Ford delivers a tuned-up, brutal new version of the Ranger pick-up called the Raptor. This mental case is designed to blast through a desert, at high speeds, preferably on opposite lock and also probably airborne... so has it got any relevance whatsoever to buyers here in Ireland?
In the metal
The reason we're docking half a mark here is for the interior finishing. The Ford Ranger Raptor is a premium-end product with a premium price tag, so some of the plastics used - derived, as they must be - from what is a commercial vehicle at heart are below par. It's also a shame Ford couldn't fit the digital instrument cluster from the updated Mustang, although beyond that there's not much else we dislike about the cabin of the Raptor. It has superb front seats, nice contrast stitching on the dash-top and a general ergonomic correctness that all serve to make it a pleasure to hop on up and into the driving seat.
From the outside, though, it's perfection. Or, at least, it's pick-up truck perfection. Building on the sheer scale of these sorts of things, which are 5.3 metres long and getting on for two metres tall, Ford has blistered out the wheel arches of the Ranger, bolted on some matte-black side-steps, fitted an aggressive, black front grille that's inspired by the item found on the F-150 Raptor and then slotted a set of 17-inch alloys under the body that are wrapped in chunky 285/70 BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres. The net result is a truck unmatched by any of its peers for sheer visual allure and presence. Colour choices for the mighty Raptor amount to five: Ford Performance Blue, Colorado Red, Shadow Black, Frozen White and Conquer Grey are the selections, with the option of putting a camo-like set of stickers onto any of them. Whatever colour and decals combo you go for, the Raptor looks plain brilliant.
Never have we felt so conflicted about what we have to write under this section of the review, as we are right now. The Ranger Raptor is a pure battle of heart versus head, of considering and balancing its off-road ability with how it performs on road, of wondering whether you could put up with a number of its oh-so-obvious foibles to have something so mean and moody and magnificent parked on your driveway.
You see, the Raptor's reason for being is the Baja 1000 rally. This is a tough desert endurance race, held on the Bajan peninsula of California - you know, the very southern bit that actually belongs to Mexico. A version of the Ford F-150, the big American pick-up we don't get over here, was created to compete in that event in the late 2000s and, following a third place overall in 2008, a road-going homage called the F-150 SVT Raptor was born. This evolved into a new variant in 2017, and now Ford thinks it can enact much the same magic on the Ranger.
To that end, the Ranger Raptor has a specification that would be an off-road enthusiast's greatest dream. The whole chassis has been reinforced and braced to withstand off-road impacts and jumps (or, more specifically, landing after 'air-time'). The rear axle has a Watt's linkage arrangement for the coilover suspension, instead of the more primitive leaf springs of the regular line-up. The brakes have been uprated with larger discs and stronger callipers. Those 33-inch all-terrain tyres are designed to take the worst that inhospitable landscapes can throw at them. An extra setting, called 'Baja', has been added to the Terrain Management System (alongside the usual Normal, Sport, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand and Rock modes). And then there are the Fox dampers.
These beauties provide 32 per cent greater damper travel up front and 18 per cent at the rear, while they also possess Position Sensitive Damping - which means more flow pathways within their construction to allow for higher damping forces at extremes (for off-road capability) and lower forces in moderate conditions (for on-road ride comfort). It also means the Ranger is better equipped to not smash itself to pieces when it lands after, yep, a jump. Altogether, the Raptor stands 283mm off the deck, can ford 850mm of water, has an approach angle of 32 degrees and also ramp-over/departure angles of 24 degrees. Even the underbody protection is beefed up, with 'bash-plates' that are made from 2.3mm-thick high-strength steel.
It is, therefore, a ridiculously serious bit of kit for off-roading. And we don't mean creeping around at 20km/h, in a narrow green lane, checking your clearances and using a winch and plugging the mud and so on. We mean blasting along at 120, 130, 140km/h on the sort of surfaces you'd think twice about traversing on foot, never mind attempting to tackle them in a 2,510kg hunk of pick-up moving at more than the national speed limit.
So the Raptor is something of a bonkers concept. It's built for a race and an environment (namely sandy, dusty deserts) that we just don't have over here. Furthermore, it's somewhat flawed on the road. Ford has equipped it with a derivation of the same 2.0-litre biturbo diesel that's fitted to the flagship Edge SUV, only here delivering marginally less power (213hp), but the same peak torque. It is then mated to the ten-speed automatic from the Mustang, rather than the eight-speed item you'd find on the Edge. Finally, coupled up to all of this is a driver-selectable four-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled transfer box, featuring two high-range ratios (rear-wheel-drive 2H and four-wheel-drive 4H) and then a '4L' low-range all-wheel-drive setting.
All this - its weight, the gearing of the ten-speed gearbox, the bluff aerodynamics and the rolling resistance of those fat, chunky tyres - means the Raptor does not feel at all quick on the road. Floor it in Normal or Sport modes and you'll wonder where that 500Nm of torque is hiding. There's nothing wrong, per se, with the drivetrain's delivery, as the gearbox is super-smooth during shifts and the engine is vibration-free and reasonably subdued, even if its exertions are overlaid with an augmented soundtrack that not everyone will love, but if you're expecting the Ranger Raptor to have the on-road muscle to back up its looks, you're going to be sorely disappointed. It shifts through about five gears on its way from 0-100km/h, because it has too many ratios for its outputs, plain and simple, and it feels lethargic no matter where in the rev range you decide to push the throttle.
Furthermore, the off-road-optimised tyres lead to the very sudden and early onset of understeer if you try to cajole the big Ford into some spirited handling, while said same rubber contributes to a slightly fidgety ride quality. It's not unbearable and is probably better than some other pick-ups in this class that have nothing like the pretensions to all-terrain superiority as the Raptor, but it's also not sector-leadingly comfortable, either. At least they don't introduce too much in the way of tyre whoop into proceedings, which couples with good sound suppression in the passenger cabin to make the Raptor reasonably quiet when it's just cruising along.
But if it rates a three-out-of-five on the tarmac, once you've pointed its mighty prow off a metalled road, you can't give this insane Ranger anything but full marks. The lengths the Raptor can go to on deep sand and rocky surfaces, the tricks it can pull off - like sliding around on a beach in Baja mode as if it were a Toyota GT86 on a skid-pan handling session being conducted under careful supervision, or sailing through the air and landing monster jumps with an imperious disdain, or faultlessly clambering over lunar-like terrain - the sheer, monumental speed it can carry on narrow, rutted tracks that feel barely wide enough to take its broad-set body... all of these factors are nothing short of amazing. Gobsmacking. Downright stupefying.
It is as close as you will get, with any vehicle of any size and for whatever type of motorsport, to being able to walk into a dealership and then buy a full-on competition car with your hard-earned cash. The Ranger Raptor feels like it could be entered into the Baja 1000 as-is and, if you were consistent enough and had the right commitment levels, you'd probably finish in the midfield of the race. In our time with the pick-up, it soaked up a ridiculous amount of punishment in terms of lumps, bumps and jumps, it drove at full-revs for extended periods through cloying sand and on wet beaches without any problems other than a sensation of lots of drivetrain heat, and it bounced and roared and brutalised its way through some farcically inhospitable places and never once looked like it might get stuck or falter.
Sure, other trucks on all-terrain tyres could perhaps have done much of what the Raptor did. But they would never have completed such things at the same phenomenal pace of the Ranger, and nor would they have been such enormous, unbridled fun in the process. Quite simply, putting the Ranger Raptor through its paces off-road is a seminal and sensational driving experience.
What you get for your money
At €63,950, the Raptor is comfortably the priciest Ranger in the line-up. What you're getting for that, though, is an impressive range of standard equipment, the incredible engineering that has gone into the chassis and also the remarkable character the Raptor possesses. Whether you think that's worth it, given there will be precious little chance (on these shores, at any rate) of testing its prodigious off-road talents to the max, will be the crux of the matter.
The Ford Ranger Raptor is clearly a nonsensical proposition. It is designed to operate and then utterly excel in the sort of landscapes and conditions that we just don't have in Ireland. Or, indeed, anywhere in the continent of Europe, save for a few corners of Spain and maybe some remote bits of Greece. That it will be expensive to buy and run here, and accepting that it's not the greatest nor fastest pick-up on the road by any stretch of the imagination, only adds fuel to the critical fire that asserts the Raptor model is a waste of time.
But the stunning performance it can demonstrate, when it is in its element, speaks of a level of engineering brilliance that is seldom reached by automotive manufacturers making mass-produced mainstream fare. So, while our heads say we can't possibly recommend you go out and buy a Ranger Raptor, with our hearts we implore you, we beseech you, we beg of you to do that very thing. Because it's a mesmerising, technical masterpiece and we absolutely bloody adore it.