Why you’re all wrong about the new Ford Ranger Raptor
Early yesterday morning my phone rang, and the voice on the other end wasn’t happy about the new Ford Ranger Raptor… Here’s why my friend and you lot are wrong about it.
“WHAT IS FORD DOING?” was the start to the conversation, followed by, “they have taken my Christmas away!” and “how can this be an epic truck with an engine like that?”
A mate had been hanging out for a Ranger Raptor, delaying the replacement of his BT-50 in anticipation. But after reading the news reports on the new Ford, he was upset, and letting me know in no uncertain terms.
But his angst was, and is nothing compared to the vitriol poured out on Facebook. People see the 2.0L engine, and as 150kW/500Nm is not appreciably more than the Ranger PX’s 147kW/470Nm that’s it, end of story. Milk, oranges, 2.0L, yeah, yeah, yeah. The poor towing capacity of 2500kg doesn’t help matters either – not that the Ranger’s 3500kg rating is real-world realistic anyway. Ford isn’t going to release tare or GVM weights yet and, yes, I did ask. When key specs are held back it’s usually because they aren’t very impressive and the carmaker hopes nobody asks, which is tedious because then I end up writing unnecessary emails.
Yet Ford’s chief engineer reckons everyone is missing the point of the Raptor, and for once I agree. Let’s start with the name.
That means a bird of prey that hunts for its food. So, agility, speed, toughness, even violence. It’s not the Ranger Camel, or the Ranger Elephant, or the Ranger Buffalo-Pulling-a-Plough. It’s the Ranger RAPTOR, and that means a new type of vehicle, and a new vehicle means new thinking.
Consider what a ute is. It’s utility, right? Load lugging, heavy duty, built tough for work, work, work, not speed, speed, speed. Well, by that definition I don’t think this Raptor is a ute. It’s a sport truck, and I hate myself for sounding like a marketing droid, but it’s true. Same way as your HSV Maloo isn’t designed for the sort of work done by a poverty-pack Hilux, and a 250cc dirtbike isn’t designed for the same job as a 1200cc tourer. So if we look at the Raptor as a high-speed off-road sports vehicle it starts to make sense. The likes of the LC79 Series slog up hills carrying hay bales, the Raptor uses the same hill as a takeoff ramp and uses those hay bales as apex markers.
So what do we want from a sports off-road vehicle? First order of business is not power. Yes I know that’s what people look at first, but that’s like judging a camera by the number of megapixels – the easy measures are not necessarily the best.
What you really need to think about is the entire package and that starts with control, and specifically suspension. For fast off-road work you need long-travel suspension, tall tyres, and a rockful of ground clearance.
The Raptor runs shocks from Fox, who are one of the best in the business for rough-terrain racing suspension so fitting them wouldn’t have been cheap. The Fox shocks have position sensitive damping (PSD) which is pretty cool – normally when a shock bottoms out along with the coil the control arm slams into a small bit of rubber known as a bumpstop, and you know about it because there’s an almighty bang and your teeth fall out just as you lose control of your car. The PSD shocks on the other hand are nice and soft for the ‘ride’ part of the movement, say the middle 2/3 (just guessing) 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 back of the car has been converted from leaf to coil, because frankly leaf springs are rubbish for handling – lots of reasons such as their inability to locate the axle properly, the shocks needing to handle the damping effect from the leaves and torque twist under load. You don’t want that in your sports vehicle.
The track of the Raptor is 150mm wider than the standard Ranger (50mm wider than an LC200 for comparison), so there’s nice long travel to go with the suspension, and the extra width is good so there’s less chance of a roll when you’re sliding through corners. Notably, the body hasn’t been widened to go with the track, it’s just for stability not interior room. And the brakes have been changed to discs in the rear, with upgraded callipers all round.
The tyres are impressive too. They’re 285/70/17s, nearly 33 inches tall, probably the biggest of any 4WD on the market. Fitting them alone would have meant a fair bit of engineering work, as while we owners tend to bolt on any size tyres to our cars and call it good, the better engineering teams don’t even make a profile change without retuning, let alone a big size change so that’s serious design effort. The tall diameter would partially be for clearance, and also so the tyres can soak up some punishment. That’d be why they’re still 17-inch rims with nice tall sidewalls – if this were a marketing exercise they’d be bling-spec 20s. And this is one of the very few vehicles that comes with proper all-terrain tyres, specifically BFG ATs, which are way more expensive than road tyres, eat into fuel consumption, and don’t handle all that well on road not least due to big blocks of tread squirming under those tall sidewalls. Does that tell you what terrain this vehicle is optimised for yet?
Ford say the ground clearance is 283mm, but I don’t see how that’s possible given the standard Ranger is 237mm – that’s another 46mm, so 92mm of tyre diameter needed yet the tyres are only around 60mm taller. I don’t even think the original 237mm figure is right either, as my own PX Ranger doesn’t have 237mm under the rear diff and that’s running slightly taller tyres. But anyway, taller tyres would offer extra ground clearance and that can only be good.
So, Ford would have tuned the entire car – engine, suspension, transmission, electronics and more – exactly for the suspension and tyre package which is very clearly optimised for actual offroad work. They’ve even got separate driving modes for sports onroad and sports offroad, the latter known as ‘Baja’ mode which appears to allow some some decent sideways action and freedom with the throttle without Computer Nanny saying yeah but nah.
The Raptor clearly has the running gear for off-road speed work, so let’s now look at the big question of power, or apparent lack of it. Here’s something all automotive journalists learn – it’s simply not possible to assess how ‘fast’ a car feels, or how effective it is as a package until you drive it. Some cars with apparently quite ordinary power figures feel far more grunty than you’d expect from the spec sheet, and the reverse is true too. Yes, a 2.0L engine appears small, but there are a few things playing in the Raptor’s favour.
First, the 10-speed gearbox. That’s a lot of ratios, so the engine can be kept in or very close to its most effective rev range, far more so than a six-speed auto. If you’ve ever driven two identical cars except one was a rubbish four-speed auto and the other a 5- or 6-speed manual then you’ll know the difference, and this 10-speeder would also be very efficient, not spending much if any time out of torque convertor lockup. Think about what would be best – the Raptor’s engine permanently in or very close to its best rev range, or a more powerful engine often 1000rpm or so out. I’m going to trust that Ford have tuned the gearbox so it shifts smartly and doesn’t hunt…time will tell. If Ford get this right, the Raptor will be amazing. If they don’t, it’ll fail.
The small engine size even has its advantages. What you want in a sports vehicle is of course power, but also responsiveness. For example, Ford’s own V8 Mustang has far more power than say an MX-5 or Toyota 86, but compared to the pony car’s relatively sluggish reaction to command the Japanese cars are instantly responsive and feel more powerful than they are. If you’re sliding sideways on dirt, as it appears the Raptor likes to do, then you’d want a nice, responsive throttle. A high revving, short-stroke, quick-responding engine would be just lovely for that, thanks. And then there’s weight. You don’t want a massively heavy lump under the bonnet of any vehicle, particularly one that is liable to commit the act of aviation. Light weight is much preferred, and that means a smaller engine. The bi-turbo is also good as it’ll keep the boost on over a decently wide rev range, and who knows…maybe Ford compromised a bit on a peak figure for the sake of a wider power band. I hope so, I’d prefer driveability than bragging rights.
With small engines, longevity is a big concern of people and I’ve got a couple of emails in my inbox on that exact subject. That’d be another article, but in general I don’t share the general concern that small engines will explode from overstress three minutes past warranty. As Exhibit A, I offer Land Rover’s 200Tdi, 300Tdi, Td5 and Puma engines for the Defender and Discovery 1/2, these are all 2.5 or fewer litres, all known for doing heavy work and none of them known for chronic failure. The early ZD30 has a lot to answer for, and a dud engine is a dud regardless of capacity. There’s also plenty of Amarok automatic owners who seem pretty happy with their 2.0L engine and eight-speed automatic.
Just because when you first learned about engines they were much bigger for a given output doesn’t mean to say the world hasn’t moved on, so go look up the output of the diesel engines fitted to the likes of the FJ40 and Series 1, and see how impressed you are with their output figures per cubic centimetre.
Now I will admit I’ve never met a kilowatt I didn’t like, and I think 250kW and 700Nm wouldn’t go amiss in the Raptor. And a petrol V8 would sound just wonderful, better than any diesel, especially a small one. But the sad fact is that the modern automotive world can’t be into big V8s any more whether we like it or not, and the absence of one in the Raptor doesn’t mean to say the vehicle won’t work with less power. So I’m absolutely not going to write the car off until it’s been driven and tested in it’s natural environment which is high speeds over rough terrain, not lined up at a Cars and Coffee meet while the owner talks a good game about YouTube fantasies, or rocking a fat arm down to the local mall while trying to win green-light drags. I want to see how it goes on the Perdirka Track, not the parking lot.
The only other iffy bit on the spec sheet is part-time 4WD, so you wouldn’t need to in effect lock the front and rear axles on dirt roads or offroad, as that’s only going to encourage understeer, a driving mode otherwise known as “not fun”. The bigger Raptor, the F150 has an all-wheel drive system which indicates Ford reckons it is indeed the way to go. If I had to take a guess I’d say there was only so many development dollars and a call was made to focus on things like the change to coils at the rear, and if that was the constraint I’d agree with the choice made. It is a bit surprising the Everest’s centre clutch unit couldn’t have been fitted, maybe it’s not heavy-duty enough. A nice 35/65 front/rear torque split or so would have been lovely, but maybe the car will be tuned so it won’t matter too much, and the silver lining is that rear-drive only will make for entertaining drift action. Again, have to wait for a proper test.
Ultimately, a real driver’s car isn’t just about power, it’s about control, and while the Raptor may have ‘ute’ in the title it’s a sports machine, not a load lugger so should be assessed as such. As an enthusiast driver, I for one welcome a new class of vehicle that seems to be built for those who enjoy the drive, rather than just obsessing about numbers that don’t mean much once you’re behind the wheel, holding a powerslide while looking through the side window at the next jump.