Ford Ranger Raptor first drive: more than a pickup

Whether you’re rallying, rock climbing or following a trail, the all-new Ford Ranger Raptor tackles it head-on and does it in style

Ford Ranger Raptor 2023
(Image credit: Future)

Calling the Ford Ranger Raptor a pickup truck is like describing a supercar as a means of getting from A to B. It’s factually correct, but it is also so much more. The Raptor is Ford’s performance brand, and on the Ranger, it turns a very capable pickup into something mind-blowing. 

In fact, the new Ford Ranger Raptor is so impressive that a lightly modified version is taking part in the prestigious Baja 1000 off-road motorsport race this month. So what makes the Raptor so different to the standard Ranger models? 

First, there’s the performance. Rather than the 2-litre diesel engine, there’s a new 3-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol engine with 288hp (292ps). Though it will also be available with the 2-litre diesel engine for those that want something more economical. The Raptor is built to be stronger and serious off-road use and features a reinforced frame, with high-strength underbody protection, upgraded shocks and a front-locking differential. 

Then, there’s the looks. The Raptor has a wider stance than the standard Ranger, with flared wheel arches. The standard front grill and bandage are replaced with the iconic FORD letters emblazoned across the front. There are new Matrix LED headlights, complete with c-shaped daytime LED lighting and 17-inch alloys with all-terrain tires. 

Ford Ranger Raptor 2023

(Image credit: Future)

It’s not just the outside that’s impressive. The interior of the Ranger Raptor is stylish and filled with tech. There’s a 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12-inch portrait centre screen with Ford’s Sync 4A for all of your infotainment needs, as well as those all-important vehicle controls. The sound comes from a 10-speak B&O system too. 

The electric gear shift and parking brake have been redesigned, giving a smaller shift control to take up less space and a nice large control dial. Then there’s the seats – inspired by an F22 Raptor jet fighter. These are designed to hold you in place while off-road, with a 10-way power adjustment and a colour-coded stitched leather finish. 

Another big difference is the noise it makes. Thanks to an active valve exhaust and some clever engineering, the Ranger Raptor has four sound profiles that range from quiet up to Baja – which is designed for off-road use only. 

The 2023 Ranger Raptor is not just an upgrade on the standard Ranger, but it’s also a huge jump from the first generation Ranger Raptor, which launched in 2019. In fact, almost every area from the petrol V6 to the Fox shocks and everything inside is new. It looks meaner and its even more impressive off-road. 

Ford Ranger Raptor 2023

(Image credit: Future)

First impressions

Despite being primed for off-road driving the Raptor is well-behaved on the road. Despite sporting chunky all-terrain tyres, it remains remarkably quiet on tarmac and was very drivable around the winding roads of Súria in Spain. 

I’ve been living in the US for the past few years, so expected the Ranger to feel a bit small compared to Ford’s iconic F150 models, but on European roads, it feels plenty large enough. In fact, the Ranger Raptor is slightly longer than the Ford Maverick, the smaller pickup option in the US, but is almost as wide as an F150 (if you don’t count the mirrors). 

Of course, it was when I took the Raptor off-road that I really got to see what it was made of. Taking it around a purpose-built mud rally track, I engaged its Baja mode. This provided not just that throaty exhaust but stiffer handling for racing. The turbos remain primed for three seconds after you take your foot off the power, to avoid any lag when you come back on the power. The truck handles incredibly at speed and thanks to the new live valve shocks, provided a gentle return to the earth after catching a little air. 

Ford Ranger Raptor 2023

(Image credit: Future)

Other modes on the Raptor are designed for slower movement, such as the Mud and Ruts, Sand and the Rock Crawl option. As well as these, you can activate both the front and rear differential locks to retain control even when the wheels leave the ground over rough ground. With some guidance, I took the Raptor along some seriously rugged trails and even straight up a rocky incline that looked like it shouldn’t be possible in any vehicle. Another feature that came in useful was the trail crawl function – a sort of off-road cruise control that maintains a very slow constant speed (from 2-15mph) either up or down hill, so you don’t need to touch the accelerator or brake.

The Ranger Raptor not only looks great, in its code orange or grey configurations but its incredibly capable. If you’re looking for the ultimate off road tool, for rock climbing or rallying, this pickup truck has you covered.

The all-new Ford Ranger Raptor is priced from £49,236 and is available to order now.

Ford Ranger Raptor 2023

(Image credit: Future)

As T3's Editor-in-Chief, Mat has his finger on the pulse for the latest advances in technology. He has written about technology since 2003 and after stints in Beijing, Hong Kong and Chicago is now based in the UK. He’s a true lover of gadgets, but especially anything that involves cameras, electric cars, musical instruments or travel.