2018 Ford Ranger Raptor Review – first drive
Robert Pepper’s 2018 Ford Ranger Raptor Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The best handling and most offroad-capable ute on the market with unparalled high-speed rough-terrain capabilities, but let down by a lack of power and its niche focus means load-lugging is compromised.
2018 Ford Ranger Raptor Specifications
Price $75,000+ORC Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Safety 5 star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbocharged diesel Power 157kW at 3750rpm Torque 500Nm at 1750-2000rpm Transmission 10-speed auto with paddle shifts Drive part-time 4WD with low range, cross-axle rear differential lock Dimensions 5398mm (L) 1873mm (H) 2028mm (W) 3200mm (wheelbase) Ground Clearance 235mm (approx. measured) 283mm (incorrectly claimed) Spare full size alloy underslung Fuel Tank 80L Thirst 8.2L/100km Tare weight 2232kg GVM 3090kg Payload 758kg Towing 2500kg braked, 750kg unbraked, 250kg towball mass, GCM 5350kg, standard towbar and 7-pin flat electrics, trailer stability control.
“KEEP IT UNDER ONE HUNDRED” said my instructor as we approached the end of the Ford Ranger Raptor high-speed offroad driving course. We were on a dirt track, not road, full of bulldust and ruts, next to a fence, approaching a washout and spoon drain that crossed the track at an angle of around 45 degrees. In a normal 4WD set up for touring I’d have been doing maybe 40km/h or 50km/h and gone over that washout at 20 to 30km/h. Instead, I hit it at 99km/h, obedient as always.
The Raptor treated the washout like normal 4WDs treat a pothole on a bitumen road; you felt something was there, but the car was undisturbed, tracking exactly straight and while there’s no doubt multiple wheels were in the air, you couldn’t feel it. This was the Raptor in its element, and as Ford people are fond of saying, nothing else with a registration plate can match it. I agree, albeit with the caveat that nothing roadworthy with a registration plate can match it!
What is the Ford Ranger Raptor?
The Ranger Raptor is based on a Ford Ranger PX2, mixed in with some F150 Raptor and some Everest, and it is squarely focused on high-speed off-road driving over very rough terrain. That focus compromises it elsewhere as we’ll see, but for the moment let’s talk about what the Raptor is. I could easily write another article on the tech alone, but time is pressing so here’s an overview for now.
At the front there’s a metal bumper attached to the chassis for robustness. A standard Ranger doesn’t have that, its front bumper isn’t metal and is attached to the body, not chassis. There are two front recovery points, and yes these are recovery points – I asked the answer was a definite yes – rated to 1.5 x GVM. Under the front is a metal bashplate, and there is various reinforcing such as the shock mounts. Which leads us onto the heart of the car which is not the engine – more on that later – but the suspension.
The control arms are longer than the Ranger, leading to a track increase (distance between centre of tyres) of 150mm, a change made for lateral stability. This means around 20% more up/down travel than a Ranger, which means the suspension is better able to soak up undulations before hitting bumpstops. Also at the front are Fox Racing shock absorbers which are frankly a work of automotive art. Shocks are basically there to damp out bounces, and to do that they convert kinetic energy into heat. So the Fox shocks are large-diameter, 2.5 inches which means there’s a lot of oil to soak up the heat. They are high-pressure monotubes (sort of, but that’s for another time) so they’re quick-reacting. They have a catch facility, so when fully extended, for example when a wheel is airborne, they pause at full extension so they aren’t already compressing when the wheel hits the ground.
The shocks are nice and soft for the ‘ride’ part of the movement, say, the middle 2/3 but towards the end they firm up nice and quickly so when the limit of the travel is reached it’s progressive and not a bodyslam. And the control arms are forged aluminium not welded steel, which means strength and light weight, not cost-cutting.
The tyres are 285/70/17 BFG KO2s in light-truck (LT) construction, which is an unusual choice in several ways. First, it’s rare to see LT tyres on any production 4WD as it ruins fuel efficiency and compromises on-road handling, not to mention the cost. You also don’t really see true all-terrain patterns like the BFGs either, and lastly the size is relatively large at nearly 33 inches. It is good to see the wheel size is 17 inches so there’s plenty of sidewall flex, what you want for off-roading but definitely not for on-road.
Many aspects of the Raptor show that it is a dead serious off-road vehicle, but none make the statement more clearly than this wheel and tyre package which is the opposite of what you’d fit for fuel efficiency or bitumen work. And finally at the front, we have upgraded brakes with larger, 332mm discs which are there to better convert kinetic energy into heat.
Moving further back there’s the 2.0L bi-turbo diesel engine with a 10-speed automatic, the subject of much speculation and ridicule even before anyone drove it. The basic facts are these; 157kW, 500Nm of torque between 1750-2000rpm, two turbos which work together at low revs and at higher revs the larger of the two takes over. The 10-speed auto is controlled, sort of, by paddleshifts which rotate with the steering wheel.
The crawl ratio of the Ranger is 38.6:1, and the Raptor is 43.4:1, however that’s offset slightly by the taller tyres. Still an improvement on engine braking downhill though.
New to the Ranger lineup are driving modes, which are Normal, Sport, Mud/Sand, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Baja and Rock. These are roughly similar to the Ford Everest, except for the Baja mode. These are selected via the steering wheel, and change the usual parameters such as stabilty control, gearshift points, brake traction control and the like.
Like all 4X4 Rangers, the Raptor includes a rear cross-axle locking differential which can be engaged on the move in 2WD, 4WD and low range. Speaking of which, the Raptor is a part-time 4X4 system again like the Ranger, so only 2WD on high-traction surfaces. Ford didn’t really consider all wheel drive, and discussions on the subject didn’t lead anywhere despite the F150 being all wheel drive, and the Everest. No doubt when a future Ranger is all wheel drive they’ll be touting the advantages of the design, but for the moment 2WD/4WD is what we have.
An interesting point on the Raptor are the sidesteps. I thought they would be the usual throw-away junk alloy units, but they’re not. Ford couldn’t say exactly how much load they are designed to take, but they indicated it was quite a bit and would handle significant hits, damage and impacts, and they don’t impact ramp-over so I guess the answer is keep them on. Again, another point that the Raptor is a serious 4X4.
Moving towards the back a major change is the conversion to coil springs, still with a live axle, and a Watts linkage to locate the axle along with a pair of trailing arms. The Watts linkage is ideal as it allows pure vertical up/down movement of the axle as opposed to the lateral movement you get from using a Panhard rod, and with a Watts there’s two arms locating the axle not just one.
Also at the back is another change, disc brakes – because they are better at heat dissipation than the usual drum brakes, and as a bonus less prone to clogging with mud and debris. And finish off there’s a standard towbar – 2500kg braked tow, 250kg towball mass – and two recovery points rated to 1.25 x GVM. The towbar is nicely done too, well tucked up and out of the way, with a standard 7-plug electrical socket. There’s a full-sized spare wheel in the usual underslung position.
The rear shocks are again Fox, but this time remote-reservoir, unlike the fronts which aren’t. The only reason the team opted for the remote is packaging. The shock for the rear has to be shorter than the one in the front, and with monotubes you have some high-pressure gas in line with the oil, unlike a twin-tube where the gas is in a second tube around the main tube (hence the name). With a remote-canister design the gas is moved out to a separate container, so the shock can get the long travel it needs. If Ford were all about looking cool instead of function they’d have gone for remote-reservoirs all round, but the Raptor is definitely function over form.
The Raptor inherits the same ANCAP 5-star rating of the Ranger PX2 from 2015. It doesn’t have Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) or adaptive cruise control. Ford indicated that these would be coming later, but were vague on how and when. The Raptor also gets idle/stop start, which will please exactly nobody.
The interior is pretty much the same as a Ranger PX2 Wildtrak, except for a few trim flourishes. The major change is better, more supportive seats. The driver’s is electric, and the passenger’s is manual. Ford have gone for a pointless red tape on the centre of the steering wheel, and the dashboard has a permanent revcounter and speedo, compared to the selectable-display revcounter of the PX2.
What’s it like on and off-road?
Okay, enough of the background and into how it drives which is a good example of theory not matching reality. The 2.0 bi-turbo is slightly more powerful and more torquey than the 3.2L 5-cylinder; 157 vs 147kW, 500Nm vs 470Nm, and the bi-turbo has another four gear ratios to play with.
On the flip side, the Raptor is 82kg heavier, at 2332kg vs 2250kg, and it runs taller, heavier tyres. So overall, the Raptor should be faster than than a Wildtrak, and feel it. But it doesn’t. It feels slower, even though timed runs put it half a second quicker to 100km/h. In fact, it feels disappointingly slow at times, sluggish to take off and lacking any form of urge, and this was two-up with some snacks in the back, never mind any load. We always knew it wouldn’t be a rocketship with those numbers and weight, but it’s more of a cruise ship.
The shame is the handling is the best of any ute on the market; the ability of the vehicle to handle bumps, deliver a plush ride, turn in, hold a line and track through a corner is unparalleled in the ute market and it beats many wagons too. I remember one particular hill; coming out of a sharpish right-hander at around 60km/h the road climbed and more speed was in order yet my foot was welded to the floor, asking for what the car couldn’t deliver. Oddly, I never felt this way about the Ranger 3.2 which doesn’t feel underpowered. The 10-speed automatic does its best, it’s not hunty and is both quick to change and smooth, but it can’t compensate for a basic lack of grunt. All I can think of it that the car isn’t actually developing its full output for some reason.
Adding to the pain is the lack of gearbox control. At 3000rpm in 5th gear I asked for a downshift to 4th, and the car said, no. Come on, it’s only another 50rpm or so with 10 speeds! Ford is normally very good with its gear control so that was surprisingly poor.
In low-range work the Raptor is now probably the most off-road-capable ute on the market. This is because of its superior clearance thanks to those tall tyres, deep low gearing, rear cross-axle locker and good approach/departure/ramp angles.
The suspension travel is good, but the flexibility even at low deflections helps with traction as well. Not as good as a swaybar disconnect (hint, hint Ford) but useful nevertheless. There are two concerns though – first is the width. It’s wider than an LC200, and the turning circle is 12.9m, 200mm wider than a standard Ranger. This will limit manoeuvrability, but nevertheless I wouldn’t have any concern taking it anywhere in the tight Victorian High Country tracks, you’d just need to pick your lines a bit. The second is Ford’s usual weak point which is the brake traction control system.
The low-range off-road course we had was very basic, a Forester could have done it, but with the limited time and terrain I think the Raptor’s brake traction control is improved over the PX2. That’s good news, but coming off a low base. The rear cross-axle locker works as before, and there’s Ford’s excellent Hill Descent Control system.
Now into high-speed off-road, and this is where the Raptor excels. Honestly, the thing is a street-legal showroom comp truck, except for the power. You can hit ruts, washouts, drains, ditches, bulldust…the Raptor just eats it up and keeps going. The course we had was naturally designed for the Raptor, so no big hills you had to power up, and the faster bits were slightly downhill, but even so it was huge, huge fun and I had one driving lap but wished I had 100 more. And coming out of the slow speed sections slugging through dust and ruts, I wished I had more power as my foot hit the floor.
The most noticeable part of Baja Mode is the gearshifts, which are nicely held. Stability control is relaxed, but not enough for slidey fun in 2WD, it well and truly stopped the action when any hint of a Scandi flick was in the offing. in 4WD it’s better as you tend to slide with all four wheels, and in normal Rangers stability control is relaxed a bit in 4WD High. You can switch stability control off completely with a 5-second button press, but we weren’t allowed to.
You couldn’t build anything this good in the aftermarket, not with all the electronic calibration, suspension tyre and custom tyre design. You might get close enough to be happy, but you’d never match the Raptor.
What’s the towing capability and payload?
We didn’t get to tow with the Raptor, but we can look at some figures.
It was no surprise that the Raptor’s payload number isn’t four digits. Rather than the 900-1000kg usual for dualcab 4WD utes, it’s only 758kg; the maths is a GVM of 3090kg – tare of 2332kg = 758kg. This isn’t great for a ute, but it’s not bad for a wagon – the Toyota LC200 and Nissan Patrol Y62 are around the same or less. However, there is a problem and that’s axle loads. The GVM is simply the sum of the axle loads – 1550kg + 1540kg = 3090kg. This means in order to use the full 758kg payload you need to precisely distribute the load between axles, and load the front axle up more than the rear. Normally the sum of the two axle loads on a 4X4 is 150-250kg more than the GVM to allow for different loads front and rear. So, the real-world usuable payload is more like 600kg, once you factor in axle loads, and that’s definitely on the low side of a vehicle of this nature. Now for towing.
The braked tow mass is 2500kg, well below the 3000-3500kg ratings for other utes – admittedly, those ratings aren’t real-world usable, but neither is the Raptor’s 2500kg. The GCM is only 5350kg, so if we subtract a 2500kg trailer from that we get 5350kg – 2500kg = 2850kg, the maximum the Raptor can weigh while towing. Subtract the tare weight off that; 2850 – 2332 and we get a payload of 518kg. And that’s not even considering the effect on rear axle load. Image four decent blokes and a bit of gear in the Raptor, and you’d then probably be over weight to tow 2500kg.
Now all this comes with a caveat. The more narrowly focused any given vehicle is, the less breadth of capability you get. The Raptor is focused on high-speed off-roading, and the attributes that make it outstanding in that sort of terrain necessarily compromise it for load carrying, so this isn’t a criticism of the design, it’s simply pointing out a necessary tradeoff.
So, what do we think?
The Raptor is an amazing vehicle, and it’s fantastic that Ford have created such an incredible vehicle which is testament to their enthusiast-oriented ethos and engineering capability. Clearly, “Ford Performance” is not just an empty statement of sticker engineering. One of their engineers described the Raptor as a “dirtbike on four wheels”, and I think that’s apt for the fun factor, which is what he meant.
But it’s also apt for other, less positive reasons. Your dirtbike is just a dirtbike, it’s not anything more or less. You don’t ride it to work, or to the shops, or go long-range touring on it. It’s a one-trick machine, and that’s what you get when you narrowly focus any vehicle on one task. The Lotus Elise for example is a beautiful track car, but it is hopelessly impractical.
To some extent, the Raptor is the same. Yes, it’s a ute, but it’s a ute with a low payload due to its speed focus, and that’s only when you precisely distribute the weight over both axles. It tows 2500kg, which is enough for some but not for all – a Ford staffer told me that in the target market “nobody would really be interested” in towing more than that, an opinion I beg to differ with. You don’t buy a Raptor and replace the suspension so it better takes a load, that’d be madness. So if I look at my own situation; I go remote camping as a family of four, and once you get four people x 5 litres of water per person per day and all the rest of it then you start to need to carry a heavy load and that’s not what the Raptor is for, it’s what the Ranger is for which is why I own a PX 2012. I also a tow trailer of 2400kg regularly, and when I do the ute is loaded with gear. Again, not the Raptor’s thing. So much as I love the Raptor, it doesn’t fit into my life as I need more heavy-duty lugging capability, and I can’t afford a $75,000 dirtbike on four wheels.
If it was just one or two people going camping, then the Raptor would be ideal as you’d have enough payload and plenty of space, so it makes a lot of sense there. It’d be also be completely awesome at towing off-road camper trailers, better than a Ranger or indeed just about anything else on the market.
Then there’s the power. That’s a huge disappointment, as the car needs to feel faster than it is to be true fun on any terrain you need to accelerate on. Coming back from the drive day we were overtaking cars, sticking within the 130km/h limit in the Nothern Territory, and there was general disappointment with the power all round. For a performance vehicle, even an off-road ute, that’s kind of a deal-breaker. I recently drove a V8 (LS3) supercharged Colorado, and let me tell you that was serious fun. It didn’t handle like the Raptor and never will, but it did move in a straight line. The Raptor doesn’t need to have a supercharged V8 under the bonnet, but it does need more grunt that what it has. I can forgive the compromised load carrying, I can’t forgive the lack of power.
A word on the price. For the money you get not only a top-spec Ranger, but superb, top-shelf suspension, front and rear recovery points, tow electrics (no brake controller), wheels, tyres and a towbar. Add all of that onto the price of any other ute, and it is several thousands dollars worth of difference which is your true comparison point. And, it’s all warranted for five years!
It is also worth noting that you will get the Raptor benefits even if don’t hit washouts at 100km/h. Let’s say your driving in a convoy and everybody takes that washout at 20km/h. You can ease off and cruise through at 30km/h, not needing to accelerate harshly after you’re though, and your ride will be so much more comfortable and controlled than any other vehicle in on the trip. And if you ever did need, or want to go faster…you could.
So there you have it. The Raptor is a truly incredible off-road machine that nothing else can touch at high speed in rough terrain. It is about the best low-range ute on the market, and the best handler. It lacks power, and its payload and towing are compromised as a result of its high-speed rough-terrain focus. It is very, very good at what is does, and if that’s what you want then you should buy one immediately.
Can you build your own Raptor?
Well, you can certainly build a Ranger that looks a bit like a Raptor. Just replace the grill, pop in a suspension lift, replace the wheels with massively wider offset versions, run taller tyres and add flares. There you go, Raptor look more-or-less achieved. Oh, and don’t forget to paint your brake calipers.
But you haven’t built a bird-of-prey Raptor, you’ve painted the feathers on a pigeon.
What you haven’t done is strengthen the chassis to handle Raptor-level work, or the suspension to allow for the wider track and greater unsprung weight at a greater distance from the axle centre. You haven’t recalibrated the electronics, transmission and gearing to allow for the wider track, greater diameter tyres and therefore different handling. The suspension itself remains leaf-sprung not the Raptor’s coils, and it isn’t precisely matched to the vehicle, tyre diameter, tyre width, wheel size and even tyre aspect ratio. The rear brakes are still drums not discs, and unless you upgrade the front brakes they won’t be as strong as the Raptor’s. I could go on, but you get the idea. Does it matter? Your call. It certainly won’t matter if you just want the look. It will matter more and more the harder and longer you drive, and the further to the limit you get, as that’s where you begin to pick up the differences.
There’s only one Raptor, and there’s way more to it than a new grill.