VEHICLES

Ford Ranger Raptor VS Jeep JL Wrangler Rubicon

WORDS BY ISAAC BOBER, IMAGES BY BRETT HEMMINGS

FUN RUN

Which one of these $70k+ trail-tuned off-roaders offers the most thrills?

Seems crazy to think it but the Raptor is almost old news. But that’s not stopping it from drawing plenty of attention parked up at a service station on the outskirts of Lithgow. Tradies on their way to work and kids in school buses are all craning their necks as they slide by.

No-one notices the Wrangler. And that’s odd. Because this thing is all-new. And, it stands out. Not just because it’s painted in eye-burning orange. But, because it’s a Jeep. It’s all, my-grandfather-fought-in-a-war classic lines, mud tyres, removable almost everything, and looking ready to take on a mountain.

But, right here, right now, as Fatboy Slim once said, we might as well of left it parked at the office for all the attention it’s not getting. See, Australia, right now, is dual-cab country. Across the last few months Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger have been duking it out for top spot on the sales chart. And right around the world, like it or not, traditional four-wheel drives are being walked away from by makers. Only a handful still remain.

But let’s put that to one side for now. Because, well, because now, is for fun.

Beyond price and the fact these are both four-wheel drives with four-seats there’s nothing really remotely similar or competitive about the Raptor and the Wrangler. Or is there? See, in these ultimate-variant set-ups, the thinking behind the vehicle is that they need to be fun and capable off-road. See where we’re going with this test? We want to find out which one of these $70k+ trail-tuned off-roaders offers the most thrills.

And to do that we’ve brought these brawlers to the other side of the Blue Mountains to run them across everything from bitumen, fast dirt roads, water crossings, ruts and steep hill climbs, and find out which one leaves us smiling the most. And, probably more importantly, which one we’ll all want the keys to drive home in.

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What’s the price?
The Wrangler is the newbie, launching in Australia earlier this year (read our first drive review here) and in Rubicon trim is priced from $63,950+ORCs as a petrol and, as per our tester, $68,950+ORCs for the diesel. Motivation is via a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel making 147kW and 450Nm of torque which is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Out of the box the Wrangler Rubicon gets swaybar disconnect and front and rear cross-axle locking differentials.

In standard trim the Wrangler Rubicon might cost $6040 less than the Ranger Raptor, but our tester featured ‘premium paint’ at $975 and the Luxury Pack ($1950) which adds leather bucket seats, heated front seats and steering wheel. This narrows the price gap to just $3115.

The Ranger Raptor is priced at $75,990+ORCs which makes it more expensive than the Amarok Ultimate 580, Mercedes-Benz X350d Power and $11,000 more than the Ranger Wildtrak. The engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine making 157kW and 500Nm of torque and before you head straight to the comments to start slagging off this engine, we reckon you should go and take a Raptor for a test drive. The story of the Raptor is one of more than just its engine. That said, more engine would take this thing from being just very-good to becoming the stuff of legend because the chassis could definitely handle more grunt.

Most of the value in the Raptor is stuff you can’t see, which is a bit like the Wrangler Rubicon. Compared with the regular Ranger, the key differences are the unique front and rear bumper, grille and wider track with pumped guards. The 17-inch wheels wrapped in 32-inch all-terrain rubber, and a tough-as-nails side step that is unfortunately only flimsily mounted to the body and so isn’t a true rock slider. Then there’s the Fox Racing suspension set-up, the stiffened chassis and, on the inside, there are grippy, sport-style seats and a unique instrument cluster but, beyond that the interior feels very much like a Ranger Wildtrak. To the road.

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While the Raptor has been tuned to take the lumps and bumps of fast dirt roads in its stride, and even the odd jump too, its on-road ride and handling are more impressive. Not only is the Raptor whisper-quiet in the cabin but you can tip it into a corner and there’s little bodyroll, excellent feedback through the well-weighted and direct steering and, in the dry, impressive grip. There’s no better riding and handling dual-cab on the market, and the road to Rydal played to this thing’s strengths.

Where the Wrangler’s engine feels raspy and sluggish on throttle pick-up and falls away quickly on hills unless you keep your foot into the thing, the Raptor’s bi-turbo and 10-speed automatic will, once you’re up and over, say, 40km/h accumulate speed with ease.

The Wrangler’s clearly uncomfortable on the road where the Raptor is not. The Raptor has a bigger wheelbase (3200mm vs 3008mm), sure, and it’s a bigger vehicle too meaning there’s more of it to iron out the road, but it’s not that much heavier than the Wrangler (2232kg vs 2160kg). Where the driver of the Raptor will be eating up road miles with a smile, the Wrangler driver will be gritting their teeth until they get to the dirt. Although they’ll possibly laughing on wet bitumen where they’ll be able to drive in 4H (like the Mitsubishi Super-Select II system) – the Raptor can only use 4H on low-traction surfaces like dirt.

Despite that, it’s an easy and not-unexpected win for the Raptor as far as the bitumen is concerned.

On the road
From Lithgow, we headed out towards Rydal via a recently resurfaced and deliciously twisting stretch of bitumen. The road swoops past Lake Lyell and then twists, turns and climbs before we leave the black stuff and head onto the dirt. It’s the sort of road that would make more sense if you were in a 911 and is the perfect road for making these two terrain tamers uncomfortable.

If you’re driving the Wrangler that is. While nowhere near as horrid as the JK, the JL Wrangler’s still pretty bad with the sense that, even when pointing straight ahead, it feels like each wheel wants to go in a different direction. You’re constantly fighting with the steering.

And then there’s the noise. Between the chunky, mud tyres, the uninsulated Freedom panels and the solid axles front and rear, the Wrangler is like driving along inside a barrel. It’s noisy and there’s nowhere for your left foot to rest, thanks to the conversion from left- to right-hand drive and that means, if you’ve got long legs like me, you’ll end up feeling cramped and uncomfortable after about 10-minutes of driving.

There’s a bucket-load of bodyroll and the Wrangler wallows across expansion joints. Try and drive this thing like the Ranger Raptor and, well, you’re likely to end up as a mess on the countryside. Sure, these days, engineers can work their way around a lot of things, but they’ve pushed the Wrangler’s on-road ride and handling about as far as they can. There’s only so much on-road refinement you can get from got solid axles front and rear and, yeah, this thing’s better than the JK but that’s like saying a kick in the backside is better than a punch in the face…so, if you’re buying this thing for its on-road manners, well, you need your head read.

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See, thanks to longer control arms which mean, not just a track increase, but also more wheel travel (about 20% more than a standard Ranger), and the fact the suspension’s been tuned to firm at the beginning and end of the travel and squidgy-ish through the middle, the Raptor is controlled and confidence-inspiring over humps. Not so the Wrangler which has to be slowed to less than half the pace of the Raptor.

And in two-wheel drive the Raptor is a lot grippier through corners than the Wrangler which, again, just feels bobbly when pushed. And, when the Wrangler’s tyres let go, there’s none of the easy-going controlled slide you get in the Raptor.

Neither the Raptor nor the Wrangler feels particularly quick off the line, but out on a fast-flowing dirt road, the fact you don’t really have to lift for anything gives the sensation the Raptor is a rocketship. And especially so after you climb from the Wrangler into the Raptor.

So, that’s two easy wins to the Raptor. But things are about to get very rough.

Onto the dirt
It’s well graded, dry and wide. This is the sort of terrain the Raptor has been tuned to eat up. But, with dirt under its wheels the Wrangler is starting to feel more comfortable; its on-road foibles are less noticeable.

With our speeds lower you’re having to fight the Wrangler's steering less and the wheels-going-in-different-directions sensation has dissipated. But, try and keep within cooee of the Raptor and the Wrangler feels strained, with much less control and fluidity through corners.

Where you’ve got to slow down in the Wrangler through washouts, you can just about keep your foot pinned in the Raptor. The Fox Racing suspension, the chunky 32-inch BFG all-terrains, the lengthened control arms, the switch to coils and watts linkage at the rear, and the strengthened chassis mean even when you do leave terra firm the Raptor lands straight, true and, more importantly, comfortably.

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Having driven this hill dozens of times before, nothing has ever made it up as easy or as quickly as the Wrangler Rubicon. But… there was a humped section of the track that caught the Wrangler out seeing us hit the steering control arm as the left-hand front wheel crested the lump. Not so with the Raptor which caught that section on its side step…

But that was the only time on this hill where the Raptor was ahead of the JL. Even with its better wheel travel (than a regular Ranger), wider track, grippy tyres and expensive suspension, the Raptor just wasn’t in the same league as the JL Wrangler Rubicon.

From the off, sections where the JL kept its wheels on the ground, maintaining traction, the Raptor lifted wheels and scrabbled for grip. In fact, the entire way up the hill it was constantly swapping between slip and grip. Sure, it made it to the top, but the old heart was pounding, and the hillside was thick with dust.

The upshot is that, lumpy, bumpy and rocky terrain where you’re likely to be lifting wheels in the air is where the JL Rubicon excels. Despite being too slippery to walk up, our hill wasn’t a problem for the JL, and we didn’t even engage the lockers. The JL was always going to be better than the Raptor in rough terrain and be more comfortable when working harder. The Raptor is easily the most capable production-spec dual-cab of its type on the market, but it was completely out of its league on our technical climb.

The hill climb
Popular with both us and other motoring media outlets looking for terrain to challenge non-modified 4WDs, our hillclimb section, which is in the shadow of Mount Walker, was looking drier than I’d ever seen it before. The camera always lies, so you’ll have to take my word that this near 200-metre-long climb is horrible…slippery, deep holes, off-camber sections, jagged rocks hiding beneath a layer of soft bush sand.

For some perspective, we attempted to drive our long-term Ford Everest up the hill but its highway-oriented tyres, even with the pressures dropped, just didn’t have the grip. So, this climb was never going to be easy. And the idea was that with the Raptor excelling across bitumen and fast dirt we needed something to give the Wrangler a chance.

And it would get that chance on this hill climb.

This climb, and even rougher terrain, is what the Wrangler Rubicon was designed for. The Rock-Trac system offers a crawl ratio in low-range of 4.71:1 with a 77:1 reduction; swaybar disconnect and front and rear lockers (rear only or front and rear together) are unique to the Rubicon. Watch our video and skip to 3min 47secs and you’ll be able to see just how easily the Rubicon climbed the hill. The grippy mud tyres, low crawl ratio and that swaybar disconnect meant the Wrangler was just about always in contact with the ground and so was able to make very easy going of the hill climb.

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What we did with the Raptor and Wrangler was intended to replicate a day out on the tracks where you don’t need to carry too much stuff with you. While we’ve all seen plenty of Wranglers set-up for remote-area touring, the truth is that’s not their forte.

See, in diesel trim, the Wrangler Rubicon only has a fairly unimpressive payload of 470kg. Load up four people and all the gear you need for a weekend, or longer, away and you’ll likely find you’ve quickly run out of payload. The petrol Wrangler offers a little more payload (570kg) but even that’s not amazing. And if you’re considering towing a camper trailer, well, you’ll have even less payload to play with thanks to the towball mass eating into it. The long-wheelbase Wranglers can tow up to 2495kg with a 250kg towball download. But if you towed a trailer with that 250kg towball load then you’re left with a payload of just 220kg.

The Raptor is better but even it’s not amazing compared with other dual-cab pickups. Offering a payload of 758kg it reads a whole lot more than the JL Rubicon but given the fact you’ve got to perfectly distribute your weight in the Raptor across the front and rear axle, you’re realistically looking at a payload of closer to, say, 650kg.

The braked towing weight is 2500kg thanks to the speed-focus of the Raptor but if you sit down and do the math, you’ll find it’ll likely be overweight at 2500kg with four people on-board. This means, that while you can theoretically tow with both the Wrangler and the Raptor neither is really set-up for that.

Water works
There were less technical sections of the tracks we drove that still required low-range and the Raptor took them all in its stride. It’s comfortable and capable but it’s not perfect. In low-range the 10-speed automatic will thump into gear when you move from a light throttle to a heavier application, losing all of its on-road finesse. The JL Wrangler, on the other hand, just grunts along.

See, the Raptor’s 10-speed does its best work when you’re up and over 40km/h. Below that, and in low-range, it lacks the manual control of the JL locking you out of a gear if the computer thinks it’s too low or too high. The Wrangler is a completely different beast. Leave it in D for Drive and its low-speed response is excellent and it allows good manual control too…it can even be driven off in third-gear from a stop if need be.

Our regular river crossing is spectacular and easily one of the most picturesque crossings in the country. But given how dry the country is at the moment, its height was never going to challenge either of our vehicles. The Raptor, like the rest of the Ranger range, offers a wading depth of 800mm while the Wrangler has 760mm. The river we drove through was probably around 400-500mm deep with a large-pebble base and both vehicles went through easily.

Out the other side of the crossing the track looks like a poorly-laid path with jagged rocks everywhere. Perfect for taking chunks out of tyres and tearing sidewalls. Fortunately, both the JL Rubicon and Raptor are fitted with good-quality BFG rubber. Sure, they’re expensive to replace but they make good vehicles better. We drove across this section of track a few times and the tyres on both vehicles were fine; no chunks out and no sidewall damage.

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What are they like on the inside?
The Wrangler’s interior is all about its off-road ability. Meaning you get chunky plastics and a splash-proof interior where everything’s been located in the middle of the vehicle. It both looks and feels crowded when you’re sat behind the wheel, and storage space isn’t amazing. But there’s plenty to look at with Jeep Easter eggs hidden around the cabin.

You sit very upright in the front seats which lack side support and while there’s good forwards vision, taller drivers will feel cramped and that’s largely because of the lack of foot rest for your left foot. The handbrake is still over on the left-hand side of the centre console; a hangover of the conversion from left- to right-hand drive. Climb into the back and while the seats themselves aren’t very comfortable there’s good head, leg and foot room for taller passengers. And in a win for the Wrangler, you get directional rear air-vents which you don't get in the Ranger Raptor.

Over in the boot of the Wrangler, with all seats in use there’s 533 litres of storage space which grows to 1044 litres with the back seat folded down. The tail-gate is a typical split Jeep affair, where you swing open the lower part first and then open up the glass section. The Wrangler can be driven with the tailgate closed but the glass section left open.

Climb inside the Raptor and the two vehicles couldn’t be more different. Where it’s all hard plastics and retro styling in the Wrangler, the Raptor’s interior leans towards passenger car comfort. Largely the same as the Ranger Wildtrak’s interior, you get a different instrument cluster, grippier front seats and an on-centre marker on the steering wheel. But that’s about it.

The front seats in the Raptor are comfortable and supportive when you’re off-road, and while the Wrangler’s back seat offers a little more foot and legroom, the seat itself is more comfortable in the Raptor. And, you’ll be able to fit three across the back.

Into the tray and there’s plenty of storage space and thanks to the damped tailgate, opening and closing the Raptor’s tailgate isn’t the chore it is in other pickups in the segment. One gripe I’ve got is the tie-down points are a little too high up the side of the tray.

Both of these vehicles offer stand-out infotainment systems. Both offer Apple and Android smartphone connectivity and mirroring, are easy to use with practical menu structures and good touch response. Plenty of these systems can be hard to use when you’re bumping around but there’s no such problem with Ford’s Sync3 and Jeep Uconnect systems. One neat feature with Sync3 is the breadcrumb function that when turned on will create a path for you to retrace when exploring side tracks you’ve not driven before.

 WRANGLER 
 RANGER 
 WRANGLER 
 RANGER 
 WRANGLER 
 RANGER 
 WRANGLER 
 RANGER 
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The smile maker?
Ultimately, these are two very different vehicles but, at the same time, they have a similar appeal. Both are rare vehicles in this fast-becoming-bland motoringscape. The JL Wrangler Rubicon is very impressive in the technical stuff but, and cue the hate mail, it’s fairly ordinary everywhere else. Unfortunately, everything that makes it so good in challenging terrain make it tiring to drive in general conditions. So, it’ll make you smile but, more often you’ll be gritting your teeth. While it’s nowhere near as good in truly challenging terrain, the Raptor’s benefits outweigh this shortcoming. It’s a more engaging vehicle with better steering and…you can jump it. More than that…and this will really stir up the hornets nest…the Raptor looks better than the Wrangler.

Sure, there’ll be those who’ll argue this wasn’t a fair fight and I get that, but at the same time we haven’t strictly compared these two vehicles. Rather, we drove two out-of-the-box off-road oriented vehicles across a variety of terrain to see which one made us smile the hardest and longest. We’re not saying it’s better than the Wrangler because the Wrangler’s strengths are plain to see, but we are saying the Raptor is more fun more of the time.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Specifications
Price: $68,950+ORCs (diesel)
Warranty: 5 years, 100,000 kilometres
Safety: 1 star ANCAP
Service: 12 months, 20,000km
Engines: 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel
Power: 147kW at 3500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: Rock-Trac with 2WD, AWD, locked centre clutch and low range, swaybar disconnect, front and rear cross-axle locking differentials
Dimensions: 4790mm long (inc spare), 1894mm wide, 1848mm high, 3008mm wheelbase
Turning Circle: 12.4m
Ground Clearance: 252mm (claimed)
Angles: 34.8-degrees approach, 20.8-degrees rampover, 29.2-degrees departure
Wading depth: 760mm
Spare: Full-size
Tare weight: 2160kg
GVM: 2630kg
Payload: 470kg (diesel)
Towing: 2495kg braked, 250kg towball
Fuel Tank: 81-litres
Thirst: 10.3L/100km (petrol), 7.3L/100km (diesel)

2019 Ford Ranger Raptor Specifications
Price: $75,990+ORC
Warranty: 5 years, unlimited kilometres
Safety: 5 Star ANCAP
Service: 12 Months, 15,000km
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel
Power: 157kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1750-2000rpm
Transmission: 10-Speed automatic
Drive: Part-time 4X4 with low range
Dimensions: 5398mm (L) 1873mm (H) 2028mm (W) 3200mm (Wheelbase)
Turning Circle: 12.5m
Ground Clearance: 230mm (approx. measured) 283mm (Claimed)
Angles: 37.5-degrees approach, 24-degrees rampover, 24-degrees departure
Wading Depth: 800mm
Spare: Full-size alloy underslung
Tare Weight: 2232kg
GVM: 3090kg
Payload: 758kg
Towing: 2500kg braked, 250kg towball
Fuel Tank: 80-litres
Thirst: 8.2L/100km

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VEHICLES

Ford Ranger Raptor VS Jeep JL Wrangler Rubicon

FUN RUN

Which one of these $70k+ trail-tuned off-roaders offers the most thrills?

WORDS BY ISAAC BOBER, IMAGES BY BRETT HEMMINGS

Seems crazy to think it but the Raptor is almost old news. But that’s not stopping it from drawing plenty of attention parked up at a service station on the outskirts of Lithgow. Tradies on their way to work and kids in school buses are all craning their necks as they slide by.

No-one notices the Wrangler. And that’s odd. Because this thing is all-new. And, it stands out. Not just because it’s painted in eye-burning orange. But, because it’s a Jeep. It’s all, my-grandfather-fought-in-a-war classic lines, mud tyres, removable almost everything, and looking ready to take on a mountain.

But, right here, right now, as Fatboy Slim once said, we might as well of left it parked at the office for all the attention it’s not getting. See, Australia, right now, is dual-cab country. Across the last few months Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger have been duking it out for top spot on the sales chart. And right around the world, like it or not, traditional four-wheel drives are being walked away from by makers. Only a handful still remain.

But let’s put that to one side for now. Because, well, because now, is for fun.

Beyond price and the fact these are both four-wheel drives with four-seats there’s nothing really remotely similar or competitive about the Raptor and the Wrangler. Or is there? See, in these ultimate-variant set-ups, the thinking behind the vehicle is that they need to be fun and capable off-road. See where we’re going with this test? We want to find out which one of these $70k+ trail-tuned off-roaders offers the most thrills.

And to do that we’ve brought these brawlers to the other side of the Blue Mountains to run them across everything from bitumen, fast dirt roads, water crossings, ruts and steep hill climbs, and find out which one leaves us smiling the most. And, probably more importantly, which one we’ll all want the keys to drive home in.

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What’s the price?
The Wrangler is the newbie, launching in Australia earlier this year (read our first drive review here) and in Rubicon trim is priced from $63,950+ORCs as a petrol and, as per our tester, $68,950+ORCs for the diesel. Motivation is via a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel making 147kW and 450Nm of torque which is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Out of the box the Wrangler Rubicon gets swaybar disconnect and front and rear cross-axle locking differentials.

In standard trim the Wrangler Rubicon might cost $6040 less than the Ranger Raptor, but our tester featured ‘premium paint’ at $975 and the Luxury Pack ($1950) which adds leather bucket seats, heated front seats and steering wheel. This narrows the price gap to just $3115.

The Ranger Raptor is priced at $75,990+ORCs which makes it more expensive than the Amarok Ultimate 580, Mercedes-Benz X350d Power and $11,000 more than the Ranger Wildtrak. The engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine making 157kW and 500Nm of torque and before you head straight to the comments to start slagging off this engine, we reckon you should go and take a Raptor for a test drive. The story of the Raptor is one of more than just its engine. That said, more engine would take this thing from being just very-good to becoming the stuff of legend because the chassis could definitely handle more grunt.

Most of the value in the Raptor is stuff you can’t see, which is a bit like the Wrangler Rubicon. Compared with the regular Ranger, the key differences are the unique front and rear bumper, grille and wider track with pumped guards. The 17-inch wheels wrapped in 32-inch all-terrain rubber, and a tough-as-nails side step that is unfortunately only flimsily mounted to the body and so isn’t a true rock slider. Then there’s the Fox Racing suspension set-up, the stiffened chassis and, on the inside, there are grippy, sport-style seats and a unique instrument cluster but, beyond that the interior feels very much like a Ranger Wildtrak. To the road.

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On the road
From Lithgow, we headed out towards Rydal via a recently resurfaced and deliciously twisting stretch of bitumen. The road swoops past Lake Lyell and then twists, turns and climbs before we leave the black stuff and head onto the dirt. It’s the sort of road that would make more sense if you were in a 911 and is the perfect road for making these two terrain tamers uncomfortable.

If you’re driving the Wrangler that is. While nowhere near as horrid as the JK, the JL Wrangler’s still pretty bad with the sense that, even when pointing straight ahead, it feels like each wheel wants to go in a different direction. You’re constantly fighting with the steering.

And then there’s the noise. Between the chunky, mud tyres, the uninsulated Freedom panels and the solid axles front and rear, the Wrangler is like driving along inside a barrel. It’s noisy and there’s nowhere for your left foot to rest, thanks to the conversion from left- to right-hand drive and that means, if you’ve got long legs like me, you’ll end up feeling cramped and uncomfortable after about 10-minutes of driving.

There’s a bucket-load of bodyroll and the Wrangler wallows across expansion joints. Try and drive this thing like the Ranger Raptor and, well, you’re likely to end up as a mess on the countryside. Sure, these days, engineers can work their way around a lot of things, but they’ve pushed the Wrangler’s on-road ride and handling about as far as they can. There’s only so much on-road refinement you can get from got solid axles front and rear and, yeah, this thing’s better than the JK but that’s like saying a kick in the backside is better than a punch in the face…so, if you’re buying this thing for its on-road manners, well, you need your head read.

While the Raptor has been tuned to take the lumps and bumps of fast dirt roads in its stride, and even the odd jump too, its on-road ride and handling are more impressive. Not only is the Raptor whisper-quiet in the cabin but you can tip it into a corner and there’s little bodyroll, excellent feedback through the well-weighted and direct steering and, in the dry, impressive grip. There’s no better riding and handling dual-cab on the market, and the road to Rydal played to this thing’s strengths.

Where the Wrangler’s engine feels raspy and sluggish on throttle pick-up and falls away quickly on hills unless you keep your foot into the thing, the Raptor’s bi-turbo and 10-speed automatic will, once you’re up and over, say, 40km/h accumulate speed with ease.

The Wrangler’s clearly uncomfortable on the road where the Raptor is not. The Raptor has a bigger wheelbase (3200mm vs 3008mm), sure, and it’s a bigger vehicle too meaning there’s more of it to iron out the road, but it’s not that much heavier than the Wrangler (2232kg vs 2160kg). Where the driver of the Raptor will be eating up road miles with a smile, the Wrangler driver will be gritting their teeth until they get to the dirt. Although they’ll possibly laughing on wet bitumen where they’ll be able to drive in 4H (like the Mitsubishi Super-Select II system) – the Raptor can only use 4H on low-traction surfaces like dirt.

Despite that, it’s an easy and not-unexpected win for the Raptor as far as the bitumen is concerned.

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Onto the dirt
It’s well graded, dry and wide. This is the sort of terrain the Raptor has been tuned to eat up. But, with dirt under its wheels the Wrangler is starting to feel more comfortable; its on-road foibles are less noticeable.

With our speeds lower you’re having to fight the Wrangler's steering less and the wheels-going-in-different-directions sensation has dissipated. But, try and keep within cooee of the Raptor and the Wrangler feels strained, with much less control and fluidity through corners.

Where you’ve got to slow down in the Wrangler through washouts, you can just about keep your foot pinned in the Raptor. The Fox Racing suspension, the chunky 32-inch BFG all-terrains, the lengthened control arms, the switch to coils and watts linkage at the rear, and the strengthened chassis mean even when you do leave terra firm the Raptor lands straight, true and, more importantly, comfortably.

See, thanks to longer control arms which mean, not just a track increase, but also more wheel travel (about 20% more than a standard Ranger), and the fact the suspension’s been tuned to firm at the beginning and end of the travel and squidgy-ish through the middle, the Raptor is controlled and confidence-inspiring over humps. Not so the Wrangler which has to be slowed to less than half the pace of the Raptor.

And in two-wheel drive the Raptor is a lot grippier through corners than the Wrangler which, again, just feels bobbly when pushed. And, when the Wrangler’s tyres let go, there’s none of the easy-going controlled slide you get in the Raptor.

Neither the Raptor nor the Wrangler feels particularly quick off the line, but out on a fast-flowing dirt road, the fact you don’t really have to lift for anything gives the sensation the Raptor is a rocketship. And especially so after you climb from the Wrangler into the Raptor.

So, that’s two easy wins to the Raptor. But things are about to get very rough.

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The hill climb
Popular with both us and other motoring media outlets looking for terrain to challenge non-modified 4WDs, our hillclimb section, which is in the shadow of Mount Walker, was looking drier than I’d ever seen it before. The camera always lies, so you’ll have to take my word that this near 200-metre-long climb is horrible…slippery, deep holes, off-camber sections, jagged rocks hiding beneath a layer of soft bush sand.

For some perspective, we attempted to drive our long-term Ford Everest up the hill but its highway-oriented tyres, even with the pressures dropped, just didn’t have the grip. So, this climb was never going to be easy. And the idea was that with the Raptor excelling across bitumen and fast dirt we needed something to give the Wrangler a chance.

And it would get that chance on this hill climb.

This climb, and even rougher terrain, is what the Wrangler Rubicon was designed for. The Rock-Trac system offers a crawl ratio in low-range of 4.71:1 with a 77:1 reduction; swaybar disconnect and front and rear lockers (rear only or front and rear together) are unique to the Rubicon. Watch our video and skip to 3min 47secs and you’ll be able to see just how easily the Rubicon climbed the hill. The grippy mud tyres, low crawl ratio and that swaybar disconnect meant the Wrangler was just about always in contact with the ground and so was able to make very easy going of the hill climb.

Having driven this hill dozens of times before, nothing has ever made it up as easy or as quickly as the Wrangler Rubicon. But… there was a humped section of the track that caught the Wrangler out seeing us hit the steering control arm as the left-hand front wheel crested the lump. Not so with the Raptor which caught that section on its side step…

But that was the only time on this hill where the Raptor was ahead of the JL. Even with its better wheel travel (than a regular Ranger), wider track, grippy tyres and expensive suspension, the Raptor just wasn’t in the same league as the JL Wrangler Rubicon.

From the off, sections where the JL kept its wheels on the ground, maintaining traction, the Raptor lifted wheels and scrabbled for grip. In fact, the entire way up the hill it was constantly swapping between slip and grip. Sure, it made it to the top, but the old heart was pounding, and the hillside was thick with dust.

The upshot is that, lumpy, bumpy and rocky terrain where you’re likely to be lifting wheels in the air is where the JL Rubicon excels. Despite being too slippery to walk up, our hill wasn’t a problem for the JL, and we didn’t even engage the lockers. The JL was always going to be better than the Raptor in rough terrain and be more comfortable when working harder. The Raptor is easily the most capable production-spec dual-cab of its type on the market, but it was completely out of its league on our technical climb.

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Water works
There were less technical sections of the tracks we drove that still required low-range and the Raptor took them all in its stride. It’s comfortable and capable but it’s not perfect. In low-range the 10-speed automatic will thump into gear when you move from a light throttle to a heavier application, losing all of its on-road finesse. The JL Wrangler, on the other hand, just grunts along.

See, the Raptor’s 10-speed does its best work when you’re up and over 40km/h. Below that, and in low-range, it lacks the manual control of the JL locking you out of a gear if the computer thinks it’s too low or too high. The Wrangler is a completely different beast. Leave it in D for Drive and its low-speed response is excellent and it allows good manual control too…it can even be driven off in third-gear from a stop if need be.

Our regular river crossing is spectacular and easily one of the most picturesque crossings in the country. But given how dry the country is at the moment, its height was never going to challenge either of our vehicles. The Raptor, like the rest of the Ranger range, offers a wading depth of 800mm while the Wrangler has 760mm. The river we drove through was probably around 400-500mm deep with a large-pebble base and both vehicles went through easily.

Out the other side of the crossing the track looks like a poorly-laid path with jagged rocks everywhere. Perfect for taking chunks out of tyres and tearing sidewalls. Fortunately, both the JL Rubicon and Raptor are fitted with good-quality BFG rubber. Sure, they’re expensive to replace but they make good vehicles better. We drove across this section of track a few times and the tyres on both vehicles were fine; no chunks out and no sidewall damage.

What we did with the Raptor and Wrangler was intended to replicate a day out on the tracks where you don’t need to carry too much stuff with you. While we’ve all seen plenty of Wranglers set-up for remote-area touring, the truth is that’s not their forte.

See, in diesel trim, the Wrangler Rubicon only has a fairly unimpressive payload of 470kg. Load up four people and all the gear you need for a weekend, or longer, away and you’ll likely find you’ve quickly run out of payload. The petrol Wrangler offers a little more payload (570kg) but even that’s not amazing. And if you’re considering towing a camper trailer, well, you’ll have even less payload to play with thanks to the towball mass eating into it. The long-wheelbase Wranglers can tow up to 2495kg with a 250kg towball download. But if you towed a trailer with that 250kg towball load then you’re left with a payload of just 220kg.

The Raptor is better but even it’s not amazing compared with other dual-cab pickups. Offering a payload of 758kg it reads a whole lot more than the JL Rubicon but given the fact you’ve got to perfectly distribute your weight in the Raptor across the front and rear axle, you’re realistically looking at a payload of closer to, say, 650kg.

The braked towing weight is 2500kg thanks to the speed-focus of the Raptor but if you sit down and do the math, you’ll find it’ll likely be overweight at 2500kg with four people on-board. This means, that while you can theoretically tow with both the Wrangler and the Raptor neither is really set-up for that.

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What are they like on the inside?
The Wrangler’s interior is all about its off-road ability. Meaning you get chunky plastics and a splash-proof interior where everything’s been located in the middle of the vehicle. It both looks and feels crowded when you’re sat behind the wheel, and storage space isn’t amazing. But there’s plenty to look at with Jeep Easter eggs hidden around the cabin.

You sit very upright in the front seats which lack side support and while there’s good forwards vision, taller drivers will feel cramped and that’s largely because of the lack of foot rest for your left foot. The handbrake is still over on the left-hand side of the centre console; a hangover of the conversion from left- to right-hand drive. Climb into the back and while the seats themselves aren’t very comfortable there’s good head, leg and foot room for taller passengers. And in a win for the Wrangler, you get directional rear air-vents which you don't get in the Ranger Raptor.

Over in the boot of the Wrangler, with all seats in use there’s 533 litres of storage space which grows to 1044 litres with the back seat folded down. The tail-gate is a typical split Jeep affair, where you swing open the lower part first and then open up the glass section. The Wrangler can be driven with the tailgate closed but the glass section left open.

Climb inside the Raptor and the two vehicles couldn’t be more different. Where it’s all hard plastics and retro styling in the Wrangler, the Raptor’s interior leans towards passenger car comfort. Largely the same as the Ranger Wildtrak’s interior, you get a different instrument cluster, grippier front seats and an on-centre marker on the steering wheel. But that’s about it.

The front seats in the Raptor are comfortable and supportive when you’re off-road, and while the Wrangler’s back seat offers a little more foot and legroom, the seat itself is more comfortable in the Raptor. And, you’ll be able to fit three across the back.

Into the tray and there’s plenty of storage space and thanks to the damped tailgate, opening and closing the Raptor’s tailgate isn’t the chore it is in other pickups in the segment. One gripe I’ve got is the tie-down points are a little too high up the side of the tray.

Both of these vehicles offer stand-out infotainment systems. Both offer Apple and Android smartphone connectivity and mirroring, are easy to use with practical menu structures and good touch response. Plenty of these systems can be hard to use when you’re bumping around but there’s no such problem with Ford’s Sync3 and Jeep Uconnect systems. One neat feature with Sync3 is the breadcrumb function that when turned on will create a path for you to retrace when exploring side tracks you’ve not driven before.

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The smile maker?
Ultimately, these are two very different vehicles but, at the same time, they have a similar appeal. Both are rare vehicles in this fast-becoming-bland motoringscape. The JL Wrangler Rubicon is very impressive in the technical stuff but, and cue the hate mail, it’s fairly ordinary everywhere else. Unfortunately, everything that makes it so good in challenging terrain make it tiring to drive in general conditions. So, it’ll make you smile but, more often you’ll be gritting your teeth. While it’s nowhere near as good in truly challenging terrain, the Raptor’s benefits outweigh this shortcoming. It’s a more engaging vehicle with better steering and…you can jump it. More than that…and this will really stir up the hornets nest…the Raptor looks better than the Wrangler.

Sure, there’ll be those who’ll argue this wasn’t a fair fight and I get that, but at the same time we haven’t strictly compared these two vehicles. Rather, we drove two out-of-the-box off-road oriented vehicles across a variety of terrain to see which one made us smile the hardest and longest. We’re not saying it’s better than the Wrangler because the Wrangler’s strengths are plain to see, but we are saying the Raptor is more fun more of the time.

2019 Ford Ranger Raptor Specifications
Price: $75,990+ORC
Warranty: 5 years, unlimited kilometres
Safety: 5 Star ANCAP
Service: 12 Months, 15,000km
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel
Power: 157kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1750-2000rpm
Transmission: 10-Speed automatic
Drive: Part-time 4X4 with low range
Dimensions: 5398mm (L) 1873mm (H) 2028mm (W) 3200mm (Wheelbase)
Turning Circle: 12.5m
Ground Clearance: 230mm (approx. measured) 283mm (Claimed)
Angles: 37.5-degrees approach, 24-degrees rampover, 24-degrees departure
Wading Depth: 800mm
Spare: Full-size alloy underslung
Tare Weight: 2232kg
GVM: 3090kg
Payload: 758kg
Towing: 2500kg braked, 250kg towball
Fuel Tank: 80-litres
Thirst: 8.2L/100km

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Specifications
Price: $68,950+ORCs (diesel)
Warranty: 5 years, 100,000 kilometres
Safety: 1 star ANCAP
Service: 12 months, 20,000km
Engines: 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel
Power: 147kW at 3500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: Rock-Trac with 2WD, AWD, locked centre clutch and low range, swaybar disconnect, front and rear cross-axle locking differentials
Dimensions: 4790mm long (inc spare), 1894mm wide, 1848mm high, 3008mm wheelbase
Turning Circle: 12.4m
Ground Clearance: 252mm (claimed)
Angles: 34.8-degrees approach, 20.8-degrees rampover, 29.2-degrees departure
Wading depth: 760mm
Spare: Full-size
Tare weight: 2160kg
GVM: 2630kg
Payload: 470kg (diesel)
Towing: 2495kg braked, 250kg towball
Fuel Tank: 81-litres
Thirst: 10.3L/100km (petrol), 7.3L/100km (diesel)

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