Bangkok, Thailand - Ford’s bundu-bashing Ranger Raptor one-tonner, revealed to the world on Wednesday, certainly looks the part, with its chunky grille, tall stance and black plastic wheel-arch flares over big mudplugger tyres; but does it have the moxie to live up to its own hype?
Firstly, that engine. Big bakkies - especially big bakkies that are expected to hold their own off-road - are all about big muscular engines with lots of low-down torque. Ford’s new two-litre turbodiesel four with sequential turbos is rated for 157kW and 500Nm - which seems more than adequate on paper - but it’s not the big-inch V8 or V6 that the Blue Oval fan club was hoping for.
It is, however, an elegant piece of engineering with a small, high-pressure turbo for instant response and a larger, low-pressure turbo to move the large volumes of intake air required at high revs. At lower engine speeds the two turbos work in series to increase torque and reduce turbo lag, while at high speeds the smaller blower is bypassed to let the bigger one suck in all the air it can.
The turbos are, of course, powered by exhaust gases, which means they get very hot in use; to prevent them from self-destructing the casing of the low-pressure turbo and the impeller bearings on both turbos even have their own water-cooling system.
With smaller engines come, inevitably, narrower power bands; Ford has addressed that concern with an all-new, in house, 10-speed auto transmission, offering a huge spread of ratios so that the engine will always be working at optimum revs, no matter whether you’re towing your jet-ski down to the coast or towing a tractor out of a donga.
Nevertheless, those revs will be high enough to make the diehard bakkie brigade uncomfortable; it’s worth remembering that long after the Amarok’s two-litre twin-turbodiesel four had proved that it really was as durable as Volkswagen said it was, the complaints that it was a little light in the pants continued, and the Amarok is now available with a three-litre V6 TDI.
But for now the Raptor is not, so we’ll have to make the most of what it does have, with a five-way Terrain Management System switch on the steering wheel that offers two road and four off-road modes so you can tune the power delivery to where you are and what you’re doing.
Normal mode programmes the powertrain for comfort, and fuel-efficiency, while Sport mode sharpens throttle response, holds onto gears longer and downshifts more aggressively.
Grass/Gravel/Snow mode is all about maintaining traction on treacherous surfaces with second-gear starts and smoother gear shifts
Mud/Sand mode keeps the transmission in lower gears with high torque for maximum traction on soft surfaces.
Rock mode, by contrast, uses the higher gears at lower engine revs for smooth controllability on low-speed rocky terrain where smooth controllability is key.
Baja mode - named for the famous desert race - combines Sport Mode with dialing back the traction control and stability programs to allow you drive hard on wide open spaces, without the electronic nanny fighting you all the way.
None of which will do you much good if the chunky all-terrain BF Goodrich 285/70 R17 tyres aren’t in firm contact with the ground - which is the responsibility of the Raptor’s specially designed ladder chassis and custom suspension.
The independent front suspension has strengthened protruding shock absorber towers with cast aluminium lower control arms, while the the solid rear axle has bespoke long-travel coilover dampers and a Watts linkage to limit lateral movement, rather than the usual leaf spring set-up, which is great for heavy loads but offers limited travel.
Long-travel dampers, specially made for this model by Fox Racing Shox, have 46.6mm pistons all round and internal bypass valves so that the damping gets progressively firmer towards the top and bottom of the travel. It’s called Position Sensitive Damping and ensures firm control at high speed on rough ground, with gentler damping around the mid-point of the travel for a more comfortable ride when cruising on tar.
Ground clearance is 283mm, with an approach angle of 32.5 degrees, ramp over angle of 24 degrees and departure angle of 24 degrees.
The special front brakes have dual-piston callipers with pistons 9.5mm bigger than the standard Ranger's, biting down on 332 x 32mm ventilated discs, while the 54mm rear brake callipers, acting on 332 x 24mm discs, have their own master cylinder and booster.
Don’t stand in front of a moving Ranger Raptor; in place of the usual pedestrian-friendly crumple zone, the Raptor’s front bumper is mounted directly onto the chassis, as are two recovery hooks rated at 4.5 tons each and a 2.3mm thick bash plate made from high-strength steel that protects the radiator, power steering, front accessory drive, sump and front differential.
The rear bumper is also solidly frame-mounted, and comes with an integrated tow bar and two recovery hooks rated at 3.8 tons each.
The Ranger Raptor will be produced by Ford Thailand Manufacturing, and in South Africa at Ford’s Rosslyn plant, for release on the local market during 2019.