- Introduction: The Big Surprise
- Update #1: The Baja Hustle
- Update #2
- Update #3: The great cover up
- Update #4: Snow-go zone
Introduction: The Big Surprise
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.
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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.
Update #1: The Baja Hustle
It is as I’d hoped. Five weeks into Raptor ownership and the Blue Oval brute is already enriching my life in new and dusty ways. Aware that I may have been a tad hasty in my remarks about off-roading in last month’s report (“About as exciting as a Matthew McConaughey marathon”), and with Saturday dawning bright, I decided the time was ripe for some adventuring.
With the wife equally keen to explore, we threw the dog into the back seat and made a beeline for Lerderderg State Park, an hour north-west of Melbourne with some 14,250 hectares of bushland on offer.
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Its centrepiece is a 300m-high gorge that bisects the park, alongside which runs one of the main dirt arterials, O’Briens Road. It’s a well-maintained track that offers a tasty blend of wide and fast sections that give way to tight, plunging hairpins as the road snakes towards a river crossing. Perfect for exploring the six drive modes of the Raptor’s Terrain Management System, including the one I’m most keen to try: Baja mode.
Each mode (Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja and Rock Crawl) alters the driver assist systems and the calibration of steering, throttle, transmission, ABS and the locking differential, though Baja is designed specifically for fast off-road running. It sharpens up shifts, holds onto gears for longer, improves throttle response and slackens off the traction control, all of which makes it an absolute hoot on a slippy surface.
Proper high-speed off-roading will have to wait for a safer location, so I only get a tantalising taste of what Baja has to offer – though Lerderderg does present a sterner challenge before we head for home.
Splintering off the main road are numerous ancillary tracks that delve deeper into the dry bushland, quickly transforming into challenging trails with deep ruts, sharp rocks and steep elevation changes. Painfully aware of my inexperience off-road, and the fact that I haven’t seen another car for hours and have no phone service, I tread with caution. I needn’t have. The Raptor barely breaks a sweat as it clambers over fallen trees and crawls up hillsides with the surefootedness of a mountain goat.
The drive modes helped, as did the reassurance of the BF Goodriches’ reinforced sidewalls. But was it fun? Not in the way I’m used to when I’m at the wheel, though I’ll admit to a strange sense of satisfaction as we headed for home, the ute caked in dirt, and plans for a return visit already in our minds.
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IT WAS CRUEL, really, bringing the Raptor along, but we had no choice, see. We needed its height, and its tray, to shoot the cover shot of last month’s magazine. It worked a treat, too – the resulting image was suitably evocative and arresting – but what we didn’t twig at the time was how the Raptor might fare in such illustrious company. You see, every one of the cars in the shoot was powered by a thumping V8 (Great V8s! was the cover line) and this, by association, did the Raptor’s 2.0-litre diesel no favours. The company you keep and all that.
It’s a touchy topic this one, so it’s best to tread carefully. Much has been made of Ford’s curious decision to fit its flagship ute with a downsized 2.0-litre oiler, and most of it has been critical. It’s easy to see why. With 157kW and 500Nm on tap, the Raptor’s new ‘Panther’ twin turbo-diesel produces only 10kW/30Nm more than the 3.2-litre diesel in the regular Ranger range. It’s also outgunned by rivals like VW Amarok (165kW/550Nm) and Mercedes X-Class (190kW/550Nm), which are cheaper.
The rest of the Raptor is pumped up to the max, so why not the engine? Why not fit the 335kW/691Nm EcoBoost V6 of the larger F-150 Raptor, which is paired with the same 10-speed auto? A tweaked version of the Mustang’s 2.3-litre turbo four also sounds tasty.
Ford Australia’s answer? No one would buy it. Blue Oval engineers are convinced that the dual-cab-ute market is so diesel oriented that the Raptor had to be powered by one. The ‘Panther’ unit was the newest, most technically advanced option. For a while, I could see their point. It’s nicely refined and reasonably efficient, and anyway, does a ute like this, designed for sustained off-road running, need a kick-arse engine?
“Yes!” came the resounding response from the wider Wheels team when I floated the question. And now I’m starting to agree with them. Two things happened this month to convince me.
The first was driving those ‘Great V8s’ and then imagining what the Raptor would be like with one. Pretty epic, I reasoned, especially as most examples will likely spend more time on bitumen than fanging through the bush.
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The second was almost being crushed by a BK-series Mazda 3 as we drag raced onto a freeway on-ramp. The Raptor’s 0-100km/h claim is a yawning 10.4sec and only the Mazda’s driver lifting off saved me from serious embarrassment. Is that the kind of performance one should expect from such a hardcore, and expensive, dual-cab? I’m not so sure.
Update #3: The great cover up
Inwood ponders the virtues of a lockable tray, while others take a lend
You can spot a wangler from a great distance. They’re crafty, these folk, these ‘borrowers’, these ‘favour askers’, so you need to know what you’re looking for, but no-one is more finely attuned to their tricks than a ute owner. “Mate, are you up to much this weekend?” is an all-too-familiar, and seemingly innocent, opening gambit. “Oh good,” comes the whip-crack follow-up. “Can I borrow the Raptor? You’ll be okay to drive my Citroen C2, yeah?”
So far my Raptor has helped three people move house, been twice called upon by our sister title 4X4 Australia to ferry about some off-road wheels and tyres, and has been a regular at Bunnings where all sorts of hardware has been stuffed into its tray.
At least the wanglers are grateful. “Beauty, mate, cool ute,” is often the parting remark as the keys clatter across my desk. “Heaps of room.”
Until recently I’ve taken them at their word, but twice this month I’ve had to call upon the Raptor’s utility. The first time was to move some pool-fence palings, which proved all too easy. But the second task was trickier.
My 70-inch TV had packed it in and I needed to get it to a repairer. As with most modern electronics, the TV’s box was about 50 percent larger than the unit itself, and there was a moment where I feared it wouldn’t fit. It did, just, when placed diagonally across the tray, and I’ve since discovered that I mightn’t have been so successful had I been driving a regular Ranger. As part of the Raptor re-engineering process, Ford has altered the dimensions of the tray to make it slightly larger. Compared to a regular XLT, the Raptor’s ‘pick-up box’ is 194mm longer and has a tailgate opening some 155m wider. Handy.
What the Raptor doesn’t come with, however, is any kind of tonneau cover. Ford offers a variety of factory-fit soft and hard covers on the options list, but as standard, the Raptor’s tray is left open.
At first I thought this a glaring oversight – especially as the Ranger Wildtrak is armed with a lockable rolling hardtop as standard – though unless you need to lock up tools or other valuables, this month’s experience shows a hardcover might be more trouble than it’s worth. In both instances, I would have had to remove the hard lid, then store it somewhere where it wouldn’t fall over or be damaged. Without a mate to assist, that would have been a stretch too far, though now that I think about it, a hard cover might bring the benefit of being an excellent wangler repellent…
Update #4: Snow-go zone
Raptor is bred for the desert, but keeps its cool in the mountains too
- Price as tested: $76,790
- This month: 855km @ 10.7L/100km
If Ford could only tell you one thing about its Ranger Raptor, it would be that it has Baja mode. That’s its desert-busting, hump-jumping setting that allows the big unit to launch off the crest of any convenient sand dune.
That’s what the Blue Oval chucked down our throats from the moment it first told us that it had a performance-focused ute coming – and with good reason. A lot of development – including local – went into creating this beast, and plenty of that was focused on perfecting what happens when you engage that Baja mode – its moniker a reference to the great Mexican desert race of the same name. While the Fox dampers soak up the bumps, the traction control loosens, the throttle sharpens and it’s wildly entertaining to drive on any surface reminiscent of that gruelling desert dash.
So the first thing I did when editor Inwood wistfully threw me the keys to his old flame was take the Raptor to the snow. You know, where Ford’s marketing might suggest it doesn’t belong. I was a bit concerned, as tapping the throttle on the slightest of damp surfaces usually sees the red rig spin rubber like a Bamix coming out of thick soup.
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In Victoria, snow chains are mandatory in alpine parks, so that was of some comfort. Then again, chains really shouldn’t be required for a four-wheel-drive on anything but the most hazardous of snow-blanketed roads.
Then there was the size of the cabin to contend with. It’s good for four passengers (I carried two plus me) but not also for their luggage. So all the heavy stuff went in the tray over the axle, which also aided traction (the Ranger, unlike VW’s Amarok, doesn’t run in constant all-wheel drive) and I used waterproof duffel bags and plastic containers for everything else. It was an unconventional arrangement, but workable given our long-termer doesn’t feature a cover over the tub.
As for driving up the mountain, I figured that, worst-case scenario, I’d drop the Raptor into 4x4 high range and select Weather mode. I was sure the mandatory hire chains were a massive waste of time. In the event, I didn’t touch either. It crawled up to the summit driven by the rear wheels only without slipping a bit, and I reversed it into a car park and left the handbrake off for the impending overnight dump of snow. It came, and there was a large lump of white to contend with, but in 4x4 high and with a dab of throttle, the Raptor was climbing up over the white stuff without breaking a sweat.
‘Weather’ mode isn’t a name that does justice to the Raptor’s snow smarts. Were Ford to build an Everest Raptor ... well, there’s a name that tells a story.