I can fly!
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.
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.