FISH OUT OF water doesn’t quite cut it here. No, this is more deep-sea-tuna-on-top-of-Uluru kind of territory. Complete with Julian Assange-in-a-crowded-supermarket levels of discomfort. You see, I’m just not a dual-cab ute kind of guy. I can appreciate them in a detached kind of way, and understand that they’re exceedingly popular and thus exceptionally relevant to the average Aussie, yet they hold zero appeal to my rational side. They’re too heavy, too thirsty and too clumsy. Plus I don’t have anything to lug about.
This does make me feel like an American trying to understand cricket, though I have tried to grasp the allure of the pick-up. This involved several attempts at hardcore off-roading, but all this managed to do was deepen my confusion. Who cares if your ute can clamber up a boulder? And enduring hours of muddy ruts and inching down slippery slopes at 4km/h is about as thrilling as hopping inside your dryer to share a spin cycle with a bowling ball.
All of this makes me the least qualified person in the Wheels office to run the latest addition to our fleet – this rather ostentatious Ford Ranger Raptor. Which is precisely why I wanted to be its custodian. Over the next six months, I’m hoping the Raptor can finally shed some light on the whole dual-cab thing. Plus, let’s be real: this isn’t your typical dual-cab.
It looks absolutely mental, especially in this colour (a $650 option, while the decals are an additional $750), and I adore how much of a visual middle finger it delivers in every situation. Bluff, aggressive and imposingly tall (the track is 150mm wider and the ride height is 50mm taller than a regular Ranger), it’s the only vehicle I’ve ever ‘owned’ that requires the help of a grab-handle on the A-pillar to climb into.
Plus, while I find most off-roading to be about as exciting as a Matthew McConaughey marathon, the Raptor has been designed with a particular brand of bush bashing in mind – high-speed hooliganism. The evidence of this is found primarily in the one mechanical component that dominates the Raptor experience: the suspension.
WELCOME: Introducing our Project Ranger
The long-travel Fox shocks and strengthened chassis have been built to cop an absolute hammering as owners fang through deserts and jump off sand dunes with huge amounts of air. And that, dear reader, is the kind of off-roading I do find appealing. The hope is that during our time together, the Raptor and I will embark on some ambitious adventures that will expand my motoring horizon and skill set, but so far things have been fairly mundane. Month one has been spent acclimatising to its sheer size and girth (at 2180mm wide, lane discipline is important), enjoying the loftiness of its seating position (it rivals small trucks for height), and marvelling at how polished it is in heavy suburban driving.
Sure, the controversial 157kW/500Nm four-cylinder diesel (more on this in coming months) is a little rattly at times, but the 10-speed auto is smooth and the cabin is remarkably civilised. Looking at those chunky 285/70R17 BF Goodrich tyres, I’d expected them to drone like a dementor’s death rattle at 100km/h, yet they’re no worse than a conventional passenger tyre. Impressive.
And in most situations, the ride verges on impervious. Small imperfections do make their way into the cabin with that trademark tremor that seems to plague all unladen pick-ups, but bigger bumps are ironed out with disdain. So much so, in fact, that speed humps don’t so much signal an obstacle that requires you to slow down as one that taunts you to speed up.
The sternest test I’ve thrown the Raptor’s way to date has been a weekend jaunt to the Yarra Valley for lunch at a rather posh winery. It chewed up the four-hour road trip with ease – helped in part by comfortable and supportive Raptor-specific front seats – though it did score some odd looks as we parked up among the sea of grey BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens. It really did feel the odd one out. The proverbial fish out of water. And I liked that.