. The wad­ing depth is claimed to be 850mm.Be­low: The Rap­tor where it’s at its most com­fort­able: bar­relling down a dirt road at in­sane speeds.

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