Most (if not all) of us are used to driving amidst streets backed up like toilets.
That’s just the reality of urban life: anytime we step out of our homes and take a drive, we’re faced with traffic, traffic, and more traffic. But what if after years of nothing but traffic, you’re suddenly looking at a wide expanse of nothing, and in a truck that can -nee, designed and engineered- to drive through it fast?
That’s exactly what it’s like to drive in the Australian outback, and even better, we drove it with the Ford Ranger Raptor.
Everyone knows Sydney. The Opera House is extremely photogenic, and it comes as no surprise that a photo with that building in the background is quite popular as a profile picture on Facebook. Touring this city is indeed a treat, and perfect if you've got the time to walk around and really explore the many nooks and crannies around the urban center. A word of warning though: if you want to eat at the Opera Bar, be wary of the seagulls; they're quite aggressive when they see food.
But Sydney is still a major city; a big cosmopolitan one at that, and driving there would be no different from any other big urban area. But what sets Australia apart is the outback.
Generally, the outback is the term they use for the inland portion of Australia. It's different from what's known as the “bush”; the areas immediately around the cities. If you look at a map (or Google Earth) the outback is the dry, almost desolate region in the middle of the Australian continent, and it's vast.
To get a taste of the outback we had to go further, all the way to Darwin in northwest Australia. This place isn’t at the top of the many places to visit on the vast island known as Australia, but you have to love the vibe and feel of it. The most apparent similarity has to be with Miami.
We didn't come here to be tourists, as Ford tossed us the keys to the Ranger Raptor; a special version of their global pick-up truck.
Ford pumped up the look of the standard Ranger to create the Raptor. They did this through the use of special wide body panels for the fenders, the big FORD grille, the taller ride height, beefier stepboards, decals and badges, so on and so forth.
Despite its appearances, the Raptor isn't just about looks. This is a true performance truck, one that can take on deserts with ease. Ford picked an engine that's quite new: a 2.0-liter twin turbodiesel motor. If it sounds odd, it's because the Ranger we've come to know has come with either a 3.2-liter or a 2.2-liter motor. Worry not though: thanks to twin turbochargers, the Raptor is more powerful and has more torque than the old 3.2 we're familiar with. And they matched it with a new 10 speed automatic gearbox.
We set off from Darwin and headed out onto the motorway; there's a fair bit of driving to do before we even set a tire on what is the “authentic” Aussie outback. You have to love the thrust of the new engine and gearbox combo, but on the road, the Raptor was already revealing its first surprise: it's superbly comfortable.
The key to that unexpected trait is the fact that Ford, together with Fox Racing Shox, have worked to produce a new suspension system for the Ranger Raptor. With larger shocks that have longer suspension travel, the Raptor is able to absorb the road more effectively, turning what is normally an uncomfortable drive into a sublime one. It's great on asphalt or concrete, but we're about to put it to the test on the much more demanding Aussie outback.
A lot of the Australian landscape is occupied by these properties called stations, which is their term for a cattle ranch. There is, however, one big difference: the Aussie concept of a cattle ranch (or cattle station) is much larger than many of us can imagine. It's not surprising for a single cattle station to have larger acreage than most small countries. One such property will be our destination for the drive: it's called Tipperary Station.
The sheer scale of the location is daunting. When we headed up one hill for a more traditional off-road driving exercise, we were told that if we drove the Raptors as far as the eye can see in any direction from that hilltop, we'll still be within the property. Actually, even if we went beyond the mountains in one direction, we still wouldn't have left Tipperary either. It comes as no surprise that the Aussie “cowboys” use helicopters to herd cattle. But maybe they can try out the Ranger Raptor instead.
While it's still a Ford Ranger, the enhancements to the suspension enable the Raptor version to sit higher off the ground. As it stands, the Ranger Raptor has an extra 50 millimeters (thereabouts) of ground clearance; what this means is that this truck won't have too many problems getting past most obstacles. And if you have to traverse rocks, hills, or even mountains, the approach angle of 32.5 degrees means you won't be bashing that bumper too often as you enter inclines. If you do, you can rest assured that the engine is protected with reinforced bash plates.
Perhaps the best thing about the Ranger Raptor, something that became apparent over hours of driving it, is that the truck is simply exceptional to drive hard. Ford made sure that the Raptor name isn't just some kind of marketing jargon, and that it's backed up by true performance credentials. Of course, being a truck that's inspired by the larger F-150 Raptor, that was expected.
The powertrain performs well; it's not quick given the diesel engine, but power delivery is smooth and there's plenty of torque. What I did like was the presence of a system that allows the driver to pick the mode to drive in. Casual driving isn't a problem, but it's when you start driving it fast off-road that it comes alive thanks to Baja mode.
So named after the famed Baja Rally in the Mexican desert, this drive mode is best enjoyed on places with sand dunes or a tricky, fast trail. Baja mode will allow quite a bit of drifting in the dirt, magnifying that smile on your face the more you drive sideways.
But what we really enjoyed was how surprisingly graceful it is. The Fox-tuned suspension (which we noted for comfort over tarmac) enables the Raptor to practically glide gracefully over bumpy terrain that can easily churn body fat to become butter. If you watch it taking on the Aussie outback at speed, you'll see how the suspension works to keep the truck planted on the ground by keeping the tires on the terrain, and not launch the Raptor into the air. If you do get airborne, worry not: the Raptor is built to handle it.
Ford wanted to do the Raptor name justice with the Ranger. The name, after all, is derived after birds of prey. Falcons, hawks, and eagles are all technically raptors. So no, it's not named after a dinosaur.
The grace (and comfort) with which it tackles fast off-road driving on the outback, the fun factor of how it powerslides around dirt, and the overall looks of the Ranger Raptor tell us that they've truly got a winner. The Ranger Raptor is something we can drive every day in traffic, something we can enjoy as we make our escape to the countryside, and maybe make a few off-road detours to kick up some sand along the way.
How long does it take to get to the dunes of Ilocos now?
Photos by Vince Pornelos and Ford