With traditional passenger car sales in decline, what constitutes a performance vehicle is something that’s been consistently changing in recent years. For every fast sedan or coupe out there now, I’d guarantee the same brand is shifting a slew more hotted-up SUVs for each one they sell. What’s been missing from our market, though, is a proper performance ute – after all, the light commercial vehicle segment is the strongest-selling in Australia.
The old Ford Ranger Raptor was the first ute to have a crack at it here, but let’s be honest, it wasn’t the full quid. It might’ve had a pillowy ride and impressive off-road capability thanks to jacked-up coil-spring suspension, but with a tiny 2.0-litre diesel engine it was lacking under the bonnet.
But that’s where this all-new Ranger Raptor comes in. Building on the off-road enhancements the old model brought, Ford has now addressed the elephant in the room and finally turned it into a proper performance ute thanks to a big twin-turbo V6 under the bonnet that’s fuelled by petrol rather than diesel. It’s already so popular there’s a two-year waitlist to get one, but is it worth that wait? That’s what I wanted to find out.
There’s no denying that the Ranger Raptor looks like something you’d expect a five-year-old to dream up, but that’s part of its brilliance. When finished in the Code Orange hero colour like my tester, it looks fun in a way that any car-loving adult who was once a car-loving kid can surely appreciate.
With chunky BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tyres fitted to a set of 17-inch wheels, meaty grey fender flares, and a boxy new front bumper with bold ‘FORD’ lettering that brings it in-line with America’s larger F-150 Raptor, it might be childish but it’s undoubtedly a winner. As a lover of decals, I only wish this one had the additional graphics package added for full effect, although the standard Raptor branding on the sides of the tub at least let people know just what this is. There’s also a set of bead-locking wheels available for those who are serious about their off-roading, too.
The interior has also been given a thorough revamp relative to the standard Ranger, with Code Orange highlights scattered throughout, a wonderfully sculpted steering wheel that screams performance, and a set of supportive bucket seats complete with more Raptor branding.
Being positioned at the top of the Ford Ranger lineup, the Raptor comes complete with all the available bells and whistles including a 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster with an array of configurable performance dials, a 12.0-inch portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, and wireless phone charging.
Truthfully, with how well equipped the Raptor is, it’s more like driving a luxury vehicle on a daily basis rather than a rugged ute that could tackle any surface you can think of. The interior fit and finish is about as good as you could ever imagine seeing in a ute, while the Ranger’s tech is miles ahead of what you’d find in any other vehicle in the class.
Mind you, the Raptor does lose some of the standard Ranger’s capabilities due to its off-road ready suspension. It might be built for any terrain, but it isn’t built for hauling big loads – payload falls to just 717kg, which is 195kg less than in the next model down, the Ranger Platinum, while maximum braked towing capacity falls from 3500kg to 2500kg.
However, those figures do make it more of a workhorse than, say, a family SUV – an important consideration given how many Aussies buy utes as family cars. It does also come as standard with a tough spray-in bed liner, lighting in the tray to illuminate it at night, and a handy ruler and clamp mounting points on the tailgate. Do be aware, though, that optioning on a tonneau cover, which for some reason isn’t standard, removes the spray-in bed liner and replaces it with a drop-in plastic one, so you may wish to go aftermarket. I’m surprised there’s no sports bar either as it would round out the Raptor’s looks.
But interior luxuries and payload figures aren’t really the main draw of the Raptor – not even close to it if we’re being honest. No, the Raptor is all about what’s going on under the skin and what that allows it to do. Certainly, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine gives it a significant advantage over most utes out there with a mammoth 292kW on offer at 5650rpm along with 583Nm at 3500rpm. Ford hasn’t released a 0-100km/h claim, but the results of independent testing puts it in the high five-second region. For comparison, the last-gen diesel-powered Raptor took over 10 seconds.
In a word, this engine is beastly. Although it’s a touch sluggish off the mark with a fair dose of turbo lag to contend with, from around the 3000rpm mark it simply hunkers this 2475kg ute down and rockets it forward with an uninhibited amount of thrust. I’m not entirely convinced by the noise it makes – it’s unquestionably loud, but rather pitchy being a V6 – but the performance is no joke. As bizarre as it is to imagine, this genuinely feels like a proper performance car trapped inside a dual cab body.
Backing this monstrous power plant is a 10-speed automatic transmission which is accompanied by a set of big magnesium paddle shifters on the steering wheel, along with selectable full-time four-wheel drive (with 2H, 4A, 4H, and 4L modes). Thanks to the availability of all-paw traction on all surfaces, the Ranger doesn’t struggle to put its power down on any surface; it makes gravel roads feel racetrack smooth and drag strip tractable, with it kicking up no fuss when you plant your right foot in it on the loose stuff.
Part of that off-road proficiency does come from its unique suspension setup, though, which sees the Raptor swap out the standard leaf-sprung rear axle swapped out for a Watt’s link equipped rear end with coil springs, while Fox Racing shock absorbers are fitted at all four corners. The chassis also features reinforced strut tower mounts along with new upper and lower control arms, all of which adds up to make it seriously capable when it comes to tackling the rough stuff.
Ground clearance jumps from 234mm to 272mm thanks to the increase in height, while its wading depth also increases from 800mm to 850mm. Its approach (32 degrees), departure (25 degrees), and breakover (24 degrees) clearance angles also increase notably thanks to it.
What’s unfortunate is that its off-road proficiency doesn’t translate quite so well onto sealed roads. While it’s ride quality is superb on gravel and still fine on tarmac, it doesn’t offer the magic carpet ride of its predecessor with it feeling terse at times. The chunky all-terrain tyres also hamstring its braking and cornering performance. It might have four-wheel disc brakes, but it takes longer than you might expect to come to a halt, while through corners – or even a roundabout on a rainy day – there’s a considerable amount of understeer to contend with which is all down to the rubber.
There are some welcome performance-focused settings to help dial it in to your tastes, though, with a range of seven pre-programmed drive modes including the all-out Baja mode for flamboyant off-road driving, an individual drive mode that can be configured through the instrument cluster, and buttons right on the steering wheel for toggling between steering, suspension, and exhaust modes independently.
As in the standard Ranger, I think the 10-speed auto is smooth enough but simply has too many gears, but the magnesium paddles on the back of the steering wheel that control it are fabulously tactile and a great sight better than the fiddly shift buttons used in other variants. However, with that many gears on offer, trying to downshift for a sudden burst of acceleration will see you having to tediously flick down through half a dozen ratios before you get to the gear you’re after.
As you might expect from a 2.5-tonne vehicle with a twin-turbo V6 and constant four-wheel drive, fuel economy is far from amazing as well. I saw 14.3L/100km over 720km of testing, but in city traffic expect it to climb to 17 or higher. Plus, you’ll only get its maximum power outputs from top-tier premium unleaded.
Does any of that detract from how fun the Raptor is to drive? Absolutely not. Not even in the slightest. Without question, this is one of the most entertaining vehicles on the road, and how could it not be? It’s the closest many will come to driving the Tonka trucks they played with as a kid. It’s a vehicle that genuinely feels like it could do almost anything you demanded of it – other than perhaps arriving at a funeral without looking like a berk.
But then, when it’s priced at $86,790 before on-road costs – almost $10k more than the similarly-equipped Platinum model – it better be as versatile as this is since that’s no small stack of change. Factor in drive-away costs as well and it’s nearing a six-digit sum, and even then, there’s currently a waitlist stretching to over two years in much of Australia, so it needs to be worth the wait as well.
The Raptor is worth the money and the wait, though. It might have its minor flaws, but none too major. It might be a bit showy and obnoxious, but it’s fun and hilarious. If it were a person in a pub, it’d be the crass jokester you’d buy a drink for. If it were an athlete, it’d be the one who talked a big game but backed it up on the field. If it were a pet, it would be playful and bit silly but it’d always cheer you up and put a smile on your face.
I would, however, pose the question to some interested buyers whether a Ranger Platinum would be a better bet. Given the big savings, similar list of interior luxuries, and its torquier and more efficient diesel V6, it might be a better bet for those who are looking to tow and carry more while going off-road less – an important consideration given many Raptors remain immaculately clean despite the purpose it was built for.
But the Raptor is a tremendous vehicle, and to anyone who wants one – whether openly or somewhat guiltily – I absolutely get it. Vehicles like this won’t be around forever, so get one while, if, or when you can. Oh, and ask for it in orange – why get a boring colour?
2023 Ford Ranger Raptor List Price: $86,790
- Performance - 9/109/10
- Ride & Handling - 8/108/10
- Tech & Features - 9/109/10
- Practicality - 7.5/107.5/10
- Value for Money - 7.5/107.5/10
Pros: Incredible performance for a dual cab ute, supple ride and tractable power delivery on gravel, equipped like a luxury vehicle inside, unmistakable bold looks
Cons: All-terrain tyres lead to understeer on sealed roads, payload and towing capacity are down considerably, unsurprisingly thirsty, it’s not what you’d call subtle
In a nutshell: It might be bold, brash, and a little bit childish, but the 2023 Ford Ranger Raptor is incredibly easy to love. With a proper twin-turbo V6 engine under the bonnet, it now has the performance it always should’ve had, while its impressive off-road chops carry over from the last-gen model. It might be pricey and hard to get your hands on, but it’s easy to see why it’s worth it.
Photography by Marcus Cardone.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Ford Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.