Motoring

MOTORING

En-Raptor-ed: A desert date with Ford’s all-new off-road demon

En-Raptor-ed: A desert date with Ford’s all-new off-road demon
The all new Ford Raptor is the most powerful bakkie in South Africa. (Photo: FMCSA)

With its 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine, Ford’s new Raptor is the most powerful bakkie ever launched in SA.

I’ve never been a big fan of sand. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against it aesthetically – endless white beaches, vistas of golden dunes. In fact, some of the greatest poets have written pretty memorable lines about the substance… think Shelley’s Ozymandias:

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…”

Then there’s Eliot’s The Wasteland. When he read it to the royal family at Windsor Castle in the 1940s, Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI, apparently got the title wrong and referred to the poem as “The Desert”. Given all the many arid images of sand and “stony rubbish”, it was an easy mistake to make. 

From a distance, I concede that sand can be downright enigmatic. But there’s something about getting up close and personal with it, when it gets up your nose, in your ears, in your shoes and in your bed. So when I received an invite from Ford SA to spend three days in the Namibian desert with the all-new Ford Raptor – while deeply excited to experience this high-performance demon – I was also filled with trepidation at the thought of fine golden granules not only in my shoes but in my clutch.

Sand aside, I knew this was the kind of experience that should be on any self-respecting motoring journo’s bucket list.

“Get a grip,” I chastised myself. “You can’t decline this kind of invite because you’re an OCD, sand-phobic lunatic.” And so I went.

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Landing on the west coast of Namibia, along with a group of mainly male motoring scribes gung-ho for “the dunes” and kitted out in slip slops and shorts, we came face to face with our gleaming Raptor steeds in the parking lot of Walvis Bay airport.

The front end of the Raptor with huge F-O-R-D lettering on the grille. (Photo: FMCSA)

They were hard to miss, with the in-your-face F-O-R-D lettering spread across an enormous front grille. The huge sculpted bonnet, flanked by new Matrix LED lights with C-Clamp daytime running lights, screamed macho appeal. The flared wheel arches encasing 17-inch BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tyres added to its hardcore off-road stance, along with dual active exhaust pipes on its enormous rear.

In the cabin, the dude theme continued with a pair of heavily bolstered leather front seats, inspired by those you’d find in a fighter jet. It was hard to miss the all-new portrait-orientated tablet-style 12-inch touchscreen that dominates the cabin.

Fortunately, I’d made friends with Ford’s latest SYNC4 operating system on the launch of the new Ranger, which connects one to the intricate DNA of the Raptor, housing a menu of pages and pages of sophisticated drive assistance and off-road tech, including access to the front and rear electronic differential locks.

The 12-inch tablet-like touchscreen. (Photo: FMCSA)

To add to its off-road prowess, the Raptor’s requisite “drive mode” dial has been placed on the centre console, which allows the driver to toggle between 4A (automatic 4×4), 2H (rear-wheel-drive), 4 High and 4 Low. There was a lot of new stuff to get to grips with, including a two-speed transfer case, a 10-speed auto (paddle-shiftable) gearbox and all new suspension. 

Inside and out, it was clear that this new generation Raptor was something special – not just a rehashing of the old.

And so I took a deep inhale. I grasped the leather multifunction steering wheel, which brandishes a Raptor logo, in case you forgot you were sitting in one, and for the next three days I got to experience the gasp-worthy off-road capabilities of my steed… and a lot of sand.

The fighter jet-like front seats. (Photo: FMCSA)

The 2023 Raptor, first launched in 2009, has rightfully earned its reputation as the most powerful bakkie in SA, with its mighty 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6 engine, offering a whopping 292kW and 583Nm. The only other pickup on offer here that comes close is the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, with its 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine offering 209kW and 347Nm, and which costs about R200k more than the Ford.

(Of course, most diehard bakkie fans will be aware that the 2023 F-150 Raptor R which has not (yet) graced our shores is now considered the most powerful pickup Ford has built, with its supercharged V8 5.2-litre engine producing a mind-boggling 522kW.) But back to my V6 steed. 

Over the next three days, my Raptor – in permanent 4-wheel drive – would allow me to achieve heights I never dreamed I was capable of. The brilliant Fox Racing suspension developed by a team of truly talented engineers from Down Under, had my bakkie doing such outrageous things that I was left breathless.

The 2023 Ford Raptor in the Namibian dunes Credit: FMCSA

According to Ford, “The suspension is completely redesigned. All-new tough, lightweight aluminium upper and lower control arms, long-travel front and rear suspension and refined Watt’s link rear end have been designed to deliver more control across rough terrain at high speed.”

I got to experience just how good the FOX Live Valve dampers and the adaptable suspension were, which continuously adjust up to 500 times per second, (depending on the drive mode you’ve selected) to optimise performance during top-speed, hardcore off-roading.

I transmogrified into a Demon of the Dunes as I swooped and whooped across endless plains firmly encased in my fighter jet seat. I conquered skyscraper-high sand dunes at breakneck speed, scaled near-impossible-to-traverse rock faces and crawled down adrenalin-inducing drops, using my suite of electronic aids like Rock Crawl, Sand, Mud/Ruts and high-speed trail-bashing.

The all improved Fox Racing suspension in action. (Photo: FMCSA)

During the few times we drove on “normal” roads, the Raptor behaved like a sophisticated super-comfy – albeit thirsty – SUV. (At a claimed 11.5l/100km, but likely to be more, depending on how you drive it, don’t expect to get change at the fuel station.)

After three days in the Namib with no Wi-Fi, mobile coverage or any link to the outside world, sweating in daytime temperatures reaching close to 40oC, time distorted like a watch in a Dalí painting.

The 2023 Ford Raptor in the Namibian dunes. (Photo: FMCSA)

The night skies were unforgettable. On the final evening, as I lay on a dune staring into the vast black silence, I realised that this experience had encompassed much more than driving a high-performance bakkie. I’d pushed myself to the edge of my limits and discovered internal strengths and weaknesses that had, up to now, been hidden. 

Desert Places by Robert Frost came to mind: 

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Although there were fine golden granules coating every inch of my body – the inside of my pup tent looked like something you’d see at Plett Rage – I had by this stage surrendered to the sand. I was truly en-Raptor-ed.

PRICE: 

Ford Ranger Raptor – R1,094,900

The new Ford Ranger Raptor is sold with a 4-year/120,000 km warranty. A service plan is not included. DM

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