Ford South Africa scoped out some white space in the unexplored sports-truck sector, then punched a Ranger Raptor-sized hole straight through it!
Memories are powerful and bizarre things, especially your earliest ones. Fragmented snapshots tied together with visceral emotion, whether traumatic or gratifying. Your earliest memories, as disjointed as they may be, go a long way to forming your sense of self. And yet a study at the University of Adelaide has found that your earliest memories most likely never even happened! That’s to say, rather than being a record of fact, they’re probably a fictitious construct of moments from your infancy that were overlaid with experiences from your life. In essence, memory is unreliable and perception is psychological not factual.
A good thing in the new Ford Ranger Raptor’s case because as big, bold, and bad to the bone as it is – beneath the oversized bonnet you’ll find the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine from a garden variety Ranger XLT. If your performance vehicle goes into the woods and doesn’t make a sound, did it make a sound at all? That sort of thing.
And you know what, after having thrashed, bashed and dashed across the saltpans of the Northern Cape in one, I can tell you it is an absolutely fantastic machine. Acceleration and top-speed specs are not enough to paint a full picture. Better still, after R3 billion investment into SA, it’s locally built in Silverton for worldwide consumption to 37 export countries, making it something we can be extremely proud of.
I’ll be the first to admit that over the years I haven’t exactly been the biggest Ranger sympathiser. Early ones off the line came with scratchy plastics and shut lines the size of SA’s budget deficit. I didn’t particularly like the gruff, Aussie-developed 3.2-litre five-cylinder motor either. Then when they announced the Ranger Raptor, I’ll concede that I was sceptical. Was this merely a cynical, belated response to the Raptor-esque aftermarket grilles flooding the market?
Then the latest 2019 Ranger arrived with its new twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel motor and ten-speed automatic gearbox and it turned out to be a fantastic – efficient and capable in equal measure, it re-established Ford’s top-flight double-cab position, even as the limelight veered towards six-cylinder offerings from Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz.
However, as big as those are, nothing quite prepares you for the first time you see a Raptor out in the wild. It is so enormous that finding a suitable parking bay is going to be a problem for future owners. A 150 mm wider track might not sound like a lot but it makes a world of difference parked up next to a regular Wildtrak. 283 mm of ground clearance is 50 mm higher than standard. This increases ride height of course, as well as front-wheel travel by 32%, ensuring a wading depth of 850 mm. The more prominent front bash plate looks totally badass but it’s not just for show, it’s 60% thicker to handle the pounding this vehicle can endure off-road.
Front, rear and break-over angles all increase by roughly 5 mm and custom high-strength Fox shock absorbers (you’ll spot the blue aluminium casing peering out) are what you’d expect to find on specialist off-roaders rather than factory-built vehicles. They offer more than two times the oil capacity of regular shocks, helping dissipate heat and stress. Likewise, the Fox 2.5s have been specially tuned for the new coil-sprung Watt’s Linkage rear suspension. The ride on-road is sublimely comfortable with no big crash-through from the standard-fit all-terrain BF Goodrich KO2 tyres. Quite how Ford Performance has gone and achieved this with a truck that is so confidence-inspiring to drive off-road and exhilarating on gravel is mighty impressive.
Now to the elephant in the room – a high-performance bakkie is nothing without a big motor, surely? So does the 2.0-litre Raptor suffer an inferiority complex under the bonnet? At first reckoning, yes. 157 kW and 500 Nm doesn’t seem lusty enough, only imbuing the Raptor with identical performance figures to the regular Ranger, and falling short in a tale of the tape against the Amarok and X-Class V6s. But out on the open it’s certainly no shire horse, it’s more a young colt trying to get up to speed. And the impressive stump pulling and payload potential of the regular Ranger is reduced in this iteration on account of the more sophisticated rear suspension. From the helm, while the engine may not be revelatory, the 10-speed automatic does a fine job to maximise response with tightly packed gear ratios replacing that clutch-slip sensation common to diesel autos and tell-tale gear hunting.
The interior doesn’t move the game on significantly, but that’s because top-spec Rangers are so abundantly specced, to begin with. In Raptor guise, you get lovely leather sport seats, aluminium shift paddles and a steering wheel with a red centre point, and that’s about it. The familiar two-tier dash with climate control below and the latest Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system up top, keep perceived quality high. Everything is automatic, from lights to wipers to climate control. There’s even lane-keeping assist, but the real addition here is the driving mode that doesn’t much care about keeping you on the straight and narrow.
It’s called Baja mode. Toyota plays off its Dakar connection, Ford plays off its Baja connect, both are crazy off-road races. In practice, you can think of it like sport mode for high-speed gravel driving. Microchips sharpen up the throttle and gearbox but lighten the steering and backs off the stability control so the 2 250 kg+ Raptor can become as agile as its prehistoric namesake.
Returning to my memory theme, does it matter that the engine is small? In the pub, probably yes. But not once you’ve driven one flat out across a Northern Cape saltpan, catching air and getting up to all sorts of sideways, Baja mischief. The Raptor looks badass and that’s the only perception that matters. And it won’t even cost you an arm and a leg to purchase at R786 400, which for once is comparable to what the same vehicle will cost overseas. The Ranger Raptor is a winner at a time when Ford knows it must flex some muscle to bring a volatile bakkie market to heel. Mission accomplished.
In a nutshell
Ford Ranger Raptor
Affordable, big-truck looks, fun handling, tough as nails
Puny powerplant, reduced payload and tow capacity
Engine: 1 996 cc, four cylinder twin-turbo diesel
Power: 157 kW @ 3 750 rpm, 500 Nm @ 1 500-2 000 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 10.5 sec, top speed 180 km/h
Tyres: 17-inch 285/70 R17 BF Goodrich KO2
Economy: 8.3 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 10-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 220 g/km
Price: R786 400