Ford’s Ranger Raptor has taken flight and is due to land here in NZ soon. We ruffle its feathers in the far north regions of Australia to see how it handles the inhospitable terrain.
Ford Performance carved itself a niche in the lucrative pick-up market in the US when it spawned the F-150 Raptor. Inspired by desert racers, it’s a truck designed to go fast off road. Now it has applied the formula to the Ranger, designed as a factory-built, high-speed desert runner. Sounds pretty cool but you may be thinking how exactly will that work in New Zealand? We’re still wondering too. But after a dusty yet exhilarating day behind the wheel in the rural back blocks of Australia’s Northern Territories, it sure proved capable, both on tarmac and in the rough, even if the engine’s just a 2.0-litre. Nah, really.
The Raptor Recipe
The three key Raptor ingredients are its chassis, tyres and suspension. The ladder frame they’ve made more robust with sections constructed from higher strength steels, added stiffeners and a chassis-mounted front bumper system while a 2.3mm bash plate guards the engine.
The track grows by 150mm with cast aluminium A-arms up front, and outboard coil-over suspension which allows for more travel. There’s a new strut tower mount and stabiliser bar as well. On the rear, the solid axle is located by upper and lower trailing arms assisted by a Watt’s linkage to maximise vertical travel but keep the lateral movements in check. Outboard coil-over shockers replace the leafs. There are vented 332mm discs all around with twin-piston calipers up front.
The rear tow bar coupling has been lifted to improve the departure angle and there are integrated tow hooks front and rear. As the programme lead, Damien Ross, quipped, “the ones on the rear will help tow your friends out, but you’ll never need to use the ones up front.” Ground clearance ramps up 50mm to 283mm.
The treads were specifically developed by BF Goodrich, and tyre guru, Wayne Count, told us that, thanks to the ride compliancy afforded by the Fox shockers, they were able to go with an aggressive three-ply tyre with stiff sidewalls. The All-Terrain 285/70R17 Baja Champion uses the same tread compound as the F-Series truck and is rated a winter tyre, with no need for chains in the snow. Count says it takes a pounding in the rough, but it’s strength means it’s weighty at 26.5kg. These aren’t in any way noisy on road, and while they have gone as wide as they could on the tread block pattern for grip off road, it’s said to pass the strictest European noise level tests.
Shockers the key
The Raptor’s ability to soak up a pounding off road is down to the Fox shockers. Dynamics guru, Simon Johnson, explains the Fox 2.5 internal bypass dampers are packed full of ‘tuneables’ as he calls them, things that he can alter to improve their performance. “With a normal damper you can change the valves of the piston stack, but here we have so many things to play with inside,” and proceeds to rattle off a raft of suspension jargon related to shims, valves and orifices, all aspects of which can be fiddled with to alter the damper’s character.
It’s those orifices he talks of that relate to the internal bypass technology; holes on the side of the damper’s tube, and it’s the tuning of their size and positioning that make the difference. When the Raptor is tracking along on a smooth path, these allow the oil to move around freely, the damping forces are minimal and the ride is smooth. In the rough when the suspension starts working hard, the piston moving up and/or down in the tube closes off those holes and so the damping forces build up rapidly as it nears full jounce or rebound.
There are also what they call ‘hold and catch zones’ in the suspension travel, the former preventing the Raptor bucking back up after landing a big jump, the latter stopping the suspenders topping out when fully extended and priming them for the landing. At full compression the ‘bump zone’ stops it bottoming it out and transferring big loads to the chassis. He likens this to those soft closing drawers that can never be slammed shut. The Fox shockers have twice the oil volume of the regular Ranger damper too, which helps keep them cool when running hot.
The particular shock used started as an off-the-shelf item that Ford Performance has tuned to suit the Raptor, and Fox produces them to this spec. To get it right, Johnson says he went through 47 different shock tunes on the front, and 40 on the rear. He says it’s about a four-hour job to make the changes and swap them out, not the most pleasant activity in the desert heat, but that’s the hard yards the damper technicians are paid for.
Two litres enough?
The new 2.0-litre diesel, codenamed Panther and shared with Transit, is around 60kg lighter than the old 3.2. The two-stage blower system has a small high pressure turbo to get things pumping early and a larger low pressure turbo. In the low- to mid-range, these work in series but as revs increase, it’s just the big turbo doing the puffing.
The mill is teamed with a 10-speed auto, while there are the six drive modes; Normal and Sport for on-road and four off-road modes including Baja for fast, rough track work. Ford quotes 157kW, with 500Nm available from 1750 to 2000rpm. The 0-100km/h run is said to take 10.5sec, slower than a Colorado Z71 but faster than the Wildtrak. It makes good torque at low revs, and the throttle response is keen, while it manages to conjure a growl under the pump, while from the cabin at least you can’t hear the clatter.
In conjunction with the 10-speed auto, this powertrain does go well. It gets underway smartly, no yawning lag to suffer and in the Normal mode, it makes its way up through the gears in silky fashion. In Sport, the 10R80 keeps the turbodiesel spinning along in the 3000-4000rpm range to good effect, making use of its willingness to rev. The Raptor is fitted with shift paddles but they are superfluous, the quick-acting box always ready with a gear for the task.
The Raptor’s not exceptionally rapid, as its kilowatt count and weight (2400kg claimed) would suggest, but it builds speed effectively. It’s rated at 8.2L/100km on average while the truck we drove was registering in the 12s. Yeah, we would probably have preferred to see the option of the 2.3-litre Ecoboost, or better yet Ford’s 2.7 twin-turbo V6, but on the subject of other engine options, Ford is remaining mum. It’s saying the Ranger Raptor is only confirmed for the Asia Pacific market, and the 2.0-litre diesel is the only engine on offer.
Raptor romps in the rough
Raptor has the usual part-time 4×4 system, with a low range and rear diff locker. What about an all-wheel drive set-up as used by the Everest? They say it wasn’t considered, preferring the rear drive set-up of the part time 4×4 system, which they told us the off-road enthusiast prefers.
While the steering ratio is the same for the Raptor, the EPAS tune has been altered, Sport mode adding some extra weight while in Baja mode the steering is quite light, with less effort required so it turns quickly and it’s not fighting the driver when it’s in the rough ruts. The Baja mode resets the ESC cal to allow a lot more leeway and as long as you’re smooth on the inputs it lets you slide around, though will eventually help out to stop you looping it, as we discovered on the more demanding off-road circuit they sent us around.
Raptor actually runs two ESC software programmes with a Bosch module and Ford’s own system looking after a few new sensors of its own as it aims to take a development lead in this area so it’s not so reliant on suppliers. Whereas the likes of the Focus RS and GT350 are subjected to sustained track testing to ensure they live up to the Ford Performance ideals, the Raptors have to endure a 1600km desert bashing over four days, replicating a Baja-style off-road race, which we got of a taste of on the launch, and to say it’s fairly demanding is an understatement.
Along dirt roads the Raptor’s ride is unsurpassed. The long travel suspension and massively capable Fox shockers take it all in their stride. But it’s when you up the ante over rough, rutted tracks that this thing goes next level. Experiencing the ultimate off-road performance of both the tyres and the Fox shockers at speed is probably something most owners here in NZ will never get the chance to truly appreciate. Unless, perhaps, you have access to an off-road wonderland like the Tipperary Station, a 210,000 hectare Australian cattle ranch with all manner of dirt trails purpose built for torturing the Ranger Raptor.
Just how fast you can attack seriously gnarly tracks is eye opening. It managed to glide over the bumps, with no floating or bouncing to suffer. It’s quick to gain your confidence, and we were happy to send it over washouts at 90km/h that you’d probably think twice about tackling at 40km/h in a Wildtrak. This thing will go great over urban speed bumps. We can’t wait to view all the Ranger Raptor jump fails on YouTube too.
Even when seated beside the hotshoes jumping the Raptor off dirt ramps, your spine suffers no compression as the suspension is quick to let the wheels drop, allowing maximum travel for the landing, where the ‘bump zone’ soaks up the impact but then the shocks have instantly settled the truck, ready for it to tackle the next obstacle rather than wallowing about. And in 4×4 high with the ESC off, they really could make this 2.4 tonne truck hustle. Tackling the whoops (which admittedly were well manicured and spaced), the suspension was able to diffuse the series of bumps while the truck seemingly floated level across the top of them.
The on-road ride is sorted too and the five-link rear end is utterly planted, delivering more stability in the bends which allows that wonderfully linear and progressive Ranger steering to work even more sweetly. The BF Goodrich ATs not only work in the soft dirt and dust but also on tarmac, gripping well and building towards the limits before gradually breaking away. They really bite into the dirt. A regular Ranger would be all bounce and understeer on the course we threaded the Raptor along, and its quick response to the steering, for such a hefty ute, was noteworthy as it turns sharply in the soft terrain.
As an overall package, this is very compelling. It might not have the squirt of a V6 Amarok but is more interesting dynamically, while it’s better on- and off-road than HSV’s SportsCat, if not quite as capable in terms of the reduced towing and load carrying (2500kg braked and 750kg load rating). The $85k ask is steep for a ute, but we feel the $15k premium over a Wildtrak is well justified, even if most won’t get to fully appreciate its talents. But for those who do, there’s nothing quite like it.