Road Tests

Drive Review: Ford Ranger RTR 660 is best bakkie, boet

The greatest bakkie in South Africa is Ford’s Ranger 2.2 XLT. There. I said it. And you’re obviously quite perplexed, aren’t you?

‘How can a mid-range, 2.2 XLT double-cab be the greatest bakkie ever?’ Quite. It requires some explaining, but the fact remains, that truly great things can happen after ordering a 2.2 XLT from your local Ford dealer. But first, some establishing history…

It’s the agonising reality of Mzansi’s bakkie market: where enormously loyal customers are denied the ultimate in Ford double-cab motoring indulgence. South African Ranger owners pine for an F-150 Raptor clone in a similar way we all long for Pravin to get his old office back. The crushing number of Raptorised Rangers one encounters are testament to a nation desperately in need of a true high-performance bakkie idol.

There was a V8 loadbay hero, once, but it wasn’t really a proper bakkie. Chevrolet’s Lumina didn’t have sufficient ground clearance to roll up a pavement, much less navigate gravel roads, and it only seated two. Enter the Ranger 2.2 XLT.

In exchange for an entirely reasonable R484 900 Ford will deliver you a rear-wheel drive 2.2 XLT double-cab Ranger. All that remains to access the promise of its greatness, is the small question of raiding your hallowed access bond home loan facility – without the spouse noticing – to fund an additional R798000, before leaving said 2.2 XLT with the good people at Road to Race (RTR) for a while. It all sounds like madness, but the metamorphosis Ford’s 2.2 XLT undergoes at Road to Race is remarkable, as it becomes the 660 – a number which has nothing to do with price or specification grade, but everything with engine output.

The RTR 660 is built in South Africa’s motorcity, Port Elizabeth, by renowned specialist manufacturer, Hi-tech Automotive. If you require world-class Ford racing or replica road cars, powered by blue oval V8s, there are few equal – and none better – than the father and son team of Jimmy and Justin Price to build your dream machine. With Ranger demand not waning, and annoyance at the absence of a righthand drive Raptor obvious, Justin and Jimmy pooled their collective Ford celebration model fabrication skills, developed from decades of shaping continuation GT40s, Cobras and Daytona coupes, to achieve a very simple objective: South Africa’s ultimate bakkie.

The RTR 660 Ranger is an astonishingly robust and capable platform to produce a 2/3rds Raptor in righthand drive and from the additional LEDs to a six-speed manual (yes, a manual), every component added to convert 2.2 XLT to RTR 660 is quality. There are no discount catalogue bits.

The appearance of this V8 Ranger double-cab redefines the concept of rear-view mirror presence, especially with that massive ‘Savage’ motif spread across most of its grille. It’s the calibre of bakkie which will have AMG Gelandewagen obediently moving out of the far-right hand lane. The new hood features both inlet scoop and cooling ducts, whilst an oversized bumper with honeycomb channels feed as much air volume as possible through to the engine bay. And it’s a very much more crowded engine bay than you’d ordinarily find in any Ranger.

Anchoring the Ranger RTR 660 literally and figuratively, is a blown Ford 5-litre quad-cam V8, generating its boost from the crankshaft, instead of trailing exhaust gasses. Being supercharged and breathing through a custom crafted exhaust system, RTR 660 is good for an almost unbelievable 500kW and 825Nm, with a soundtrack which gives evidence to every one of those six hundred and sixty horses –  which explains the bakkie’s name.

It’s a ludicrous amount of power and in a bakkie with a six-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive, potentially lethal. Aware of the risk that 660 could be classed as a trailer queen quarter-mile imposter, devoid of balance and driveability, Hi-Tech Automotive’s applied its skill from building low-volume sportscars to the RTR 660, ensuring that each moment you throttle most of those 500kW from second-to-third, you’ll not inadvertently return to the Ranger’s bakkie roots, by going ‘farming’ off the N1.

Viewed from the side, you’ll notice yellow structure aft of the front axle, and fore of the rear differential, reinforcing the chassis – because 825Nm has a not insubstantial potential for twisting components when it’s applied to tarmac through grippy, oversized tyres. Despite all the carbon-fibre light clusters and decorative detailing, a V8 Ranger’s never going to be Formula Ford agile and to prevent violent pitch and roll, when harvesting the pace of all those 500kW, RTR’s Ranger is very similar to Ford’s very own F-150 Raptor in one crucial way: Fox factory suspension.

Beyond its range of Fox Head t-shirts and trucker caps, worn by all the wrong kind of people around Ballito during December and Easter weekend, Fox also builds some of the very best off-road motorsport dampers and coil-overs available. RTR’s 660 has the best of Fox at each wheel corner, with impeccably calibrated damping and rebound settings – sufficiently firm to cope with the enormously increased acceleration loads. When the opportunity presents to embarrass AMGs, a skilled left hand and deft clutch pedal coordination yield a 4.9 seconds 0-100kph time. Fox’s suspension bits are vital to ensure that all that power is transferred to surging momentum, instead of all that glorious V8 noise being annoyingly converted to performance debilitating rear suspension sag, as the 660 launches.

The invoice for this devastatingly capable double-cab is R1 275 000, or R798 000 if you provide the donor Ranger 2.2 double-cab. It might sound rudely expensive, but it’s a hysteric bargain for what is on offer: RTR’s 660 will seat five, is fully capable of gravel travel, has superior load carrying ability to any SUV, the reward of a manual shifter and does 0-100kph in under five seconds. Find another vehicle with all five of those attributes? Impossible.

There is the issue of Ford’s official Ranger Raptor, due to reach South African dealers by 2019, to consider. Although exact power figures are yet to be confirmed, it will be an immensely impressive bakkie, but it’s engine is turbodiesel and has only half the number of cylinders charging away under RTR’s 660 bonnet – and that just won’t do, for those who desire a true double-cab bakkie hero.

The combination the supercharger whine from the RTR 660 – so rare a sound in a world saturated by turbocharging – in tune with its large capacity V8 combustion is intoxicating. Perhaps the greatest credit to RTR is that they’ve remained true to the principle of building Ranger 660 from only the very best components, unafraid of allowing cost to escalate. Best of all is that Tremec Magnum six-speed manual transmission, rated to 1000Nm, which allows you absolute command of both sound effects and traction. How many manual gearbox petrol V8s are remain available to South Africans? Exactly, only Mustang. All other V8s are automatics and truthfully: where is the driving fun in that?

For seven long and lean years, since F-150 V8 Raptor was launched in America, local bakkie devotees have been musing the fantasy specification for a Raptorised Ranger. Hoping. Now it has finally happened: salvation in the guise of a Mustang powered four-door utility, with room for the dogs and a towbar. South Africa’s ultimate performance car is a Ranger XLT 2.2. See, we told you… LANCE BRANQUINHO

Specifications

  • Road To Race 660
  • R798 000 (conversion only)
  • V8, RWD, 500kW, 825Nm, 6M,
  • 0-100kph in 4.9 sec, 220kph,
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