We rather liked the outgoing Ranger Raptor. It was an easy sell. North America has been producing 'badass' off-road trucks for about a thousand years, and here was something in a similar vein for the old world. It certainly looked the part and came with a rut-defeating chassis, which was persuasive enough to make one in every seven Rangers sold a Raptor. The problem, if we can call it that, was the engine. Wearing its sensible work boots, Ford opted to power its hold-my-beer flagship model with a 2.0-litre diesel motor. Appropriate, of course, for what most people do with pickups in the UK. But not very thrilling.
With the latest version it has solved that issue. And then some. Sure, you can still have an oil burner in the Raptor if you wish - but it comes a fair bit after the new, butt-kicking 288hp twin-turbo 3.0-litre Ecoboost V6 the Ranger launches with. Ford says it's fundamentally the same unit deployed in the forthcoming Bronco Raptor, which suggests that even with 362lb ft of torque, it is running in a very modest state of tune. Nevertheless, its Australian development team cheerily declared the new Raptor a full minute quicker round its 10km off-road course than the previous version. Which is quite a margin.
Ford opted not to reveal official performance figures at the model's UK-based unveiling, but with the kerbweight not likely to have changed drastically, it's fair to say that the petrol V6 is going to be the shot in the performance arm the old Raptor was crying out for. Factor in the Ecoboost's obvious tuning potential - and the fact that it comes with four-stage active exhaust valves as standard - and you don't need to be an expert in market positioning to realise it's probably not aimed at those with much painting and decorating to do. If ever there was a pickup to break into the fast off-roader mainstream, it's this one.
To that end, Ford wasted no time dwelling on novelties like rear capacity or payload, and instead grinningly informed the European media that the Raptor would feature an anti-lag system not dissimilar to the one seen on the current Ford GT. "The 3.0-litre engine brings a different dynamic to the Ranger Raptor that will satisfy even the most hardcore performance enthusiast," said chief programme engineer, Dave Burn. "The acceleration and raw performance of the new powertrain leave you grinning from ear-to-ear." Well, quite.
The off-throttle turbo-spinner is primarily for the rally-inspired 'Baja' drive mode; familiar from the previous Raptor, but now rather different in practice, you'd imagine. Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case and a new full-time four-wheel-drive system that includes electronic locking diffs front and rear, Ford's claims of 'effortless' acceleration on any surface are easy to believe. There are drive settings galore, too: three for on road (including 'Sport') and four for off (alongside a Trail Control system that will fully automate the accelerator and brakes up to 20mph on tough terrain).
Of course, unless you have access to a deserted quarry, there are precious few places in the UK where the 'maximum attack' mode will come into play, but Ford has plainly built the Raptor to live up to its previously optimistic 'Baja' reference. The manufacturer claims to have completely redesigned the chassis with new aluminium upper and lower control arms, and modified the Watt's link at the back. Most significantly, it has duly fitted next-generation 2.5-inch internal bypass 'Live Valve' Fox dampers, which it says were essential to dealing with the new Raptor's extra speed on difficult terrain.
Not only do these provide the sort of 500-times-a-second adjustment that is typical of likeminded performance cars, they also get the manufacturer's race-proven 'Bottom-Out Control' system that applies maximum damping force to the final 25 per cent of travel. And if that doesn't work, Ford has almost doubled the size of the Raptor's underbody protection, meaning there's 2.3mm of high-strength steel shielding your vital components. Which is another way of saying that you definitely should attempt what might otherwise have seemed an ill-advised jump.
When you're not doing that, expect the Raptor to look the part. The new Ranger continues with most of the design cues made famous by the first generation - including the brazen F-O-R-D lettering on the grille - and the flagship gets its familiar flared arches and exclusive all-terrain tyres on 17-inch alloys. There are matrix LED headlights, too, and a handy integrated step pad at the back. Inside, Ford promises jet-fighter-inspired sports seats and 'Code Orange' accents on the instrument panel and trim, alongside a new 12-inch touchscreen for the latest SYNC 4A infotainment system.
With a hat tip to the Bronco Raptor, the firm says it is continuing a long-running tradition for off-road performance cars. That is only really true if you squint a bit, but Ford's insistence that the Raptor's capability bandwidth is a 'never before seen' balance in Europe-marketed mid-sized pickups is almost certainly true. We haven't been this excited about a truck since Vauxhall went mad and briefly offered the V8-powered Holden Malloo for sale in the UK. Despite promising the first customer deliveries in the summer, there's no word on price just yet - although it's probably fair to say you'll pay more than the £44,250 (excluding VAT) charged for the current halo version. Pricey for a commercial vehicle, then. But like everything else you put in front of it, unlikely to prove much of an impediment to the Raptor's impressive progress.
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