UPINGTON, Northern Cape – Does the average South African bakkie-buyer really need the ability to blast along off-road terrain at breakneck speeds? Or string together drift after dirt-flinging drift? Or, indeed, jump the vehicle off a gravel-road crest at 120+ km/h without fear of the underpinnings positively disintegrating upon landing?

Almost certainly not. Although many probably want that ability. And now they can have it.

Yes, the locally built Ford Ranger Raptor has finally hit the market in South Africa (read our pricing story here and our international driving impression here), with the Blue Oval brand billing its beefed-up bakkie as downright peerless when it comes to high-speed off-roading talent. And, after spending many hours subjecting the aggressively styled newcomer to numerous tests over various unpaved surfaces – from the soft sand of the dunes to the brittle surfaces of a salt pan – it’s safe to say that’s more than mere marketing talk.

Thanks to an army of bespoke under-the-skin items (check out our in-depth technical article to see exactly what it took to design and build this vehicle), including a strengthened chassis frame, uprated brakes, high-performance Fox dampers and a new coil-over rear suspension set-up featuring an integrated Watt’s linkage (the latter noticeably reducing body lean through fast bends), the Raptor-badged model boasts a level of off-road talent that is simply streets ahead of any other straight-from-the-factory bakkie currently offered in our market.

Add a comprehensive “terrain management system” – which offers six driving modes in the form of normal and sport (for on-road use) plus grass/gravel/snow, mud/sand, rock and Baja (for off-road use) – that allows powertrain characteristics and the level of electronic assistance to be varied, and you have something not too far from a fully fledged off-road racer.

Of course, what’s not so racy is the oil-burning four-banger Ford opted to drop over the front axle. The 2,0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbodiesel unit (offering 157 kW and 500 N.m) has been at the centre of heated discussion since the reveal of the Ranger Raptor back in February 2018, with many enthusiasts suggesting a couple more cylinders would have been more fitting for a vehicle developed under the Ford Performance banner.

Granted, on tarmac the Ranger Raptor doesn’t accelerate particularly quickly from standstill (in fact, Ford has made a point of not mentioning the Silverton-built Raptor’s claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time in its press material ... but it’s 10,5 seconds, if you were wondering), so those hoping it will keep up with the likes of the Volkswagen Amarok V6 and Mercedes-Benz X350d from light to light will be bitterly disappointed. And it’s also a little irksome this very engine can be ordered in the Ranger Wildtrak (and even the Everest), too.

But seldom during my time with the Ranger Raptor off-road did I find myself thinking more grunt would have been useful (and not once when rally ace Gareth Woolridge had me holding my breath and bracing for impact as he attacked obstacle after obstacle during a punishing hot lap across varied terrain). And that leaves me feeling the Struandale-assembled engine is at the very least sufficient for high-speed off-road action.

The 10-speed automatic transmission, too, does a fine job of selecting the appropriate cog for most driving situations (magnesium paddle-shifters ship standard, but seem superfluous here), with the final couple of ratios further settling what is already a pleasingly hushed diesel engine when on the long road.

The specially developed BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres (in 285/70 R17 size) under those menacingly flared arches, meanwhile, not only come to the party in the rough stuff, but also help deliver an almost plush ride quality on tarmac, despite an aggressive tread pattern. Ultimately, the generously specced Raptor is certainly usable as an everyday on-road vehicle, although its considerable width sees it spilling from the average parking bay.

While the bold exterior styling (only amplified by the lofty 283 mm ground clearance and 150 mm wider tracks) makes the Raptor easily distinguishable from lesser Ranger derivatives, inside the differences are not quite as marked. The most obvious upgrade to the cabin is the fitment of model-specific sports seats offering a handy mix of comfort and support, while more subtle changes include blue stitching, a freshened-up instrument cluster and a red top-centre marker on the leather-clad tiller. Frustrating, however, the steering column is still missing reach adjustment, which makes it difficult to lock in the perfect driving position.

The Ranger Raptor is a particularly interesting addition to a local off-road market that generally focuses on low-speed, technical jaunts off the beaten track. The newcomer, by contrast, offers high-speed thrills away from the asphalt, flattering drivers with even limited skill or experience. Still, I can’t help but feel the majority of Ranger Raptors sold in SA won’t ever see the sort of terrain for which this vehicle has been been expressly designed.

Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if a healthy chunk end up being bought on looks alone, with buyers perfectly content to sacrifice towing capacity (which drops to 2 500 kg) and payload (reduced to 607 kg) at the altar of a highly sophisticated suspension arrangment that will seldom see anything more rural than an immaculately graded gravel road.

Of course, there's an argument to be made that Ford could have simply slapped an aggressive body kit onto a standard Ranger (and perhaps thrown in a smidgen more under-bonnet oomph), with the result likely to sell in significant numbers while requiring far less-intensive development (and thus a mere fraction of the investment that went into the Raptor). But those who get the chance to experience this machine at maximum attack off the beaten track will be glad this isn’t the case.

So, back to that original question: does the typical bakkie-owner really need this level of off-road wherewithal? Well, does the average supercar driver need the ability to reach licence-losing speeds? The answer to both is “no”, but (in each case) that doesn’t mean they don’t want it...



FAST FACTS

Model: Ford Ranger Raptor 2,0 BiT 10AT 4x4 
Price: R786 400
Engine: 2,0-litre, bi-turbodiesel four-cylinder
Power: 157 kW at 3 750 r/min
Torque: 500 N.m between 1 500 and 2 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,5 seconds
Top Speed: 170 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,3 L/100 km
CO2: 220 g/km
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Service Plan: Six-year/90 000 km (with intervals of 15 000 km)