The Ford F-150 Raptor was revolutionary. It was the first time any automaker took a stock pickup truck and made it capable of driving 100 MPH over the desert floor, ascending insanely steep dunes, smoothly landing high jumps, climbing gnarly rocks, and just driving around town doing errands. It’s won Baja 1000 races, and though the Ram TRX and smaller Chevy Colorado ZR2 and Jeep Gladiator Mojave have all tried encroaching upon the Raptor’s space, the reality is: The F-150 Raptor is still considered the king of the desert. Then there’s the Ford Bronco Raptor, possibly the most all-around capable off-road vehicle ever made. And the only reason why I’m including the qualifier “possibly” has to do with the vehicle’s enormity, which precludes it from traveling certain tight trails. Aside from that, though, it has desert-bashing skills eclipsed only by the F-150 Raptor, and rock-crawling skills eclipsed only by…possibly no one. The Jeep Wrangler might have a tiny edge there, but it’s way worse in the desert.
The breadth of the Bronco Raptor’s off-road chops cannot be overstated: It is an engineering marvel, and will be a future classic. But what about the new Ranger? Will it live up to the Raptor name by offering game-changing levels of off-road capability for the masses? After crawling under it for a few moments, and looking at its specs compared to the competition, I don’t think it will, at least not right out of the gate. Here’s why.
Let me be clear and say I’m not trying to rain on the new Ford Ranger Raptor’s parade. The thing is going to be an incredible off-road platform, it’s going to sell like crazy, and in some ways I do think it will change the off-road game by filling the role that the $50,000 F-150 SVP Raptor filled back in 2014-ish: It’s going to be a reasonably affordable starting point for awesome off-road builds. The Ranger Raptor will start at $56,960, which is much, much less than the ~$77,000 F-150 Raptor and ~$85,000 Bronco Raptor. Expect to see these mid-size machines everywhere.
But despite the fact that they will be popular, and that we’ll see them doing some amazing stuff off-road before we know it (see video above), I do not think that a stock Ford Ranger Raptor will offer game-changing levels of capability like the F-150 Raptor and Bronco Raptor did when they debuted. Those two stiff-arm the competition and remain in classes of their own, whereas the Ranger Raptor is coming late to a crowded segment, and frankly, it doesn’t really distinguish itself from the rest on the spec sheet. Here, let me explain what I mean.
If you’ve read my off-road reviews before, you know I always start with this: A vehicle’s single most important off-road attribute is favorable geometry. To hell with locking diffs, skid plates, and meaty tires if you don’t have good ground clearance in the right places; a decent approach, departure, and breakover angle; and a reasonable overall size. So let’s look at those, shall we?
Let’s start with approach angle, which I knew as soon as I looked at the Ranger Raptor in Michigan was not going to be impressive. Look at how low to the ground this chin sits:
Look at the photo above that one, and you might come to the same conclusion that I did when I first saw the truck’s side profile: Man those tires look a bit small. I realize the 33s are the same size as those of much of the competition, and yet because so much of the bodywork appears low to the ground, those meats look small. Here, let me see if removing the running boards helps:
Okay, that’s significantly better, but it doesn’t solve that issue I noticed up front — that chin is low, and the result is an approach angle of only 33 degrees. By comparison, the Chevy Colorado ZR2’s approach angle is 38.3, the Jeep Gladiator Mojave’s is 44.7, and the Tacoma TRD Pro’s is 36.4.
This matters because approach angle is arguably the single most important number on an off-roader’s spec sheet — even more so than ground clearance (one you get to a certain point), breakover angle, and departure angle. Lots of ground clearance will get you over things, but unless the terrain you’re traveling is a perfectly flat desert with nine-inch-diameter rocks strewn throughout, you’re going to have to go on uneven terrain. And if you can’t get your front tires onto a slope without bashing your face into it, you’re stuck. You will go no farther. That’s not the case with a poor breakover angle or departure angle — so long as you’ve got your front tires onto something, you can often use momentum to drag your belly or your rear hitch as you ascend or descend a steep slope.
Speaking of breakover angles, the Ranger Raptor’s is 24.2, which compares favorably to the Jeep Gladiator’s pathetic 20.9 degree figure. By the way, just to show how big of a problem a low breakover angle can be, watch this. This is why I said “often use momentum to drag your belly):
Anyway, the Tacoma TRD Pro’s 26.6 degree breakover angle leads the pack, while the Colorado ZR2 comes in second, besting the Ranger Raptor by 0.4 degrees at 24.6. As for departure angle, the Ranger Raptor’s 26.4 degree figure is at the top of the class, defeating the Gladiator’s 25.5, the Colorado ZR2’s 25.1, and the Tacoma’s 24.7. The Gladiator takes the win on ground clearance at 11.6 inches; the Colorado ZR2 and Ranger Raptor come in second at 10.7 inches, and the Tacoma is in third at 9.4 inches.
As for size, the Ranger is shorter in length than its competitors, but it’s much wider. Only the ZR2 comes close in width, and at 5,298 pounds it is just 27 pounds lighter than the heavyweight Ranger Raptor. Here’s a breakdown:
Maybe it’s close enough that it’s not a huge deal; the Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2 also feature rather low front bash plates. In any case, the Ranger Raptor is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to geometry.
The Ford Ranger’s underbody protection is great – not perfect, but great. Check out the ribbed fuel tank skid plate in the photo above; the ribs give it more stiffness so it won’t bend or dent when it bashes against a rock (this was a major issues with JK Wranglers, whose fuel tank skid plates were flat).
Here you can see the dogleg-shaped transfer case skid plate coming off the back of the K-shaped transmission crossmember and bolting to the driver’s side frame rail:
Then up front, just aft of the rather low-hanging front bash plate is a nice steel plate protecting the front differential and the steering rack:
Unfortunately, just aft of that front axle skid plate is the transmission oil pan, which is unprotected and made of nylon. It’s the waffle-textured rectangular shape in the images below:
That transmission oil pan is fairly well tucked away between that front skid plate/member and the K-shaped member; I suppose if the truck dropped down on something that was just the wrong shape, that could be a problem, but it seems unlikely.
I’m not likely going to find usable underbody skid plate imagery of the Tacoma TRD Pro and new Colorado ZR2, but the Gladiator’s skid plate coverage is shown above. There’s protection for the fuel tank and transfer case, and there’s a thin crossmember protecting the steel transmission oil pan (there’s also a small metal bar running horizontally in the image above between that crossmember and the transmission crossmember to which the transfer case skid plate mounts, though it’s not highlighted). There’s no coverage for the engine, though the engine sits just above the axle tube, and is unlikely to experience significant impacts.
Compared to the Gladiator, which is the rock-crawling standard of the segment, the Ranger Raptor’s underbody protection definitely looks competitive. I personally would want to bolt at least one metal bar from the front axle skid plate back to the center of the K-shaped crossmember, just to be safe for that transmission pan, but it’d probably be fine either way.
Traction And Gearing
The Ford Ranger Raptor has 33-inch all-terrain tires that will all spin at exactly the same speed when the vehicle’s front and rear differentials are locked. The Colorado ZR2 and Jeep Gladiator both feature front and rear lockers as well (the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro offers only a rear locker), plus they’re also spinning 33-inch all-terrain tires (the Tacos are just 31-inches in diameter).
Traction also depends on getting tires onto the ground, and as far as suspension articulation, we just don’t know yet. It’s almost a certainty that the Gladiator will have the highest Ramp Travel Index score due to its solid front axle, but it sacrifices high-speed off-road capability for that thanks to a solid axle’s unsprung mass, among other things. How the Ranger, with its coil-sprung Watt’s link in the rear compares to the ZR2, I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out. That coil spring setup should offer more flex than the ZR2’s leaf spring design.
While we’re talking about axles, let’s discuss gearing, which is important for low-speed technical off-roading. The Ranger Raptor has a crawl ratio of 67.88:1. That figure is a product of its first gear ratio, its transfer cases’s low range low range, and its axle ratio, and it represents how many times the engine’s torque is multiplied by the time it gets to the wheels. High crawl ratios mean the vehicle can confidently crawl up extremely steep grades without having to rev the engine for more power, and thus speeding the vehicle up (which you may not want to do in a risky, technical scenario). The Tacoma TRD Pro has a crawl ratio of just 36, the Colorado ZR2’s is 42.1, and the Wrangler’s is 77. So the Ranger Raptor does quite well on that front, especially given that its engine makes so much more torque to begin with.
If there’s one area that the Ford Ranger Raptor does decimate the competition, its power. With 405 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque from its 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6, the vehicle out-powers the Colorado ZR2 by 95 horsepower, though the torque figures match up exactly. The Jeep Gladiator 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is the torque king at 442 lb-ft, though that motor only puts out 269 ponies. The Gladiator’s standard 3.6-liter V6 makes 285 horsepower, 260 lb-ft. Finally, the Tacoma’s 3.5-liter V6 makes 278 horsepower, 265 lb-ft of torque.
Off-road, horsepower is rarely the name of the game, except when you’re bashing up steep dunes. Even though the Ranger Raptor is the heaviest of the lot, it still wins the power:weight ratio by a huge margin, so on the dunes, and in races, it will likely crush the rest of these mid-sizers, even though I don’t expect it to be that fast. After all, 410 horsepower isn’t a lot in 2023, especially when you’re saddled with 5,300 pounds to move around. The Ford Bronco Raptor does weigh 400 pounds more, but it has a 13-horsepower stronger version of that 3.0-liter, and it goes from zero to 60 mph in about 6.3 seconds according to Motor Trend. I expect this Ranger Raptor will get that time down into the high fives, which is fine, and great for the class, but not amazing.
The biggest deal when it comes to Ford Raptors is the suspension, and on that front, the vehicle has been thoroughly altered compared to non-Raptor Rangers, especially at the rear. Up front, what you see looks like a fairly typical double-wishbone suspension, though Ford says the knuckles are new, the control arms are new, and the Fox shocks are obviously unique to the Raptor. Ford also says the shock towers have been reenforced; though it’s a little hard to see in my images below. As Ford puts it:
Ranger Raptor is built on a beefy foundation, taking Ranger’s fully boxed frame up a notch by reinforcing the front frame rails, front shock towers, rear shock brackets, suspension mounting points, and other key areas so Ranger Raptor can handle more punishing off-road conditions.
For reference, here’s how the non-Raptor’s front suspension looks:
Out back is where things really change. The standard Ford Ranger’s rear suspension basically consists of a stick axle held to the truck via two leaf springs, which run fore-aft parallel to the car’s length — one on each side of the axle, attached to each frame rail in two locations. Those two leaf springs act as 1. Springs. 2. The fore-aft constraint for the axle and 3. The lateral constraint for the axle. That’s a lot of jobs for just two parts, but that’s really all it takes to create a truck suspension: Two leaf springs and two shocks (which — new for 2024, are mounted outboard of the springs, improving “motion ratio” — basically, making it so that the displacement of the shock better mirrors the displacement of the wheel. This would not be the case if the shock were mounted inboard, as the axle tends to lean and not just go straight up and down).
The Raptor turns all of this on its head to the point where the truck has a unique frame! To justify this added complexity to its assembly process, you can bet Ford is planning to sell a metric crap-ton of these Ranger Raptors, which start at $56,960.
The leaf springs are gone in favor of coilovers and not a track bar like we see in the Bronco, but rather a Watt’s Linkage!:
The coil springs offer a number of advantages over leaf springs. One that I hear often has to do with how leaf springs are forced to couple their vertical stiffness (associated with ride quality) with lateral stiffness (associated with handling). In other words, if you want good handling, you need to stiffen your springs, but then you ruin your ride. But if you want a good ride, the springs have to be soft, and that means you have a floppy axle/compromised handling. Automakers have dialed-in leaf springs quite well by now, but coil springs tend to get better review scores when it comes to ride (see the Ram 1500 versus the Silverado and F-150).
That axle’s fore-aft position and its tendency to want to twist are both locked in by two upper and two lower control arms going from the axle forward to the frame. Setting the axle’s lateral position is the Watt’s Link, which takes the place of a traditional track bar/panhard bar like that found in a Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler (that’s just a bar that goes from the frame, laterally down to the axle).
The Watts Link, animated in the clip above, allows the axle to travel essentially vertically instead of in an arc, and as I understand, that means you won’t have to worry about your rear end wanting to “steer” on its own depending upon where your axle is in its travel. I’m sure there are other advantages that a suspension engineer can enumerate for me in the comments; Ford just says the setup offers “control and confidence in off-road conditions.”
It’s Going To Be Good, And A Great Platform. But I Don’t Think A Game-Changer Like F-150 And Bronco
I don’t want to seem like a buzzkill with my headline. Watch the video below and you’ll see that I’m excited about the new, cheapest Raptor in the Ford lineup!
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But the F-150 and Bronco Raptors are on a different level. The F-150 was the godfather; it was the first full-size truck to absolutely demolish desert terrain, hammering over big jumps like they were nothing. Its suspension is like a mechanical magic carpet, and it’s had essentially no real competitors for over a decade. Doug DeMuro once pondered “Why Don’t Other Car Companies Make a Ford Raptor?” It’s a good question, and it took forever until Ram built something similar in the TRX. (Then, of course, Ford responded with the Raptor R).
And then we have the third, newest member of the Raptor family: The Ranger Raptor. Unlike its siblings, it doesn’t offer 37s — its biggest tires are 33s (as of now). It has a unique front suspension, and hell, look what it can do:
But, at least from where I’m sitting as someone who has yet to drive the Ranger Raptor, the truck doesn’t seem to have — at least to the degree that its siblings have — differentiated itself significantly from competitors, of which there are many. With the F-150 Raptor and Bronco Raptor, Ford was early, and owned (and continues to own) those two genres. In the mid-size badass truck game, though, Ford is a bit late.
Look at the new Colorado ZR2, for example. Just read what Motor Trend had to say about it when they drove one (bold mine):
The ZR2’s chassis is even better. The new DSSV dampers are nearly impossible to upset. Impacts are registered but isolated; dispatched without upsetting the occupants in the cabin or (more important) the four tires slinging sand beneath you. The chassis is so well balanced, we often found ourselves trail-braking and Scandi-flicking the Colorado into corners, laying on the throttle to power out. And yes, we know what you’re thinking—you’ll never quite reach space, but the ZR2 jumps (and more important lands) quite well.
Here’s a clip on the new ZR2 from TFL Truck:
There’s also the Jeep Gladiator Mojave out there, which I don’t expect to be as good in the sand as the Ranger Raptor given the Jeep’s solid front axle. And in fact, I don’t think the ZR2 will be as good given its leaf sprung rear axle.
Indeed, I won’t be surprised if the Ranger becomes the desert-bashing king of the mid-size truck class. But that’s not the point; it will be a badass truck, no doubt, but for something this late to the game to be a true game-changer, it has to bring the heat like Ford did when it had to go against the Ram TRX and Wrangler. The Raptor R is a 700 horsepower monster on 37s, the Bronco Raptor is an unstoppable rock-crawler and dune basher thank also in large part to its 37s. Because of all the competition, the Ranger Raptor, at least in my eyes, needed bigger tires if it wanted to become a game changer, and even then it’d have been tough.
As it sits, it won’t be geometry or locking diffs that propel the Ranger Raptor to the head of the class; perhaps the 95 horsepower advantage and coil-sprung Watt’s Link rear end will do it. I’m excited to find out, and I think it has potential to win in the mid-size off-road truck segment, even if it doesn’t go down in history with as many awards as its siblings will. Or maybe that suspension will be so amazing that it does, decimating all in its class just as its siblings have done. I’d actually enjoy eating crow on this one.