River beds, sand and rocks: We take the Ford Ranger Raptor on a 1200km adventure

By Willem vd Putte Time of article published Aug 28, 2020

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PRETORIA - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, It’s a Raptor.

I suppose a Raptor really is a bird and it does, given the right conditions, like to spend a bit of time in the air, but mostly, Ford’s serious Raptor off-road machine tackles the hard stuff without raising a sweat.

And we’re in the fortunate position that it’s been allocated to us for the next six months as our long-term test vehicle, so we’ll be able to give you a proper blow-by-blow account of what it’s like to live with.

Launched to an enthusiastic media contingent last year, the Raptor has been well received by the public and, despite its price of R875 700, I’ve seen a number of them on the road and managed to run into one in a river bed in the Giyani district.

The guys at Ford had just confirmed the Raptor jackpot with us when someone on one of the 4x4 WhatsApp groups I’m on suggested a trip to the Klein Letaba River, where we annually try to spend a couple of days.

“Before the long weekend, otherwise it looks like the N3 in December,” came the cry.

You know how it goes from there. Three of us (and as always, a couple of tentatives) started a River Trip group and from there things evolved to the Raptor easing its nose into the soft river sand, with all the necessary Covid-19 travel documents safely in the cubbyhole.

Tucked in behind the Raptor for some extra driving and vehicle challenges was my off-road trailer, fully loaded with rooftop tent, fridge, gear, food, jerry cans and water (including showering) for four days.

The Raptor has a braked towing capacity of 2500kg and unbraked of 750kg, which poses no challenge on the black stuff, but deep, soft sand is a different proposition altogether.

But before we got there, we had to make a right just before Giyani and negotiate our way along a road past a number of villages. I say road but, for the first time, I was grateful for the big 35-inch BF Goodrich tyres the Raptor rolls on.

The 25km stretch has seen no maintenance for decades and as sedans, taxis and bakkies looked like they were competing in a drunken Saturday night swerving contest, the Raptor cruised effortlessly – aided by the brilliant Fox suspension set-up.

Never mind Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s spin about the booze ban and hospital beds, secondary roads across the country are in a similar state of disrepair and likely to cause as much carnage on any given sober night’s driving.

Once we were in the river, the tyres of both the Raptor and trailer were dropped to 0.9 bar so that we could “float” rather than dig into the sand.

I changed the mode from normal to sand/mud and, as an experiment, used 4H rather than low range and pressed the accelerator. That’s when I realised that everything Ford says about the Raptor isn’t just marketing speak and hype.

The combination cruised effortlessly over dunes and through water, a testimony to the 10-speed auto box – which I would argue is probably one of the top two boxes suited to off-road driving.

The border fence of the Kruger Park signalled our camping spot for the first two nights, so we set up camp and opened up the second fridge, used as a freezer tied in the back, and plugged it into the 12 volt socket to put a handful of ice in a glass. Don’t ask ... you know why.

Talking about power. There’s a handy inverter in the comfortable and well-designed cabin that can be used to charge laptops, phones, tools and appliances.

The guys with us I had met and befriended as a result of our mutual association with the Land Rover Defender years ago and, while we’ve modified them to cope with extreme adventures, they were impressed by what Ford has done in terms of thought and planning, in making a vehicle with a strong offroad bias.

Two examples come to mind. On almost every standard 4x4 double cab, the side steps range from plastic to steel tubing or aluminium.

Sure, it looks pretty and literally plays the part, but drive an axle twister or rest the weight of the car on them over a rock obstacle and it becomes a snap, crackle and pop party. Not so the Raptor.

Secondly, driving over rocks requires very low gearing and gentle acceleration, so we did a quick experiment. The yellow Defender, or cupcake as we call it, is probably one of the most competent and well-balanced Defenders on the road, fitted for both extreme off-roading and overlanding.

With crawler gears, he was in first-gear low range and I moved to low range and applied the rock setting. With only the ECU idling us forward, the Raptor was significantly slower. Again, that gearbox.

Day two saw us with an opportunity to play in the river bed and put the Raptor through its paces, including using the much-vaunted Baja mode.

I’ve read on some forums that people want a bigger engine in the Raptor. Sure, as a petrolhead, who wouldn’t want more power?

But I can honestly say that the twin turbocharged diesel engine, with 157kW and 500Nm of torque, coupled to that 10-speed automatic transmission (you can also switch to manual with paddles), is a very capable combination.

With hundreds of metres of open, sandy river bed, we charged around as hard as we could and not once did the Fox suspension flinch, even during short stints of air time. The seats provide ample comfortable support and the driving position is ideal for hard off-road driving.

With most vehicles, you have to put on a set of aftermarket recovery points that won’t bend or break, while on the Raptor they come standard.

The Raptor is built from the ground up with a specific purpose in mind, and I reckon what we did (and still intend to do) is very much what its intended purpose is; it’s not a mall crawler or “poser” bakkie and I found it to be a perfect combination of technology and “old-school” driving.

Ford’s SYNC3 touch screen infotainment and navigation system still works a treat and with Tracks4Africa fitted as standard (including a breadcrumb feature), you don’t have to worry about getting lost well off the beaten track.

Two things, though, that I would change – one that’s easy enough to address and the other a setting feature. The standard tow bar drop plate isn’t adjustable, which meant the trailer was being towed at an angle, while the drop plate also affects the departure angle when crawling over rocky sections. An easy enough fix with a custom made tow bar.

The second is that when you switch the vehicle off, the setting automatically defaults to normal, which isn’t a deal breaker, but when you’ve walked an obstacle and you’re hot and sweaty and preparing to tackle it, checking whether it’s still in grass/gravel/snow, mud/sand or rock mode isn’t top of mind.

We averaged 13.2l/100km over 1 285km, most of it towing a loaded trailer and much of it in deep, soft sand with tyres deflated to 0.9 bar which, given the conditions, isn’t bad at all.

As a first outing, it was a tough introduction for the Ford Raptor, and it came out with flying colours.

Here’s to more of the same.


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