I reckon I could hit that even faster. That's the first thing that popped into my head after somewhat tentatively taking the Ford Ranger Raptor over a small jump on a narrow, rutted track underneath a giant transmission tower. It’s a sketchy run-up, partly downhill and quite off-camber amongst some low-lying scrub.
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It’s also tricky when you’re not really aware of what exactly this new breed of ute is capable of. It’s not what I’d typically be doing in a normal 4WD, where your driving should be exactly like American barbecue: low (gear) and slow (speed). But this Raptor ain’t no normal 4WD.

Glen the cammo radios through and confirms my suspicions: “That looked good, but do you want to try it a bit faster?”. Sure, Glen. Twist my arm.

The Raptor is a very different and very special 4WD ute, compared to anything new or anything that has come before. There’s a lot to like, and a few things you’ll have to be happy to live with if you want one. Let’s get to it.

One very big deal is the 150mm increase in track width. It’s a big engineering change, which needs practically everything nearby the wheels to be redesigned to accommodate the change, along with new panels. It brings a lot of benefits, too. It improves the centre of gravity and inherent stability of the vehicle, and gives enough room for the taller, wider rubber and bigger suspension parts.

Wider suspension parts travel in a longer arc, as well. This means you’ve got more articulation. Ford has gone to the effort of using lighter cast and forged aluminium control arms (less unsprung mass) and going to a coilover set-up using a Watt's linkage at the rear.

All of these drastic changes mean the Raptor has a completely different spec sheet to a normal Ranger. When compared to a 2019 Ranger WildTrak, the Raptor is taller (1848mm vs 1873mm), longer (5426mm vs 5560mm) and wider (1860mm vs 2028mm).

It’s also heavier (2239kg vs 2332kg), with less towing (3500kg vs 2500kg) and payload (961kg vs 758kg) capacity. Leaf springs and drum brakes are replaced with discs (the front discs are bigger, too), and the paltry 265/60R18 rubber is replaced by LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich all-terrains.

Many will lambaste the Raptor for having a crappy payload and towing capacity, but that is simply the price you must pay for a suspension and chassis set-up that is designed to handle high speed off-road action. You can have your cake in this instance, but you can’t eat it too.

All of the mechanical and chassis upgrades will account for the majority of hard-earned money Ford is asking in exchange for this car. Compared to a $63,000 Ranger WildTrak, which does have some additional tech and safety, the Raptor is a fair jump up to $75,000. It doesn’t have a stack of additions inside, save for some comfortable part-suede seats and some tasteful stitching and embroidery. It’s an interior that’s nice and feels well put together, without trying too hard.

The 8.0-inch Sync 3 system is great, and has all of the connectivity you’ll want. It’s lacking some more advanced stuff like autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, but you do have lane-departure warning, automatic headlights, traffic sign recognition and keyless entry/start. It also has some nice magnesium paddles mounted at the steering wheel, which are nicely functional for when you want to choose your own ratios.

On a straight run at price, the Raptor is right up at the pointy end of the 4WD ute segment. Its competition is other top range and special-edition utes, like the Toyota HiLux Rugged X, Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 580 and Mercedes’s incoming 350d X-Class. It’s similar in price, but has a different modus operandi. Rather than a litany of bolt-on upgrades or big V6 power and luxury inclusions, the Raptor is all about the suspension and chassis upgrades. And to see this stuff, you’ll have to crawl underneath the vehicle.

At each corner proudly sits a big Fox 2.5-inch shock absorber, which has an internal floating piston and internal bypassing. This race-bred technology lets the shock run with a delicately soft damping rate through the middle of the piston’s travel, but it gets progressively much firmer and controlling when you reach maximum compression and extension.

The rear suspension is a Watt's linkage live axle, with a coilover spring and additional piggyback reservoir on the shock. To help accommodate this, the chassis has been seriously reworked and beefed up. This is a world away from a basic black-pack or sticker-pack upgrade.

The resulting improvement in ride and capability is seriously impressive. At high speeds off-road, Raptor is number one, followed by daylight, then moonlight.

The shocks are tuned with the soft coils to give a ride that smooths out almost anything you’ll encounter off-road, and it seems the harder they are working, the better they perform. Combined with some big 33-inch tyres on 17-inch wheels, you’ve got plenty of sidewall for extra cushioning and traction. It’s an absolute beast off-road.

When you’re on the bitumen, the big suspension also pays dividends. Some might criticise it for feeling boaty and airy, but they are missing the point of the Raptor. It’s all about off-road performance, not pretending to be a bitumen-biased race car.

The net result is a ride that’s soft and forgiving, with better compliance over bumps and rough surfaces (and speedbumps) than anything else in the segment. You’ll notice the body dip and dive under acceleration and braking a bit as well, and a bit of body roll in cornering, but that’s the trade-off.

That’s not to say the Raptor has the ability to pin you into the back of the seat as the nose points upwards after you bury the pedal. It simply doesn’t have the power to do that, unlike its American cousin.

The engine is Ford’s new 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, which is shared amongst the Ranger and Everest as well. It makes 157kW @ 3750rpm and 500Nm @ 2000rpm running through a new 10-speed automatic gearbox. It’s an all-new design with plenty of efficiency and friction reduction built-in, using two turbos for the grunt. It’s not exactly a scintillating engine, lacking in outright thrust and theatrics for something otherwise so aggressively designed and engineered.

The net result is a markedly refined and smooth driver for most of the time, giving a decent amount of shove along off the mark. The 0–100km/h dash takes a shade over 10 seconds, which isn’t exactly brisk. The first half of that isn’t completely awful, but when you start winding up towards triple digits, it feels like it could use more power. I don’t know what the number is, but I imagine the 80–120km/h figure wouldn't be too impressive. I found myself using 100 per cent of the available throttle very often; it would be nice to have a little bit extra in reserve for when you really need it.

It’s quicker than a 3.2-litre Ranger, but it would definitely be slower than the new 2.0-litre Ranger. This is down to the extra weight, and the taller tyres giving the Raptor some taller gearing on the road.

Off-road, it’s a bit of a different story. This isn’t a Baja Trophy truck that needs 600hp (something closer to 300 would be nice), and the available grunt is enough for plenty of off-road shenanigans. You can gather enough pace and momentum between the ruts and whoops without too much hassle, and the impressive suspension performance takes your mind off the desire for those extra horses.

You’ve got a selection of off-road modes in the Terrain Management System that helps modulate the ESC, gearbox and throttle tuning, which does help out and make a noticeable difference. Rock mode dulls the throttle and tightens ESC response, while Mud/Sand tightens up the throttle and lets the gearbox hold a gear for some extra revs and wheelspin. Like the Watt's linkage, this is borrowed from the Everest.

The Raptor has a unique mode: Baja. I would prefer this was called ‘Simmo’ or ‘Finke’ or ‘Gunbarrel’, but you get what it’s for: maximum off-road performance. There isn’t any adjustability around the suspension, rather it’s all in the steering, throttle, gearbox and ESC.

The 10-speed gearbox is also a really positive addition to the Ranger platform. Along with giving decisive and smooth changes on the blacktop, it’s also pretty cluey off-road as well. I found selecting my own gear in low-range was the best for really low-speed situations, for that little bit of extra control you can get.

Aside from playing silly buggers over rough tracks and pretending you’re at King of The Hammers or on the Old Ghan, the Raptor’s additional mods give it a big boost in low-speed, technical 4WDing and crawling. Extra clearance afforded by the suspension and tyres is great, as well as the improved wheel travel and underbody protection on offer.

The fact that the front end can flex a bit balances things up somewhat, and stops it from flopping around and lifting wheels at any given opportunity. The BFGoodrich KO2s are a huge step up, with good off-road traction at all speeds, in a good off-road size and Light Truck construction.

You’ve still got a locking rear differential, which works nicely in tandem with a good off-road traction control. I would rate this Raptor as the most capable 4WD ute off the factory floor.

Like a normal 4x4 ute, the Raptor is a good proposition to live with day to day. Yes, it’s compromised compared to a crossover or SUV, but remember you can’t exactly off-road or jump an SUV or crossover. So there. The Raptor is fairly wide – watch the 2m+ of width when lining up for the carpark. The second-row seating is fairly comfortable, but has the typical cramped feeling of a 4WD ute. And the tray is the same size as a Ranger's.

The soft ride combines well with a smooth driveline and easy steering for a vehicle that will happily munch down plenty of kilometres without any real worry. The seats are comfy, the sound system is decent, and the tyres are nowhere near as loud as you might think.

If you want a 4WD ute to load up with gear, this isn’t your ute. If you want a 4WD ute for towing, this isn’t your ute. If you want a 4WD ute that has high power and good straight-line performance, this isn’t your ute. If you want a cost-effective 4WD ute that will do weekdays and weekends well, this isn’t your ute.

If you want to do jumps, then it might be. If you want great off-road capability without having to modify, then it’s worth a look. And if you just want a ute that looks really tough, then, well, you’re probably on a winner too.


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