Ford Ranger Raptor – Is it the answer to a question no-one asked?

The Ford Ranger Raptor is a new type of vehicle, but maybe there’s a reason this is an unexplored niche. 

LEAVE ASIDE the question of the Raptor’s engine, and just assume for the moment it’ll be amazingly good at driving very fast over very rough ground, far better than anything else on the market. That then begs the question:

Who needs a high-speed offroader, where and how would you drive it, and is any premium worth paying?

As I observed in the previous article explaining why the Raptor’s engine may not be a problem, the Raptor looks like a ute but it’s not designed to do the load-lugging of a ute. The tow rating is 2500kg, I very much suspect the payload will be relatively low, and the engine would be tuned for speed and responsiveness not heavy-duty toil. Think of the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and the Land Rover Defender – both very fine vehicles and immensely capable off-road, but you can’t create one car to be both a workhorse and a racehorse. 

So let’s explore what you’d buy a Raptor for. Obviously, it’s purpose is high-speed off-roading across deserts, dirt roads, even 4WD tracks. We can assume it’ll be at least as capable in low-range as a standard Ranger too.

So, which of you 4WD people wants to carry or tow a bit less than what you normally would, but get there faster?

Hmm, a few of you, but I don’t exactly hear a whole chorus of voices. Most will be saying off-road touring is not about speed.

Okay, so let’s talk about driving really fast off-road anyway, which brings up questions of responsibility. As an example, take a typical desert crossing with lots of dunes. You’d want to arrive over the top of dunes slowly, even with a sand flag, on the basis that you don’t know what’s over the other side. Your truck may be capable of flying from dune to dune, but that’s not safe. You can certainly put the hammer down once you see it’s clear,  but the other problem is that if you drive fast you’ll need a lot of fuel.

And while the car may handle the speed, you had better be prepared to lash everything down with heavy-duty straps, and remove every loose item from your cockpit down to the last spare coin – having done a bit of high-speed 4WD competition, I can tell you anything not literally bolted down will move, regardless of your suspension. Locking your touring load down to that degree is not going to be fun for anyone. Nor would unloading the car before you can really let loose.

The question really is whether you’d responsibly be able to use all the Raptor’s capability on public roads. It’s like owning a sports car…there is no way to fully explore what any sports car can do unless you take it onto private land, and the same will apply to the Raptor to a fair extent. That is why there’s so many sportscar-oriented motorsport events such as track days, drift days, hillclimbs, motorkhanas and the like where you can totally cut loose. 

Okay, let’s try another Raptor use case. Motorsport, where you can use a road-registered car.

You could take a Raptor on a road circuit, but I suspect once the novelty of using far more kerb than anyone else wears off it’d be a bit ordinary, especially as straight-line grunt is clearly not the vehicle’s selling point. So maybe khanacross, which is a short dirt circuit with a standing start and flying finish. That’s better, but those circuits are designed for roadcars so a big, bulky Raptor with its mega-suspension isn’t really going to work well. You’re better off buying a $500 Commodore and hanging it out around the corners, much more fun and cheaper. Also, that’s assuming the event organisers allow a vehicle that heavy running all-terrains on the track.  Frankly, I can’t think of anywhere the Raptor works in the world of amateur motorsports as a road-registered vehicle.  I think there would need to be a new, specialist event for it with jumps, rocks, drifty dirt but not as extreme as you’d drive with a buggy. 

But I can think of one reason to buy a Raptor, and that is because it does things easier.

Imagine a dirt road and the safe cruising speed difference between a soft-roader and a modified 4WD. It’s going to be a bit like that between a normal 4WD and a Raptor. But the problem is if you cruise in company then you’ll leave everyone behind, like when that soft-roader tries to keep up with bigger low-range vehicles (been there, done that). Then again, you could cruise at the same speed as everyone else and do it easier, less stress on you and the vehicle, both on-road and off-road; greater safety margins, and all that. 

Another Raptor advantage will be that you will need fewer modifications. The suspension and tyres are done for you, and as such come with factory warranty and no worries about complying with the local road laws. Width aside, the Raptor’s taller tyres, greater ground clearance, larger range of gears and hopefully better electronics will mean it is a better low-speed off-roader than the normal Ranger.

A Raptor negative is that it is even wider and longer than an LC200. I would even suspect the wider track leads to an even bigger turning circle than a standard Ranger, so manoeuvrability will not be a strong point. Still, people drive Defender 130s and it can’t be any worse than that.

Personally, I like the idea of the Raptor because it sounds like it’ll be even more off-road-capable than the normal Ranger, handle better on- and off-road which is important to me as I’m definitely not a fan of the leaf rear end on my own Ranger PX, it’ll be an amazing cruiser at speed, on those occasions where I can really give it the berries off-road the car will handle it, and it’ll be fun for me if not the passengers. I may well be willing to give up a bit of payload for that, but not very much. Oh and I like the idea of going faster with 2L than others will with V8s. 

Now for pricing. Ford hasn’t released any information yet, so it’s all just speculation. My guess is that they have an upper and lower range in mind, and are seeing how the market reacts to the information given so far before deciding where to pitch it.  My further guess is that due to the negative reception so far the price will be at the lower end of their scale, and also that their scale starts a bit above a Wildtrak Ranger that costs about $65,000 driveaway. The Wildtrak, by the way, is mechanically identical to any other 4WD dual-cab Ranger – same engine, transmission, suspension design if not tune. The only real differences are cosmetic and luxury items, whereas the Raptor is very different in design, concept and running gear. So it’s important to note that the Raptor isn’t a better Ranger, it’s a different Ranger so should in theory sit alongside not on top of the Wildtrak, but nevertheless it’ll be seen as a hero car/range topper. 

So assuming Ford place the Raptor over the Wildtrak, I’d say the suspension and tyres would be worth paying $7-$8000 for, which means $72,000. So, my guess is the Raptor should be priced between $70-$80,000, but Ford being Ford will no doubt try and sell it for $90,000, unless they’ve learned from the Everest experience where they chose too high a price and spent the next two years slowly winding it back. I’d advise them to have people saying “yeah small engine but good value, you get what you pay for” rather than “mate that’s a joke,  you’d want a V8 in there for that sort of coin” or “look at Joe, what an idiot, he could’ve had a <whatever> for that”.  It’s all about the long term.

The Raptor may also suffer from new-sportscar-syndrome, where the world goes nuts for it over the first year or so of its life, then sales tail off rapidly. Recent examples are the Toyota 86 and Ford’s own Mustang, and you know the waiting lists have become non-existent when you see money spent on marketing campaigns. Thing is, I’m not at all sure the Raptor will generate the sort of pre-order frenzy the Mustang did, because it’s just me and two others willing to give it a chance. Anyway, the world will know if the pre-order books are bulging because Ford will be issuing daily press releases to tell everyone.

Question: So what do you reckon…excluding the “just want one” factor, what real-world scenario would make you buy a Raptor over a standard Ranger, and would you trade load carrying/towing ability for handling and speed? And what price do you think is fair?

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper