In 2020, the Ford Ranger Raptor is still in a league of its own

A rollicking drive in Vietnam cements its hallowed off-road status
by Carlo Chungunco | Mar 15, 2020
PHOTO: Carlo Chungunco
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Many of us have lusted after the Ford F-150 Raptor from the first time we saw that massive V8 behemoth gracing our TV screens on Top Gear. Here was a Baja race truck in road trim, and available to us mortals. Well, “us” meaning if you lived in countries other than the Philippines, as the F-150 wasn’t part of Ford’s local lineup. We were just left to lust after the few gray market units that managed to make their way over the Pacific.

This mere lusting was not to last, however, as Ford decided launch the Ranger Raptor in the Philippines. Needless to say, there was a buying frenzy. The baby Raptor came just at the right time, when tax incentives allowed Filipinos to own the only high-performance pickup in the market for only P1,998,000. This was a steal when you consider that for the same price, the only vehicles available to buyers were generally 4x2 midsize SUVs. Instead of that, there was this insane, Baja-bombing, off-road destroying, 4x4 pickup with massive fenders, amazing shocks, and looks to die for.

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So confident was Ford in its rally truck for the road that it invited Top Gear PH to fly out to Vietnam, to test the Ranger Raptor on what has to be one of the craziest off-road tests offered by manufacturers in years. The highlight of the drive was taking the Raptors on an insane off-road track in the mountains of Da Lat, culminating in a blast down sand dunes in the resort town of Mui Ne.

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The Mui Ne sand dunes felt like being in the middle of the Arabian desert, and it completely blew our minds that such a place existed in the small Southeast Asian country. But Ford is saving the best activity for last. Before we let our inner child loose and play 1:1 Tonka trucks in the sand, we will first experience seven different sections all designed to test the Raptor’s limits. Let’s get it on!

Test No. 1: (Extremely) steep downhill grade

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Talk about getting things off to a flying start. Flying is exactly what we thought we would be doing as we crested the lip of what felt like a cliff. Angling the car downward, we were told to just turn on hill descent control and let go of the brake. I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to stomp on the brakes as we stared at the steep downhill slope.

Like a good driver, I dutifully listened to the instructions, said my prayers, and lifted my feet from the pedal box. The result was almost magical: The Raptor slowly, effortlessly, and easily made its way down the slope. The computer applying braking to all four corners of the car did much better than I ever could. At one point, despite the rocky and slippery nature of the slope, it felt rather boring as the truck inched its way down the surface without even breaking a sweat.

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Mind you, this was a slope that would be hard to walk on going down, never mind driving down in a two-ton pickup. The Raptor laughed at our seeming uneasiness at the slope, and gave us an experience akin to “hold my beer.” It was a good start to what would be an epic day.

Test No. 2: Offset angle articulation

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The second obstacle was what could only be described as a huge hole dug into the ground. We were to drive the Raptor though it, which would show the articulation of the suspension as it made its way through the deep (around three feet) hole. As we piloted the Raptor through, what surprised us was just how uneventful this incident was.

We had to actually step out of the Raptor to look and see that we had actually stuck an entire wheel into the hole. The reason why it felt uneventful was that the suspension articulated so much that while the cabin remained relatively level, the right wheel was deep in the hole, while the left wheel was high up in the wheel well, which just goes to show how flexible the Raptor was doing low-speed maneuvers.

Test No. 3: Steep descending turn with equally steep and slippery ascent

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The next obstacle was a steep downward slope with a turn that led into a steep and slippery ascent. For this task, we were asked to engage the low range gearbox and the rear differential lock for added traction. The Ford truck gave us another surprise at how quickly we could switch the gearbox into its low range mode. While most SUVs would take up to 10 to 20 seconds to engage, the Raptor literally did it in the blink of an eye as soon as we popped it into neutral. Ditto the rear differential lock. These are the small things that just go to show the priorities of the designers and engineers of the Raptor when they were selecting components for the truck.

The grade on the uphill section was steep enough that the accompanying photographers had an extremely hard time walking up the slope. We, on the other hand, easily made our way up on half throttle thanks to the added traction accorded by the locked differential, which sent power equally to both rear wheels.

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Test No. 4: Off-Angle extreme tilt

Now, this was one of the first real extreme tests of the truck. What we had to do was drive the right side of the Raptor onto an embankment; an embankment that gradually increased its height, while the left side of the Raptor remained on the ground. While this seemed simple enough, this was honestly the sketchiest we felt in the car up to this point.

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The angle that the Raptor was on its side was absolutely insane. My brain was screaming at me that we were about to topple over, but the instructor kept ushering me more and more onto the bank until I could look left and see the ground near touching my left side mirror. It was nauseating, and I felt that we would flip the truck, but the Raptor (and the instructor) laughed it off, and my human guide told me to keep going—and keep going the truck did. From the insane angle, back to terra firma, it was as if the Raptor itself was egging me on and taking joy at abusing my fear of obtuse angles.

Test No. 5: Full throttle Baja Mode uphill blast

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We were then led to the start point of the Baja test. Popping the Raptor in Baja mode using the Terrain Management System, we looked with trepidation at the imposing 1.5km uphill stretch wherein we could finally unleash all 210hp and 500Nm of torque from the 2.0-liter bi-turbo diesel engine. Seeing the flag waved, we gunned the throttle as the Raptor surged on a wave of torque on the flats leading up to the incline.

This was also a perfect test of the 2.5-inch FOX shocks. While the Raptor, at low speeds, feels like just about any other pickup truck, where it truly lets its Baja roots shine is when it’s gunning at rough terrain at full throttle. The faster you go off-road, the smoother everything gets. We were hitting speeds up to and beyond a 100kph off-road and uphill, and like magic, large roots and rocks were easily and smoothly damped by the amazing shock absorbers.

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As we were blasting past the scenery, an old adage came to mind: “When in doubt, flat out.” Nothing shows the capability of an off-road monster as hitting highway speeds on truly rough terrain.

Test No. 6: Extreme approach angle rock crawl

From the fastest part of the track we arrived at the slowest. We engaged rock crawl mode and low range to tackle what seemed to be the most extreme approach of the course. It seemed almost impossible as we faced an almost vertical rock face around four- or five-feet high head on.

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We cringed in the car as we expected to be leaving behind a Raptor front bumper in Vietnam (these units came all the way from Thailand), when suddenly, the Raptor’s front-end shot up to the sky and we were guided only by the voices of the instructors laughing at our panic, telling us to let the truck take on the obstacle. The angle was obscene, but this was not an issue as the 32.5-degree approach angle and 283mm of ground clearance meant that the only question the Raptor had for us was: “Human, how fast do you want me to go over this tiny thing?”

Test No. 7: Steep long uphill using Terrain Response

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After that somewhat harrowing experience, we were told to position the truck facing a long, steep uphill that seemed impossible at first glance. We popped the Raptor into dirt mode and applied steady throttle as the truck ascended the almost 20-degree incline.

The Raptors we were testing were equipped with BF Goodrich all terrains that looked like they were closer to hardcore mud-terrain tires. The result, from the tires to the engine, was a truck that nonchalantly made its way up such a steep gradient, much to our amusement. In fact, we took a wrong turn at the top of the hill, and had to do a 3-point turn, all at 16-degrees of incline, a maneuver that the Raptor breezed through.

Final Test: Sand Dunes and Sand and Baja Mode

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Finally, the entire reason why we made our way to Vietnam: the sand dunes. One really cannot test a Baja truck without high-speed sand driving, and that is exactly what we did. Starting off from a dizzying 100-foot drop from the top of a sand dune, the truck was first pointed at the sky, and then quickly almost fell straight down to earth where we were told not to touch the brake pedal due to the danger of a rollover, as it easily rolled slowly down the face of a massive dune.

Frankly, I thought it shouldn’t have been possible, and yet there we were, in the middle of a desert, blasting Raptors at maximum throttle through sand dunes fit for the Sahara. We felt we were tackling the Dakar in a Rally Raid Truck, and the car performed just as well.

While it may seem that the entire test drive was generally boring and easy, this is simply because the Raptor, without hyperbole, is the most capable off-road machine we have ever tried. It handled every single test thrown at it with the poise and composure befitting a Baja truck in sheep’s clothing. It laughed at challenges that would have other “off-road” rigs struggling to even attempt. For a bunch of relatively inexperienced off-road drivers, we felt like heroes bombing the Dakar. The real hero, though, was the Ranger Raptor, and because of this vehicle, we will never look at other, lesser off-roaders the same way again.

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During this amazing event, I was asked by someone from Ford what my thoughts were as to the possibility of any other car companies posing a challenge to the Raptor. My answer was simple: The Ranger Raptor is in a league of its own. There are no competitors in the high performance off-roader class.

While every other car brand is scrambling for a piece of the pickup pie, there is only one true off-road king, and the Raptor is incomparable to anything else that has come before it. Being the best is a lonely road, but the eagle soars alone above the clouds. The pickup is dead; long live the pickup.

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PHOTO: Carlo Chungunco
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