As is often the case at launch events, there will be a line of cars arranged neatly, waiting for us to jump into. “Which one would you like?” the Ford PR asked me. In any normal scenario, the Lightening Blue metallic option would’ve been the eye-popping choice. It’s a vivid shade of electric blue, after all - but, next to a day-glo Code Orange car, it looked somehow inconspicuous. I’m not normally into the showy stuff, but when it comes to the new Ford Ranger Raptor, is there any point in attempting to blend in? Not really. It’s like the time I saw Jude Law out and about, hood up, trying not to be recognised. Except his hoodie was the brightest shade of Colman’s yellow you could imagine, which rendered any attempt to blend in stupid. In the end, I decided to embrace the ethos: I chose the orange one.
Mind you, this thing has presence whatever its hue. Admittedly, it would be dwarfed parked next to an F150 Raptor, but without big brother as a reference point the Ranger Raptor is a big ol’ brute. For a start it’s taller than most other passenger vehicles, and, as far as length and width go, it has to be just about the biggest thing you could get away with in little England without its bulk becoming truly troublesome.
Beyond its dimensions, there’s also the ‘EFF. YOU’ styling. Those C-shaped LED lights cupping that enormous mouth, with ‘FORD’ written in mammoth lettering in between. Add to that the various vents, bonnet bulges, front skid plate, fat knobbly tyres and ‘Raptor’ decals on its flanks, and it’s a proper beast. An oddly likeable one, though. A bit of a friendly giant, and the number of people smiling at it as I rumbled by (I think appreciatively) made me think I wasn’t the only one to find it strangely endearing.
It’s not only the looks that have folk craning their necks. This new Raptor is available with a proper engine: a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol. You can still buy a 2.0-litre diesel, but the 292hp petrol seems the more fitting accompaniment for a vehicle of such extremes. And with the switchable exhaust opened up in its all-out Baja mode, it’s fruity from the outside and it makes a decent noise from within, too – albeit not a fully rousing, Mad Max bark. If you tone down the exhaust the V6 sounds smooth, relatively quiet and, dare I say it, refined.
The Aussie-spec models are rather more pumped. For a start, their loudest exhaust mode is more or less a straight-through pipe, but European legislation means UK cars are quieter as well as less powerful. I know: boo. Down under, the Raptor has almost 400hp, but on the upside that means plenty of tuning potential for the aftermarket hackers to play with. As it stands, a UK Raptor is quick but not debauched; 0-62mph takes 7.9 seconds, which makes sense when you think this thing weighs 2,454kg. With 362lb ft available from just past 2,000rpm, it’s got easy-access pace, mind, although when you hoof it doesn’t quite light up the way you might imagine and feels a mite strangled at higher revs. The ten-speed auto is reasonably responsive, though, if a little clunky at times. On which point, the chunky aluminium paddles behind the steering wheel could’ve come from a Lambo – they're a really nice touch.
Despite its tempered power, when you’re in two-wheel drive it’s blooming lively with nothing in the back. We started off with a road route and thanks to the proper BF Goodrich tyres and wintery sheen on the surface it was...quite skittish at the rear. Put it this way, you don’t have to set out to provoke any slides; they happen quite organically out of hairpins and junctions with the merest millimetre of throttle travel. Then there are the brakes. No question the brake pedal has some bite, but you don’t need to push it hard to have the tread blocks squealing and the ABS chattering. My advice is to leave a good gap to the vehicles ahead because you could very easily run out of road and stamp ‘FORD’ in the back end of someone’s tailgate.
It's a pick-up truck, though, and one that’s dedicated to rampaging about on dirt, so of course it has some on-road compromises. Like steering that’s slow with absolutely zero road-surface sensation. On the plus side, it’s nicely weighted and accurate, so the Raptor is actually dead easy to thread along most roads, it’s just not pin-sharp like a modern-day SUV.
It’s not as comfortable as a modern SUV, either. That won’t bother you if you’ve lived with pickups in the recent past. It's par for the course with live axles involved, which is what the Raptor uses at the rear. You’ll be used to fidget on roads that seem completely blemish free from behind the wheel, and you'll know only too well the shimmy that travels along the ladder frame chassis after every bump. To be fair, the Raptor rounds off obvious potholes very well, but it's not a plush-riding thing. It is quiet on the motorway, though. You’d think with those tyres it’d be whirring away like an air raid siren at 70mph, but no. There’s very little road noise and a perfectly acceptable amount of wind noise.
That’s because this new Ranger has been designed from the ground up to be more car-like than ever. I have no idea whether the standard versions meet that brief – they’ve not arrived on these shores, yet. Ford’s taken the unusual step of launching the balls-out model first, and while the Raptor comes with all the trimmings, the basic cabin architecture is an obvious step up from the previous model. Beyond the plush leather and faux suede upholstery and all those red highlights and gloss plastics you get with the Raptor, there’s a high-end feel – in pickup terms – with this new Ranger’s interior. The driving position is spot-on, too, so it’s easy to get comfortable in the supportive seats with two big armrests on either side. The 12-inch digital instrument screen displays loads of info clearly, and Ford’s latest 12-inch Synch4 high-def touchscreen dominates the dashboard. This takes a bit of getting used – I find the lack of shortcut icons a pain – and the screen could do with being angled towards the driver for ease of use, but get some physical buttons for the climate controls underneath, which help.
Even the visibility is good. That’s not something to be overlooked when you've got to park something of this size, and naturally you get all the parking aids you could want. I say naturally, because I haven't mentioned the price yet. The V6 Raptor costs an ungodly £58,900, but you’ll want for nothing on the kit front. The standard spec includes Matrix LED headlights, privacy glass, a 10-speaker B&O stereo, digital instruments, adaptive cruise, powered and heated seats. Even practical touches, are thrown in, like a 240-volt socket in the load bed. Of course, you're paying for what's underneath. The new Raptor goes far beyond the old model when it comes to off-road spec. Along with the 17-inch wheels and BF Goodrich tyres, this thing comes with electronically locking diffs, front and rear, and Fox 2.5-inch ‘Live Valve’ shocks. Those aren’t there just for the brand name. This is proper, high-end hardware, with internal bypass valves and three-way adjustability. It means that you can treat the Raptor like a Dakar rally car and it’ll stay on its wheels where other pickups would be on their roof.
For proof, we ended up at a dedicated off-road track. If you think that means we never went above 10mph, you’d be wrong. To demonstrate the ability of those Fox shocks, there was a circuit laid out, strewn with undulations – big ones, like mini mountain ranges. I like to think I have a bit of mechanical sympathy, so my instinct was to treat them with respect for fear of knocking the suspension turrets out, and my teeth for that matter.
So there I am, bumbling around being told to pick up the pace, and it’s only when I disengaged my brain and went for it that I realised that the Raptor is bonkers. Truly, mind-blowingly bonkers. I think I ended up doing 50mph across that surface, and it was like being in a Star Wars Airspeeder, hovering above the surface feeling hardly anything at all. It totally blew my mind. And then I realised why you have the option of two-wheel drive, because you can drive this thing fully sideways across rugged terrain and still not rip off a wheel.
It'll do the slow and steady mud-plugging stuff as well, although not the hardcore bouldering that something like a Jeep Rubicon can manage. It doesn’t have as extreme approach and departure angles, but for a pick-up truck, 32 and 24 degrees respectively is not too shabby, and it’s got more ground clearance than a Rubicon – 265mm. With those massive 285/70 R17 tyres, you'd even class its 13-metre turning circle as respectable. It’s also easy to work all the modes on the go. Most are controlled via the rotary selector on the centre console, which lets you pick from the usual array of mud, sand and rock settings. There are buttons in the middle of the rotary switch to go from permanent two- or four-wheel drive, to four-wheel-drive automatic, which does what's required in shifting torque forwards. There's also a button there to swap the transfer box from low to high ratio. You operate the diff locks from the infotainment screen, which at the same time produces a forward-view camera image so you can see what’s coming up and there's live telemetry for steering, pitch and roll angles.
I haven’t talked about the cargo and towing capacities until now because that’s not what this Raptor is about. It’s not a workhorse. If you want one of those, you’ll have to buy the standard Ranger with its one-tonne payload and 3,500kg towing capacity. The Raptor can manage 652kg in the flatbed and pull 2,500kg, which is hardly lightweight stuff, but it doesn’t qualify for commercial vehicle tax status. You’ll be paying VAT on the purchase price and full company car tax as a result.
Also, it’s also going to average about 17mpg in the real world, even if you drive it sensibly – far less if you’re hanging its arse out over dirt – so it's not going to be cheap to run, full stop. But to get in a tizz about that is entirely missing the point. The Raptor is unashamedly a plaything, just not in the old Ford way. There are no Focus RSs anymore, so this is the Ford Performance vehicle of today. And if you’ve got somewhere to use it to its full potential, it’s just as exciting as any RS product in its own way. And, if you think about it, fits the Rallye Sport initials perfectly. I thought it was great.
SPECIFICATION | Ford Ranger Raptor 3.0 V6 Ecoboost
Engine: 2,956cc, V6, twin turbo
Transmission: ten-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Total power (hp): 292 @ 5,500rpm
Total torque (lb ft): 362 @ 2,300rpm
Top speed: 111mph
MPG: 20.4 (WLTP)
CO2: 315g/km (WLTP)
Price as tested: £62,080
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