Upington - The Ford Ranger Raptor was evidently a smash hit long before the first unit rolled off the assembly line recently - you just have to look at how many creatively accessorised Ranger bakkies you see running around your city (or dorpie).

Granted, much of the initial inspiration came from the bigger Ford F-150 Raptor that South Africa and most of the world never got to enjoy, but now Ford has answered our appetite for a more hard-core bakkie with an ‘official’ Raptor version of the Ranger.

And while it looks positively beastly in the flesh, flared fenders and all, there is far more to this bakkie than its brutish appearance. Ford has installed some seriously impressive kit in an attempt to justify its price tag of R786 400.

Rolling on 285mm-wide BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres, the Raptor rides 51mm higher than regular 4x4 Rangers, with ground clearance totalling 283mm, and that's just the beginning of its bundu bashing bag of tricks. For starters, Ford has ditched the leaf spring rear suspension for a coil-over set-up featuring an integrated Watt's linkage that allows the axle to move up and down with minimal lateral movement. Ford's performance division also threw in race-developed Fox Racing shocks with Position Sensitive Damping.

What this means, out in the wild, is significantly improved wheel travel, up 32 percent at the front and 22 percent round back.

Ford quotes an approach angle of 32.5 degrees, with breakover and departure angles listed at 24 degrees, and the wading depth is even more impressive at 850mm, but keep in mind that the long travel coil rear suspension has reduced the braked towing capacity from 3500 to 2500kg, and the payload is cut to 607kg.

Under the bonnet

Of course, what some fans might appreciate the least is the fact that it’s actually slower than the ‘regular’ 2.0 BiT Wildtrak and XLT Rangers.

Yes, the Raptor has the same SA-built twin-turbocharged 2-litre diesel powertrain, paired with a 10-speed automatic gearbox. But the Raptor weighs 143kg more than the equivalent Wildtrak, and as a result it can only get from 0-100km/h in 10.5 seconds, according to claims.

It is a refined engine though, ticking over quietly at normal highway speeds and beyond... But the performance it provides just doesn’t cash the cheques written by its Dakar-ready looks.

But let’s take it to the desert...

To be fair, straight-line performance is not what this vehicle was designed for - the Raptor being purpose-built for gobbling up rough terrain at speeds that you wouldn't have been able to in other 4x4s. To prove that point to us often sceptical media, Ford flew us to the Northern Cape to play with it on a salt pan and surrounding hills - Goerapan to be specific, a location where another carmaker does much of its Dakar testing.

Ford set up four courses for us, the first being a dirt track where we could launch it into oversteer in various settings, including the Baja mode that forms part of the Raptor's six-mode Terrain Management System - which you also won't find on regular Rangers.

Inspired by Mexico's legendary desert race of the same name, you'll know you're in Baja mode when you see a cactus symbol in the readout on the instrument cluster, and this setting pares back the traction control while also optimising the throttle, gearbox and steering settings for high-performance off-road driving.

While its drifting ability was impressive, the Raptor really came into its own on the 'rally stage' where we were tasked with crossing some hectic terrain at a brisk pace, while the other modules gave us a chance to jump the Raptor and drive it up and down steep dunes - all of which it took very happily in its stride.

Don’t waste it!

For the record, the Raptor's six modes include two for tar driving - Normal and Sport - and four for off-roading, these being the aforementioned Baja as well as Rock, Mud/Sand and Grass/Gravel/Snow.

All said and done, the Raptor is an astounding off-roader that can really push the limits on rough terrain as its tyres and suspension that can take some serious knocks. Given its abilities, the Raptor would seem wasted if it only cruised Sandton or Camps Bay avenues. If you buy a Raptor, ideally you need to have a farm with some interesting terrain to play on, or at least frequent such areas in your line of work or weekend leisure.

But what’s it like in town?

Even if you subject it to life as a daily commuter, the Raptor should prove more than comfortable, but keep in mind that it’s not going to be much fun to park (or get in and out of thereafter) given that it is 150mm wider than the already bulky standard Ranger.

Standard cabin amenities include the Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, keyless start and interior ambient lighting.

Also perking up the mood inside are a set of thickly bolstered sports seats, heated upfront and electrically adjustable for the driver, and they’re upholstered in a combination of leather and a grippy Technical Suede that was designed to be hard wearing. These seats and the dashboard also have blue stitching, while the steering wheel gets a Raptor logo and 'centre marking' top red stripe.

This is a special vehicle in every sense of the world, so if you’re buying one be sure not to waste it.

IOL Motoring