Desert dash brings out the best in the new Ford Ranger Raptor

Published Mar 2, 2023


Launch Review: 2023 Ford Ranger Raptor 3.0 V6

When you have a special bakkie with a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine capable of 292kW and 583Nm, the Namib dunes will be hollering loudly in your ears. Which is precisely what Ford heard when they invited us to finally drive the new Ranger Raptor over two days followed by a road trip back to Johannesburg.

We’ve covered the new generation Ford Ranger and the Raptor extensively over the past few months but our eye was constantly on those dates in Namibia that would tell us all we needed to know. You can watch our video review below, or read the full story below that:

We saw the new Ford Ranger Raptor in the metal last year in Thailand in a clinically clean workshop but 14 of them lined up outside Walvis Bay International Airport was a different prospect.

The Ford Truck DNA shouts from the large grille with the big F-O-R-D letters, C-clamp Matrix LED headlights, flared wheel arches and standing tall on 17-inch alloys covered in 33-inch BF Goodrich all terrains, the Ford Ranger Raptor is anything but a wallflower.

The interior is unlike any other bakkie, with comfortable electronically adjusted seats inspired by a jet fighter, as well as orange accents, leather sports steering wheel and magnesium paddle shifters.

Your immediate front view is dominated by a 12.4-inch digital cluster that you can set to your own liking or changes according to the mode selected.

In the centre is the large 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system that houses a myriad of information including a dedicated off-road screen showing things like various camera angles, predictive overlay guidelines, pitch and roll graphics and where power is being sent.

We’d be paying a lot of attention to that as we headed towards our first drive along the beach.

First, though, in South Africa all beach and dune driving is banned, thanks in part to irresponsible driving and the destruction of the eco systems. Namibia works on a concession and permit system that’s well policed and cold-drink money won’t keep you out of the courts.

So Harry van Zyl and his crew led the convoy into the unknown, for us at least. It gave us a chance to play with the sand and Baja off-road settings, the others being mud/ruts and rock crawl.

My driving partner and I both agreed that without a doubt Baja mode is the most fun. It’s incredibly responsive and designed especially for fast driving in the conditions that we found ourselves in. In addition, the twin pipes give a glorious growl as a result of electronically controlled valves that make it into a through pipe.

Once we had become comfortable with the Raptor’s reactions to our driving inputs it turned out that you can fly along a sand pan pretty much at the national speed limit without any trouble at all.

Central to this is the especially designed Fox suspension.

The job that Ford Performance has done puts the Raptor on an entirely different scale in the segment and indeed to many other far more expensive competitors. The live Valve Internal Bypass System monitors driving conditions constantly and adjusts accordingly and no matter what speed we drove at on a number of surfaces and terrains, it didn’t put a foot wrong once.

Dune driving is a whole different category of off-road driving and not one I’m particularly fond of. I prefer slow rock crawling. It feels like you’re more in control whereas if you Google sand dune bloopers there’s some spectacular things that can go wrong, mostly at speed.

But, when in the dunes … switch to Baja mode, floor it, follow the tracks and slide into the campsite sideways.

Apparently there are three rules to follow in the dunes: follow the tracks, second, follow the tracks and third, follow rule one and two.

It’s amazing what can be done in a vast landscape of soft sand with each person accommodated in their own tent with a stretcher, mattress and duvet. A fully functional kitchen, bush showers and bush toilets made for a comfortable stay.

For the following two days we drove the Raptor as hard as we could up and down and around sweeping dunes spouting rooster tails from the tyres at 1.0 bar as often as we could. Watch it in action below:

The quality of the car and the technology I’m sure probably made us look better than we were and even when one of the less experienced drivers managed to fly over the top of a dune, it hung for a while before landing level and continued downwards despite a shaken pilot that climbed out in the blazing sun.

Sand may be the Raptor’s natural habitat but it’s equally at ease over tough, rocky terrain as we found out on an outcrop on the edge of the desert that forms part of Namibia’s magnificent landscape.

Here we used rock crawl mode and unique to the Raptor, Trail Control.

It’s like cruise control but for off-roading. You set the speed at less than 32km/h and the car takes care of the rest. For us older 4x4 drivers it’s not always easy to grasp why you would let a tin can decide on throttle and brake inputs so it was a bit of a leap of faith as I headed up the mountain.

Turns out it’s actually quite nifty.

With the cameras showing the way forward I purposefully put a front wheel in front of a rather large rock to see how it would react. With my feet planted on the footwell and front and rear lockers engaged it picked up the revs a little, drove over it and slowed down again to a 3km/h crawl. The rest of the incline was spent looking for similar challenges and it simply kept going.

As an aside, the Ford Ranger Raptor is the only double cab that’s fitted with both a rear and front locker. They’re engaged by pushing the icons on the off-road screen. I’ve said it before, but I’d feel more at ease if it was placed on the centre console. If, for whatever reason, the screen goes on the blink you’re up a creek without a paddle.

After tearing up the sand, consumption between the cars stood at between 18.5 litres/100km and 25 litres/100km, which is about right given the terrain, tyre pressure and Baja mode.

Nursing a drink at the end of the event, there wasn’t one dissenting voice about what Ford has achieved with the new Raptor.

At R1 094 900 it’s a one-of-a-kind bakkie that will have petrol heads and 4x4 enthusiasts reaching for their cheque books to literally kick sand in the face of the opposition.

It was now time to take the Namibian dirt roads back home, but that’s a story for another instalment.

IOL Motoring