Raptor is the best medicine
Everything you wanted to know about the ultimate off-road performance truck _______________(but were afraid to ask)
Dust. There was dust on our faces, clothes, and shoes. If you cut open our lungs, dust would likely spill out. It was rust colored, as if we were standing on the surface of Mars.
Stand still and the dust would cover every square centimeter of exposed surface in a matter of minutes. But we were not standing still. We were tearing along at 130 kph on a roadless patch of the Australian Outback.
We were floating, but we were not in a space ship. We were held firmly in the driver’s seat of the new Ranger Raptor. Going fast in a pickup was not amazing. Neither was being able to go where no sedan had gone before. What was amazing is that we were perfectly comfortable in the Raptor’s cabin.
Our organs weren’t being rearranged. Our fingers weren’t clenching the steering wheel in a death grip. After a long day on the road driving of a luxury sedan, it’s almost a cliché to say that we could end the day as fresh as when we began.
Ranger Raptor is like that. Only this time, there is no road. It was only sand, rocks, shale, gravel—any loose surface you could think of. That’s the singular appeal of this Raptor.
Two hours earlier, we had left our hotel room in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory. Once we stepped into the Ranger Raptor, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that we hadn’t much missed our room.
Up front in the Raptor are a pair of well-bolstered leather seats. There’s a Bluetooth audio system. The only thing missing was an espresso maker, and there is a 220V outlet in case you brought yours along.
During the drive out of the city—the transport stage, as we would think of it later—the Raptor behaved in a quite civilized manner—smooth, even. Then we turned off from the four-lane onto a strip of asphalt—bitumen, as it is called in these parts.
Four lanes of straight gray surface became black one-and-a-half-wide lane, turning more and more twisty. Tight, blind corners were the order of the day here. Normally, this wouldn’t be fun in a truck, but the Raptor coped well. Steering was responsive, and the rear wheels followed the fronts without any drama—not a given where pickups are concerned. Surprisingly on the 50 mm-higher Raptor, body roll was well-controlled, too.
Then began the dusty part. We turned off toward Tipperary Station, a local ranch that’s about the size of the island of Cebu. Just to get to the main gate took more than 10 minutes of driving at 120 kph. This was where we got our first taste of the tuning magic beneath the Raptor.
At those speeds, the truck felt composed, almost serene. There was a plume of red dust behind us, but from inside the cabin, we could converse normally, and take videos on our phone that didn’t look like a Jason Bourne action scene.
The secret to the Raptor’s on-road civility and off-road capacity for punishment is threefold. First is the long-travel suspension. The Raptor uses coil springs and a Watts link at the rear. The Watts link allows for greater vertical travel and less lateral travel, helping to keep the truck steady even as the terrain gets challenging.
Ground clearance is raised by 50 mm, and to avoid raising the center of gravity, the Ranger’s front and rear track were widened by 150 mm. Mounting points for the supension are made of thicker steel, and welding to the ladder frame has been reinforced. The front double wishbones use stiffer and lighter forged aluminum for the upper units and cast aluminum for the lower ones.
The second key is comprised of the position-sensitive damping (PSD) Fox shock absorbers, custom built for Ranger Raptor. The Fox PSD uses two nested tubes, with relatively free movement in the middle range of travel, resulting in very low damper force at the center—the comfort zone.
As the damper goes to the end of its stroke—the control zone—the suspension stiffens and gives better handling and stability. Multiple grooves and specific holes for the hydraulic fluid provide all of this control mechanically, without the need for an electronically variable system.
The Fox dampers come at a stiff cost. The shocks alone reportedly are half the cost of the Raptor’s engine. They are worth it, as they provide the Raptor with its sedan-like ride in the city, while allowing the pickup to do all sorts of wild manuevers in the Outback. They’re also durable enough to last the lifetime of the truck.
The third component resides in the BF Goodrich 285/70 R 17 All-Terrain K02 tires. These are off-roaders but are comfortable on pavement, avoiding the lumpy ride that other all-terrain tires usually succumb to. The Goodrich tires provide decent and predictable grip on asphalt, while keeping blissfully silent.
These tires really come into their own when off-road. They felt confident when going on those dusty trails. When transitioning to really slippery, powder-like sand, we felt the truck slide for a second, then regain its traction as the tires found their grip again.
We soon appreciated the setting, not just for its scenery and the odd kangaroos and snakes, but because the wide open space allowed us to let the Raptor loose without fearing for our lives.
On a kilometers-long cattle trail, lumpy mud that had dried out, the Raptor easily maintained 130 kph. There were several sharp ruts that could have easily bogged down a crossover or a regular-height pickup, but the Raptor shrugged these off at 80 kph, retaining its stability during and after the bumps.
The Raptor’s fender flares are the most visible indicators of the suspension changes. The bulging fenders are molded from composites, due to the depth and sharp features required on the component. They flank that big FORD grille, first seen on the F150 Raptor and on thousands of aftermarket accessories since.
Thrust comes from the 2.0-liter twin-turbo Ford diesel engine. It produces 213 ps, and more importantly, 500 Nm from 1750 rpm. Making the most of the output is a 10-speed transmission. Initially developed for the F150 to improve its driveabilty and fuel efficiency, it has since found its way to the performance side of Ford’s lineup, namely, the 2018 Mustang, where it allows the beast to casually and consistently accelerate to 100 kph in about 5.3 seconds without engaging the launch control.
The Ranger doesn’t deliver that much of a brutal feel, but a smooth takeoff. If you stare at the tach needle, you would know that it shifts quite often, reaching sixth gear by 60 kph. Even from the driver’s seat, the upshifts are all but imperceptible. Poking out behind the steering wheel are two gray paddles, with + and – cut into them.
Ford’s Terrain Management system, selectable via the steering wheel, manages traction and stability control to suit various conditions. It works together with the electronically-engaged four-wheel drive system to make sure the Ranger Raptor makes maximum use of its available traction.
Among the various modes, there’s Normal for on-road use, Mud, Sand, and one with an amusing icon: a cactus with a checkered flag. Switching to this engages Baja mode, essentially an off-road race mode, where you can power slide the rear end just for the heck of it.
The Ranger Raptor remains a comfortable everyday vehicle. The front seats are supportive, and include suede inserts for better grip. The rear seats, with a slight incline to the backrest, provide adequate knee room.
Anyone looking for the ultimate performance pickup would do well with a Raptor. It has a huge well of performance to draw from, and a huge expanse like this slice of the Australian Outback allows you to let it loose.