This is crazy.
Those were my thoughts onboard a Vietnam-bound flight with Ford, knowing full well that there was an outbreak happening and a chance that we could pay a forced visit to New Clark City for 14 days after our return.
Sand dunes and Ranger Raptor, they said. It'll be fun, they said. These surgical masks work, right?
We already know that the Ford Ranger Raptor is a very capable off-roader. From the Australian outback to the lahar beds of Zambales and Pampanga, all without fault and with ease... well, except the last one when our EIC had to drive a mufflerless Raptor. But this time it's a little bit different, and I could even say it's the wildest one yet.
So we boarded a flight to Vietnam to drive the Ranger Raptor again but in a different environment. Apparently Ford was updating the dust-kicking Ranger Raptor for 2020, and that it would be arriving in the PH market very soon. I expected it to be more or less similar to the drives we have done before. Boy, was I wrong.
We started our first day of the trip by tackling the muddy mountainous terrain of Da Lat. To give you an idea of the area, Da Lat is very similar to Baguio City with cold weather and mountainous terrain all around. It was the perfect place to test the off-roading and rock crawling capabilities of the Raptor. Our testing ground consisted of various stages in order to showcase the Raptor’s abilities. It also gave us a full feel of the car in different circumstances.
From the starting point, we could already tell that the course would not be easy, both for everyone driving and the Ranger Raptor. The first stage featured a huge drop off the side of a hill. No long way round here as we would let the hill descent control do all the work. What made it even scarier is that we were told to keep the wheels pointed straight or we could roll the pickup truck over.
Going down, the truck was descending at around 30-degrees according to the numbers on the dash at least. Well, I’m still here writing this so clearly we didn't get it wrong. And to think that was only the first stage of many more laid out for us that day.
Most of the stages of the mountain course in Da Lat involved testing out the suspension and the off-road capabilities of the Raptor. They were also relatively easy to do... well, for the Raptor that is. It was cool to see how much travel and give the Fox suspension had throughout the course. The 4x4 system also ensured that the pickup could climb up high angle surfaces with ease.
One of the toughest stages of the Da Lat drive was when we had to purposely drive up a bank and go sideways. Watching the instructor do it first was already nerve-wracking as the Raptor was close to falling over to its side. Personally, I feel as if the photos I took don’t do justice on how wild that banked angle was, and how close the Raptor was to tipping over. It became a lot scarier when it was our turn to run the same stage and not topple over a brand new 2020 Raptor. Thankfully, the guide helped all of us get through without any incidents.
Since the banked staged was situated early on in the course, most of us expected it to be the most difficult section already. We were wrong again. The toughest stage was later on where the Raptor needed to climb up some rocks. In fact, we were told to switch the most aggressive setting with 4WD low, engage diff lock, and even use Rock Crawl mode.
The ascent was really steep. The pickup had to get out of a ditch nearly as tall as it was. Honestly, it’s a bit hard to describe the feeling of it, so I’ll just let the photos show you guys how intense the bit was.
To make matters more "fun", there wasn’t just one ditch the Raptor had to crawl out of. The stage was composed of three different sections, all of which were equally difficult. Get it wrong, and you can easily find yourself stuck. Also, going through the sections, you can really feel the Raptor being pushed to the limit as the side steps were already hitting rocks and other debris.
While our appetite was already full from the off-roading in Da Lat, the main event has yet to come. The following morning we set out for Mui Ne; it's a 4-hour drive and in the same Raptors we used the day before. Considering the beating they took from the numerous rounds of off-roading, the pick-up still drove and rode very well. There were no issues with the powertrain or even the suspension. I even managed to catch up on some sleep in the back seat.
With the updated system, driving across Vietnam was made a lot easier. The warning alert was especially helpful with all the motorcycles in the area. Lane keep assist made driving a lot more relaxing on the expressway. Meanwhile, the updated infotainment system looked a lot better and continued to provide us with tunes along the way.
Once we got to the Mui Ne Sand Dunes, it was a sight to behold. It looked like something straight out of the Middle East minus the camels. Just the mere thought of driving on it at high speed was exciting.
Before actually driving through the (mini) desert, we were given a sighting lap of the course. And from just walking on the loose sand, we knew it would be much more difficult as compared to the mountainous terrain of Da Lat. Simply put, we could get stuck, easily. And no, we couldn’t just depend on the Raptor to do its magic. Sure, the Ranger Raptor is built for Baja, which is mostly sandy terrain. However, in the not-so-right hands, one can still get stuck.
Unlike the day prior, we also needed an instructor to sit with us as we drove through the sand dunes. They helped point us in the right direction as you can easily get lost. Aside from being our GPS, they coached us on what to do helped us not get stuck. In the event we did get stuck, they also provided helping hands.
Driving in the sand is unlike any other I’ve done before. We couldn’t go slow either as there were steep dunes to climb. Slowing down would get us beached in no time. As a result, we were averaging around 60 km/h or more all throughout the course.
Once we got to the top of the dunes, we had to go down. The drop was scary as we couldn’t see where we would be landing unless you got up from your seat and peeked. Instead, all we could see through the dashboard were clear blue skies. Once again, all sorts of thoughts ran through my head – from rolling over to getting stuck on a really high slope. But, in just a few seconds we were down from the dunes, and I simply want to do it again. Hard to imagine that a few moments ago we were up the tallest sand dune around.
Aside from the sand dunes, we also had the opportunity to stretch the Ranger Raptor’s legs a bit. Though we were limited by our instructors on how fast we could go, it was still a good experience driving the Baja-spec pickup truck in its natural habitat at a spirited pace. The 2.0-liter Bi-Turbo engine and 10-speed gearbox were left unchanged for the update, allowing it to quickly get up to speed even in the sand.
As the day ended, it was crazy to think that we drove the Raptor from a mountainous rocky terrain all the way here. Sure, some got stuck in the sand, but it wasn’t really the Raptor’s fault. There were just too many tourists wandering around the course and not moving out of the way. Also, the course and terrain itself were really that difficult. Completing the run without getting beached is already an achievement.
After playing in the sand dunes, we once again drove back to the hotel putting an end to our short trip to Vietnam. This truck really can go anywhere... and back.
Yeah, I'd gladly do this again, even if it means taking the risk of getting quarantined at New Clark City.