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2018 Ford Ranger Raptor review

By Andy Enright, 25 Jul 2018 Reviews

2018 Ford Ranger Raptor review

‘Built To Be Punished’ screams the promo material, which sounds like a challenge. The Blue Oval’s desert stormer will have to be tougher than teak to make good on that claim here in Australia.

WHAT IS IT

The Raptor mines a new vein in the gold rush that is the Australian dual-cab ute market, namely that of the Baja-style desert racer. With a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel under the bonnet and long-travel Fox Racing suspension, it’s built to be bulletproof where the bitumen ends.

WHY WE'RE TESTING IT

It’s one of the most controversial/hotly anticipated (delete as applicable) vehicles of 2018, so we jumped at the chance of giving the Ford Ranger Raptor a solid battering in the uncompromising NT. Some big questions needed answering, the most obvious being whether a dinky 2.0-litre diesel was enough engine for a ute with such hardcore pretensions.

Read next: Ford Ranger Raptor: Desert Stormer

MAIN RIVALS

Holden Colorado SportsCat+ by HSV; Mercedes-Benz X350; Volkswagen Amarok V6

THE WHEELS VERDICT

The Ford Ranger Raptor offers a whole heap of fun and capability for $75K, but makes most sense if you have the off-road acreage upon which to unleash it. The 2.0-litre lump can feel a little underdone on bitumen, although the fantastic Fox Racing dampers delivers supreme ride quality whatever the surface. It’s probably more ‘specialist interest’ than its order books might suggest, but it’s nevertheless both endearing and engaging.

PLUS: Class-leading suspension; butch styling; clever off-road electronics; decent transmission
MINUS: Not particularly quick; no AEB; peaky torque delivery

THE WHEELS REVIEW

BY NOW, you’ll probably know all the basics of Ford’s Ranger Raptor, so we don’t need to go over them in too much detail. In summary, you get a Ranger that’s been substantially re-engineered with Baja-style Fox long-travel suspension, a toughened chassis, a ten-speed automatic and, up front, a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel lump good for 157kW and 500Nm. Read the marketing spiel and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the most hairy-chested thing to sport a four-pot this side of a Porsche 919.

As intrigued as we were at the prospect of this vehicle, it raised three fairly fundamental issues. Does it have enough engine, can it live up to its hype off-road and, finally, is it worth the $75,000 asking price? We took the opportunity to give the Raptor a fairly unrestricted leathering in a 4000km2 cattle station in the Northern Territory in order to answer these questions.

Read next: 2018 Ford Ranger Raptor pricing announced

The easiest to answer is whether it can cut the mustard off-road. The key to its competence is the combination of the Fox dampers and the 285/70R17 BF Goodrich KO2 tyre which in concert deliver a long-travel plushness to the ride and decent lateral grip on loose surfaces. The tyre is particularly interesting, having been developed specifically for the car with an S (180km/h) rating and the ability to find purchase on the loose without imposing too much of a noise penalty on bitumen. The pillow-top ride quality on road is teamed with relaxed but well-judged pitch and roll resistance.

Raptor’s Fox shocks went through 42 prototype iterations at the front and 74 at the rear before the final valve and shim combination was decided upon 

Off-road, the rebound damping is particularly impressive, the Raptor able to be launched over small yumps, whoops and drop-offs without the suspension crashing. Even when driven hard into compressions that would fold a garden variety Ranger in half, the Raptor swallows horrific hits without troubling its bump stops. It’s uncanny. “The shocks act much like a soft-close drawer,” says Simon Johnson, vehicle dynamics lead on the Raptor programme. “No matter how hard you slam the drawer, it’ll always slow and catch it.”

Other off-road features include hill descent control that is tuneable for speed either by the cruise control buttons or via the throttle or brake pedal. The raised ride height of 283mm – up 50mm on the standard Ranger – and a track widened by 150mm give the Raptor a beefy, foursquare stance with approach, breakover and departure angles of 32.5, 24 and 24 degrees respectively. A low range transfer case and a centre diff lock means you’ll have to try pretty hard to get one of these stuck. Should you excel yourself, 3.8-tonne rated tow hooks front and rear will help you out of a spot. It's worth considering that while other Rangers get the option of autonomous emergency braking, the Raptor doesn't; at least until next year. A senior Ford source told us that this was due to technical issues with sensor positioning and the occurrence of unwanted AEB interventions when running on broken terrain off road. For the first wave of vehicles, AEB will not be available, but later in 2019, Ford will have an autonomous braking solution ready to ship.

Aussie Raptors are Euro5 compliant rather than the 6.1 spec cars that Euro markets get. At least that means we don’t have to bother with AdBlue top-ups

What’s perhaps most impressive about the Raptor’s off-road chops is the Terrain Management System’s Baja mode, which allows 20 degrees or so of yaw with ESC on, giving the off-road driver the option of oversteering the Ranger into a corner on the brakes to get the nose pointed in vaguely the right direction whilst still retaining the safety net of some stability control should you really get a bit ambitious. Available in both front and rear drive settings, Baja mode does particularly interesting things to the electrically-assisted steering, damping the response slightly which would be undesirable on bitumen, but on the loose allows you to wind on lock without making the front end nervous or pointy-feeling. Likewise, it softens the throttle pedal mapping slightly so as not to tip the vehicle into unwanted traction control interventions and holds onto gears for a bit longer.

So while the Raptor lives up to its engineering claims off-road, on blacktop it’s not quite such an unblemished scorecard. There’s no real way of sugar-coating the fact that this is a $75K Ford Performance product that has a power to weight ratio of 65kW per tonne. That’s only a gnat’s better than an entry-level VW Polo 70TSI. Little wonder that 100km/h comes and goes in a stately 10.5 seconds. In other words, don’t try to challenge a V6 Amarok or X-Class away from the lights.

Raptor's tray measures 1560mm x 1743mm and towing capacity is rated at 2500kg

Drive it solely off-road and you’ll find it more than adequate. On road, it can feel a little anaemic, although the 10-speed automatic transmission does try to wring the best of it out. The fact that peak torque is maintained across a mere 250rpm between 1750 and 2000rpm coupled with shift paddles that seem to deny downshifts a little too censoriously means that the ‘box is best left in ‘D’ to get on with things. The steering is crisply weighted and the brakes beefed up to cope with the Raptor's considerable extra weight over a garden-variety Ranger XLT, but that weight further blunts the grunt that is on tap. There's never that effortless surge of torque you want and expect. We tested a Ranger XLT at 10.1 seconds to 100km/h last month, so the Raptor could well be outdragged by a sibling that's $18K cheaper. It also proved slower than the Triton Exceed, Amarok, Mercedes X250d, Colorado LTZ and the Navara ST-X we tested in July's issue of the magazine.

Read next: 2019 Ford Ranger Raptor Development Program

And therein lies the Raptor’s rub. Viewed through the narrow lens of pure function, the engine is fine for its high-speed off-road remit. It’s gutsy enough, wields a 900km+ theoretical range and weighs around 70kg less than the doughty 3.2-litre five. But in focusing almost exclusively on fitness for a largely esoteric purpose, Ford’s engineers have compromised the Raptor for what it will actually be used for. Most Aussie buyers will never experience their vehicle at high speed on dirt or sand, much less launch it off a yump. Those filling Ford’s order bank will get a great looking, sweet riding and benign handling dual-cab that’s one of a kind, but which can appear skewed on the mouth/trousers ratio. Vacation on a cattle station and it’ll all make sense.

SPECS

Model: Ford Ranger Raptor
Engine: 1996cc inline 4cyl, 16v, dohc, turbo diesel
Max power: 157kW @ 3750rpm
Max torque: 500Nm @ 1750-2000rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Weight: 2404kg
0-100km/h: 10.5 sec (claimed)
Economy: 8.2L/100km (combined)
Price: $74,990
On sale: September 2018