• Some graphic enhancements for the ultimate Ranger.
• Beyond the slight change in exterior detailing, the core Raptor specification remains unchanged.
• This is a double-cab that can do things that its rivals simply can't.
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Ford has changed the sticker kit on its Ranger Raptor and made its recovery points red.
If you have always desired a milder graphic design treatment for your Raptor, the Special Edition obliges. At R965 300. You also get a lockable loadbox roller-shutter for added security and dust-proofing when transporting things in the back.
Testing the value of a new sticker kit is problematic. I am not a graphic designer or vehicle detailing specialist. Luckily, Ford decided that one of the country's steepest mountain trails and its longest gravel road would serve best to reinforce the inherent capability of Raptor.
After a few days of driving around the Western Cape's most spectacular terrain, slowly and at speed, the Raptor SE's ability to do what other bakkies can't was comprehensively demonstrated.
In low-range, engine power doesn't really matter
Unique vehicles are often tragically misunderstood. Raptor is one of them. Since its introduction, the court of public opinion has been obsessed with cross-examining the engine specification.
READ | We have SA pricing and specifications for Ford's new Ranger Raptor Special Edition
Raptor's 2-litre bi-turbodiesel has been called into question for being too small. The bakkie is heavier than a comparable Ranger double-cab, powered by the same engine, making it slower. But speed is relative.
In steep and technical off-road terrain, where passengers often prefer getting out and walking instead of edging along in the cabin, speeds are low. Very low. And power outputs matter a lot less. A case in point is Toyota's legendary SFA Hilux range of the late 1980s, which had 70kW, but could crawl up the steepest off-road trails.
Raptor is designed to be the most off-road capable double-cab bakkie you can buy. A title long held by Toyota's Land Cruiser 79 – which is also, anything but fast, on the highway.
Once you engage low-range, all that matters is engine torque, wheel travel, compression damping and tyre size. These are the elements that conquer treacherous off-road terrain. Kilowatts become largely irrelevant.
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Where suspension spec is superior to engine spec
The Raptor is mainly imagined as high-speed gravel travel and dune driving double-cab, but its rock crawling ability is prodigious.
Routing up that majestic southern slope of the Du Toitskloof valley, Waboomsrust is a testing 4x4 trail. Slow, steep and rocky. Exactly the venue where Raptor SE excels.
Experienced 4x4 drivers know that A-pillar grab handles serve a genuine purpose on rocky trails. Those who ignore the usefulness of a grab handle are painfully reminded of its function after knocking their head against cabin side glass.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Raptor SE's ability is how irrelevant it makes the traditional cabin grab handle. Those Fox dampers absorb so much of the terrain shape that even rolling up or down the worst rock fields; you float across obstacles. And never have that unpleasant lateral jolt that makes the unweary headbutt a side window.
READ | Ford officially launches Ranger Raptor Special Edition in SA - here's what you should know
There is no other double-cab 4x4 bakkie with nearly the same ride comfort level when navigating challenging trails. A Defender SUV on air-suspension comes close, but the Raptor manages to it on fixed analogue suspension.
All the stance – and none of the instability
Raptor SE's 283mm of ground clearance enables you to be bold with line choice across rocky features when the trail narrows. You'll never snag anything.
Traction is immense, too, thanks to those huge General Grabber AT3s, sized 285/70, on forged 17-inch alloy wheels.
Vehicles with massive ground clearance and large-volume tyres can be nervous at speed. The increased centre of gravity has real consequences. To prove Raptor SE's stability, Ford routed us up and over the Katbakkies pass into the vast nothingness that is the Tankwa Karoo.
Most gravel travel adventurers and Afrikan Burn attendees know the R355. This is South Africa's longest dirt road, routing between Ceres and Calvinia.
In a Raptor SE, the R355, which has a deserved reputation as a tyre-eating gravel road, becomes nothing more than a dusty highway. Cruising at 120km/h is a remarkably untroubled experience on the R355 in a Raptor.
Theoretically, the Raptor SE should not be that stable on a gravel road at highway speeds. Its centre of gravity is too high.
Ford's masterstroke widened the standard Ranger's track, added the Everest's Watts-link suspension at the rear, and used a small engine. Yes. The Raptor 2-litre engine makes a difference to its overall vehicle stability.Smaller dimensions allow Ford to mount the 2.0-litre engine low and further behind the front axle than would be the case with a V6 or V8 for better weight distribution.
The Fox suspension bits have incredible bump absorption. From smoothing those tiny corrugations to calmly floating over gravel road crests flanked by warning signs, only SUVs with air-suspension come remotely close to rivalling Raptor's off-road ride quality.
So what about the tyre change?
Speed is relative. The Raptor SE isn't a fast bakkie. It's no VW Amarok V6 rival. But where other bakkies start to slow due to terrain, the Raptor comes into its own.
The General Grabber tyres are a notable specification detail of the local Raptor range, showing Ford South Africa's product awareness.
Raptor originally entered our market on BF Goodrichs, but South African Raptors changed to General Grabbers earlier this year. Why?
The reality is that Raptor owners will tally most of their driving distance on tar. And the General Grabber have a slightly lower acoustic resonance when rolling along, reducing road noise fatigue. They also deliver a lower probability of chirping wheelspin on wet tarmac.
It is fastest – where it needs to be
Ranger Raptor SE is a bakkie that can only be understood beyond the context of other double-cabs. Its off-road ability is in the realm of a new Defender, Land Cruiser 300 or Gelandenwagen. And in some instances, beyond the ability of all three.
Speed is relative. But when you roll from tarmac to gravel, there isn't another vehicle that can sustain the combination of speed, comfort and control quite like a Raptor.
And it does all of this without the added maintenance burden and failure risk of air-suspension.