I had never experienced off-roading or even driving a pickup truck throughout my entire life. While the closest times were that I had no choice but to drive a body-on-frame vehicle in my family’s garage, I never fully immersed myself in rock-crawling and river-wading as any overlanding enthusiast would do in their spare time as living with a compact hatchback is enough to satisfy my daily commute.
Recently, I attended the “Ford Next Level Experience” in Vietnam, which starred the new Ranger Raptor and Everest Wildtrak, and the team devised a short off-roading course for us media to try. Despite having driven the Raptor at the “Ford Island Conquest” last month, this test drive was a different ballpark.
Our playground was located by the Seo My Ty lakeside, designed to test the Mud/Ruts, Rock/Crawl, Sand, and Baja modes on the Blue Oval’s new midsize offerings, with spotters guiding each driver on which direction to turn and where to accelerate and brake. All of the test vehicles were straight from the assembly plant in Rayong, Thailand, and, for convenience’s sake, Ford sent over both models in their domestic spec—therefore in right-hand-drive form.
This was an added challenge faced exclusively by the Cambodians, the Laotians, the South Koreans, and us Filipinos. However, I imagined that the longtime motoring journalists on-site had been familiar with driving on the wrong side of the vehicle, but not me!
The first course we tackled was for the Ranger and the Everest, both housing the same 2.0-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, and I got to drive both of them. Going through the muddy first section—already made even more difficult by the previous runs—made me nervous. The scrapping and submerging noises spooked my senses as if I was damaging company property.
The instructors reassured me that contact with the elements was the norm in off-roading, and there was nothing to worry about. Thankfully, with the help of the blind-spot monitoring system, the hill-descent control, and the 360° camera, I successfully traversed 207hp and 500Nm through the pit, the rocks, and the water with peace of mind.
The next course was for the more sought-after Ranger Raptor, carrying the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 gasoline engine that the rest of the world had but we didn’t, and this was where the excitement came in. After crawling down and crossing over a creek, an oval circuit was laid out for drivers to floor the throttle pedal and steer the beast for two laps.
Baja mode was turned on, and I mashed the pedal as the instructor gleefully advised. This time, I began to feel even more overwhelmed than during the first course, thinking I might wreck this 392hp and 583Nm behemoth of a machine. The Fox shocks, the same set found in the 2.0-liter model, glided through the dirt like Colin McRae tackling a rally stage in a Focus WRC.
However, unlike the Scotsman, I couldn’t go flat out even in doubt! I still needed to bring the Code Orange monster home in one piece, which I successfully did.
I came out of the next-level experience reflecting on what had transpired in those past two hours. Despite the worries, the hyper-awareness, and the shrieks throughout the drives, the Ranger Raptor and the Everest Wildtrak quickly adapted to the terrain thanks to Ford’s unified drive modes and assists (which aided an amateur across a lake, down rice terraces, and around a high-speed track). While my preference is still geared toward compact vehicles, I can see why both models are on top of their respective classes.
PS: Just don’t let me sit in the back. Please.