THE modern dual-cab ute is designed to fulfill so many roles, yet it never really masters any of them. It needs to be a work truck, family transporter, a touring explorer, a tow tug and an off-road adventure machine, but by trying to meet all of these demands it is always compromised.
As 4x4 enthusiasts we modify and customise our vehicles to better meet our intended uses. Tyres, suspension, bar work and custom trays are just some of the many things we change to make the vehicle more focused on what we want out of it.
More and more often we hear the term ‘sports ute’ bandied around, and with its F-150 Raptor pick-up in the USA Ford Performance created the ultimate production off-road performance truck.
However, Ford doesn’t offer the F-150 in right-hand drive, so we don’t officially get it in Australia in any form. Our most popular 4x4 pick-up is the Australian designed and developed Ford Ranger, a truck that is a size smaller than the F-Truck yet similarly serves many purposes.
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Ford saw the potential of a performance version of its Ranger, and the Australian team has worked with Ford Performance globally to create the Ranger Raptor. A little brother to the F-150 Raptor, the Ranger Raptor carries the same DNA that makes the F-150 so popular but on a smaller scale.
When Ford Performance talks about a ‘performance’ pick up, it’s not just about straight-line grunt. Despite its menacing looks, there’s no stonking, great V8 engine in its Ranger Raptor – or in the F-150 Raptor either, for that matter – it’s more about a total performance package, from the tyres to the bespoke bodywork and sports seats.
Raptor takes its design brief from the pre-runner vehicles used to reconnoiter off-road races such as the famous Baja 1000 in Mexico. For these vehicles, outright pace isn’t the ultimate goal; it’s more about covering the most demanding terrain swiftly, relatively comfortably and safely. Try and do this in any regular truck and it will fall apart around you as you bounce about inside the cabin.
The key components are high-quality suspension and tyres, and the Raptor uses some of the best in the business. While the off-road racers and pre-runners use suspension costing upwards of $5000 per corner from companies like Fox Racing, the production Raptors – Ranger and F-150 – use Fox products.
There are designed to be as long-lasting and durable as an OE product, maintain OE standards and ride quality, and still tackle the toughest tracks at speed.
The 2.5-inch bypass shock absorbers used in the Ranger Raptor use race technology and design but are fitted in the smaller package to run in the stock locations. Put simply, a bypass shock has different characteristics in the one unit, depending on the amount of travel.
When the shock is operating in its regular compression area it is able to give a soft and compliant ride, but as the piston inside it moves down, more oil inside the shocks passes through the piston to make it stiffer and able to handle bigger, faster bumps and jumps.
That’s in the simplest of terms, but the Fox shocks and spring package that was specifically developed for the Ranger Raptor allows it to ride over bumps like no other off-the-showroom-floor 4x4.
The Fox components bolt into a suspension that increases the Raptor’s wheel track by 150mm over that of a standard Ranger ute, and this added width adds to the vehicle’s stability.
To achieve the extra width, bespoke aluminium A-arms are used on the independent front suspension; while at the rear of the chassis the leaf-sprung live axle of the regular Ranger is replaced by coils with a Watts linkage for lateral support, derived from that on the Ford Everest. It differs from the Everest rear end in that the Fox dampers are mounted farther outboard, again to improve vehicle stability and control.
The chassis is a unique mix of Ranger and Everest parts – call it a Ranger with an Everest rear end or a stretched Everest chassis – but the Ford engineers have made the T6 chassis modular to accommodate a range of different suspension configurations and wheelbases.
With the 2020 Ford Bronco coming off the T6 platform, as well as the existing Ranger and Everest, there will be at least three different wheelbases for this chassis and as many different rear suspension designs.
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The rearmost part of the Raptor chassis also differs from Everest and Ranger in that it is modified to carry the bigger 285/70 spare BFG tyre, and the rearmost cross-member is an integrated tow bar with large recovery points at either end.
The Ford Performance Chassis Dynamics team worked closely with tyre manufacturer BFGoodrich to develop a specific version of its acclaimed KO2 All Terrain tyre for the Raptor.
Engineers from both companies tested various tyre compounds and suspension settings to come up with a complementary package to achieve the desired traits. The LT285/70-R17 KO2 used on Raptor might look like any other BFG KO2, but it has a unique rubber compound and its own part number.
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The bigger tyres and wider wheel track necessitated wider ’guards to cover them, and the Raptor has bulging front ’guards flanking either side of the signature black F-O-R-D Raptor grille. There’s also a unique slim-line bumper beneath it, dropping away to the underbody protection plates.
The front end is matched by a similarly bulging cargo box that, while externally wider, retains the same internal dimensions as a regular Ranger tub, meaning the existing tub liners, roller covers and other accessories will still fit this vehicle.
The bold, aggressive look of the Raptor reflects its built-for-purpose chassis and suspension package that are made to tame challenging tracks and terrain. What it doesn’t match is the Raptor’s powertrain which, let’s be honest, isn’t the highlight of the vehicle.
Don’t get us wrong, the new bi-turbo-diesel engine and 10-speed automatic transmission is a nice and refined combination, but it doesn’t live up to the Raptor’s aggressive good looks and potential.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, bi-turbo-diesel engine makes 157kW at 3750rpm and 500Nm in between 1750 and 2000rpm, so it makes more grunt than the bigger five-cylinder diesel.
Despite being some 200kg heavier than a Ranger, the Raptor is around half a second quicker in the zero to 100km/h dash than a Ranger, and we verified that by putting it up against a Ranger Wildtrak, which was left behind by the Raptor as we matched Ford’s 10.5-second 0-100km/h claim.
But it doesn’t feel fast and, in reality, it’s not – this is still a diesel-fueled pick-up truck and not a road racer. The new engine and transmission combination, which will also find its way in to Ranger and Everest before year’s end, has more grunt and is quieter and more refined than the old 3.2-litre and six-speeder, but that refinement masks the modest performance on offer, which isn’t what many buyers will want from a monster truck like the Raptor.
Before you ask, no, there is no other engine currently planned for Australian-delivered Ranger Raptors in the foreseeable future … diesel, petrol or otherwise.
That begs the question: who is going to buy the $76,000 Ranger Raptor? With a reduced payload (700kg) and towing capacity (2500kg) the Raptor isn’t going to be on the shopping list of the touring 4WDer who is already battling with payloads and GVMs (3090kg). The unique front end will also limit what’s available in terms of frontal protection equipment, so outback touring in a Raptor presents new challenges.
Despite its pretenses the Raptor is not a racecar. It’s never going to take on something like the Finke Desert Race; although, it would form the nice basis for a safari-type racer. It would also be a fun ‘off-road Motorkhana’ type car. The Raptor is more like an HSV Commodore or FPV Falcon; it has the looks and improved performance to make it a fun vehicle to drive, but it’s not a serious racecar in standard form, nor is it meant to be.
We reckon you’ll see a few Ranger Raptors getting around with a jet-ski or dirt bikes in tow, and couples who like to go weekend camping in something a bit more special than the regular work ute would also like the Raptor. Cruising down the beach or taking on 4x4 parks would also be on the list.
The market for the Raptor is limited, but that is always the case for a halo-type product. That said, the initial order of 1000 Raptors for 2018 has sold out and if you order one today you won’t get it until early next year, unless you can score a cancelled order. Those 2018 vehicles will be delivered during September and October this year.
WITH its Ford Performance-engineered chassis and suspension package, the Ranger Raptor shows its best form travelling quickly over rough terrain. The outback test track Ford engineered to showcase it did that well, as it ate up whoops, bumps and bulldust like a Baja racer, instilling driver confidence and encouraging you to push harder.
The direction and stability offered by the BFGoodrich tyres in the heavy bulldust and loose rock was astounding. It goes where you point it and its slides are well-controlled, making the Raptor a lot of fun to drive.
The Baja mode in the Multi Terrain Selector frees up stability and traction control and sharpens up both the throttle response and shifting in the 10-speed auto, so it rewards the keen driver.
The Fox suspension smooths out bumps and washouts, allowing you to take them at speeds you could never handle with conventional OE suspension. Again, this instills confidence and allows you to wind up the fun dial to maximum.
However, fanging around a test track isn’t something anyone does too often, and the Raptor’s amazing chassis package delivers on rough roads as well.
The chassis is well-controlled over rough ground, again giving confidence in the vehicle and knowing that it is capable of taking on the terrain. It also makes the ride more comfortable, so driving long distances in a Raptor will keep a driver relaxed and more on the ball. Knowing the All-Terrain tyres are less prone to puncture than regular passenger car tyres typically found on OE cars is also reassuring.
On the highway and backroads, that same suspension delivers a softer and more compliant ride than the leaf springs on any other ute. The refinement of the engine and transmission also contributes to improved on-road driving, and the truck-like rattle of the old 3.2-litre engine is gone due in part to the smooth and swift 10-speed auto. The Raptor is the most un-truck-like truck on the market!
It’s only when overtaking at highways speeds (130km/h here in the Territory) that the engine is found wanting, as it doesn’t pull like you want it to and the acceleration is not what you expect from a vehicle built under the Ford Performance banner.