RUN TO THE HILLS

WE TOOK OUR 4X4OTY WINNING RANGER RAPTOR TO THE HILLS, TO SEE HOW IT PERFORMS IN THE STEEP STUFF .

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKISHILLS

A LOT Ford Raptor, about has Australiaís the much been 2.0-litre of said Ranger it diesel negative about engine and reduced load and towing capacity, but plenty of positives regarding its amazing suspension, off-road performance, and improved ride and handling. We weighed up the positives against the negatives and gave the Raptor our 4x4 of the Year accolade, and that was as good an excuse as any to take it out for another run.

Most of the positive talk about the Raptor centres on its desert racing-bred Fox Racing suspension and high-speed ability over rough terrain, but we wanted to test it in the hills doing lower speed off-road driving on steep terrain. More like the stuff many Aussies enjoy in places like the Victorian High Country.

THE RANGER RAPTOR PERFORMS BETTER THAN MOST AFTERMARKET SETUPS

The Ranger Raptorís off-road credentials are impressive. It sits 50mm taller than a regular Ranger, resulting in a wading depth of 850mm and ground clearance of 283mm. Approach, rampover and departure figures measure 32.5-, 24-, and 24-degress respectively, to further improve clearance, while sturdy underbody protection and beefy magnesium side-steps shield from the inevitable bumps and grinds.

The Raptor rides on a wheel track which is 150mm wider than that of a regular PX Ranger, to give it a wider stance and improved stability. To achieve the extra width, bespoke aluminium A-arms are used on the independent front suspension; while at the rear the leaf-sprung live axle of the regular Ranger is replaced by coil springs with a Watts linkage for lateral support, derived from that on the Ford Everest wagon. It differs from the Everest rear end in that the remote-canister Fox coil-over dampers are mounted farther outboard, again to improve vehicle stability and control. The revised rear axle even has disc brakes as opposed to a Rangerís drum stoppers. The suspension changes result in a 32 per cent improvement in front-end travel (to 236mm in total) and a 22 per cent improvement at the rear (to 290mm in total).

The Fox coil-overs used at the front and rear are specifically designed 2.5-inch twin-tube units, which were a collaboration between Fox Racing, Ford Performance and the Ford Australia engineers who put the package together. Likewise, the BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2 tyres are a specific tyre bred for this vehicle by BFG and Ford. They might look like a regular 285/7017 KO2, but they utilise a unique rubber compound and have an ĎFí in the part number to mark this difference.

When you consider quality suspension and tougher tyres are the first things to fit when equipping a 4x4 for off-road use, Ford Performance has you covered with the Raptor. All of this topshelf hardware, development and engineering add up to an off-road package that is superior to any other one-tonne 4x4 ute off the showroom floor, and it performs better than most aftermarket setups as well.

OFF-ROAD

WEíVE tested the Ranger Raptor in the outback a few times already, but we wanted to see what itís like in the mountain regions of the east coast. For this, we ventured further than our regular Vic High Country haunts to explore the hinterland behind the far south coast of New South Wales, where we found plenty of steep and slippery tracks.

Just as the wheel travel and ground clearance offered by the Raptorís suspension package work well at speed in the outback, they are also the key to slow-speed track performance over rocky steps and fallen logs. The extended wheel travel keeps the BFG tyres in touch with the track surface to maintain traction, which means the Raptor relies less on its electronic traction control and rear differential lock; but they are still very handy if and when needed.

The Raptor is still a proper 4x4 with a dualrange transfer case, so making the steep climbs and descents in low range was never an issue. However, the 10-speed auto transmission was overly keen to shift back when descending and it was sometimes confused in low range; it worked better when in manual mode, using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The performance of the 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine might feel wanting for flat-out, high-speed blasting, but its 500Nm provides plenty of grunt for low-range hill-climbing and trail driving. The 10-speeder works well here, too, whether you choose to let it do its own magic or shift it manually.

THE BI-TURBO DIESEL íS 500NM PROVIDES PLENTY OF GRUNT FOR LOW-RANGE HILL-CLIMBING

The more refined drivetrain (over the 3.2litre and six-speed), more supple suspension and luxury cabin features also work to make the Raptor a more comfortable touring vehicle. You feel the softness of the suspension every time you drive it on any surface, and thereís none of that harsh, jittery ride that comes with most leaf-sprung 4x4 utes. The Raptorís front seats are real winners, adding comfort to the drive and making long days behind the wheel a pleasure.

Adding to the ease of touring, the internal dimensions of the cargo tub are the same as a regular Raptor, so accessories such as tub racks, hard lids, tonneau covers and canopies will still fit. For this trip we utilised the four tie-down hooks to secure our gear, and the in-tub 12-volt outlet to power an ARB Elements fridge.

Many ute buyers dislike the Ranger Raptorís reduced carrying capacity compared to a regular Ranger: the towing capacity is cut from 3500kg to 2500kg; while payload weight is 758kg, down from 900kg of a Ranger XLT. We didnít do any towing on this trip, but we did test the payload to its limits on the return highway drive. Loaded up with three blokes, all their camping gear, a 50-litre stainless steel ARB fridge and a Space Case full of supplies, the rear end felt the extra weight. While it wasnít bottoming out, the suspension felt spongy and towards the end of its compression on the winding and often bumpy roads. You certainly wouldnít want to be off-roading a Raptor with this sort of a load onboard. Buyers will have to settle for a regular Ranger for heavy towing and hauling duties.

So the Ranger Raptor has proven itself to be just as competent as a mountain-trail tourer as it is a desert-track blaster. If the lower payload and towing capacity of the Raptor over a regular Ranger arenít a concern, then the Raptor makes a great starting point for a long-distance traveller.

Before you complain about the cost of the Raptor, the $11K it costs over a Ranger XLT 2.0L wouldnít even cover the costs of the bespoke wheels, tyres and suspension package, even if you could buy them separately. Then thereís the updated interior kit and that killer wide-body design that turns heads wherever you drive it, which make the Raptor a unique proposition.