2024 Ford Ranger Raptor First Drive Review: Instant Classic That’s a Legit Desert Rally Truck

In between sessions of ripping the 2024 Ford Ranger Raptor around the motor company’s Utah off-road course, I was furiously texting our crew back in the office about the truck. My phone kept autocorrecting “Baja mode” to “haha mode,” and you know what, that works too. In the sand and snow and mud, this thing is an absolute hoot. No matter where you put it, it’s a showcase of off-road innovation.

While I was disappointed with a few aspects of the 2024 Ranger XLT and Lariat, this new Raptor variant more than makes up for some slightly skewed interior plastic pieces with immensely impressive technology under its skin. It’s a bonafide road-legal desert rally rig. Most impressively, it does not feel like a pickup truck with a lift kit and a few extra horsepower slapped on … It’s truly a cohesively engineered performance vehicle and I’m confident it will be a future classic.

It’s clear to see that the Ford Ranger Raptor shares a cab and light design with the regular Ranger. The general platform is of course shared, too. But otherwise, the Raptor really is its own beast.

I’ll point out the most interesting mechanical aspects, share some insights on the Ranger Raptor’s development, and walk you through a lap around a Baja-style mucky, sandy, practice course at the Ford Raptor Assault School. All Ranger Raptor (and F-150 Raptor) buyers get an invite to the school included in the vehicle’s purchase price, and I insist that you take the automaker up on that offer if you buy one of these trucks.

All you have to do is get yourself to Salt Lake City, and Ford will host you at its super-cool brand-new facility and teach you how to get the most out of a new Raptor without wrecking it. Raptors are capable, but they’re not indestructible. Heed the guidance of a pro driving instructor and you’ll have a blast with your truck for its lifetime without ending up meme’d. Remember that guy who flew halfway to heaven and savagely wrecked his Raptor back when the first ones came out? Yeah, that’s what happens when people buy a truck marketed for extreme shenanigans without taking proper driver training.

Heck, this was so long ago I wonder if readers even remember what I’m talking about. Quick, turn off traction control and let’s rip down memory lane:

Flash forward back to 2024, and the Raptor recipe is still the same … The ingredients are just more technologically advanced. That’s a good thing.

It’s not just a decorative package, a mild suspension upgrade, or even any one singular feature. Ford Raptors are a combination of key features developed together to work together, creating a well-rounded machine that is truly optimized for all aspects of driving on rough and loose terrain at speed.

The Ranger Raptor in particular is my favorite of the family because of its size and maneuverability. While I have to admit that the F-150 Raptor R is objectively impressive, I didn’t love driving it because 720 hp had me running out of room to play in no time, even at an expansive off-road park with no speed limit.

Andrew P. Collins

But the Ranger Raptor was able to show me a great time on just a tight little course. And I could tell that I still had a lot of headroom to get faster with practice. That right there is the mark of an excellent performance machine: Easy to enjoy, challenging to master.

Burbling at the start line, even with high ambient wind, I noticed something immediately with the driver window down … the 3.0-liter V6 actually sounded good. More on that later—I didn’t have enough time to listen closely before a friendly Ford driving coach named Jen reiterated her earlier briefing. “Yeah, there’s not much traction out there,” she said with a laugh. We’d been joking about the conditions earlier; it had snowed the previous night and to call the course “sloppy” would be an understatement.

I’ll say this: If I’d been in my personal truck, I probably would have left it on the sidelines. It was that mucky. The mud was sticking to my boots like cement. “Just means more weight to drop on the gas pedal, baby,” the devil on my right shoulder told me. But the angel on my left had a more ominous warning: “Remember Wyoming.” Back in 2018, I had a severe off-road crash that cost me the use of my left hand for a bit and months of agony. The conditions and terrain were very similar to what they were that day I wrecked myself.

Through bravery or stupidity, I still love driving in sand. And as I left the starting line in the Ranger Raptor set to maximum attack in Baja mode, trepidation melted away and I started to become one with the machine.

The beauty of Baja mode is that it doesn’t just cut all driver aids for you to spin tires into oblivion. It optimizes the vehicle’s responsiveness to all inputs for running in soft conditions at speed. Right in the first corner, where the first photo in this review was captured, I gave the truck a little boot in the gas and countersteered then came off-throttle … not particularly elegantly, but it felt spectacular. The engine’s anti-lag system kept the turbo boost up, so when I stepped back into power as I straightened out it was boiling instantly and slingshotting me ahead.

One turn and I was laughing—“haha” mode indeed.

My expression says it all. Michael S. Palmer (here’s the @ … thanks again for the pics, dude!)

A few laps around a little stadium-sized course was fun. Driving one of these things from the Mexican border to Los Cabos at the bottom of the Baja peninsula would just be a spectacular experience.

The night before, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Ford Performance Chief Engineer Carl Widmann and Ranger Raptor Programme Supervisor Justin Capicchiano, who’s based down in Melbourne, Australia.

Andrew P. Collins

The Ranger Raptor is really an Australian truck—and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting place for such a machine to be conceived. The Land Down Under is a majestic nation about the size of the contiguous United States with less than 10% of our population. Between the coasts, where we have cities and strip malls and industrial farming, Australia has vast expanses of sand. The Simpson Desert takes about three days to cross with a truck or adventure bike. And the region is home to the intense Finke Desert Race: A flat-out sprint down a straight but very bumpy strip of sandy terrain near the famous Uluru rock formation.

A Ranger Raptor with minimal race prep (safety compliance gear only, really) recently completed the Finke with Brad Lovell at the wheel. Capicchiano was telling me about how pleased he was with the Ranger Raptor’s performance in the event and the side comment he added impressed me even more: “We just used my personal truck when we were prerunning,” he said. “We looked at the times, and we would have beaten some race cars even then.”

Finke is a two-day sprint race with bikes, buggies, and trophy-truck-style vehicles. Very few stock-ish cars do it. Vehicles go straight in one direction on Day 1, then race back to the original start on Day 2. The Lovells beat six finishers (some by a lot) and 46 DNF’ers, which is pretty sweet for a Production-class truck. The best time on four wheels was
03:21:46.628, the Ranger did it in 05:56:30.168. Ford, Finke Desert Race

It sounded like Widmann had a good time testing the truck in Australia, too. As he described Aussie development testing: “They don’t use cones. They use eucalyptus trees.” Capicchiano later translated: “It was critical for us that we had a car that’s accurate in steering,” with a smile.

But my favorite line from the Ranger Raptor boss was how he described the truck’s personality: “Flattering to the novice and rewarding to the expert.” I try not to make a habit of parroting sales spiels, but now having driven the thing (as an experienced novice) I can’t think of a more perfect description.

So, how’s that done? Finally, we can get into some tech stuff. There’s not a lot shared with the regular Ranger besides the frame rails between the axles, but I’ll try to hit all the big points.

The engine is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6. For my fellow nerds: It’s iron block, aluminum heads, DOHC 24-valve with variable cam timing. Ford says it’ll make 405 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque on 91 octane fuel.

Acceleration doesn’t feel overwhelming when you floor it from a stop, but the engine’s got grunt and does a good job maintaining momentum.

An electromechanical transfer case makes 4×4 shifting very smooth and swift. The ten-speed automatic can run on its own in Drive or manually shifted with huge, super nice-feeling paddle shifters.

Forged aluminum control arms up front keep weight down where it matters a lot, and a Watt’s link rear suspension helps keep the rear axle in place more effectively than leaf springs.

The shocks are Fox Live Valve units. Fox has been making high-grade off-road shocks for ages and supplying Ford’s Raptor pickups since day one—they’re chosen for their ability to survive much higher levels of heat than basic dampers. The “Live Valve” aspect is newer and even cooler: It allows the vehicle to adjust damping performance based on drive mode.

With a suspension-controlling computer at each corner, the Ranger Raptor reads hundreds of inputs per second to basically adjust its softness and responsiveness in real-time with conditions. The downside is that they probably won’t be cheap to replace if you do manage to kill one, but the upshot is exceptional ride quality and great manners in crazy conditions.

One of the biggest surprises for me, both while whipping the truck myself, and even more so when I took passenger laps with Capicchiano himself and another one of Ford’s crack pro pilots, was how much I didn’t feel like we were going to tip in high-speed high-angle slides.

The truck’s track width is wide at 67.3 inches, about the same as the front of a first-gen F-150 Raptor, and that plus those smart shocks makes for a truck that’s polite to passengers even when it’s being driven in bad behavior.

Following Rudolph. Andrew P. Collins

The other significant surprise was the exhaust note. “How did you get a V6 to sound so cool?” I asked Capicchiano as we watched our colleagues take their own laps at various levels of wildness. The engine has what I’d describe as a muted shriek, with real energy. “We actually spent a lot of time looking at sound,” he said quickly—I think he was pleased that I noticed. “We listened to a lot of good six-cylinder cars [he cited the Nissan GT-R and Alfa Romeo Stelvio as examples].” The Ranger Raptor doesn’t just sound cool, it can also stay chill in “quiet” mode for when you’re coming home late or leaving early. And it’s not because the note is pumped into the cabin, it’s thanks to an electronically controlled valve in the exhaust pipe itself.

The wind at our test site rendered my attempts at recording the exhaust note futile, but this video gives you an idea:

I could go on about Ranger Raptor details I liked. The built-in aux switches for accessories you might add later are awesome, the seats felt great, the hood and fender venting is functional, I even like the new, more geometric “slash” graphic you can get on the truck’s hood and bedsides.

The big-cab short-bed setup still confuses me on a work truck, but for an adventure vehicle, it works just fine. Load that bed up with some camping gear, tools, and tires, and you’re ready for an awesome time. Better lock your cargo down real well, though!

I’d have to have mine in blue. Or yellow, but that’s not a factory color. Andrew P. Collins

The truck’s not perfect—I was bummed to see some mediocre interior panel fitment and I’m still not in love with the way the infotainment screen meets the eyes. But for the level of performance this thing offers at its starting price of about $55,000, I think this is one of the best deals in new performance vehicles right now. Heck, I’m halfway thinking about liquidating four of my vehicles and taking out a loan to get one of these.

If you are lucky enough to pick one up, do yourself a favor and drive it in the desert. The Ranger Raptor will be a blast in your backyard if you live in California or any of the four-corner states. If you’re in another corner of America, make the trip. Let it rip. But learn as much as you can about the vehicle’s limits slowly, and ideally, at a real racing school.

2024 Ford Ranger Raptor Specs
Base Price (approx. as texted)$57,065 ($58,900)
Powertrain3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 | 10-speed automatic | 4WD/AWD
Torque430 lb-ft
Curb Weight5,325 pounds
Max Payload1,375 pounds
Off-Road Angles33º approach | 26.4º departure | 24.2º breakover
Ground Clearance10.7 inches
Fuel Economy17 mpg combined | 16 city | 18 highway
Quick TakeA fantastic factory-built desert adventure vehicle that begs to be set free in sand.

Ford’s own team got such a banger image album from this event that it’d be a shame not to share. Enjoy these pictures as an epilogue:


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