Kicks Stronger Than Vietnamese Coffee
MUI NE, Vietnam — The famous Vietnamese coffee is very strong. But I got a taste of something even stronger and more full-bodied than Vietnam’s most potent brew. It’s the incomparable Ford Ranger Raptor pickup. We got to play with Ford’s apex predator in Mũi Né, a beach resort town in Southeast Vietnam. With a long, palm-lined stretch of sand, Mui Ne has steady wind conditions that make it an ideal destination for windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing and other water sports. It’s also a popular weekend getaway from Ho Chi Minh City (which was our initial port of entry), with its own busy strip of hotels, restaurants and shops.
There are plenty of things to do in Mui Ne, with its red and white sand dunes, its fishing village and, of course, its beach. But with sand seemingly ever-present, the best thing to do was to hop on board the Raptors and get a taste of the supertruck’s version of a double-shot of espresso, courtesy of a bi-turbo 2.0-liter diesel powerplant generating a whopping 213hp and 500Nm. Paired with a 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters, the compact engine gets superb fuel efficiency paired with so many gear ratios (8th through 10th gears are overdrive gears for cruising).
Soft, loose sand is tricky to negotiate, though. And here, it’s the Raptor’s trick suspension and drivetrain that allow the Raptor to do things other pickups can only dream of — deliver off-road-racer levels of ruggedness and performance and combine that with riding comfort never before experienced in any pickup.
Suspension wizardry comes from the four custom Fox coil-over shock absorbers. Fox is an off-road racing veteran and they know how to make shock absorbers that will take the punishment of hard jumps and landings. More importantly (especially for the majority who spend more time on the street), they achieve this while delivering amazingly supple riding comfort you won’t find in any other pickup. The shock absorbers are designed to last the life of the truck.
The superb riding comfort also comes from rear coil springs (in lieu of the standard Rangers’ leaf springs). Cornering precision, meanwhile, is enhanced by specially designed Watts linkages that help suspend the rear axle.
Yet more suspension tricks come from forged upper wishbones and cast aluminum lower suspension arms that expand the front track a whopping six inches for extremely stable cornering. The rear track is widened commensurately. The use of cast and forged aluminum suspension arms in place of more common welded steel lowers unsprung weight for even greater handling precision.
More aces up this truck’s sleeve? Custom-made all-terrain B.F. Goodrich tires that the Raptor rolls on may seem small at 17 inches in diameter, but this is more than made up for by the generous 285mm width with a 70-series aspect ratio. B.F. Goodrich has extensive off-road racing experience and after trying out various tire sizes, they determined that the 285/70-17 OE size (with that aggressive tread pattern) was perfect for the Raptor.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Raptor’s wide-body styling. Ford designed muscularly flared wheel arches for the front and rear fenders. The front fenders are made of a high-tech lightweight plastic composite while the rear fenders are made of steel. They create a ruggedly muscular stance that, coupled with the wide track, fat tires and high ride height, endow the Raptor with one of the most brutish postures on the road.
Inside, the Raptor sports one of the most supportive and best-looking sport seats ever put in a truck. Couple this with a leather sport steering wheel (with the iconic red stripe at 12 o’clock that’s common on all Ford high-performance vehicles), and those paddle shifters, and you’d really feel that you were inside the cockpit of a true sports car.
The Ranger Raptor is one truck that boasts cutting-edge electronic driving aids you’ll find in luxury SUV’s. These include a Terrain Management System that, aside from the usual pavement, gravel, mud, and snow modes, has a Baja setting that let you play with the truck and get it sideways (it has a proper part-time four-wheel-drive) without the traction and stability control systems intervening too soon.
Other cutting-edge driver-assist systems include an adjustable speed limiter, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Load Adaptive Control, Electronic Stability Control with Trailer Sway Control, Rollover Mitigation, Roll Stability Control, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
State-of-the-art lighting comes from HID headlamps with LED foglamps, LED daytime running lights and LED taillamps. It also has a smart entry/start system, push-button start-stop, rain-sensing wipers, rearview camera, cruise control, and Ford’s superb-sounding SYNC 3 infotainment system with touchscreen navigation.
Because the best engine and suspension are only as good as the chassis on which they’re connected to, Ford engineers went over the Ranger’s stock but already rugged ladder frame chassis with a magnifying glass and strengthened it in areas that needed beefing up. Even the crossmember from where the spare tire hangs was reinforced. Going airborne and landing back on land in the Raptor was never painful. And the usual jittery ride on the highway was noticeably smoothened out, as we experienced in over 200 kilometers of highway and rural town driving from the mountains of Dalat to the beaches of Mui Ne (made more challenging as we were driving right-hand drive Thai-market models in a left-hand drive locale).
Nonetheless, everywhere you look and everywhere you drive, the Ford Ranger Raptor is simply in a class of its own.