The monster Ford F-150 Raptor was born, ultimately, out of a project to create something that could take on the gruelling Baja 1000 Rally in Southern California… and win. The roadgoing truck, originally launched with a V8, but now packing a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 that is shared (in a way) with the GT supercar, has — thanks to those Baja connections — rightly assumed a level of desirability and coolfactor among pick-up aficionados as a direct consequence of its motorsport exploits.
So much so that Ford now believes that it can sprinkle the Raptor magic on, size-wise, the next pick-up down its family tree — the Ranger. New in for 2019, the Ranger Raptor looks incredible on first acquaintance. Taller, wider and longer than the regular Ranger models, the Raptor stands 283mm off the deck and has approach/ breakover/departure angles of 32.5/24/24 degrees respectively. Its blistered and mean wheel arches house 17in black alloys that are clothed in 33in BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tyres. There’s an F-150 Raptor-inspired front grille and bash-plates underneath that are made of 2.3mm-thick high-strength steel.
In short, on the outside it looks fantastic: bold, imposing and seriously alluring. Inside, it’s not quite as good, thanks to some of the cheaper plastics you’ll soon discover and a straightforward analogue instrument cluster; the digitised unit from the Ford Mustang might have been a better bet. However, lovely Raptor-specific seats and a great driving position overcome these minor quibbles, so aesthetically there’s no reason to avoid the Ford.
And the technical make-up, in the main, is remarkable. Fox Racing dampers offer 30 per cent more suspension travel, on a chassis set-up that now includes a Watt’s linkage rear axle, instead of one that is leaf-sprung. The chassis’ structure itself has also had a boatload of reinforcement work done, with braces and welding ensuring that this truck can take one hell of a beating over the sand dunes and still come out the other side, functioning. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it’s a proper 4x4 system, with a driver selectable 2H/4H/4L transfer ‘box and a locking differential on the rear axle.
All of this allows the Ranger Raptor to be quite phenomenally talented off-road. We drove it in and amongst the sand dunes and on the rubbly tracks of western Morocco, an environment that’s not dissimilar to the UAE’s. And, without any hyperbolic exaggeration, the Ranger Raptor proved to be one of the most thrilling, astonishing and downright enjoyable machines we’ve ever driven, in any scenario. Its ability in thick sand is stunning, as it will plug its way through the most shifting and treacherous of surfaces at speeds that would feel ridiculous on tarmacked surfaces. It also has an eagerness to be airborne, landing back on the terrain after jumps with that graceful squidge that can only come from long-travel shock absorbers. On gravel tracks and wet sand, though, it becomes even more enjoyable, because then you can engage ‘Baja’ mode (one of six on the drive select wheel, it is denoted by a cactus-and-chequered-flag symbol) and the Ranger Raptor becomes one of the easiest machines to drift in the world. It will slide and oversteer and hold neutral fourwheel stances through unmade corners like some of the greatest rally cars of all time; a singular achievement that cannot be ignored, given the sheer size and bulk of the Ford.
So it’s a riot to drive in the right circumstances and conditions, the Ranger Raptor, no doubt about it. Therefore, why have we got reservations? Well, it comes down to the engine. Ford has fitted a turbocharged motor to the pick-up, but it’s not the V6 of the F-150; instead, it’s the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel that you’d find in a Ford Edge SUV. And, even then, it’s detuned from 235bhp/500Nm in the fastest Edge to 210bhp and the same peak torque here. Furthermore, it’s mated to the ten-speed auto that’s used in the F-150 Raptor and the Mustang muscle car, only — given its relatively modest outputs — ten gears is about four too many for the Raptor’s engine.
The result is a machine that feels ponderously slow on road. While there’s nothing wrong with the mechanical refinement of both the engine and that automatic gearbox, a 0-100kph sprint takes 10.5 ho-hum seconds, and about five gearshifts too, while the 500Nm of torque is constantly trying (and largely failing) to overcome the multiple disadvantages of the Raptor’s weight, its bluff aerodynamics and the rolling drag those Goodrich tyres bring to the party. It also has a synthetic engine note, which we didn’t mind too much… but we’d have been much happier listening to a proper, petrol V6 roar instead.
There’s simply no denying, though, that the Baja-derived engineering that has gone into the Ranger Raptor is top-level stuff that’s, in its own way, unsurpassed in the industry. This is a vehicle that’ll provide hours and hours and hours of fun when it’s blasting around off-road terrain, where there is little that will touch it. We just wish Ford had given this Raptor the drivetrain ferocity to go with its inescapable chassis genius.