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My first drive of the Ford Ranger Raptor

Ford NZ – Every now and again I manage to become fully immersed in a vehicle’s evolution, and my experience with Ford’s new Ranger Raptor is a perfect example. It began with the usual press awareness email, which certainly sparked interest – bearing in mind the attention its big brother (the F150 Raptor) has received.

Then came the invite to the international unveiling in Thailand, a huge production that did more than whet the appetite (and began speculation about the 2L powertrain) but did not include a drive. This was followed by the silk sheet press unveiling in New Zealand (again no behind the wheel time) and the public ‘rotating plinth’ display at Fieldays – alas, still no keys were handed over, such torture.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I finally got the chance to get behind the wheel of this new breed of performance truck at a Jurassic event rather fittingly, held in the wild and rugged outback of Australia’s Northern Territory – it was well worth the wait.

Ever since Ford announced that the Ranger Raptor’s heart would be a mere 2L, 4 cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine, the interweb has been a sea of visceral debate. But Ford has maintained that it’s not about the cubic capacity, and now I can happily inform you, they were correct.

The engine itself delivers its 157 kW and 500 Nm of power and torque in a seemingly endless fashion and triple-digit speed comes with progressive ease whatever terrain you venture out on. Putting a 2L engine in a truck may on the surface seem like a backward step, but you have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that a V8 would be proud to boast these types of numbers.

As I pointed out earlier, it’s not just about the cc’s. With the Ranger Raptor, Ford’s engineers have mated the engine with a finely tuned 10-speed automatic gearbox that quite frankly never appears lost when finding correct gear, but although I doubt you’d need them, there are also paddles on hand for the control freaks amongst you.  

Underpinning it all, the Ranger Raptor’s heavy duty boxed chassis frame is stoic and unyielding but attached to this, are the other four cylinders that make this truck so very special, namely the Fox 2.5 internal Bypass front and remote reservoir rear shocks. According to Ford, ‘there is so much technology in them, they are a candy store for dynamic engineers’. I won’t go into the specifics right now but the damping effect is similar to that of a soft closing cutlery drawer, they simply absorb whatever pressure is inflicted on them.

Our ‘Outback Attack’ experience commenced in Darwin with a sealed road drive to Tipperary Station (which we all know is a long way), the perfect way to showcase the Ranger Raptor’s on-road prowess. Even with its larger physical dimensions and wider track the truck doesn’t feel ungainly on the tar seal. The sports seats are comfortable and supportive with side bolsters that I was thankful for later. A large array of infotainment and driver aids (although no adaptive cruise control) are at hand and the BF Goodrich high-performance all-terrain tyres offered up very little road noise. The near two and a half hour drive included a 130km/h section that (from the engines point of view) went by unnoticed.

The ‘driveway’ to the 210,000 hectare Station itself was an unsurfaced, wide open trail, covered in red, aeolian dust that is commonly known as bulldust, in other words, Ranger Raptor territory. Once again, the combination of that torquey engine, strong chassis, outstanding suspension and all-terrain conquering rubber had us believing that we were still on the highway (and we drove accordingly).

Tipperary Station was once home to around 2000 exotic animals and its incredible isolation and extreme vastness immediately reminded me of the Jurassic Park trilogy (or is that a pentalogy?). Speaking of movies, I also discovered that the Adelaide River scene in Crocodile Dundee was filmed there, I digress.

Anyway, with three exercises to complete, our hosts wasted no time in splitting us into groups and sending us into various locations. The first of which for us, was the quarry and a chance to use the Raptor’s 4WD modes and upgraded ground clearances. As expected, the Ranger took to the gradients and loose shingle without breaking a sweat, unlike us as the temperature nudged the mercury past 30 degrees – this really is a capable off-roader.

Next up was the experience we’d all been waiting for, a fast-paced course including power slides, jumps and torturous ruts – time to engage Baja mode. Among other things, Baja mode tightens up steering response while loosening the rear end traction, the result is a wholly engaging drive that exorcises your inner demons. With a racing professional beside me to encourage and direct, the Raptor tore around Tipperary Station with extreme confidence. I felt in control every step of the way, with the truck absorbing the brunt of all my misgivings.  

The third exercise was more of a demonstration than participation. A passenger ride in a six-minute hot lap that included air, speeds that exceeded 150km/h and display of tail wagging that would embarrass an excitable puppy, in short, it was a chance to get a real insight to the Ranger Raptors true performance capabilities. It was sublime. According to the drivers and technical team alike, the Raptor will take this punishment all day long and seldom miss a beat, to be honest, I strongly believe this to be the case.

The long drive back to Darwin ‘civilisation’ was a bit of a comedown. The adrenaline filled outback experience was one to relish and savour. The Ranger Raptor is in a class of its own right now. What Ford has produced is a sheer delight to drive both in the town and out in the elements and from both an event and indeed the Raptor itself, it truly was a performance of Jurassic proportions.

I just need to go and see how they’re made now!

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