We’re airborne. The nose of this Ford Ranger is starting to pitch down, and all that can be seen out of the windscreen is the ground we’re about to become intimately, painfully acquainted with. I brace myself, expecting a rough landing, potentially involving airbags exploding in my face.
And yet, as the chunky BF Goodrich tyres make contact with the sand once more, the dampers soak up the huge impact, and we’re back on our way to smash into the next obstacle. And smash into it at a speed which should really result in many things being broken.
The reason why we’re not sheepishly looking at a destroyed pick-up truck and making an awkward phone call to Ford is simple: this isn’t a normal Ranger. It’s a Ranger Raptor.
Unlike its F-150 Raptor big brother, this doesn’t have some powerful, many-cylindered engine under the bonnet. It has… a 2.0-litre inline-four diesel. It doesn’t have a hope of impressing in the powertrain department, but elsewhere, thankfully, Ford Performance has done things properly.
The 2.5-inch-think dampers are made by Fox Racing, a company that knows a thing or two about off-road badassery. Their fitting increases the damper travel at the front by 32 per cent, and by 18 per cent up back. The ladder frame has been extensively reinforced, so it can now take up to 1G of load. In other words, you can jump to your heart’s content, and it shouldn’t bend.
Ground clearance is up by 52mm, and for when that’s not quite enough, there’s a 2.3mm-thick high-strength steel bash plate to prevent you punching a hole in the sump. The track is wider, and to make the most of all of the above - plus those 33-inch all-terrain tyres - there are new driving modes, including one called ‘Baja’ which reduces electronic intervention to a minimum.
It’s when you’re in this mode and the Ranger Raptor is left in the regular rear-wheel drive configuration that it feels its best. Yes, traction in the high and low-range four-wheel drive settings is impressive and useful for digging your way through - say - deep sand or sloppy mud, but on much of the off-roady bits we were sent on at the Raptor launch in Morocco, it wasn’t necessary.
I suspect a Ranger Wildtrack would happily tackle 99 per cent of these trails without breaking a sweat, but with a key difference: you’d need to plod along carefully, wary of getting stuck or making an expensive mistake. In the Raptor, though, you can steam ahead and plough through every yump, rut and drop without a care in the world.
Well, you try - as you’re getting used to the sheer capability and the relentless abuse the Ranger Raptor can take, it’s hard not to wince, expecting something crunchy to happen. It doesn’t, of course.
When you’re making the most of the huge suspension travel, the compression of the dampers perhaps isn’t as soft as you might expect, but fast off-road driving in this thing isn’t all that uncomfortable either. You’re just happily bouncing along, laughing like an idiot, and sliding around every corner with a surprising amount of grace. For all its sophistication, the reality is inescapable: this is just a big toy, and that’s why it’s so easy to love.
That’s also why it’s easy to forgive the engine for being the weak link here. The 210bhp twin-turbo unit may offer 369lb ft of torque, but fighting against two and a half tonnes of pick-up, the thrust it provides feels only just adequate.
When you’re on road, the best you can hope for is a leisurely 10.5-second 0-62mph sprint. There’s little lag, at least, but when you’re flat out on rough terrain, the drone of the 2.0-litre lump quickly becomes unpleasant. For a such a silly car, this feels like far too sensible an engine.
There is a bigger problem with the Raptor, though, and it’s more fundamental. It’s the whole ethos of the car.
It’s not an easy sell. A weight increase of about 250kg eats into the gross payload, meaning it isn’t classed as a commercial vehicle. So even if you’re legitimately using it as such, you can’t get the VAT back like you can on all other Rangers.
All sounds very boring, but that’s important, as that means you have to shell out £48,784 (and 64 pence) for one of these, which is over £10,000 more than a Wildtrak with the same engine even without any tax-claiming shenanigans. The engineering and parts going into the Raptor do justify the premium, but there’s a big question mark over where you’d make the most out of the changes.
Ford will happily tell you the Raptor can handle rough stuff all the way up to its top speed of 105mph. I don’t doubt that, and it’s true that the faster you go, the more impressive the vehicle gets. But with most dedicated off-road play centres limiting you to low speeds, and charging along green lanes at a serious pace being a tad irresponsible, where are you supposed to get the most out of your Raptified Ranger?
It’s not the same as your average non-car person asking what the point is in a supercar that’ll nudge 200mph - there are track days and Vmax events aplenty to let loose in such vehicles. With the Ranger Raptor, it isn’t going to be as easy away from the fantasy land of a closed section of Moroccan coastline.
And although it’s very car-like to drive and nicely refined, therefore easy enough to daily, a compromise has to be made with the extra road noise and bumpier ride from those blocky tyres.
Not that this seems to be stopping people putting down deposits - from what we understand Ford shouldn’t have any issue shifting the circa-800 coming to the UK this year, and that’s probably down to the fact it just looks cool. It may not be as hench as the F-150 Raptor, but there’s a meanness to it which is made all the more satisfying knowing its bite is as strong as its bite. Engine aside, of course.
Perhaps the mere knowledge that it can do extraordinary things is enough. Maybe trundling down a country-road track at 20mph is sufficient, when you can fantasise about quadrupling the speed without the Raptor breaking a sweat.
All I know is, if I was in a position to buy one, even if that meant never getting anywhere near its capabilities, I probably still would.