THERE’S nothing more thrilling than getting a behind-the-scenes look at how car companies develop new product before anyone else, and this month we experienced three cars wired up with computers and data-acquisition machines as the engineering teams refined the vehicles for local conditions.
Being able to meet and speak with the engineers and discovering that many of them are enthusiasts just like us is thrilling – but not as thrilling as getting to ride in a prototype that most people don’t even know exists.
That was the case when we sent JW to Alice Springs for his sneak peek and ride in the Ranger Raptor prototype last year, as we were sworn to secrecy about it. When all the spy photos and rumours about the upcoming model landed, it was interesting to see which speculations were on the money.
No-one could have predicted the Raptor would feature a 2.0-litre diesel engine, and even now there are few people who can attest to the performance of that 500Nm mill, despite all the social media experts weighing in heavily on the subject since the announcement.
The Raptor isn’t all about power and acceleration; we found that out when we drove the F-150 Raptor last year. It’s more about the chassis, suspension and the ability to maintain speed and control over any terrain, rather than just point and shoot with your foot to the floor. The F-150’s EcoBoost V6 goes well and would have been super sweet in the Ranger, but what we will get is more about the sum of its parts.
While the original SVT Raptor was a beast of a thing with a bellowing V8 and the attitude of a Trophy truck, the second-gen EcoBoost-powered model is more refined and controlled and we reckon the Raptor will be like that, too. Time will tell, but I reckon I’ll still be wishing there was a V8 under the bonnet of the Oz model.
Comparison review: F150 V8 v F150 Ecoboost V6
We also got to ride shotgun with the Jeep engineers from the USA as they evaluated how well their new JL is suited to outback terrain. This is the first time Jeep has ever sent pre-production vehicles and engineers to Australia, and it’s indicative of how important we are to its product.
We also got to put in our two bob’s worth as Nissan’s boffins tested a new suspension package for the backend of the Navara ute, and we came away pleasantly surprised with the much improved vehicle. What was interesting was that Nissan chose to test the Series III Navara on the exact same hill-climb track we used when we first criticised the ute’s load-carrying ability in 2016.