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Ford Ranger Raptor 1
Launched -- literally. Ford debuts its new Ranger Raptor in Bangkok, Thailand. The country is the second-largest market for pickup trucks after the US.

THE new Ford Ranger Raptor, launched on Feb. 7 in Thailand — the second-biggest pickup truck market in the world, after the US — counts a Baja mode among its many drive settings for on-road and off-road use. When switched to Baja, the truck’s traction control and some other electronic nannies scale back their grip on the mechanical bits, and the automatic transmission will hold a gear longer, as well as downshift more enthusiastically. Baja mode, Ford said, tunes the Ranger Raptor for “high-speed off-road performance, just like drivers need in the famous Baja Desert Rally.”

Certainly, what the car maker was referencing is the Baja 1000 (and its slightly varied renditions). First run as an organized event in 1967, the race that takes place in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula desert has drawn names like Bruce Meyer (plus his seminal Manx dune buggy) and James Garner, Parnelli Jones and Robby Gordon, Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins — the first to do an officially timed run, aboard a motorcycle, in 1962, on the Baja course. Paul Newman raced in Baja.

And then there are the cars. Besides motorcycles, quad bikes and dune buggies, Baja is also conquered these days by serious rally machines, as well as by classic VW Beetles. But the baddest of them all are the trophy trucks — the top guns among off-road racing vehicles.

Ford trucks boast their own place in the Baja lore, with legendary racer Rod Hall clinching the 1969 title aboard a Bronco. F-Series pickups of various vintages, including trophy trucks, have taken on Baja as well. In 2016, a nearly-stock F-Series-based Raptor finished the race, while the overall winner was a trophy truck Ford.

Against this backdrop the Ranger Raptor was born. And so Ford’s latest truck packs some serious hardware (along with the requisite software), chief among which is a beefed-up chassis meant to take on the punishment of high-velocity travel over nasty terrain. For starters, the frame now allows for stouter suspension pieces that increase both wheel travel — great over bumps and ruts — and track (good for stability). Residing at the frame’s rear is a new coil-over set and a Watt’s link to better manage the lateral movements of a solid rear axle. Up in front, the shock absorber towers have been bolstered.

Ford Ranger Raptor 2

Raising the chassis’s performance further are Position Sensitive Damping shock absorbers made by Fox Racing, which Ford said are tuned for control and comfort over pavement or rough terrain. Holding the shocks in place are aluminum upper and lower arms.

Supporting the Ranger Raptor’s suspension bits are 17-inch wheels wrapped with all-terrain BF Goodrich 285/70 tires that were specifically developed for the truck. Braking, meanwhile, has been improved by larger twin-piston calipers and ventilated rotors all around.

The Ranger Raptor is propelled by a small but high-output engine — Ford’s new 2.0-liter diesel mill that, thanks to a pair of turbochargers, expels 210 hp and 500 Nm of torque. Harnessing the engine’s power is a 10-speed automatic transmission shared by the Ranger Raptor with the F-150 Raptor. A full range of electronic driver-assist systems, traction and stability governors, and convenience features guarantee the Raptor is smart, posh and safe.

This truck looks awesome, too. Taking off from the Ranger’s already appealing sheet metal, the Ranger Raptor is markedly more muscular as it sprouted wider fenders, composite wheel arches, a more imposing grille and bumpers, snarky head lamps, off-road-specific side step boards, and numerous other pieces. The truck’s cabin has been upgraded as well by way of, among others, more supportive suede-covered seats and a steering wheel adorned by an on-center red-stripe marking. Clearly, the Ranger Raptor is not a body kit-and-decals job — one cannot retrofit a Ranger to turn it into a Raptor.

But, given there is already an F-150 Raptor, why did Ford create the Ranger Raptor?

Ford Ranger Raptor 3

Peter Fleet, Ford’s concurrent group vice-president and president in Asia Pacific, said the move is “all about creating excitement for the brand,” as well as to “showcase the capabilities of our Ford Performance division.”

Another reason, however, is that the Ranger was designed and had been intended for markets outside North America — Asia Pacific ranks high among its target audiences. During the Ranger Raptor’s Bangkok reveal, Ford announced its deliveries of the Ranger across Asia Pacific in 2017 spiked 22%, representing more than 134,000 trucks, with record sales logged in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

So where the F-Series trucks — and the F-150 Raptor — are meant for North America, the Raptor version of the Ranger, which is going to be built in Thailand, and which to date has not been committed to a US release, is clearly aimed at Asia Pacific.

Baja can exist elsewhere. — BMA

(The Ford Ranger Raptor is expected to be sold in Thailand starting the third quarter of the year, with releases to other markets, including the Philippines, to follow soon after. No price has been announced for the new truck.)