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

Like a Bat out of hell

Meat Loaf’s 1977 hit song could just as well have been written about the new Ford Ranger Raptor. ANTON WILLEMSE SNR insists that this is probably the craziest and most fun vehicle he has ever driven, and that it might be a while before we see anything similar on the roads.

“Well, I can see myself tearing up the road, faster than any other boy has ever gone.”– Meat Loaf, Bat out of Hell

Namibia is a place of wonder and being able to experience the dunes outside Walvis Bay in a beast like the Ford Ranger Raptor was an experience I will never forget. Cruising at over 100km/h in the dunes and on the beach floods your system with adrenalin and it only subsides hours after you get out from behind the steering wheel.

The vehicle literally flies over the bumps and jumps, and you hardly feel a thing as the suspensions sucks up all the punishment you throw at it. Its ability to let you tackle almost any dune without hesitation puts it in a whole different class. Stepping on the accelerator and being pushed back into your seat as you climb up a 200m-high dune, steering around the soft patches to reach the top, is mind blowing. As you fly around the side of the dune, almost in a permanent power slide, you feel like a matador. It is truly a different beast to what we are used to.

Ford made a huge leap in what a bakkie can do with the new Raptor. When it introduced the previous-generation Raptor it was good – the suspension was brilliant, but it lacked the oomph a lot of fans had been hoping for. Having the same engine and drivetrain as the Wildtrak made it feel a tad too tame for some people’s liking.

However, when the new Raptor was first unveiled in early 2022 there were definite hints that it would be something special. The suspension would be upgraded, there would be no speakers to fake the exhaust sound and under the hood would be a 3.0-litre V6 twin turbo pushing out 292kW at 5 650rpm and 583Nm at 3 500rpm. We all thought this vehicle would be amazing, but I doubt anyone realised just how good it would be.

We got the chance to drive the Ranger Raptor in the dunes of the Namib, which made for the perfect backdrop to put the beast through its paces. The big 285/70 R17 BF Goodrich KO2 tyres eat up any terrain and are hooked up to 12.5” live-valve shocks from Fox. Ford says that the Teflon-infused oil inside these revised shocks reduces friction – and performance-robbing heat – by 50 per cent. The suspension employs multiple sensors around the vehicle, enabling up to 500 damper adjustments per second, while a bottom-out control feature provides more damping force in the last quarter of the shocks’ travel, to prevent spine-jarring slaps on the bump stops.

There are three suspension modes: Normal, Sport and Baja/Off-Road. The Fox suspension offers a 32 per cent increase in the front wheel travel and an 18 per cent increase in the rear wheel travel. The on-road comfort is also better than that of the previous model.

There is some serious underbody protection on this bakkie: vulnerable points underneath the front are protected by 2.3mm steel plates that also protrude out from the bumper to give the bakkie a pretty aggressive look from the front. The radiator, steering, sump, and differential are all protected. A dual active exhaust with four modes, from waking up the neighbours to a very reasonable silent mode, is also introduced on the new Raptor.

Despite the EcoBoost nomenclature on the engine, the V6 twin turbo petrol unit is a race-focused powerplant, utilising a compacted graphite iron block which – Ford claims – is around 75 per cent stronger and stiffer than traditional cast iron. The same material is used in its NASCAR engines, which is reassuring but not surprising given how much offroad testing this new engine has withstood. “The twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 EcoBoost is a race-bred engine that is used in off-road motorsport applications. So, it’s proven itself in combat,” explained Ford Performance Ranger/Everest Customisation and Special Vehicle programme manager, Justin Capicchiano.

The body has been strengthened with a stronger chassis to handle the massive leap in power from the V6 twin turbo and the potential for ludicrous off-road pace, with Ford engineers opting to reinforce the shock towers, C-pillar, spare wheel and frames for the bumper.

This is actually a bakkie you can trade your hot hatch in on. And with a 0-100km/h sprint time of under six seconds the Raptor will leave a lot of hatches in its rear-view mirror. The cabin of the new Raptor is equally good. The bolstered sports seats are ‘jet fighter-inspired’, and splashes of orange trim throughout the low-gloss leather and suede interior emphasise the Raptor’s uniqueness, as does the 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system – all very suitable in a Raptor as radical as this.

The 12.4” digital instrument cluster and 12” centre screen use Ford’s SYNC 4A infotainment system, and the number of things you control with the touch of a finger is a bit overwhelming at first.

To activate the diff-locks, for example, you need to use the centre touch screen, whilst all the off-road modes are selected using a dial on the centre console. The previous Ranger’s cabin was starting to show its age, so this new Raptor represents a real step forward. Ford brought back traditional climate buttons, though, which are very welcome – not least when cruising through the dunes or off-roading.

The steering of the new Raptor can be set to your preference. There are four modes – Normal, Sport, Comfort and Off-road – and each comes with a different feel and steering feedback. In addition, a larger electric power assisted steering system (EPAS) ensures improved steering effort, response and greater precision. The transfer case defaults to permanent four-wheel drive, but 4 Auto, 4H, 4L and a selectable 2H are also available via the dial on the centre console.

This brings us to Baja mode, which transforms the Raptor into a true bat out of hell as exhaust valves open up to give it a loud growl, the steering feels more direct and true, the suspension adjusts and everything just feels more racy… but if that’s not your cup of tea there is also Grass/Gravel/Snow (4×4 high-range only), Mud/Sand (4×4 high- and low-range) Rock (low-range only). Normal is the only mode that can be used in either 4×2 on-road driving, or in 4×4 high- or low-range off-road driving. If you’re tackling downhill rock faces or uphill obstacles there is Trail Control, which basically means you have cruise control in 4×4 mode, with speeds as low as 3km/h to help you manoeuvre those obstacles.

Is it worth it?

The new Ford Ranger Raptor is a bit of a freak – it does so many things well without feeling like a compromise. It’s fast, comfortable, stupidly capable offroad and easy to drive on-road. You can use it as a bakkie, a rally car and a daily drive. However, it also continues to suffer from the same practical problems as its predecessor. Because of the revised suspension, its payload is limited to 652kg, while its 2.5-tonne towing limit is down a tonne on the standard model. Yet it’s a remarkable feat of engineering that manages to feel like a project made for some new Bond movie, when in fact it’s built by one of the world’s largest car makers. Its off-road capability is unmatched, and it somehow manages to be even ‘tougher’ than before. With its modern cabin, insane V6 engine and sports exhaust, the Ranger Raptor is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, whatever the occasion.

Ford Ranger Raptor at a glance…

Price: R1 094 900

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 petrol

Power/torque: 292kW and 583Nm

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Fuel consumption: 11.5 litres/100km (claimed)

0-100 km/h: 6.0 seconds (claimed)

Payload capacity: 652kg

Other players in this market

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

There is currently not really anything in the South African market that compares to the Ranger Raptor. The Jeep Gladiator looks and feel the part but it also kind of feels as if it’s not sure what it is. With its 3.6 V6 petrol Penta Star motor the Jeep has the heart to deliver something special, but the lack of power compared to the Raptor kind of takes it out of the equation. There is also a brilliant suspension system in the Jeep, and it boasts front, centre and rear diff lockers. But its length limits its 4×4 capabilities and to really get it in a position similar to the Raptor you would need to make one or two modifications.

Fast facts:

Price: R1 259 900

Engine: 3.6-litre four cylinder petrol

Power/torque: 209kW and 347Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel consumption: 12.4 litres/100km (claimed)

0-100 km/h: 8.5 seconds (claimed)

Payload capacity: 693kg

Toyota Hilux GR-S

Although the Toyota Hilux GR-S has the sporting name, the current model is just not on the same level as the Raptor. With roughly half the power, at 165kW, it lacks the brutal strength of the Ford. Toyota also didn’t really do anything special to the Hilux suspension or add any extra 4×4 capabilities. In fact, here in South Africa the GR-S is narrower than the Legend model and its standard tyres don’t really scream 4×4 beast. However, we should see a new Hilux in 2024 and with that we might see the first true GR-S in Hilux guise. But it all depends in what direction Toyota decides to go. Will it be a speed freak like the Raptor, or will it be a more practical and capable vehicle for the overlander? We’ll have to wait and see. at a glance…

Fast facts:

Price: R891 400

Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine

Power/torque: 165kW and 550Nm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel consumption: 8.0 litres/100km (claimed)

0-100 km/h: 9.4 seconds (claimed)

Payload capacity: 790kg

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