What's your definition of “off-roading”?
For most, I'm assuming the first idea that will pop into your head would involve a lifted pickup truck or SUV going slowly along a rugged, muddy path. That, or there's a vehicle stuck in the dirt in the middle of nowhere needing to be winched out. Either way, you don't go fast.
However, going on a trail or 'crawl' as some would call it, isn't the only definition of off-roading. Depending on who you're talking to, it could refer to different things. Talk to a biker guy, and he could be thinking motocross. Others might just straight up say it’s about any place without a road. To some it might refer to rallying.
Going one step beyond rallying though, there are the more extreme off-roading experiences like the Baja and Dakar Rally. These trucks and SUVs are purposely built to go fast on any surface they encounter. This kind of extreme off-roading is what Ford built the Raptor name for. First applied to the F-150, the Blue Oval has now decided to give the same treatment to the Ranger pickup truck.
When Ford Philippines told us we were going to test out the Ranger Raptor, I must admit, I already envisioned taking the performance truck at speed and even going sideways all while kicking up a dirt trail behind it. I mean, that’s what that the Raptor was built to do anyway; go through any terrain, fast. That is what our editor-in-chief got to do as well when he first drove the Ranger Raptor in the Australian outback a few months back.
Well, that thought of mine quickly vanished when I found out we weren’t going to just any off-road trail. Instead, Ford brought us to the lahar beds of Zambales, arguably one of the trickiest types of terrain for any vehicle to encounter.
Our plan for the day was to drive around a special course setup by Ford while trying to push the Raptor to its limits. The course was divided into three different sections – a tight technical section of mixed lahar and dirt with barely any run-off, a long banked dune followed by a jump, and a 2km long straight where we tried to reach our personal best top speed in the Raptor. Needless to say, it was not an easy course as even the smallest mistakes would be punishing.
Considering how often trucks and even heavily modified 4x4’s get stuck there, I already assumed that simply driving on lahar trails laid out by Mount Pinatubo would be quite the challenge, more so driving fast in it. And it certainly was, as I found out by walking on the makeshift course.
Lahar happens to have a similar consistency to that of sand and concrete powder. Put too much weight on one foot, and you’ll quickly find your shoes digging in to the loosely packed lahar. I myself got stuck just by walking around the lahar bed trying to take photos of the scenery; what more the chances of a 2-ton truck in the hands of someone with little to no off-road experience? Thankfully, the Ranger Raptor was built for this.
While I’m sure the 4x4 Ranger Wildtrak would have easily gone through the lahar without a hitch, it certainly wouldn’t have done so at the same pace as the Ranger Raptor. That’s because the changes on Ranger Raptor are more than just the widened fenders and a revised front and rear fascia.
The suspension alone has been completely redesigned as the Ranger Raptor uses a multi-link suspension at the rear rather than the traditional leaf-spring found on the standard Ranger or the kitted out Ranger Wildtrak. It also uses specially built Fox shocks on all four corners, which are more than capable of taking the punishing terrain at speed. Wider wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich K02 all-terrain tires ensures that the Raptor can go through any kind of terrain ahead of it.
While it does share the same 2.0-liter biturbo diesel engine and 10-speed automatic gearbox as the Wildtrak, the Raptor does have selectable driving modes. A feature not found on the Wildtrak. The same 2H and 4H selector switch remains but, the driver can also select the driving mode they want. Obviously, Baja mode was selected when we were out for our runs.
Together with the difficult course, we also had to change our driving style in order to go fast. As logic (and actual driving) would dictate, putting the pedal to the metal would make you go faster. Do that on lahar though, and you’ll simply find yourself stuck in a deep hole. Instead we were told that the proper way to do it was to progressively depress on the pedal. Curiously we also had to run most of the course in 2H (two-wheel drive) as opposed to 4H (four-wheel drive). Apparently driving in 4H would only slow us down and should only be used when stuck, the same way as Baja trucks were driven - or so our instructor said.
When it was my turn behind the wheel of the Raptor, I only had one goal in mind – not to get stuck. Thankfully, I didn’t. But, I’m guessing that's mostly due to the Ranger Raptor’s more rugged setup. It also gave me confidence to take on the track faster than I initially would have have.
Even though the first section of the course was very rough, the Raptor felt planted all throughout. Driving fast across the bumpy ‘road’ of mixed lahar and dirt was relatively easy. The Raptor felt balanced all the time, with the rear end keeping its composure even through the tight, and narrow route.
The real challenge started in the second section of the course which was purely lahar. In fact, I almost got stuck and had to switch to 4H mode in order to get the truck moving again. Despite taking the large banked dune at speed, the Raptor felt solid and didn’t feel like it was going to tip over. Taking the jump, it didn’t feel like parts were going to come off either. Not that I would want them to, especially since the high speed section on lahar was next, which would be the most challenging part of the course.
Driving flat out on a straight piece of road is easy… on tarmac. On the lahar beds, it was already a challenge getting the Raptor up to 80 km/h. Despite digging the pedal into the floor for around 2km, I only managed to bring the truck up to 105 km/h – far from our instructor's record of 130km/h. At that speed though, the rough lahar surface felt a lot smoother as the extra travel of the Fox shocks absorbed the bumps easily. It also stayed poised and controlled even though we just jumped the truck a few minutes ago.
I imagined at some point, some part of the Raptor’s suspension would likely give and we wouldn’t see the Raptor anymore after that day. I mean, it did just endure two full days of punishing terrain and rough off-road driving. Something was bound to give right?
To my surprise though, it actually went back to Metro Manila under its own power. In fact, it was even the lead car of our convoy heading back to Manila.
While I’m sure any other lifted and modified 4x4 could have done the same things we did, it's unlikely it would have done so at the same pace we were going. If so, something probably would have broken in the process. You could also order the same Fox shocks and running gear and fit on a standard 4x4 Ranger Wildtrak, but it still wouldn't be the same as driving a real Raptor.
That's because the Ranger Raptor has been developed for the purpose of fast off-road driving, much like it's bigger brother the F-150 Raptor. In fact, most of the changes to the suspension and even the body have been designed in order to make it capable of doing so over and over again without fail.
To that, I give credit to Ford for building a really tough performance truck deserving of the Raptor name. A truck ready to take on whatever terrain at speed, and come back home in one piece, ready to go at it again for another day. Or two.