DARWIN, AUSTRALIA—It’s appropriate that Ford held the first drive of its much-anticipated Ranger Raptor pickup in the brutal and unforgiving deserts of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. This capital city was named after Charles Darwin, the 19th century British naturalist famed for his theory of evolution.
And it is the evolution of what is arguably the most primal species of the automobile—the pickup truck—that this story is about.
It is only the second time that Ford is using the name “Raptor”—the first being for the king of all trucks, the awe-inspiring full-size F-150 Raptor. This time the moniker is attached to a midsize truck, the Ranger.
So, what exactly is a raptor?
Merriam-Webster defines “raptor” as a bird of prey or a predatory dinosaur. Both are chillingly effective hunters with stunningly high levels of intelligence and power. And both were at the top of my mind as I flung the Ranger Raptor around Australia’s vast Outback.
So, how exactly did the Ranger Raptor evolve to reach the top of the pickup truck food chain?
Trick coil-over suspension
Twin turbos may sound sexy, but it’s the trick suspension that allows the Raptor to do things standard Rangers—and other pickups—can only dream of. And that’s to deliver Baja racecar-like levels of ruggedness and performance and combine that with on-road (and even off-road) riding comfort never before experienced in any pickup truck.
The magic comes from the four bespoke Fox coil-over shock absorbers. Fox is a legend in off-road racing and they know how to make shock absorbers that will take the punishment of hard jumps and landings. More importantly (especially for those who will spend more time on pavement), they achieve this while delivering amazingly supple riding comfort you won’t find in any other pickup.
Ford’s Vehicle Dynamics engineer says that the four shock absorbers (which use both gas and hydraulic actuation and have their own separate oil reservoirs) cost half as much as the whole engine. My guesstimate? The shock absorbers cost anywhere from P50,000 to P75,000. Each. Don’t worry—they’re designed to last the life of the truck.
The superb riding comfort also comes from rear coil springs, which take the place of regular Rangers’ leaf springs. Cornering precision, meanwhile, is enhanced by specially designed Watts linkages that help suspend the rear axle.
But wait, there’s more! A casual peek inside the front wheel wells shows some bright silver jewelry—forged upper wishbones and cast aluminum lower suspension arms (extending a further three inches outwards to either side) to expand the front track a whopping six inches for extremely stable cornering. The rear track is widened commensurately. The use of cast and forged aluminum suspension arms in place of more common welded steel lowers unsprung weight (allowing the spring and shock absorbers to function better) for even greater handling precision.
Twin-turbo motor and 10-speed auto
The Ranger Raptor’s twin turbos don’t really push the power way beyond the single-turbo of its 3.2-liter-powered Ranger sibling (213hp/500Nm vs. 200hp/470Nm). Nonetheless, this formidable output is made even more impressive when you learn that the Raptor’s engine displaces a mere two liters.
And paired with a 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters, you have more gears to play with than with most Italian supercars. Plus, you get stunning fuel efficiency from the compact motor paired with so many gear ratios (8th through 10th gears are overdrive gears for cruising).
Top speed for this admittedly not-so-aerodynamic hulk is a decent 170km/h. While the 0-to-100km/h time is a not-too-impressive 10.5 seconds, the in-gear acceleration from 50 to 100km/h (where most pickups and small cars lose their breaths) is a surprisingly strong 6.8 seconds.
It would be unbecoming of a truck to have such a wide track to have the wheels and tires sticking out of the fenders. So when plastic fender flares still don’t cut it, Ford sculpted beautifully flared wheel arches for the front and rear fenders. Then added plastic fender flares to boot! The front fenders are made of a high-tech lightweight plastic composite while the rear fenders are steel stampings. Together they create a ruggedly muscular stance that, coupled with the wide track and wide tires, give the Ranger Raptor one of the most menacing swaggers in truckdom.
Ford put so much effort into finding the right tire to meet the Raptor’s performance potential that they flew in B.F. Goodrich’s head design guy to explain the intricacies of the virtually custom-made All-Terrain KO2 tires that the Raptor rolls on. They may be small at 17 inches in diameter, but this is more than made up for by the generous 285mm width with a 70-series aspect ratio. B.F. Goodrich has extensive off-road racing experience as well and after trying out various diameters and widths, they discovered that the 285/70-17 size (with that particularly aggressive tread pattern) was perfect for the Raptor. Putting bigger or wider rims and lower-profile tires will only negatively affect the truck’s perfectly balanced on- and off-road performance.
An all-business cockpit
A high-performance vehicle demands a serious driving environment for the driver. The Raptor sports one of the most supportive (and best-looking) sport seats ever put in a truck. Couple this with a leather sport steering wheel (with the iconic red stripe at 12 o’clock that’s common on all Ford high-performance vehicles), and those paddle shifters, and you’d really feel that you were inside the cockpit of a sports car.
The Ranger Raptor is one truck that boasts cutting-edge electronic driving aids you’ll find in luxury SUVs. These include a Terrain Management System that, aside from the usual pavement, gravel, mud, and snow modes, has a Baja setting that let you play with the truck and get it sideways (it has a proper part-time four-wheel-drive) without the traction and stability control systems intervening too soon. Think of it as the performance or competition mode you’ll find in most sports cars.
Other tricks include an adjustable speed limiter, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Load Adaptive Control, Electronic Stability Control with Trailer Sway Control, Rollover Mitigation, Roll Stability Control, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
State-of-the-art lighting comes from HID headlamps with LED foglamps, LED daytime running lights, and LED taillamps. It also has a smart entry/start system, push-button start-stop, rain-sensing wipers, rearview camera, cruise control, and Ford’s superb-sounding SYNC 3 infotainment system with touchscreen navigation.
Because the best engine and suspension are only as good as the chassis on which they’re connected, Ford engineers went over the Ranger’s stock but already rugged ladder frame chassis with a fine-toothed comb and strengthened it in areas that needed reinforcement. Even the crossmember from where the spare tire hangs was suitably beefed up. Result? We never had to wince whenever the Raptor went airborne and landed. And the usual jittery ride on the highway was noticeably smoothened out.
These evolutionary changes may number only seven, but the Ford Ranger Raptor is far more than the sum of its parts. It has seamlessly evolved into one of the most fearsome vehicles to roam the Earth. Charles Darwin would be proud.
It’s nothing less than the best a pickup truck can be. Now if only we knew what it’s price is going to be…