IAIN ROBERTSON 

IMG

Following a growing trend for pre-packaged new models, according to Iain Robertson, the latest Ford Ranger Raptor tops the pickup truck lot with a seriously comprehensive specification for a seriously hefty price tag (£48,594, pre-discount).

Never an instigator these days, Ford Motor Company seems to prefer taking its ‘piggies’ on a more leisurely route to market. Having focused recently on the modified/customised van sector, with the Ford-approved MS-RT operation, in some ways I feel slightly conflicted by featuring the Ford-produced Raptor version of its popular Ranger pickup truck, although it fits rather well with Ford’s current light commercial vehicle offering.

Heavily influenced by off-roader developments in the North American market, where the F-150 truck has dominated the scene for decades, it is worth noting that the alloy bodied ‘monster’ is now the primary pickup for the markets on either side of the Pond. It is a quite daunting machine, almost demanding a stepladder to enable access to its comfort orientated cabin. The usefully positioned grab-handle on the driver’s door pillar is sturdy enough to tolerate aiding continual entrance and egress, with a degree of decency.

IMG

Although restricted to an on-road test session with the Raptor, the torrential rain experienced during the driving exercise provided challenges of its own. While the (Veloci)Raptor is powered by a 210bhp version of Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre bi-turbodiesel engine, it is the mountain of torque (368lbs ft) that is accessible from little more than engine idle speed that underscores its workhorse potential. Needless to say, in the USA, where ‘there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches’, a 450bhp petrol V6, displacing 3.5-litres, is the most popular engine choice. The less potent 3.2-litre 5-cylinder turbo-diesel is the only UK optional engine, also fitted to the Wildtrak model (priced at around £40,000).

Bear in mind that this vehicle tips the scales at a ginormous 2.5-tonnes and that its towing capacity is an equally impressive 2.5-tonnes on a braked trailer and you start to receive the message (by the way, the Mitsubishi L200 in four-door form can carry a tonne and tow three tonnes). However, with its payload reduced to just 680kgs, this truck cannot be registered as a commercial vehicle and, thus, does not qualify for a reduced tax rating. On the driving front, firstly, it is not to be toyed with in adverse conditions, despite the ‘fun’ that arises from its driven rear axle pushing it into lurid, if low-speed, oversteering slides around roundabouts. Secondly, its all-terrain tyres are intended for mud-plugging but not water-clearing purposes.

IMGIn virtually all respects, the Raptor is a designed-for-purpose off-roader. However, it has a softer side. Its suede trimmed seats and leather and suedette door panels add to its comfort and convenience features. The rally-style, hide-wrapped steering wheel is connected to power steering that possesses pleasant weighting and provides decent feedback to the driver’s fingers. Yet, seek full lock for parking and manoeuvring purposes, and the reminders that the chunky tyres and transmission do not like to be ‘hurried’ become abundant, evinced by ‘graunching’ noises at both ends of the vehicle.

Its rear suspension is seriously modified, with the cart-springs having been replaced by coils, and the entire set-up rides on heavy-duty aftermarket Fox dampers. Having determined that 4H was a safer setting for the conditions than 2H on the six-mode selectable drive controller, delving into Raptor’s performance potential was raucous but not as thrilling as I had anticipated. Although moderately swift, turning in a 9.7s time for the benchmark 0-60mph sprint, its top speed is just 106mph, accompanied by copious tyre tread-induced road noise. However, there is also a ‘piped-in’ V8 engine sound that is surprisingly grunty and smile-inducing, if not truly appropriate for an oil-burner. The ten-speed automatic gearbox is a delight, shifting seamlessly up and down the gears, with only the red needle of the rev-counter providing any clues.

IMGAnother of the drive modes is ‘Baja’. While you would have to be either half-daft, or seriously determined to attempt an entry on the infamous California-Mexican off-road race, known as the Baja 1000, it does suggest a measure of the Raptor’s capabilities. Dialled-in, it is suggested that the driver can even select the truck’s Trail Control, which is like cruise control for off-roaders…leaving the truck to adjust its own speed over broken ground. I am not so sure I would be happy about that. However, the overall ride quality is surprisingly fluent and comfortable.

Of course a vehicle such as this is never going to win friends from the eco-brigade, even though its 31.7mpg fuel economy figure is not tragic for a big truck, while the 233g/km CO2 rating, allied to its list price, is hardly going to make Raptor cost-effective to re-tax every year.

IMGCrack open the bedliner protected rear deck, covered by the sliding roller shutter, and more of this truck’s purpose is revealed. Its long equipment list, with power sockets, rear-view camera, a banging stereo system, excellent bi-Xenon headlamps, tow-hitch and all electrics, the leather and suede trim, with blue stitching dotted around the interior, powered door mirrors and puddle lamps, plus the full suite of driver safety and semi-autonomous features, support its price tag and ensure that all the black trim looks as butch and purposeful as any vehicle in this class needs to be.

To be honest, it is a bit OTT but that is also where its showroom and outdoor allure lies and, while it will never be a major volume model, once spotted, you will not forget it. Highly adept at turning its most mundane vehicles into sporting ‘icons’, Ford shares top pickup truck billing in the UK with Mitsubishi’s much admired L200. Isuzu’s top version can be spec’d up to Raptor levels, for a fraction of the Ford’s price, which might make it worth consideration. After all, while plaything it may be, it is also in a sector of the market that places workhorse demands high on its list of capabilities.

Conclusion:        Ford is very good at ‘up-spec’ing’ its vehicles and, as the ‘RS’ of pickups, the Raptor is a recipe of grand statement. However, it is also immensely capable and massive fun in most situations.