First Drive: Ford Ranger 3.0 EcoBoost V6 Raptor
Namibia doesn't mess about when it comes to challenging terrain. It has desserts so hot and dry that even scorpions need sunscreen, dunes that are higher than inflation and gravel roads that will give many 4x4s serious pause. By that account, it is the ultimate testing ground for the all-new Ford Ranger Raptor.
It was a novelty when Ford launched its Ranger Raptor locally in 2019. Its Fox-engineered suspension allowed it to overcome obstacles at speeds that would render most other factory-to-road off-roaders a pile of spares. Its flared wheel arches and sticker decals worked well to set it apart from garden-variety bakkies, and the phenomenon called 'Raptor Envy" inspired many Ranger owners to dress up their run-off-the-mill XLS variants to at least look like it could handle some bumps at speed. Something, though, was missing.
The Ford Ranger Raptor had everything a true off-road warrior could want: the suspension, the out-there styling and the grit to take on any obstacle. But the missing ingredient was power. It was endowed with the same 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo engine that powered its less brash siblings, and while it wasn't a slouch, it felt more like a Brontosaurus under tilt than, well, a Raptor. Still, its negligible disposition to speed bumps, and immunity to most potholes, meant it could maintain a steady pace – and that was something, at least. We asked, and we begged for more power. And apparently, Ford couldn't ignore the collective whining, and thus delivered - handsomely so, I might add.
So, to answer that pressing question, it's not just a new-gen Ranger with a lift-kit and a sticker fetish, far from it. The new Ranger Raptor was chiselled from a block of pure muscle with muscle truck-inspired F-O-R-D lettering on the grille, those beautifully functional C-outlined LED lights, and flared arches that envelope the 17" wheels and knobbly 285/70 BF Goodrich off-road tyres - it is something to behold. Buyers can choose to have their Raptor with or without its signature stickers, but in the spirit of the Raptor's OTT attitude, I suggest ticking that box. Other than that, I'll leave you to make up your own mind.
Ford had to restrain itself when designing the interior to keep it tastefully bold. The front seats, for one, are inspired by jet fighters and make a bold statement with their 'Code Orange' colour accents and 'Raptor' reminder emblem just below the headrests. The air vent surrounds are bejewelled by the same orange trim, while the steering wheel is unique to the Raptor and serves as a final declaration of sorts to its impressive performance capabilities with a 12 o’clock centre marker and some nondescript buttons – more on these buttons later…
As for the onboard tech, it gets a 12" centre infotainment screen similar to that of the Ranger Wildtrak and a driver-facing 12.4" digital high-resolution instrument cluster complete with unique graphics, avatars and readouts for each of the selectable drive modes. While the cluster screen is initially complicated to operate and understand, resembling something like a Russian Nesting Doll, it becomes more intuitive with repeated use. I wasn't fond, however, of the centre infotainment screen's User Interface, especially when connected to Android Auto, since the digital on-screen buttons need to be bigger for comfortable use, especially during driving. This was also not helped by a crippling glitch that reared its head, making the system temporarily unusable. This, though, can be attributed to the extreme heat these Raptors were subjected to and resolved itself the next day.
Remember I mentioned the steering wheel and its buttons? Well, it holds the key to driving nirvana – all you need is the right combination to unlock it. Selecting Normal driving mode, which was primarily used during the 2,000-kilometre trek back to South Africa, the Raptor allowed me to still have fun while remaining relatively frugal on the fuel consumption front; when I say relatively frugal, I mean what you can expect from a twin-turbo V6 engine... With the press of a button, you can tweak your steering feel between Normal, Sport and Comfort. You can change the damping characteristics by selecting Normal, Sport and Off-Road while, my personal favourite, the adaptable exhaust note, can be changed from a relatively quiet 'Normal' mode to outright wake-the-neighbours-with-decibels Baja mode for a ‘fierce growl meets throaty roar’ kind of audible experience. According to Ford, it has painstakingly analysed all the sounds that make for a pleasant V6 sound and, in doing so, engineered the exhaust and related components to create a unique-to-Raptor soundtrack.
As for the available driving mode presets, you can choose between the above mentioned Normal, which strikes the best balance for everyday driving while tweaking individual elements, Sport, and Slippery when on the blacktop. When going off the beaten track, there are four additional modes: Rock Crawl, Sand, Mud and Ruts, and Baja. While most are pretty self-explanatory, Baja deserves a special mention especially given where we primarily tested the Ranger Raptor – in the unforgiving dunes of the Namib Desert. Sand mode allows you to climb the dunes with little drama; with traction control turned off, moderate acceleration mapping and a locked rear diff, it's perfect for first-timers.
Baja, though, is an entirely different mode altogether. While it, too, is geared toward getting up and over the dunes, it's the execution of the process in-between that sets it apart. The exhaust valves are open; the turbos are programmed to keep spinning three seconds after letting off the throttle, and the wholly redesigned Fox 2.5" Live Valve internal bypass suspension is ready to conquer any terrain at just about any speed. Within reason, of course. The sensitive throttle response makes intermittent changes to the sound emanating from the back as you play with the accelerator to execute the sandy turn with just enough power-sliding momentum. It's a mode that massively intensifies the driving experience, making this Ranger Raptor a sand-driving phenomenon. This is further helped by a 32% increase in front suspension travel and 18% at the rear. Did I mention it can still do the dune jumps?
But it's not just a one-trick, sand-driving pony, though. It can also do rough rocks and dongas, thanks to its Rock Crawl mode that selects its 4L (low-range) gearing. When the going gets genuinely tough, you can choose to have just the rear diff on or select the low-range-only front diff to give it added climbing ability. The Fox suspension provides excellent articulation for maximum traction, while the handy Trail control feature works as a cruise control of sorts for off-roading (it's similar in execution to hill-descent control) and gets the Raptor up and over obstacles without any drama.
At its heart
At the heart of its abilities lies Ford's 3.0-litre EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine that produces 292 kW and 583 Nm of torque paired to a 10-speed auto box. To translate that into relatable terms; it screws with your head. For a bakkie to move at such a rate takes some getting used to and provokes a few gleeful giggles. So, thanks to its ability to garner momentum, it's massively competent at sailing the dunes, but what's it like on the road? In short, comfortable. It has an SUV-like drive quality thanks to its advanced suspension setup developed and tweaked specifically for the Raptor by Ford Performance.
It's not without its flaws, though…It's thirsty! Very much so. With an extended cruise, I could not do better than 15.2 l/100 km. In the dunes, it gulped nearly 20. Sure, it's a V6 with two turbo-breathers and a soundtrack that inspires hooliganism, so that's easy to forgive. But an 80-litre fuel tank on a bakkie with a drinking problem that's inherently designed to explore the great unknown? I suggest you pack some extra jerry cans for those long, off-the-beaten-track sojourns.
Despite its flaws, the Ford Ranger Raptor is a true off-road warrior, and its power, handling, and suspension are unmatched by any other bakkie on the market. It's not just a lifted Ranger with some cosmetic upgrades; it's a specially-designed machine that’s built to tackle any terrain without breaking a sweat.
During our testing in the Namib Desert, we put the Raptor through its paces, driving it up steep dunes, across rocky terrain, and through deep sand. I was amazed by its performance, and it quickly became apparent that this bakkie is not just for show. Of course, all this power and capability comes at a cost, both in terms of the vehicle's price (R1,094,900) and its fuel consumption. So, it’s not a budget-friendly option, and it's not for everyone. But for those who want the ultimate adventure vehicle, it's worth every penny.
Overall, the Ford Ranger Raptor is a fantastic off-road machine that delivers an unparalleled driving experience. It's not perfect, but it's damn near there, and its flaws are easily forgiven when you consider what this bakkie can do. If you're in the market for a new off-road vehicle and don't mind paying a premium, the Raptor should be at the top of your list.