Fans of the first-generation Ranger Raptor had one common gripe: it needed more grunt. It isn’t every day that manufacturers listen, either, but not only did Ford Australia heed the advice of its followers, it raised the stakes.
Australia’s dearly departed performance ute options, tyre turners like the HSV Maloo or Ford XR8, left a hole in the market. Since then, utes have become, increasingly… utilitarian.
The previous generation Raptor injected some much-needed excitement into the ute world when it launched in 2018 and has remained the most capable out-of-the-box 4×4 ute, especially at pace, so the new Ranger had to be even better – better than the best.
Ford went all in and transplanted its new 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 into the Raptor, which produces 292kW at 5650rpm and 583Nm at 3500rpm. Peak torque does come in later than its 2.0-litre diesel predecessor but, as we’ll get to, the lighter, sharper-shifting 10R60 10-speed variant keeps the torque on tap.
While Ford hasn’t offered a claimed 0-100km/h time, beyond hinting it’ll take about half as long as the previous Raptor’s 10-odd-second sprint, we estimate it’s in five-second territory after driving it. Let that sink in for a second. This is a two-plus-tonne 4×4 ute that’ll out-run the old V8 utes, and it’ll go neck-and-neck with modern hot hatches.
What Ford Australia has done with the new Raptor, before we get to how it actually drives, is twofold; they’ve filled the hole performance utes left and made a dual-cab that could actually replace your hot hatch. This is a do-it-all performance-come-adventure vehicle option.
Despite the EcoBoost nameplate, the V6 is a race-focused engine, too, utilising a compacted graphite iron block, which Ford claims is around 75 per cent stronger and stiffer than traditional cast iron. Ford uses the same material in its NASCAR engines, which is reassuring but unsurprising given how much off-road torture testing this new engine has withstood.
“The twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 EcoBoost is a race-bred engine that is used in off-road motorsport applications. So, it’s proven itself in combat,” explained Ford Performance Ranger/Everest customisation and special vehicle program manager, Justin Capicchiano.
“We know because we did the testing. We have done the equivalent of the Baja 1000 in Alice Springs.”
Suspension is the other star of the show for the new Raptor, with Fox 2.5-inch Live Valve Internal Bypass shocks and revised Watt’s link rear end – a big improvement over the previous model. The trick suspension talks with multiple sensors around the vehicle, enabling up to 500 damper adjustments per second.
Ford Performance fettled the Fox suspension to achieve an optimal balance of performance and comfort, and says the new shocks use a Teflon-infused oil that reduces friction by about 50 per cent compared to the those on the previous Raptor.
The Fox shocks offer a lot more than just on-the-fly damping and, while we won’t bore you with every detail, a key feature is the bottom-out control that provides maximum damping force for the last 25 per cent of the shock’s stroke. This prevents bottoming, even when launching the Raptor off a tabletop jump as we learnt firsthand, but the system is also able to use the variable damping to prevent back-end squat under hard acceleration.
The body has been fortified with stronger bones to handle the massive jump in power, and potential for ludicrous off-road pace, with Ford engineers opting to reinforce the shock towers, C-pillar, spare wheel and frames for the bumper.
In order to handle the big hits this Fox suspension is capable of soaking up, Ford used stronger upper and lower aluminium control arms that are also about 4kg lighter – an unsprung weight saving that allowed a beefier tyre to be used without compromising handling.
Underbody protection has not been overlooked, either, with a 2.3mm high-strength steel bash plate that is nearly twice the size of what you’ll find on a regular Ranger, as well as engine and transfer case shields.
Of course, towing capacity remains at 2500kg against the regular Ranger’s 3500kg, and payload comes in at 717kg, due to the Fox suspension up back. It didn’t stop the previous generation Raptor from selling and we suspect it won’t affect this one too much, either, but for those towing big weights a Raptor is still out of the picture.
While the new Raptor is visually beefier all round, it’s actually no wider than the outgoing model. Ford has carried the C-clamp headlamps and taillights right to the edge of the body, creating a chunky F-150 inspired shape while retaining mid-sized ute dimensions. The addition of aero accents bolster the already aggressive body lines, coming together to create a far more muscular Raptor.
The Raptor scores LED Matrix headlights and LED rears, too, with automatic dynamic levelling, and speed dependant lighting. Ford says the headlights offer static and dynamic ‘light bending’ to follow the road, and the high beams will adjust themselves to ensure oncoming traffic isn’t left starry-eyed.
Flared wheel arches add to the burly aesthetics, which accommodate tough 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 33-inch BF Goodrich KO2 tyres. There is an optional bead-lock wheel but, given Australia’s legal disapproval of true bead-lock wheels, they’re an “off-road only” part if you want to actually lock the bead in place.
While it’s easier to focus on the exterior and performance changes, the interior is leaps and bounds better, too. The up-market cabin treatment, with its modular, quirky composition, adds to the new Raptor’s character.
A mix of soft- and hard-touch finishes, with various textural finishes, has been used throughout the heavily digitised cabin. A stout, shallow dash creates a feeling of spaciousness, and we particularly liked the distinctive honeycomb air vents that match the exterior grill, and unique door handles that feel a bit aircraft-y.
Ford even says the bolstered sports seats are ‘jet fighter-inspired’, and lashings of orange trim throughout the low-gloss leather and suede interior give the cabin a lively attitude – all very suitable in a Raptor as radical as this.
The leather sports steering wheel, with cast magnesium paddle shifters, is a step up over the last model, as is the compact new gear selector that saves a lot of space and falls nicely in the hand.
An auxiliary switch bank overhead offers six accessory-ready switches, not new in a Ford but something the aftermarket, auto electricians, and mod-hungry buyers will all love.
The 12.4-inch digital cluster and 12.0-inch vertical centre screens use Ford’s SYNC 4A infotainment system, however the sheer amount you control via the touch of a finger is a little overwhelming at first – in a four-wheel-drive, anyway.
Diff locks, for example, are activated via the centre touch screen, while other off-road functionality is activated using dials and switches – it can all be a tad bit flustering for the first drive. Once we were used to the system it all made sense, though.
And on that digital functionality, the Raptor is equipped with no less than seven drive modes and four exhaust settings, ranging from mild to wild, which seems like overkill until you realise they all serve a distinct purpose.
Most exciting is Baja mode, which is the ‘maximum attack’ drive mode that turns the wick to 11. With Baja mode activated the anti-lag system is enabled, the shifts become urgent, the traction control turns a blind eye to mischief, and the exhaust opens up – with ABS being about the only driver-aid you can’t switch off. It is worth noting that when you twist the drive mode selector to Baja, an ‘off-road use only’ warning appears on the digital dash.