Ready to strike

THANKS TO COMPREHENSIVE RE-ENGINEERING, FORDí S RAPTOR IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BEAST THAN THE STANDARD RANGER.

FORD RANGER RAPTORFORD RANGER RAPTOR

THE RANGER Raptor mightnít be designed for off-road racing, but if you wanted to line up in an off road event like the Finke Desert Race or Australian Safari in a dead-stock vehicle, itís hard to think of anything better on the market. It would certainly be a better bet than a stock Ranger or any standard 4x4 dual-cab thanks to its bespoke chassis engineering.

Chassis engineering is what the Raptor is all about, as the powertrain (aside from final drive gearing) is the same as whatís now available as an option in Ranger XLT and WildTrak 4x4 dual-cabs and in mid- and high-spec Everest models.

The powertrain in question comprises a 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo-diesel backed by a 10-speed automatic, the only gearbox on offer with this new engine.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

IF YOU think itís a fair leap of faith from a 3.2-litre five-cylinder to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, youíd be right.

The 3.2-litre engine is the biggest engine in any the mainstream utes, while the 2.0-litre four is the equal smallest. However, small in this case doesnít mean less power, as the new 2.0-litre ups the ante on the 3.2-litre by 10kW and 30Nm to produce 157kW and 500Nm.

Much of the 2.0-litreís ability to produce more power and torque than a 60-percent-bigger engine in the 3.2 can be put down to its sophisticated bi-turbo arrangement and equally sophisticated high-pressure fuel injection system. Both help generate far higher effective cylinder pressures, a fact borne out by the 2.0-litreís 500Nm maximum torque being available from just 1750rpm, the same relatively low rpm as the 3.2 to achieve its 470Nm max.

Not that the 2.0-litre in the Raptor produces tearaway performance, but itís quicker than it feels thanks in part to the close ratios and seamlessly quick shifts of its 10-speed auto. Even though the Raptor is heavier than a 3.2-litre Ranger, itís quicker to 100km/h by half a second.

On the highway the Raptor offers the same roll-on and overtaking performance as the SportsCat and, again, much of that can be put down to the 10-speed auto overcoming the fact the Raptor is heavier, wider and taller than the SportsCat.

Interestingly, the effective top-gear ratios (taking into account top-gear, final-drive ratios, and tyre rolling circumference) of the Raptor and SportsCat are almost identical, which means the Raptor has 10 gears squeezed into the same Ďspaceí as the six gears of the SportsCat. However, the far more telling difference between the Raptor and SportsCat is the refinement of both the engine and gearbox: the Raptor is smoother, quieter and far more seamless in the way it delivers power.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE RAPTORíS chassis has been significantly altered from the standard Rangerís; the key changes being 150mm-wider front and rear tracks, 46mm more ground clearance, 30 per cent more suspension travel at both ends, coil springs at the rear, twin-tube Fox dampers (the rears have Ďpiggy-backí reservoirs), four-wheel disc brakes and 285/70 R17 BFGoodrich All Terrain tyres.

On the road the first thing you notice is how compliant and comfortable the Raptorís ride is compared to either the SportsCat or a standard Ranger, due in part to the fact the Raptorís rear suspension isnít designed for heavy-duty towing so it can be more softly sprung. The extra suspension travel, the taller tyre sidewalls and the fact the dampers are softer in the middle of their stroke than they are at the extremes of their travel all contribute to the supple ride.

On tight, winding bitumen roads the Raptor feels a little soft and imprecise compared to the SportsCat, but on fast, open roads, especially bumpy unsealed roads, it really starts to come into its own and is far more reassuring to drive than the SportsCat, which is still pretty handy in its own right. The Raptor also offers various ĎTerrain Managementí settings that tweak the throttle mapping, the gearbox shifts protocols and the calibration of the stability and traction-control systems. It also has paddle shifters when the gearboxís manual mode is selected.

WHAT YOU GET

THE RAPTOR comes in one model and only as an automatic. Its long list of standard equipment includes keyless entry and start; six airbags; leather, heated front sports seats; electric seat adjust for the driver; paddle shifters; an 8.0-inch touchscreen; sat-nav; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a rearview camera; auto headlights/wipers; auto stop-start fuel saving; dual-zone climate control; and a six-speaker audio system complete with a digital radio. HID headlights, LED DRLs, LED foglights, a driver-switched rear locker, six-mode ĎTerrain Managementí, lanekeep assist and warning, a 230-Volt outlet in rear of the centre console, and a towbar are also standard fare. The Raptor rides on 17-inch wheels with 33-inch BFGoodrich ATs and is priced from $74,990.

OFF-ROAD

IF YOU think the Raptor is well-suited to high-speed, bumpy roads then youíll really love it in gnarly off-road conditions. Itís here the extra clearance, generous wheel travel and big tyres start to work and combine to place the Raptor well ahead of the SportsCat, even if the latter is significantly better off-road than a stock Colorado.

If all that isnít enough of an advantage for the Raptor, it also comes with a driverswitched rear locker that doesnít negate the brake-force traction control across the front axle when engaged.

In terms of a stock, showroom-standard 4x4 ute, the Raptor is about as good as it gets in terms of hardcore off-road ability. Its off-road functionality is enhanced by heavy-duty recovery hooks front and rear, extra underbody protection and an impressive 850mm wading depth claim, some 250mm more than the SportsCat. Thatís despite the engineís air intake being under the bonnet lip, whereas the SportsCatís intake is via the inner guard.

IF YOU THINK THE RAPTOR IS WELLSUITED TO HIGHSPEED, BUMPY ROADS, THEN YOUíLL REALLY LOVE IT IN GNARLY OFF-ROAD CONDITIONS

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

THE RAPTOR offers keyless entry and start, and it comes with leather and a nicely finished cabin; even though the symbols on many of the various buttons and switches could be easier to read. No steering-wheel reach for the driver, but the Raptorís front sports-style seats are extra comfortable and, as always with a Ranger, the rear seat space is about as good as it gets with a dual-cab.

PRACTICALITIES

THE RAPTOR has 80 litres of fuel capacity (the SportsCat has 76 litres), but it proved to be a little thirstier on test (14.7L versus 14.5L/100km for the HSV), which pulls back some of its range advantage due to the bigger tank.

As mentioned, the Raptor isnít designed for heavy-duty towing and drops 1000kg in rating over a standard Ranger and the SportsCat due to a lower GCM. Itís still rated to tow 2500kg and comes with a very neat integrated towbar as standard. Its 758kg payload, due to its lower GVM than a standard Ranger, is also down on most dual-cabs; although, like the 2500kg tow rating, is still pretty handy.

The Raptorís rear tub has a 12-Volt outlet and a work light, and itís the same dimensions as a stock Ranger so will take the same accessory hard tonneau covers, canopies or tub liners.

WHATíS WATT?

THE RAPTORíS rear suspension arrangement is often described as a Wattís linkage, but thatís a little misleading. The basic suspension arrangement is in fact a coil-sprung live axle, and the Wattís linkage is just one element of the design. Unlike the leaf springs of a standard Ranger that hold the rear axle in place (as well as providing springing), the Raptorís coils only provide springing and canít Ďlocateí the axle. To counter this, the fore-and-aft (or longitudinal) location is provided by four trailing arms, while the side-toside (or lateral) location is provided by a Wattís linkage. With most coil-sprung live axles, the lateral location is provided by a Panhard rod and, while a Wattís linkage and a Panhard rod do the basic same job, the Wattís linkage allows vertical movement of the axle without the Panhard rodís unwanted tendency to want to push the axle sideways as it moves up and down. The Wattís linkage is named after James Watt, the 18th century Scottish engineer who lends his name to metric unit of power (the Watt) and is also regarded as the Ďfatherí of the steam engine, even if he didnít invent it.