Rudely awoken by the sound of a Raptor spluttering its brute V6 tune in Baja mode, the third and final morning in the Namib desert was cold and harsh. A brutal reminder of how unforgiving the barren terrain was. Not once, did the performance bakkie set a foot wrong.
With a carpet of morning haze shielding the harsh African sun blooming over the duned horizon, it was time to pack up from the desert playground and make our way back to electricity and functional plumbing. It had been three torturous days. Not for us, glamping in a valley between a majestic erg of dunes, but instead, for the vehicles which had ferried us on our escapades. They had fought for their lives. Being thrown over dunes at breakneck speed, crawling over undulating million-year-old rock formations where millimetre perfection counted, and having a seasoned rally driver at their helm, demonstrating what off-road driving at nine-tenths felt like.
After being catapulted straight into the driver’s seat after touching down at Walvis Bay Airport with every moment spent engaged in some way, this cold, harsh Namib morning presented a moment for meditation. What had just happened… How did Ford approve a road-legal rally car?
Three days prior, it was touchdown Namibia. The two-hour-plus fight into the neighbouring country had let me unearth the lasting impression that the previous-generation bakkie had left with me. As good as it was, a gripe that had many bothered was the diesel powertrain which made the fantastic lifestyle bakkie, an otherwise Achilees-heeled product. With the emergence of the news that Ford had shoehorned a petrol-powered V6 into the next-generation model, this concern was immediately quashed…
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, there was only a short stint of civil, tar-road driving before taking to the dunes and commencing with the convoy antics. Tyres carrying just over a bar of pressure, we erred on the side of caution from hooning on the hard surfaces, to prevent separating rubber from metal. Regardless, 14 Ranger Raptors sang their Ohio-sourced tune, upshifting to overtake laden trucks hauling salt and downshifting with vigour entering protected areas with the Atlantic Ocean to their flank.
As good as the sound was from the cabin (no augmented audio this time either!), the performance was as enticing. What has happened with Ford is that lunatics seem to run riot. 292 kW, 583 N.m, twin-turbocharged petrol V6. A performance car rivalling motor, now shoehorned into a bakkie that can apply that speed, anywhere. All of this, Ford sanctioned. All of this, straight off of the production line. With extraterrestrial landscapes in every direction, Ford has reinforced the meaning of outer-worldly.
Soft sand? Engage a customised drive mode from the centrally mounted rotary dial (more on this later) and the underworkings of the bakkie prepare themselves for the surface beneath. Inclines with loose granules of fesh fesh are conquered with ease. Pin the throttle, point in the direction you need to move towards, collect momentum, theatrically bounce off the limiter and summit the shape-shifting cliff top. It became immediately apparent, that this stock standard bakkie made it as easy to overland as a heavily customised adventurer with a seasoned helmsman in control.
What ingredients did the Blue Oval impart into the Raptor to achieve this though? Using the benchmark of the previous generation bakkie as a basis, we had Justin Capicchiano; the Ford performance, Motorsport and Special Vehicles Program manager and Martin Steyn; Vehicle Integration Supervisor for the Ranger Raptor give us a conclusive presentation on exactly what makes their new star-child tick.
First and foremost; the powertrain. Customers of the previous generation model wanted more. More they got. Built from the same family of V6 motors that power the Bronco Raptor and the F-150 Raptor, the latest 3,0-litre twin-turbocharged unit is fashioned from the same high-strength materials that go into a Nascar motor. This means that it can handle a pounding, but in action, the power is delivered almost instantly and torque comfortably pulls until it hits the restricted 187 km/h mark with the same change in momentum akin to that of hitting a brick wall.
The exhaust has been through an intensive refinement process, with the final interaction on the production model boasting a valve-controlled system that presents the occasional burble and pop. Although it is recommended for off-road use only, it is nothing too unruly for us South Africans although your neighbours may disapprove at 6 AM on a Monday morning. A few decibels louder and it would be akin to that of a Cortina traipsing around Brakpan on a Saturday night.
Shifting gears into another generation, connecting the monstrosity of a motor to a standard four-wheel drive system is a 10-speed automatic transmission. In manual mode, the aluminium paddles wouldn’t have returned to their position of rest before the system was already halfway shifting into the desired gear. An immediately apparent improvement on the far more lethargic previous generation that took yonks to get a move on – chalk and cheese. The drawbacks? Well, in the most aggressive driving mode (Baja), it would occasionally present a noticeable jerk but other than that, faultless.
All of this, combined – a formidable powertrain. Paired with a mass measuring a few kilos within the 2,5-tonne mark mean it comes at a cost. Heavy-footed open-road driving in the Namibian outback would yield in the region of 15,5L/100 km. Ford claims 11,5L/100 km in a combined cycle is possible if the V6 soundtrack is not frequently and continuously obliged. So far, this is the only factor that the outgoing Ranger Raptor reigns supreme in, with its frugal four-cylinder diesel powertrain sipping a claimed 8,2L/100 km.
Looking closely at the silhouette of the new model, Ford has subtly updated its underpinnings. The front wheels now sit 50 mm closer to the front although the track width on the Raptor remains unchanged from its predecessor. The 33-inch sized wheels have also carried through however the front travel has been increased to 290 mm. Remaining at the 2,5-inch rating before, the Ranger Raptor now sports FOX Live Valve Internal Bypass shock absorbers which can electronically adjust to the surface beneath, improving handling and comfort characteristics.
Of course, all of this is housed in widened arches which have been specifically developed for the model, which also sports bold F-O-R-D grille lettering above a separated bumper and 2,3 mm-thick high-strength steel bash plate. After traversing rutted trails and elevated dunes, this component began showing its scars, and thus its important purpose to ensure the inner workings of the purpose-built off-roader remain intact on foreign escapades.
Built to take pounds of punishment, the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor also boasts an updated chassis in comparison to its standard counterpart. This includes unique mounts and reinforcements on pressure points of the frame which allow well over 5g of force. In application, this means that high-speed crests in the dunes or potholes and speedbumps on South African roads are brushed off with ease as the suspension and chassis coincidentally absorb the shock.
For anything slower than rally-raid antics, the next-gen Ranger Raptor boasts a break-over angle of 24°, an approach angle of 32° and a departure angle of 27° if a towbar is not fitted. Being in the midst of the Namib, we couldn’t put Ford’s 850 mm water wading depth to use but the stock air filter being fed air through the top of the grille makes it plausible. Any other air entering the engine bay is channelled outward through the fender-mounted or bonnet-mounted vents – all of which are functional and assist in cooling.
For buyers wanting to stand out from the rest of the pack; Raptor-specific colours exist in two shades; a more subdued Conquer Grey or the bold Code Orange bodywork that contrasts the optional sticker pack more intensely. Another stylistic addition that is exclusive to the high-performance bakkie is a single exit exhaust on each flank of the rear bumper. This, paired with the imposingly wide stance and thicker haunches make for a menacing-looking machine ready to decimate the dunes.
Behind the wheel of the Raptor
Climbing up into the raised cabin courtesy of cast aluminium side steps and things return to a somewhat civilised nature, save from a little bit of bright paintwork to remind the driver of the inherent hooligan underneath. The bolstered seats have been fashioned with a fighter jet aesthetic in mind and overhead auxiliary switches further cement its relation to the mighty Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or any winged jet for that matter.
Most noticeable is the 12,0-inch vertical touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard. Along with infotainment duties, the high-resolution screen can also display any number of external cameras when traversing through tricky terrain or cresting near-vertical inclines which further aid with overlanding.
Behind the steering wheel is another digital cluster, measuring at 12.4-inch and configurable under different driving conditions. Speaking of which, the performance bakkie boasts seven on and off-road driving presets which are accessible through a console-mounted rotary dial.
Each selectable drive mode adjusts a wide range of vehicle parameters. This includes engine and transmission, ABS sensitivity and calibration, traction and stability controls, exhaust valve actuation, steering and throttle response – all to ensure the Raptor’s best traction and performance can be harnessed under any driving condition. Despite the wide range to choose from, Baja, tuned for high-speed off-road performance with all systems set for maximum attack, was my default setting for kicking up sand and getting the bakkie sideways.
On that final morning, before we cleared out from the remote camp, a statement that was made during the presentation on the first evening dawned on me. In its inaugural Baja 1000 towards the end of 2022, a race-prepped but stock and street-legal Ranger Raptor was entered into the stock vehicle class. It was the only entrant and upon crossing the line, placed first, coincidentally finished hours ahead of rival manufacturers competing in higher classes.
Similar to the competition Baja 1000 bakkie, a Ranger Raptor on the showroom floor has no competition, at least not in South Africa. No other bakkie manufacturer has deemed it logical to build a rally car for the road and because of that, Ford will monopolize the segment and reap the rewards from a gamble because their latest off-road flagship is a force to be reckoned with and a true decimator of dunes!
Ford Ranger Raptor Fast Facts
Engine: front-mounted, twin-turbocharged, 3,0-litre, V6 petrol
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Power: 292 kW
Torque: 583 N.m
Driven wheels: Selectable Four-wheel drive
Wading depth: 850 mm
Find pricing on the latest Blue Oval performance bakkie here.