Two removable covers on the lower bumper of the second-generation Ford Ranger Raptor provide insight into the capabilities of this tough truck. Stamped with “let it go before you fly”, it’s a testament to the pinnacle of the new Ranger lineup designed to make you smile – and maybe not always have its wheels on the ground.
I learned this second after being asked to brake at up to 110km/h on a dusty, bumpy dirt track as we headed up a table grade.
The Raptor took to the skies before landing with cat-like agility, a remarkable feat from the 2.4-ton-plus ute designed to go fast on almost any terrain.
Our journey away from public roads on private property in outback South Australia where construction mules have been beaten and punished for more than tens of thousands of kilometers.
Australia is a global design and engineering hub for the new Ranger and the tough road choices make it the ideal testing ground for trucks to be sold worldwide.
The all-new Raptor builds on a successful formula but its heart has been taken seriously.
Instead of a fuel-guzzling diesel, the new Raptor has a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 petrol engine.
Its 292kW and 583Nm output is similar to that of the V8 – and there’s a desire to match. It sipped a claimed 11.5 liters per 100km but expect higher real-world usage.
Paired with a 10-speed automatic, this engine can blast the Raptor to 100 km/h in about six seconds – on almost any terrain, thanks to a permanent four-wheel drive system.
It’s fiery and fast, engine building enthusiasm as the revs go up.
The black twin exhaust tips of this development vehicle have been crushed from the gravel coming off the wide off-road tires, but the production version has a tougher, shiny stainless steel finish.
The Raptor does so without the Eco or Tow drive modes in the regular Ranger, replacing them with Sport and Baja settings.
Steel mode keeps the turbo spinning between throttle strokes to reduce lag and improve response when cruising between corners. It also adds a rortier snap to the exhaust and prepares the suspension for high-speed attacks.
The brakes – discs all around, now with electronic reinforcement – are primed for gravel, allowing for some skidding to add bite to the dirt.
The Raptor’s secret sauce is the suspension which bears little resemblance to the rugged setup in various park Rangers. The left and right wheels are 60mm further apart, there are prominent wheel arches (the Raptor is 110mm wider than the regular Rangers) and there’s a more advanced coil spring system replacing the leaves at the rear.
The chassis has been strengthened and off-road specialist Fox developed race-inspired shock absorbers with “position sensitive damping”.
When landing from a short air ride, you appreciate the dexterity of the controls, the dampers tighten almost instantly towards the end of the suspension ride. They can also tighten to reduce squatting during quick takeoffs.
The Raptor points sharply at this challenging terrain and the bumps that do little to let things down.
Ground level work means you can cover rough ground very quickly but with control and quiet no normal ute comes close.
This is an impressive effort for a ute that also pulls 2500kg and carries 717kg in a tray that holds pallets.
The rugged BF Goodrich off-road tires claw at loose gravel beautifully, providing Raptor-like rally car traction. We’ve previously been less than impressed with them on wet asphalt, but that’s not really the Raptor’s main task.
The new Raptor isn’t cheap, though against other muscle machines it’s arguably a bargain, starting at around $92,000 a drive. “Code Orange” highlights – including rally-like center markers on the steering wheel – and reinforced seats with Raptor badges reinforce that image.
It gets most of the equipment in the Ranger Wildtrak, including ambient lighting, 360-degree camera, 12-inch touchscreen, over-the-air software updates and various active safety systems.
To that end, it adds a wider 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and a Premium Package with 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, additional overhead switches and matrix LED headlights.
But it’s the added V6 muscle and impressive dynamic nous that transforms this ute from a workhorse to a highway off-road racer at genuine speed. The original Raptor is a proof of concept, the new one has added speed to match its muscles.
The equivalent of a GT3 racer covers rough ground really fast.
FORD RANGER RAPTOR
PRICE From about $92,000 plus on-road
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, $1316 for four years
SECURITY Nine airbags, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, speed sign recognition, 360 degree camera, driver monitor, blind spot warning
MACHINE 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 292kW/583Nm
TO SPARE Full size
WITHDRAWAL/PAYLOAD 2500kg and 717kg