Instructions from the passenger seat are simple. “Power, power, power!” My instructor reaches for the A-pillar grab handle as the rock-strewn ground ahead of us turns into wheel-sized washboard ruts, seemingly big enough to bounce out of our seats at this speed. Beneath us the trick, anodised Fox dampers gobble up the punishment, bypass valve technology releasing the full bump munching movement and providing a soft, hydraulic pillow at the end of their travel. It’s not to say you don’t feel the violence of the forces pounding through the reinforced chassis rails. But the sensation of this 2.5-tonne truck somehow levitating over the bumps is downright spooky.
Eyes on the prize though – there’s a small rise to the two flags at the top and rutted, axle-deep sand between me and the summit. Even the balloon-sized BFGoodrich tyres can’t stay on top of that and the Ranger Raptor flops down into the sand as if running into a gravel trap. Of my four off-road modes I’m in Baja, which disables the stability control and runs a dedicated (read, relaxed) setting for the traction control so the wheels can spin up and maintain progress. I click the left paddle for a lower ratio and keep it pinned, pace slowing to a crawl as I pray to god I don’t beach and suffer the indignity of being towed out by the F-150 Raptor lurking menacingly nearby.
It’s a close-run thing but I just about heave the Ranger Raptor over the top and then it’s back into the soft sand, twirling the wheel this way and that, always on the gas, always on the gas with rooster tails of sand spraying from all four wheels.
So goes the dream we want the Ranger Raptor to live up to and promised by the 33-inch tyres, raised ride height, blistered arches and crackle-finished running boards. OK, it’s still not quite as outrageous as the full-fat F-150. But compared with anything else on British roads the Ranger Raptor has childish appeal to those of us yet to grow out of monster trucks. Channelling the spirit of the big daddy Raptor and repackaging it into a format relevant beyond America is Ford’s goal here.
The opportunity to test whether it’s been successful comes in terrain more extreme than most owners will ever encounter. But the point is proving the Ranger Raptor is capable of it, even if – whisper it – most of us are only really in it for the pose value.
No shame in that, either. Cars are statements and they don’t come much louder than Ford Performance products, whichever segment they happen to be operating in. It just happens the Baja-truck inspired pick-up is something new for British roads, beyond a dedicated hardcore who’ve imported F-150s. The Ranger Raptor needs to offer a sense of the same fun without the impracticalities, all the while providing an eye-catching alternative to the boring family SUV or crossover you could have for similar money.
Standard Rangers will continue to operate as they always have, which is to say as Europe’s biggest selling pick-up truck and beloved of commercial users in need of dependable, go-anywhere toughness. In addition there has always been a small but enthusiastic crowd of lifestyle owners, attracted by the Ranger’s burly looks and no-nonsense style. Some have even dressed theirs up with wannabe Raptor styling. But this is the real deal, fully engineered with a new chassis, unique panels pumped up for nearly 170mm of extra body width and – hopefully – translating the awesomeness of the F-150 version for a global audience.
But what’s it like on the road where, let’s face it, most of us will actually get to experience it? Actually rather good, accepting certain quirks unique to a high-riding vehicle on long-travel, off-road suspension. But also benefits you won’t find in any other vehicle sold in the UK.
Typically commercial pick-ups have had a raw edge in keeping with their role as working vehicles. And the regular Ranger feels built for it, albeit capable of being optioned up with plusher materials and familiar toys from the regular passenger car range. Admittedly the Ranger Raptor is expensive at just shy of £50,000, including VAT. But you could spend that on an Edge easily enough. And the standard spec is so generous the only cost-options you really need to factor in are £720 for signature metallic paint shades like Sabre Orange or Ford Performance Blue and, if you really think it needs it, £900 for a full decal pack.
Back to the way it drives though. If there’s one disappointment it’s the 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel, a four-cylinder motor something of a let-down given the looks. 213ps/210bhp and 368lb ft of torque are decent numbers while the sequential turbochargers are super trick and make for a refined and commendably smooth power delivery. But the Raptor really needs a signature engine to live up to the looks and put real distance between it and the rest of the Ranger line-up. And this motor, with its 10.5-second 0-62mph time, isn’t it.
Those with an eye to engine swaps will note the American market Ranger uses a 270bhp version of the 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol motor and realise this engine can be tuned beyond the 290ps/286bhp it delivers in the Mustang. Given that engine is also paired with the Raptor’s standard 10-speed automatic it can’t beyond the wit of someone to do something more exciting, which may be the only option if Ford doesn’t respond to the considerable criticism of its engine choice from those attending the launch.
It’s not all bad though and on the road it pulls smoothly, with a synthesised growl over the speakers but enough grunt to get the big Raptor moving. In familiar style there are various driving modes, selected electronically from the wheel in the usual fashion along with more mechanical modes for the drivetrain, going from 2H to 4H and 4L, depending on how tough the terrain is. With a diff lock, hill descent control and those tyres there’s not much will stop you should you choose to take it off road.
Even if you don’t, that fancy Fox suspension has its benefits. Put it this way, the Ranger Raptor laughs in the face of potholes, speed bumps, kerbs or anything else you might encounter in daily driving. And if the width proves a problem on narrow lanes you can simply drop the tyres onto the verge and mix and match between tarmac and dirt. What’s really clever is the sense that you’re constantly floating in what feels like zero gravity, the shocks held in the middle of the stroke by the Position Sensitive Damping to prevent it wallowing about like a boat in the storm on a twisty road. OK, the steering is pretty vague and the big tyres don’t help. But the fact you can see over walls and hedges to position the Raptor correctly helps you get in a flow and it’s a curiously relaxing and refined place to cover ground.
The seats are comfy, there’s Sync 3 infotainment with all the toys, the legroom in the back is decent and – of course – the load bay is massive and secured by a locking, roll-back cover. True, it’s not your conventional family car. But it can operate as one, while making one hell of a statement along the way. And come the weekend you can load it up with bikes, surfboards or whatever other lifestyle kit you choose and kick sand in the faces the blinged-up VW Transporter brigade.
Such is the rational case for owning a Ranger Raptor. Who am I kidding though – the choice to buy one will likely be a more instinctive, childlike, ‘want one!’ reaction to seeing it. The Ford Performance brand is, by any stretch, a broad church. A Raptor we can enjoy here on British roads is a welcome new member and another win by a brand very much on its game.
2.0-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel, 213ps/210bhp, 368lb.ft, 10-speed automatic gearbox with selectable four-wheel drive and low-range, Fox Position Sensitive Damping, six driver modes, 17in alloys with 285/70 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tyres, 0-62mph in 10.5sec, top speed 106mph, price from £48,784.64 OTR (including VAT)