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Can a hardcore off-road suspension revamp make the hot pick-up catch on in the UK?

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And so the inexorable rise of the SUV continues.

It is not just big chunky ones that are unstoppable – we’ve tested a new Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes G-Class and will soon be in a Land Rover Defender later this year – but these days there’s about an evens chance that your family car is one, too.

Composite front wings broader than the regular Ranger’s accommodate a track width increased by a whopping 150mm

But it goes on. There are already performance passenger SUVs and now this: the pick-up made into a sports car, the Ford Ranger Raptor. In the US, Ford has sold an F-150 truck with Raptor badging for a while. It has an oversized, overpowered engine and is ‘how to really tick off the fun police’, according to the advertisements.

Like RS or ST, though, the Raptor range is broadening, under the Ford Performance umbrella, so that it encompasses the smaller – by pick-up standards – Ford Ranger for the first time. Between the F-150 and Ranger, there are common Raptor themes – chunky bodywork extensions, equally bulbous BF Goodrich boots and huge chassis modifications, which we’ll explore more later.

But whereas the US-spec F-150 Raptor gives top billing to its engine, a 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 making 450bhp and 510lb ft of torque, the Ranger – whose biggest markets are Europe and Australia but will make its US debut soon – has a more restrained powertrain, a 2.0-litre diesel, albeit a new unit with two turbochargers.

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The mix of heady engineering exercises in some directions but not others is typical of the schismatic nature of the Raptor: it’s a Ford Performance vehicle but its 0-60mph time is more than 10sec; and pick-ups are popular because of a payload that makes them commercial vehicles, yet the Raptor’s payload is so reduced that it’s no longer VAT reclaimable.

They’re oddities that the Raptor will need to convince us don’t matter. Does it have what it takes?

The Ford Ranger line-up at a glance

Considering the high asking price, it’s surprising the Raptor doesn’t get the biggest engine in the range. That engine is the old 3.2-litre Duratorq diesel found in the high-spec Wildtrak Ranger. Meanwhile, the entry-level Ranger – the XL Regular Cab – gets a single-turbo 128bhp version of the Raptor’s twin-turbo diesel.

Transmission choices are limited to a six-speed manual or the 10-speed automatic found in the Raptor.

Price £47,874 Power 210bhp Torque 367lb ft 0-60mph 10.5sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 24.4mpg CO2 emissions 233g/km 70-0mph 57.7m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Ford Ranger

DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - hero side

The Raptor makes good on its promise of Baja Truck genetics in a package with registration plates and a three-year warranty. The ladder-frame chassis underpinning the standard Ford Ranger pick-up has been strengthened with low-alloy steels, particularly in the vicinity of the front strut towers, which bear the considerable brunt of off-road gallivanting at high speeds.

At the back sits suspension entirely redesigned to better absorb impacts while retaining control. The leaf springs are therefore out, replaced by coil springs and a Watt’s linkage that fixes the axle’s lateral positioning more accurately.

Side steps are standard and all but essential for clambering in and out of a cabin that sits atop a separate chassis, which itself has mammoth ground clearance. It’s finished in non-slip paint and resists off-road knocks admirably

Ford has also fitted a set of blue-sheaved Fox dampers whose travel is greater than standard by 32% at the front and 18% at the rear. Ground clearance has risen 30mm to 283mm, which means it gets the better of even Jeep’s most capable Jeep Wrangler, the Rubicon. Ford nevertheless equips the Raptor’s undersides with a steel bash plate some 2.3mm thick. At 850mm, the car’s wading depth beats most other serious off-roaders, too, and falls just 50mm short of the Range Rover’s figure. Grounding the Raptor is a set of 285/70 BF Goodrich KO2 tyres with an off-road tread pattern and toughened sidewalls.

The double-cab Ford is an enormous presence on the road. At 5363mm long and 2180mm wide, it is fractionally longer and wider than the Ranger XLT and has a larger footprint than even a Mercedes S-Class. The track widths themselves are up 150mm.

Propelling the Ranger Raptor across almost any terrain you care to imagine is that 2.0-litre diesel engine with four cylinders and two turbochargers operating in series. Ford might have been tempted to install the 3.5-litre V6 from the Ford GT supercar, as it does in the F-150 Raptor, but the European business case simply didn’t stack up. So Raptor owners will have 210bhp and 367lb ft at their disposal, delivered to either the rear wheels or all four corners via a 10-speed automatic gearbox with high- and low-ratio settings.

With 2510kg to push against, performance is modest – the Raptor covering 0-62mph in a fraction over 10sec, Ford says. There is, however, a locking rear differential to help extract maximum traction.

Naturally, the Ranger Raptor uses electronic driving modes to help realise the potential of the car’s formidable chassis engineering. There are six modes within the Terrain Management System, including settings for grass/gravel/snow and rock climbing. Perhaps the most intriguing is Baja mode, which loosens chassis interventions for maximum attack over rough terrain.

INTERIOR

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - front seats

When you climb into a performance car based on a regular family vehicle, you know what you’ll get: piano black plastics or fake carbonfibre in place of some more dainty trims, maybe some Alcantara, and aluminium inserts on pedals, maybe with a bit of red stitching here and there. For the Raptor, kinda think the same, only rather more subtly, and with Ford’s trademark blue writ through it.

So the Alcantara is there, on the seat pads, in seats that are Raptor branded and more figure hugging than those of most pick-ups but, thankfully, not full-on buckets. The steering wheel is large and round and marked with a red stripe at top dead centre, which, given 3.5 turns between locks and the nature of this car, is way more sensible than it is on a hot hatch. Gearchange paddles are magnesium, and blue stitching abounds, extending even to the dash top, which, in an effort to raise a budget pick-up’s interior to £50,000 levels, features a leather finish.

Shift paddles for the 10-speed gearbox are made of magnesium – a racy touch alongside the blue contrast stitching that the Raptor interior gets as standard

All in, these changes work well enough: throw in a comprehensive touchscreen and media system (see ‘Multimedia’, right) and the Raptor – spacious front and back, although the rear is better for two than three – does a passable enough impression of a ‘proper’ car rather than a commercial vehicle, provided you’re prepared to overlook some of the cheaper, more brittle plastics.

Behind the passenger space is a load bay the same size as the regular Raptor’s, at 1560mm by 1575mm, on top of which you can stack various cover options. The tailgate is easier to lift than it looks, but throw in the vast ground clearance the Raptor has and you’re looking at a vehicle whose ‘boot’ is on the inaccessible side unless you’re on a stool.

The big chassis changes that make the Raptor so impressive dynamically also mean the payload takes a hit. The towing limit reduces from 3500kg to 2500kg, which might not be a huge issue, but the load bed capacity will more likely be. It’s reduced from over a tonne, which makes VAT reclaimable in the UK, to just 758kg, meaning you can’t get the VAT back because the Raptor’s no longer a commercial vehicle. So it needs to really do what it takes as a performance car.

The Ranger Raptor comes equipped with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment suite, which includes sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These features are all operated via the centrally located 8.0in touchscreen, which admittedly doesn’t offer up the most sophisticated graphics in the world but is, for the most part, intuitive and easy to use. Shortcut buttons along the bottom of the screen allow for quick access between menus, although these disappear when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The home button vanishes, too, which makes the process of jumping back to the main screen a more convoluted process than it needs to be.

Still, there are some clever features here, such as a wi-fi hotspot and a ‘breadcrumb’ setting for the sat-nav. This plots your progress on the map so you can more easily retrace your steps when journeying far from the beaten track.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - suspension

Because the Ranger Raptor is a bona fide Ford Performance vehicle, the temptation to single out and criticise the underwhelming nature of its 2.0-litre diesel four-pot can be tricky to resist. If US-spec versions of the Ranger Raptor are reportedly getting a petrol V6, and the F-150 Raptor already has one, then what’s stopping Ford from bringing it over here? Inevitably, it’ll all boil down to a question of economics. But really, to criticise the Ranger Raptor’s engine for its shortage of on-paper performance after examining the extensive changes that have been made to its chassis does feel like missing the point a bit.

That said, there’s no avoiding the fact that – for what is supposed to be a performance vehicle – the Ranger Raptor is pretty slow. Against the stopwatch, the 2.5-tonne pick-up truck clocked an average 0-60mph time of 10.5sec on Millbrook’s mile straight in damp conditions. While that does make Ford’s claimed 0-62mph time of 10.5sec believable, it also means the Raptor is only 0.3sec quicker to 60mph than the 197bhp five-cylinder Ranger Wildtrak we tested in 2012.

Ranger Raptor is in its natural element here, where the Ford Performance mods really pay dividends. You can make the rear step out on the road, too, especially in the wet

We observed a similar difference in 30-70mph times, too – our measure of how effectively a car accelerates in the real world. Where the standard Ranger managed 10.7sec, the Raptor completed the run in 10.5sec. That said, the Raptor outpaced the Mercedes X250d we road tested last year, which hit 60mph from rest in 11.2sec. Its run from 30mph to 70mph, meanwhile, took 11.6sec.

At a cruise, the Raptor’s engine is unobtrusive and fairly refined. Accelerate hard and its deep, boomy diesel grumble becomes much louder, but it’s the fake synthetic engine sound played through the cabin speakers that most irked our testers. Stretch your imagination and its timbre isn’t too dissimilar to that of an old Subaru Impreza WRX STI – only far more contrived.

The 10-speed automatic gearbox, meanwhile, can at times feel like it has been given a few too many ratios to juggle. Part-throttle acceleration can prompt it to shift down once, then shift down again when it realises it still doesn’t quite have the crank spinning at peak speeds for timely acceleration. That said, hook-up from a standstill is smooth, making for useful precision when navigating tricky off-road terrain.

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - jump side

With 3.5 turns lock to lock, the steering rack that lends the Ranger Raptor such impressive accuracy when clambering over rocks and boulders also makes for rather slow responses out on the road.

Geared as such, directional changes require a bit more effort from the driver and this extra exertion serves as one of the starker reminders that you’re driving a jacked-up pick-up truck as opposed to a conventional SUV. That said, the process of actually getting the Ranger Raptor to change direction isn’t a particularly exhausting one.

The ease with which the Raptor deals with being dropped from fairly significant heights is astounding. Never has jumping a car at quite serious speeds felt so right.

The steering itself is reasonably light and its response is linear enough so as not to sap confidence. There’s a half-decent sense of feel there, too, and body roll is sufficiently smartly checked that handling feels quite precise at a brisk pace.

The combined effect of all this is that, despite its size, the big Ford is reasonably easy to place on the road and doesn’t feel overly intimidating to drive. Granted, you’re still aware of its vast size on narrower roads, but the knowledge that you can mount almost any kerb or verge to make way for oncoming traffic is reassuring.

For all the traction those chunky BF Goodrich tyres provide when you’re plugging through mud or up a rutted track, they have their limitations on the road. This is particularly true if that road happens to be wet. Here, an overly enthusiastic application of throttle on the exit of a corner can cause the rear axle to step out in quite dramatic, albeit progressive and controlled, fashion.

Less entertaining is the Ford’s ability to understeer. The momentum generated by its 2.5-tonne mass can quite easily overwhelm the front tyres during sharper directional changes and make its nose wash wide when driving in damp conditions – when the car’s electronic handling aids are very much best left on.

Pick-ups by their nature have long wheelbases and lengthy rear overhangs and that doesn’t make for good breakover and departure angles. Thanks to a pretty mammoth 283mm ground clearance, though, the Raptor’s are better than most.

At 24deg, neither is as good as, say, the Mercedes G-Class that graced these pages a few weeks ago, but it’s fiercely good for a truck. The 32.5deg approach angle is great in any class, ditto an 850mm wade depth.

That ground clearance, wade depth and an under-body bash plate made of 2.3mm high-strength steel give clues to what the Raptor really likes doing off road. This is a long car with a large turning circle so is not built for delicate turns through tight woodland tracks – although it’ll put up a better fist of things than you might imagine.

But the Raptor comes into its own given a bit more breathing space, a lot more speed, and some very challenging terrain underfoot.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

The extreme lengths to which Ford Performance has gone to make the Ranger Raptor so impressively capable off the road have also paid dividends when you’re still on it.

Admittedly, its massive suspension overhaul hasn’t totally erased the skittish secondary restlessness that so often blights unladen pick-up trucks, but in the Ranger Raptor, this has been reduced to comparatively trace amounts. Its rear axle in particular is more settled than ever, with only the most scarred sections of broken Tarmac being capable of provoking the Ford into a heightened sense of agitation. Even under such conditions, though, it would be a stretch to accuse the Ranger Raptor of suffering from a dramatic shortage of sophistication or comfort.

The fluent manner in which this hardcore Ford controls its vertical body movements makes it a surprisingly comfortable companion on faster A-roads and motorways, too. It seems an almost unnatural thing to write about a car capable of operating in such extreme conditions as the Ranger Raptor is, but there’s little here that would deter you from using it as a long-distance cruiser.

The cabin is reasonably hushed as well. At a 70mph cruise, our sound gear showed a reading of 66dB. Admittedly, this is 1dB louder than the Mercedes X250d we road tested last year, but the difference is likely to be down to the Raptor’s knobbly BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres. Under the same conditions, the Jeep Wrangler – another supremely capable 4x4 – produced a less favourable 70dB reading.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - hero front

Costing nearly £50,000 and with only four diesel-fuelled cylinders to show for it, the Ranger Raptor is perhaps more likely to attract those wanting to make a statement than it will any recreational off-road drivers who would use this chassis to anything like its true potential.

Neither is it an entirely rational choice of workhorse in this class and underlining that fact is that it is no longer classified as a commercial vehicle, so owners cannot claim back VAT. In addition to the Raptor’s smaller-capacity payload, the standard Ford Ranger’s 3.5-tonne towing limit is reduced by almost a third. Those with largely practical ownership intentions might therefore be better served by a Ranger from the mainstream portion of the range.

Ford’s PCP deals could see the Ranger Raptor’s substantial dimensions on your driveway for just under £600 per month, and as this is an official European product, finding an unregistered one shouldn’t prove problematic

But if the Raptor is the only pick-up for you, ownership should at least prove reasonably affordable once the initial cost is accounted for. Official forecasts for residual value were nonexistent at the time this magazine went to print but the Raptor ought to hold its value well enough if the six-month waiting list for a new one is any indication. For comparison, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon also performs well in this regard, retaining almost half its original value after three years and 36,000 miles.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Ford Ranger

VERDICT

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019 road test review - static

Ford’s Ranger Raptor is a curious machine and, speaking objectively and dispassionately, a rather flawed one in some ways. For a performance car, its engine is lacklustre and its heavily compromised payload makes it of little use as a pick-up truck. It’s expensive and certainly not the most sensible family vehicle you’ll find at its price point. But regardless of all of this, it is an incredibly difficult car to dislike.

The remarkable lengths to which Ford Performance has gone to re-engineer the Ford Ranger’s chassis and suspension for really punishing off-road use are impressive just to contemplate. The capability the changes then afford it off road and the level of abuse they allow it to deal with, meanwhile, really do beggar belief. That it’s still as comfortable as it is back on the road doesn’t go unnoticed, either.

Underwhelming on the road, brilliantly tough and tenacious off it

Perspective is key to understanding the Ranger Raptor. Viewed through the same lens as a traditional pick-up truck, the Ford doesn’t make a great amount of sense. View it purely as a toy, though, and there really isn’t much out there in which you’ll have more fun off the beaten track.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Ford Ranger

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Ford Ranger Raptor 2019-2022 First drives