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I'm Not Sure We Need a Ford Ranger Raptor

Popular Mechanics logo Popular Mechanics 6/13/2019 Ezra Dyer
a red and black truck sitting on top of a car: The standard Ranger is probably more than you ever need off-road.© Ezra Dyer The standard Ranger is probably more than you ever need off-road.

The standard Ranger is probably more than you ever need off-road.

Engine: 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder, 275 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 10-speed automatic with two-speed transfer case in 4x4 models
EPA Fuel economy: (4x4) 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Tow Rating: 7,500 pounds
Ground Clearance: 8.9 inches
Base price: $26,140

It seems inevitable that Ford will build a Raptor version of the new Ranger. After all, the full-size F-150 Raptor is a hit, and Chevy makes the ZR2 version of the Colorado, which would be a Ranger Raptor's natural foil. Also: they already build a Ranger Raptor for other markets. So I'm sure we'll get a Ranger with flared fenders, bigger tires, and suspension that looks like it was pilfered from a SCORE Trophy Truck somewhere outside Ensenada.

The question is, do we need such a thing? And the answer, I daresay, is no.

Research the Ford Ranger on MSN Autos

The F-150 was designed from the outset for the American market, and thus the American truck-driver's daily habits-haulin', towin', commutin'. Off-roading is low on the hierarchy of priorities for standard-issue F-150s. And thus the Raptor treatment renders a huge difference in the character of the truck, reorienting it toward the dirt rather than the pavement.

But the Ranger is an international product, one that arrived here by happenstance-namely, Ford eyeballing the sales numbers for the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and the GM midsize trucks and deciding they needed a player in that game, stat. And in the rest of the world, people buy 4x4 pickup trucks because they need the off-road capabilities of a 4x4 pickup truck, not because they need maximum visibility for their Salt Life stickers.

The Ranger is designed accordingly. It's tall, with trim approach and departure angles, and long-legged suspension with lots of travel. The standard Ranger 4x4's 8.9 inches of ground clearance matches that of the gnarly ZR2's. The Ranger looks like something a Costa Rican llama farmer would drive, and I mean that in the best possible way.

a group of people riding on the back of a truck: They grow up so fast.© Ezra Dyer They grow up so fast.

I drove two Rangers, a Lariat and an XLT with the $1,295 FX4 package. The FX4 is the more off-road-oriented model, with skid plates and a locking rear differential. The Lariat is posher, although in the context of a Ranger that mainly means shiny wheels on the outside and old-school Ford dinosaur leather inside. Because I play by nobody's rules but my own, I did on-road tasks with the FX4 and went off-road with the Lariat.

a close up of a screen: Take it easy on the throttle and it’s more Eco than Boost: 28.5 mpg on this stint.© Ezra Dyer Take it easy on the throttle and it’s more Eco than Boost: 28.5 mpg on this stint.

On-road first: I like the Ranger's powertrain better than anyone else's. A V6 Colorado might barely beat it in a straight drag race, but the Ranger's 2.3-liter turbo four and 10-speed transmission feel far more relaxed than the Chevy's high-winding six. The Ranger is so quiet on the highway that you notice its quietness and remark upon it. You can get the Ranger with both adaptive cruise and lane-keeping, two great features that still seem like rarities even on fully loaded full-size trucks. And the Ranger gets killer fuel economy, at least if the truck's own computer can be believed-I saw 28.5 mpg on a 40-minute back-road drive.

Speaking of fuel economy, the Ranger runs on regular unleaded and its power output (275 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of torque) is rated on regular. But, this being an EcoBoost engine, if you run premium fuel, the engine will take advantage and make more power. I tried it both ways, and 93 octane makes a noticeable difference, if you're towing or heading to the neighborhood drag strip. I towed a 4,000-pound boat and the Ranger was a honey badger-it didn't care.

The tow rating is 7,500 pounds, which is kind of incredible. I think the 1995 F-350 diesel that I bought years ago was rated for around 10,000 pounds.

a red vintage car parked in a field: Log on.© Ezra Dyer Log on.

Now to the Lariat, which I subjected to some off-road feats of derring do. This truck didn't have the locking rear diff, but it still scampered up steep embankments and walked up over a log with no issue. At one point, I got out to check out the rear axle articulation and nearly fell out of the truck, because with the axles crossed up, the cab was more than two feet off the ground-and all four tires were still planted.

Would a Ranger Raptor be even better? I'd assume so. But even the most box-stock Ranger 4x4 is going to go places you probably don't need to go-and maybe even a few that a wide-body desert-racer couldn't. So, sure, we might want a Ranger Raptor, but we definitely don't need it.

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