Ford’s best new car is a pickup | PH Footnote

We lived with a Ranger Raptor for the better part of a month. We want it back

By Nic Cackett / Sunday, 10 September 2023 / Loading comments

‘Easy to like big, dumb, loud things,’ the mrs said. And she would know. In car terms, you could argue they don’t come much bigger or dumber than a ‘Code Orange’ Ranger Raptor with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 and optional Splash Decal Pack ticked. Even in a nation seemingly awash with Ford Rangers, it stands tall. Literally. Also, it costs from £46,300 excluding VAT. If you’re not in the position to exclude the VAT – and it’s hard to see how you would, with the pumped-up variant falling short of commercial vehicle status thanks to a fairly modest 655kg payload limit – it’ll be £59,530. The one you see here, with the paint and decals and the £1,860 Raptor Pack that adds the rollover bar and the electrically-powered tonneau cover, is £62,710. That’s a decent chunk of change for a pickup, even a lifestyle-friendly one. 

Especially when it isn’t quite the full ticket. We all know the asterisk that appears next to the latest Raptor: it was originally developed to do its thang with 400hp and 430lb ft of torque in freer, roomier parts of the world. Here it must make do with 292hp and 362lb ft from an EU-homologated version of the petrol ‘Nano’ V6. That means instead of doing 0-62mph in a hot hatch-bothering 6.5 seconds-ish, it takes 7.9. And while in Australia and North America the adaptive valves in the exhaust system are said to unlock a noise that rivals the Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio for splendour, here you must make do with the sort of muted tones that should be identified with a pillowcase, not the word ‘Baja’. 

So, in point of fact, it isn’t loud. And it’s not fast either. Or not like it was intended to be, at any rate. And it costs plenty and doesn’t haul much. And, at more than two metres wide, it’s definitely on the large side for UK roads. This much was in evidence when John H drove it briefly back in the spring. Nevertheless, after three weeks of living with the Raptor, including an extended family holiday in deepest Somerset, I’m here to tell you that the flagship Raptor, even in slightly neutered format, is brilliant. Flawed, obviously. And probably well-suited to very few people. But wildly likeable and not a little bit special in a market wholly saturated with things that really are big, dumb and loud. 

Anecdotally, especially in Somerset, the approval of the Great British public was overwhelming. Well, I say overwhelming: people quite often wanted to talk about it, some of them at great length. The first inkling that this might happen actually occurred at PH25, where you may have seen EN72 NNL at Bicester parked opposite the PistonHeads’ stand. Now, its position on the grass had as much to do with convenience (mine) as any real display intentions; nevertheless, every time I happened past the Raptor seemed to have a small cluster of people around it, murmuring appreciatively. I figured this was simply a consequence of a very well-informed crowd – but so it proved in the real world, too. Granted, many of those running across petrol station forecourts to have a chat were either tradespeople or current Ranger owners (or both), but the level of enthusiasm was never less than forthright. 

Case in point: one chap suggested he was considering trading in a Caterham Seven 620S for one. That, I said, is mental. But he shrugged. There was no suggestion that he planned to use the Raptor in a vastly different way – he just thought it seemed like good fun, like the wavelength was the same even if everything else was poles apart. And he was right. The Raptor is good fun. Not for the same reasons, obviously – but there is an irresistible parallel: just as the Seven is rubbish at being a car from a modern usability standpoint, so the Raptor is rubbish at being a conventional pickup in 2023. Accordingly, neither makes much sense to a paid-up member of the sensible shoes club. You need to be necking enthusiast Kool-Aid to seriously consider putting your hand in your pocket. 

Doubly so when the Raptor can’t fall back on its exhaust note to make it an automatic slam-dunk. But even without it, the tricked-out Ranger is like a buoyancy aid for your mood. On the one hand, there’s the satisfaction that comes with operating any high-functioning bit of kit. On the other, there’s the call of the wild. It’s virtually impossible to fixate on all the things the Raptor can’t do (save, perhaps, its 20.4mpg fuel economy) when you’re punch-drunk on the things it can. I can’t remember driving a car where the temptation to leave the tarmac was so overwhelming. Just as a 620S wills you to find an empty roundabout or deserted B road, so the Raptor practically dares you to get some mud between the tread of its knobbly BFGoodrich tyres. 

In a world of effete and tediously faux soft-roaders, its genuine go-anywhere attitude – helped along by having its driver tower over everything – is a breath of fresh air. And should you actually find somewhere to do it, you’ve certainly got the hardware to back it up. With adaptive (4A) or permanent (4H) all-wheel drive courtesy of an electronically controlled Borg Warner clutch pack system – not to mention selectable low range (4L) and lockable diffs front and back – the Raptor is vastly more capable than any Ranger before it, and while it may boast a very liveable interior including sporty seats, that special, flinty feeling of being in something mostly impervious to its surroundings never goes away. 

But, much like it does in an old Defender, even if you don’t venture away from asphalt, that sense of supreme robustness remains. Furthermore – and very much not like an old Defender – the Raptor is actually impressively pleasant to drive just about anywhere. That so many cars built to go fast on rally stages seem to work better than most on UK roads ought to be of some concern to the Highways Agency, but here we are – much like the Ariel Nomad and the Porsche 911 Dakar and the Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato before it, a Ranger equipped with Fox ‘Live Valve’ adaptive dampers, a vast amount of tyre sidewall and 265mm of ground clearance (and tuned to do its best work in the Australian Outback) is something of a treat on a lumpy B road.

Granted, you probably won’t ever entirely forget there’s a ladder chassis under there, nor marvel at its change of direction – yet the Raptor is impressively accomplished at carrying big speeds over the kind of surfaces that would usually have you backing off in frustration. Or mechanical sympathy. Or self-preservation. The Raptor requires no such consideration. And because someone has taken the time to make sure its hefty steering has a correspondingly well-judged rate of response, the Raptor can be hustled about the place with cheery, tyre-squawking abandon. Sport mode makes the dampers work a little harder and the throttle respond a little more keenly (probably a bit too keenly so far as the 10-speed automatic is concerned) but truthfully I spent most of the time in its more relaxed default setting. With the windows down. Smiling. 

And that’s because the Raptor is immoderately good at just bounding about the place like a great shaggy dog. There’s no sense of strain or shudder because there’s no diesel engine, and there’s no thud or clonk because the gooey chassis is rarely overwhelmed. And sure it’s big – particularly when two lanes turn into one – but because visibility is so good and because no verge is an obstacle, you rarely worry about it. You rarely worry about anything, in fact. Or I didn’t. I drove it as contentedly as I have anything this year, even if I failed to trouble its flatbed with anything heavier than sandy shoes. Even the somewhat precarious, try-hard image is probably solvable; just pick a more muted colour (Conquer Grey would be my choice) and don’t tick the optional decal box. To that end, the lower output and subdued noise is probably a good thing. Aside from its larger-that-life presence, the Raptor rarely seems anti-social. 

Having said that, if someone offered you the 400hp back, you’d take their arm off. The Raptor is plenty loveable right out of its EU box, but inevitably there are moments when you can’t help but intuit the missing piece of the puzzle. This is about mid-range torque as much as anything. And aside from potentially shattering the odd silence, you just know the additional power wouldn’t spoil or dominate the experience, it would merely bring the V6 up to the gold standard of its sophisticated suspension. Unfortunately, having gone to the trouble of squeezing the Raptor into a legislative box, Ford is unlikely to pull a rabbit from it – and while that leaves the door ajar for the aftermarket (evidently Mountune is working on something) for now it’s tumbleweeds. Probably we should be thankful it opted to sell the model here at all – with the Fiesta ST gone and the Focus ST set to follow, it really does feel like the one thing left that is worthy of the Blue Oval’s highly regarded wild side. 

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