It was the off-road Trophy Trucks and Buggies that race in the North American Baja 1000 that spawned the original Ford Performance F-150 Raptor, and which in turn inspired development of the smaller Ranger Raptor, but there’s plenty of Aussie ingenuity under the hood of our own predatory ute.
Headed up by Ford Asia Pacific, using engineers and designers based at the blue oval’s Broadmeadows base, the team worked on the Ranger since its creation and naturally know how demanding our outback roads can be.
So what better place to test the blue oval’s ground-breaking ute than out on the baking hot red dirt of the Northern Territory.
This isn’t a ute for wading through rivers or climbing over rocks (although it can do that if you choose), instead the Raptor has been designed with sand dunes in mind, so much so it has a specific ‘Baja’ setting in the drive mode selection. That means going fast off-road, with a twin-turbo engine and racing-spec shock absorbers to soak up bumps and even jumps.
Before we go on, it’s probably best to get the bad news out of the way early and deal with the price. Because at $74,990 (plus on-road costs) the Raptor isn’t a cheap ute. It costs more than $11,000 over the previous range-topping Ranger, the Wildtrak.
Of course there are some very major upgrades to make the Raptor special enough to justify the price increase.
Beyond the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine (which will be an option in the 2019 Ranger Wildtrak and XLT), the Raptor gets specially engineered and race-inspired Fox shock absorbers, a wider track and chunkier BF Goodrich tyres wrapped around unique 17-inch alloy wheels. All these new elements are housed in a overhauled body that includes a new-look front grille with a bold ‘FORD’ insert, reprofiled bumpers, flared wheel arches and magnesium side steps.
Unfortunately, despite it sitting at the top of the Ranger line up, the Raptor misses out on key safety equipment including autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring and active cruise control. The company’s engineers promise they will be added in the near-future but didn’t give a more detailed timeline - so it may be worthwhile waiting on your order.
Another piece of bad news is you’ll have to be patient, as the Raptor won’t hit Ford showrooms until October. That means it’s too early for details about ownership costs.
But it will be covered by Ford's recently-introduced five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and come with capped-price servicing, a loan car program when visiting the dealership and will be eligible for Ford's 'Second Car' scheme where owners can rent a Mustang for a fortnight each year at discounted rates.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.0/5
Ford hasn’t just tweaked the hardware, it has also added some extra comfort and style to the Raptor’s arsenal. Inside there’s a new sports steering wheel with red centre markings and blue stitching throughout the cabin to lift the appearance.
But the rest is typical Ranger, with several 12-volt outlets, USB charging ports and good small item storage with a variety of shelves and pockets.
Also new inside, the ‘Performance’ seats have extra side bolstering and trimmed in ‘technical suede’ which looks and feels perfectly suited to the character of the car - leather would have been out-of-place. They work well too, offering good comfort even on the rocky and rutted roads we tackled in the Raptor.
Rear space is good too for a dual-cab ute, with enough room for two adults to sit comfortably or squeeze in a third in the middle.
While the Raptor sits 50mm higher off the ground for better clearance, the addition of the magnesium side steps not only helps the aesthetics but also makes it easy to climb aboard by providing a stable leg-up.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
The Raptor is tough and fun, as it has been designed to take a beating. The Ford engineers put it through all the usual endurances tests but to wear the Raptor badge it had to pass a Baja-inspired test. Engineers drove it at speed off-road for 1600km (1000-miles just like Baja) to push it to its limits.
The result of that rigorous testing and the goal of trying to recreate a Baja-style racing truck is a ute like no other. The Raptor lives for going fast on dirt, sand, snow and rocks. You can hit a rutted dip in the road at 90km/h and it will jump in the air but land with composure - boarding on graceful.
Dial up the ‘Baja’ setting in the drive mode system and the Raptor feels even more at home on dirt. The unique setting allows the back end of the ute to slide around as you push it on loose surfaces, making it feel more lively and enjoyable.
There are plenty of utes that can go off-road at low speed but nothing compares to the fast-paced running the Raptor is capable of.
The catch of all these go-fast bits is a decline in its payload and towing capabilities. For starters, there’s no tonneau cover, but the tray has a tub liner. The rated payload is just 738kg, compared to the 950kg the Wildtrak can manage. It’s towing capacity is also down from 3500kg from the Wildtrak to just 2500kg for the Raptor.
But, in truth, if you’re looking for a workhorse ute you’re looking in the wrong place.
In the hunt for the best combination of performance and efficiency, Ford has downsized the engine from the Wildtrak’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel to the aforementioned 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo unit.
It may be small but it packs higher outputs of 157kW of power and 500Nm of torque and gets paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission that helps get the best from it. However, there’s simply no escaping the Raptor could do with more punch. The 0-100km/h time of 10.5-seconds isn't going to help you win any traffic light grand prix, and in the real world it feels like it lacks mid-range shove - especially in its standard drive mode.
Switch it to Sport or Baja mode and the transmission will immediately become more active and drop down a few ratios to get the revs up and keep the engine in its sweet spot for maximum response.
The on-road performance is surprisingly good for a car with suspension and tyres designed for high-speed off-road driving. It’s relatively quiet, although the diesel makes a nice growl under hard acceleration, and the tyres feel solid.
It means the Raptor is an ideal machine for someone with an urban lifestyle but a desire to have fun off-road on the weekends. The steering is light and responsive for a ute and because the ride is tuned for conquering rocks and ruts off-road, on-road obstacles such as speed bumps and potholes are simply not an issue.
But the Raptor is really more at home on dirt where it thrives no matter the surface. It will slide on hard pack dirt road or gravel or it will power through ruts or river crossings with equal ease.
If you really want to get into slow-speed off-roading it can do that too, with increase approach and departure angles thanks to the new bumpers and all the usual aids, including hill descent control.
Ford wasn’t simply looking for maximum performance from the Raptor, it was also trying to meet the ever-stricter emissions standards around the world. The knock-on effect is reduced fuel consumption but in reality the Raptor’s 2.0-litre is only a minor improvement over the 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre engine - using 8.2-litres per 100km compared to the bigger engine’s 8.4L/100km.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While there are some obvious areas for improvement it’s hard not to be impressed, and even a little bit smitten by the Raptor, because it’s such a capable off-road racer. The Ford Performance team wanted to try and capture the essence of those Baja 1000 racing trucks and they have, with the Raptor tough enough and fast enough to take a high-speed beating across almost any terrain you throw it at.
- Interested in buying Ford Ranger? Visit our Ford showroom for more information.