Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The Flying Ford

The Ranger Raptor was a sensation when it was launched in 2019. Here was a production vehicle that had some of the bump-soaking abilities of a blue-blooded off-road race vehicle. You could give it stick in the gravel and even get some air under the wheels on the big whoops without feeling a thing inside the cabin, because that trick suspension would soak it all up. It was also more stable at speed and stopped far better than a standard Ranger, all down to real things, like a wider track and ventilated disc brakes all round.

So we were pretty excited to get behind the wheel of the 2021 Raptor Special Edition, which adds a heady R40 000 to the standard sticker price of R950 200. And what better place than the Tankwa Karoo, where the gravel roads are empty and wide. True to form we did give it stick, wringing out the best from Ford’s 157kW/500Nm bi-turbo 2.0-litre diesel, allied to that complex 10-speed automatic, but controlled more easily in this case with paddle shifts sited behind the steering wheel. During an early-morning shoot, we drove one of the area’s passes, and with the camera rolling, we did get a good dose of that grin-inducing air.

Yes, it would have been great to have more outright power, and later in the evening we suggested to Ford SA’s CEO Neale Hill that the 2.3-litre Ecoboost turbo petrol used in the Mustang and Explorer in other markets, would be the right way to deliver 260kW and 475Nm in a sporty bakkie like the Ranger Raptor. He duly went on about safety and technical considerations, and about how the 2.0-litre turbodiesel was lighter and contributes to the balance of the vehicle.

Our suggestion has been made before, so reading between the lines, a new engine configuration will add too much cost and complexity to local production in the short-term. That said, given the precedent set by Volkswagen with their potent V6 Amarok, we should not rule out some bigger guns for the new bakkie which is being jointly developed by VW and Ford.

The local Raptor does set a benchmark for off-road ability. The suspension is smooth, the handling superb and the ride comfort unequalled.  Changes to the standard Ranger directly explain that. The chassis adds more cross members and is reconfigured with high-strength low-alloy steel where it counts. The track is a full 150mm wider than standard, thanks to longer, reinforced front suspension control arms, allied to a Watt’s Link rear suspension derived from the Everest SUV. The result is 32% more front wheel travel and 22% more at the rear. Ride height is 51mm taller with 283mm of ground clearance, making for a stellar 32.5-degree approach angle and 24-degree departure angle. A thick bash plate and special wide running boards add additional protection. The ride magic comes from 2.5-inch position-sensitive Fox shocks, which are softer on the small bumps and firm up on the big hits.

The only downside to this set-up is the reduced towing weight maximum of 2 500kg, and the fact the payload (607kg) is less than standard, which reduces its appeal as an outright overlander.

Where the Raptor scores is in having the Terrain Management System from the Everest, adding sporty Baja mode to the programming. This mode pares back ABS and traction control intervention, and holds gears longer during acceleration. Standard modes are also retained, being Normal, Sport, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand and Rock, giving the full spectrum of ability. Extra stopping power comes in the form of beefy twin-piston front calipers working on 332mm vented discs, with 332mm vented discs at the rear replacing the standard drum brakes.

The tyre/wheel choice has been optimized for off-road travel, with 17-inch alloys shod in chunky LT-spec 285/70 R17 General Grabber AT3 all-terrain tyres. With its composite front fenders, super-wide fender flares, and pairs of bright red recovery hooks set in the front and the heavy-duty rear bumper, the Raptor certainly looks the part of the muscular off-roader.

What does the Special Edition add to this package? On the functional side it borrows the black sports hoop (not quite a roll bar) from the Wildtrak, plus a manual lockable Mountain Top roller shutter to add security to items in the loadbin. The rest is all style-driven, and on the exterior you’ll find matte black racing stripes with red pin detailing on the edges, emblazoned on the bonnet, roof, body sides and tailgate. The interior trim upgrade adds seats in a grippy suede, with red stitching on the doors, seats and steering wheel (not the standard blue), plus there’s a ‘Raceway Grey’ instrument panel with red dial needles.  It’s available in four colours: Arctic White (no extra cost), and Conquer Grey, Shadow Black and Ford Performance Blue (which add R1 260 to your bill).

At R950 200, the Raptor Special Edition makes for the ultimate play vehicle, at home tearing up the dunes, racing bumpy gravel roads or grinding up a rocky mountain. And as we all know, adding those stripes makes it go just that bit faster.

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