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First drive: Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.

First drive: Ford Ranger Raptor
Ford delivers us a Baja racer for the road with the Ranger Raptor.

 



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Ford Ranger Raptor

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This is a tale of two trucks: it was the best of vehicles; it was the worst of vehicles. On the one hand, the new Ford Ranger is comprehensively outmanoeuvred and out-thought by several key, cheaper rivals. And on the other hand, it might very well be the best thing you've ever driven... provided you're in the right environment, that is. Confused? You should be. Because we are, too. Deeply, deeply confused and conflicted by this baffling, beguiling bruiser.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Ranger Raptor
Pricing: Ranger from 25,924.64 (inc. VAT); Raptor from 48,784.64 (inc. VAT)
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: selectable all-wheel drive with transfer 'box and rear diff lock, ten-speed auto
Body style: four-door pick-up
CO2 emissions: 233g/km (VED Band 226-255: 1,815 first 12 months, then 465 per annum years two to six of ownership, then 145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 31.7mpg
Top speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Power: 213hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,750-2,500rpm
Payload: 620kg

What's this?

A Ford Ranger that's been at the anabolic steroids. And the laudanum, too, if its unhinged USP is anything to go by. Anyway, let's backtrack a bit. In the late 2000s, Ford allowed its best-selling vehicle in the States - the workhorse F-150 pick-up - to be race-prepped and then entered into the Baja 1000, a gruelling off-road rally that takes place in the Mexican bit of California; you know, that 'little' (it's 775 miles long...) isthmus that sticks out from the south-western bit of the USA. And the competition F-150 did rather well in the Baja in 2008, finishing in third place overall.

So pleased with this outcome was the Blue Oval that it decided to celebrate by making a road-going version of the F-150 Baja competition car, which it called the SVT Raptor. Powered by a 6.2-litre V8 developing 414hp and 588Nm, it used Fox Racing triple-bypass dampers and generally looked as mean as sin. And then, in 2017, Ford updated the idea for the latest F-150, dropping in an EcoBoost V6 that churned out 450hp and 691Nm - that engine, by the way, being related to the one you'll find in the middle of the monumental GT supercar.

All a bit bonkers, really. And all totally inappropriate for over here, where the F-150 looks about four scales outsized for our tiddly little medieval roads. So, in absentia of the F-150 Raptor (boooo!), Ford of Europe has done the next best thing and sprinkled the Raptor's fairy-dust-formula all over this continent's best-selling pick-up truck: the Ranger. Smaller than the F-150, in Raptor guise the Ranger is nevertheless a leviathan. It stands 52mm taller than the regular Rangers, with 283mm of ground clearance. It's also 44mm longer and you can't fail to notice it's wider; fully 168mm so, with 150mm of that accounted for by a broader track. The whole lot weighs in at 2,510kg, too, so this is a brute of a pick-up truck.

But don't go thinking it's a commercial vehicle. Changes to the underpinnings, which we shall come onto shortly, rob it of outright load-carrying capacity, so it can only take 620kg in the cargo bay at the back. And, because it won't carry one tonne of gubbins, that means you cannot register it as a commercial vehicle - so no claiming back VAT, making the Raptor a nigh-on 49,000 truck to purchase, and just look at how much it'll cost in first year's road tax. Oof. It'll also only tow 2.5 tonnes, not the maximum 3,500kg of braked trailer, mainly because the rear hitch is integrated into its back bumper, allowing (along with a modified front bumper) the Raptor to have better approach/departure angles than a regular Ranger, at 32.5 and 24 degrees respectively. There's a breakover angle of 24 degrees, too.

Ah, you're wondering, so it's an off-road specialist, then? And it is. Although 'off-road mentalist' might be more appropriate. Unlike, say, one of Arctic Trucks' creations, the Ranger Raptor is a factory pick-up that's designed to headbutt the scenery as fast as is (in)sanely possible. You don't go 'greenlaning' in the Ranger Raptor, edging about the place at 5mph and carefully studying the topography as you go so that you can pick out a steady path through bucolic countryside. No. You point the Raptor at the rough stuff, plant the throttle and then let its ridiculous, Baja 1000-motorsport inspired chassis technology do the rest.

It has Fox Racing 63.5mm-diameter shock absorbers, which give up to 32 per cent more travel than those on the normal Ford pick-ups and which feature Position Sensitive Damping, so there's more force when they're operating at their extremes and less when you're just tootling along. It sits on 33-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres, measuring 285/70R17 as they wrap around the black alloys. There's a driver-selectable transfer box with 2H, 4H and 4L ranges, and a rear differential lock too. The leaf springs of your common-or-garden Ranger have been replaced with a Watt's linkage and coilovers, the chassis is reinforced in all the key areas that get stressed when you land the truck after a jump - that's right, a JUMP - and those bash plates you can see underneath? They're not plastic 'faux' items, like you'd see on a crossover estate. They're made from 2.3mm-thick high-strength steel. Good lordy lord above.

It is essentially a Baja racer for the road. Something which can, apparently, hammer through the desert at 1mph shy of its claimed top speed on tarmac; that means it'll do 105mph off-road, for those of you too lazy to scroll back up to the tech spec. It has six modes in its drive select settings, some of which are familiar off- and on-road fare (like Rock, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand, Normal and Sport), but then there's a little logo with a cactus and a chequered flag. And that's for 'Baja' mode, which preps the traction control, electronic stability control and the drive system for the best possible rough-roading pace. So, the question is, does a poorly disguised desert racer with airbags and climate control make any sense whatsoever in a market where the weather is as soggy as ours?

How does it drive?

Off-tarmac, the Ranger Raptor is utterly terrific. Mesmerising. Quite gob-smacking-ly amazing, in fact, when you consider what it can achieve and the preposterous lengths it will go to in order to make progress. Ford laid on a test route in western Morocco, about the only location within three hours of the UK which gets close to replicating the Bajan Peninsula, that took in pretty much everything, save for mud-plugging. So there were testing rock crawls, blasts along rubbly tracks snaking their way through closely spaced, randomly placed little trees, gravel roads with surfaces rucked up into washboards courtesy of nagging Saharan winds, narrow little unmade lanes with crumbling stone walls hemming the mighty Ranger in and, of course, sand dunes and beaches - lots and lots of dunes and thick, cloying, shifting sands, and then some open thrashes along wet, compacted stretches of coastline and more besides.

Not once did the Raptor look like it might ever get stuck, even for a second. Clicking through its various drive modes and fiddling with the 2H/4H/4L transfer 'box and switching traction control off and on (as required), it just battered Morocco into submission. It's also a case of 'yell madly if you wanna go faster', because the Ranger simply gets better and better the more speed you pile on. The fact you can travel along a gravel track, at speeds in excess of what you can legally travel at on motorways in the UK, with a great plume of sand and dust billowing out behind you like some sort of 1980s Paris-Dakar racer is plainly an enormous hoot. At this sort of off-road pace, the Raptor's damping is almost magical. Your brain cannot compute what you're seeing spooling through the windscreen at a tremendous rate of knots, and what you're experiencing in terms your tactile senses. Furthermore, Ford laid on a mini-Baja course and the Raptor slid, roared and jumped its way around it with an imperious disdain that was absolutely marvellous, while it was a delight to chuck it from side to side while driving on a beach in a five-strong convoy of Raptors, all of them dancing in opposite lock slides as we made our way along the fringes of the eastern Atlantic.

No doubt about it, off-road the Raptor has capabilities beyond any showroom vehicle we've ever experienced and some of the drives we had in it will remain in our 'top ten' list for decades to come. It was as good and as entertaining and as talented in its favoured habitat as something like a McLaren Senna would be in its best environment. So for its sole purpose in life, the Raptor is engineered to perfection. Not only that, but it is genuinely engaging, rewarding and thrilling to drive.

In the right circumstances, that is. Back on tarmac, the Raptor is not nearly so convincing. We've left the drivetrain details until near the end of this review, because this is clearly the Ranger's Achilles heel. Although it shares the same ten-speed automatic gearbox as the F-150 Raptor - and, indeed, the revised Mustang - the Ranger does not pack the superb 3.5-litre V6 of the F-150/GT. Nor does it have a V8, either, before you get your hopes up. In fact, it doesn't even have an enhanced version of the charismatic inline-five 3.2 of the lesser Ranger Wildtrak model.

No, it has a 2.0-litre biturbo diesel four-pot, delivering 213hp and 500Nm. This is a derivation of the unit found in the Edge SUV, but for the life of us we can't work out why Ford didn't uprate it from the Edge's 238hp/500Nm figures, instead pegging the torque at the same level and turning the horsepower wick down to 213hp. If the Raptor had 260hp and 550Nm, figures which would see off the V6-powered rivals in the form of the Mercedes X 350 d and the 258hp Volkswagen Amarok V6 TDI, then we might be looking at a different critical outcome here.

As it is, the Raptor has nothing like the go to accompany its show. For all its blistered brilliance on the outside - what with the F-150 Raptor front grille and those drilled metal side steps only enhancing its bulging physique - this is a slow truck. The 0-62mph sprint takes 10.5 seconds and, while that benchmark is not the be-all and end-all to determining whether a vehicle is any good or not, it does speak volumes about how sluggish the Ranger Raptor feels on the road. The 500Nm struggles to overcome the multiple facets of the unapologetic aerodynamics, the huge-drag Goodrich tyres, the massive 2.5-tonne kerb weight and that needlessly overendowed ten-speed 'box, resulting in the Ford feeling very underwhelming when you summon up full throttle on metalled surfaces. Further, the chunky rubber introduces noticeable bobble to the Ranger's ride quality, while the tyres also squeal into messy understeer at the drop of a hat in tighter corners. You'll quickly get tired of the Raptor shuffling through the huge number of ratios at its disposal if it's in auto mode and you're on hilly routes, while you're never sure what gear you're supposed to be approaching a corner in - third? Seventh? Fourth? Ninth? What?!

It's not appalling on road, though. The ride quality is just about bearable, once you've accustomed yourself to the tyres, and the mechanical refinement is good. We don't even disapprove of the artificial noise that's piped in to overlay the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine's exertions, and the automatic gearbox - for all its needless surfeit of cogs - is admirably slick and seamless in operation. Throw in a decent Raptor-enhanced cabin, which is only let down by one or two plastics and the fact the digital instrument cluster from the Mustang is missing (it couldn't have been too hard to drop it in here, could it?), and you can sort of imagine living with the wild Ranger on a day-to-day basis. We also suppose that if people think 213hp is nothing like enough, then tuning the turbodiesel motor via a remap cannot be beyond the whit of man...

We can't get around it, though: for all its undoubted genius in the rough stuff, there are far better pick-up trucks than the Ranger Raptor, if all you're ever going to do is use it on roads. Hmm...

Verdict

There's no way you can make a rational case for a vehicle like the Ford Ranger Raptor. It's fearsomely expensive, relative to its stablemates and the class it competes in. It'll be punitive to tax and run, because it qualifies for none of the concessions for commercial vehicles that pick-ups normally do. It's slow. The interior finishing is patchy in places. While it might be wieldier than a Ford F-150, that's like saying that Saturn is smaller than Jupiter. And it's designed for a climate far, far away from here, the Raptor being a machine born out of a form of motorsport that's not relevant to the more temperate zones of Earth.

But if you're a pick-up fan (and we are) and you behold then succumb to the Raptor's stunning looks (drool...) and you fully appreciate the remarkable level of engineering that has gone into making it work like it does in deep sand and other such wholly unsuitable driving surfaces (we most heartily approve of this bit), you can't help but revere it. You might never scratch the surface of what it's capable of if you decide to buy a Raptor, but then you could make the very same argument about most high-end, road-going performance machines and supercars, and they seem to sell pretty well regardless. The Ranger Raptor is a competition vehicle, moonlighting as something you can buy in your local Ford showroom as a 'sensible' alternative to an SUV. It's therefore completely brilliant and we utterly adore it. Even if it is flawed. And a bit demented, too.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 2 Apr 2019









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2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.

2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Ranger Raptor. Image by Ford UK.








 

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