CULLINAN - It was going to be a lazy Sunday chilling at the pool and throwing some meat on the fire.
Still grappling with my first coffee of the day a message came through on one of the 4x4 WhatsApp groups announcing the intention to venture out to Cullinan and drive the Diggers Hole 4x4 route run by Bosvark Safaris.
The Long-Term Ford Raptor was in the Driveway, nice and clean from the previous day's valet, but I was itching to take it off the black stuff again.
I casually mentioned it to my partner, who's always game for a bit of outdoor fun, and an hour or two later three vehicles, the Raptor, a 3.2 litre Ranger Wildtrak and a Discovery 3, met at a fuel station to buy snacks and cold drinks, before engaging four wheel drive.
Diggers Hole isn't a crazy vehicle-destroying track but like any 4x4 route you can make it as difficult or easy as you wish depending on what lines you select.
We've taken the Raptor on a tough, dusty and hot four day excursion along a river bed in Limpopo towing my off-road trailer, it's taken a road trip to Durban and we've attended one of Ford's off-road training days. It's been a pleasure to drive and not once did it give a moment's hesitation or resistance but I wanted to try it out on a more difficult and technical route.
So after picking up the gate keys and catching up with owner Michael van Dyk we headed to the first obstacle which was a mud hole, made even muddier after recent rains.
Watch the Raptor in action:
Caution: axle twisters ahead
I offered to take the lead, which in hindsight I understand why the others agreed, selected the mud/sand mode, dipped the nose into the hole, pressed the accelerator and within five metres promptly got stuck with the 35 inch all terrain tyres spewing mud everywhere. Eventually, with a short backward recovery from one of the dedicated recovery points and giving it a lot more stick to gain momentum the Raptor nudged its way forward over the edge.
Needless to say vehicle two and three gave it a miss.
Next up was a serious axle twister and while the Raptor would do it with very little help except for traction control, I opted to engage the rear difflock to spare both the environment and the brakes, especially as they were now covered in mud.
We did it a few times to compare the Ranger Wildtrak and the Raptor, both built just up the road in Silverton.
The owner has put on slightly bigger tyres to raise the Wildtrak a bit while the Raptor is fitted standard with 35 inch BF Goodrich all terrain rubber.
Neither of the vehicles struggled but the difference the Fox suspension - designed specifically for the Raptor - makes really becomes clear in situations like these.
With decent flex and those big tyres it literally takes only a touch of the accelerator to get through the obstacle and don't get me wrong, the Wildtrak is a very good bakkie, but the Raptor makes finishing an obstacle just a little more elegant.
We took on a couple more obstacles with ease, eventually only two testing ones remaining; a loose, very rocky stretch that included an axle twister and a water crossing.
The Raptor is an imposing double cab so it needed a few turns to get it aligned and with the terrain mode set to Rock I gently eased it forward and well, I really didn't need to, it did the final turn without so much as raising a sweat.
Does that mean it's not a difficult challenge? No, it means that the Raptor makes things look easy.
The river crossing looked rather deep so we tested the depth first with a stick and because the surface was solid decided to test the 850mm wading depth. Heading in the water washed slightly over the bonnet before settling down and cruising out without any fuss.
Because of the amount of clay mud we headed back to reception to wash the brakes and callipers off with a high pressure hose, the rest would have to be done at its next valet wash.
Fortunately it poured down on the way back so the undercarriage was being cleaned nicely as we drove the 2.0 litre twin turbo in tenth gear home along the highway.
So, it was a day that we tested the mud/sand and rock settings, gave it a bit of stick in Baja mode on the entrance road, tested the 283mm ground clearance, 850mm wading depth 32.5 degree approach angle and 24 degree ramp-over and departure angle.
Basically we did everything the Raptor was built to do and it did it without raising an eyebrow or lifting a tyre.
Damn, I love that truck.