Johannesburg - A few months ago I got to put the new Ranger Raptor through its paces on a salt pan and some surrounding dunes in the Northern Cape, and it goes without saying that Ford could not have chosen a better venue to launch its butch new bakkie to the local media.

And having experienced the Ranger jumping and drifting in the kind of conditions it was made for, I concluded that it would really be wasted in the everyday urban grind. But when Ford sent us one to sample recently, I was at least curious to see how it would cope with life in the urban jungle.

Turns out the Raptor is, for the most part, both fun and comfortable to pilot in everyday conditions.

For starters, that fancy suspension system might have been designed to improve wheel travel in the wild, but it also results in a more comfortable ride quality on the road. In fact after experiencing it on a wide variety of tar conditions, big speed humps and dirt roads, I would say the Raptor absorbs bumps better than any other ladder-frame bakkie out there.

For the record, the Raptor comes with a totally different rear axle, in which the traditional leaf-springs make way for a more sophisticated Watts Linkage, and the vehicle is also kitted out with Fox Racing Shocks with Position Sensitive Damping.

Many drivers will also, of course, find a certain satisfaction in towering above traffic in a vehicle with a 283mm ground clearance - making it 51mm taller than regular Rangers.

One of the big gripes that many fans have with the Raptor is that it’s powered by a 2-litre engine. Sure, it has two turbos and with 157kW on tap, as well as 500Nm from just 1500rpm, it is pretty potent for its size. But what you must keep in mind is that the Raptor is an extremely heavy vehicle. With a kerb weight of 2338kg, it’s a good 143kg bulkier than the 2.0 BiT Wildtrak, and that really makes a difference. The suspension system has also reduced towing capacity from 3500 to 2500kg, if that matters to you, while the payload is cut back to 607kg.

Although it feels reasonably effortless at highway speeds once you have momentum, the Raptor does feel a bit sluggish off the mark. The 10-speed non-sequential automatic gearbox can get a bit too busy, at times, as it tries to find the sweet spot among the abundance of cogs. Fuel economy wasn’t particularly impressive either, the Raptor gulping around 11 litres per 100km in a combination of city driving and highway cruising.

All in all, it is an easy and comfortable vehicle to live with in the city, until, that is, you enter a parking lot. Normal double cab bakkies are not that easy to park at the best of times, but the Raptor is 150mm wider than the regular Rangers so that inevitably makes parking lots even more of a challenge - as do fellow motorists who don’t always aim for the centre of their bay. As a result you often end up parking at the far end of the lot where you don’t have to worry as much about about Skew Steve boxing you in. But what the heck, the longer walk is good exercise, no?

At least you won’t break a sweat getting in and out of the Raptor as it has big grab handles and side steps that are almost big enough to be balconies.

Once you’re inside, you get to enjoy all the creature comforts that you’d expect in a top-end bakkie, including cruise control, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, ambient lighting and Ford’s Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system with satnav as well as a reverse camera and rear park distance control to help with those aforementioned parking lot wars. Safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking and a lane keeping system.

The seats are lovely too. You get a pair of grippy, supportive buckets up front, complete with Raptor logos and electric adjustment for the driver. I also loved the upholstery, which is a combination of leather for the bolsters and Technical Suede for the inserts - and which was designed to be more durable than regular suede.

So if you can live with its size, the Raptor is actually quite happy in the city, but as I said earlier in the article, this vehicle would be wasted if that was all you ever did. To do this vehicle justice you need to have access to some kind of off-road playgroud.

As I discovered near Upington back in May, the Raptor is purpose-built for gobbling up rough terrain at speeds that you wouldn't have been able to in other 4x4s - and with that incredible wheel travel it does that extremely well. For that kind of driving it’s even got a ‘Baja’ mode, which is one of six driving modes, but certainly the most entertaining as it pares back the traction control while optimising the throttle, gearbox and steering settings for high-speed off-roading. As we discovered on the launch, the Baja mode also makes it easier to get things seriously sideways on the dirt.

In case you were wondering the five other modes are: Mud/Sand, Rock, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sport and Normal - the latter two being reserved for on-road driving.

VERDICT

Ford’s Ranger Raptor was not designed to be an on-road performance vehicle, and it really comes into its own when playing in the wild, but that said, besides the fact that it’s too big for the average parking bay, it’s actually quite nice to live with on a day to day basis in town, and the ride quality as well as its level of grip, and agility for its size, is particularly impressive. 

It’s not cheap, at R803 300, but we want one.

IOL Motoring