Best 4x4s for off-roading: Ford Ranger Raptor vs Land Rover Defender

Many SUVs look more butch than they really are, but what's the most capable four-wheel-drive model on the rough stuff? Our off-roader megatest reveals the answer...

Ford Ranger Raptor vs Land Rover Defender

Ford Ranger Raptor 3.0 Ecoboost 292 4WD

List price £59,605
Target Price £59,605

Engineered in Australia, the Ranger Raptor is designed to excel when driven fast across the Outback. However, with front and rear locking differentials, 265mm of ground clearance, knobbly off-road tyres and off-road cruise control, it should put in a good showing on our tight, technical off-road course.

Land Rover Defender 110 P400e X-Dynamic HSE

List price £80,580
Target Price £80,580

A range of engines is offered, but here we’ve got the most advanced Defender on sale: the plug-in hybrid P400e. Air suspension, a centre differential lock, hill descent control and a low-range gearbox are standard, but off-road cruise control and a locking rear differential are expensive extras.

Homage. Pastiche. Imitation. Those are just a few of the slurs that off-road enthusiasts have directed towards the latest Land Rover Defender. The name once stood for utilitarian, bare-bones ruggedness, but it now graces something plush and gadget-laden that has only a passing likeness to its much-loved predecessor.

Ford Ranger Raptor rear off-road

The old Defender’s devotees tend to overlook that it was cramped, noisy and poor to drive on the road. So, when it came time to replace it, is it any wonder that Land Rover went down the route of designing an off-roader with greater bandwidth? Today’s Defender can cope with jungles both tropical and urban.

If you object to the Defender’s ‘lifestyle’ image, you’ll probably think the same of its rival in this test: the Ford Ranger Raptor. Even when it’s sitting on your drive, the Raptor vividly states just what it wants you to do with it: throw a couple of dirt bikes in the load bed and head off in search of sand dunes and fire roads.

Developed on the dirt and sand of the Australian Outback, the Raptor’s long-travel suspension enables it to soak up not only big undulations but even the landing impacts from jumping over obstacles. And while its 288bhp turbocharged V6 petrol engine doesn’t sound particularly punchy on paper (our plug-in hybrid Defender produces 398bhp), trust us when we say it feels plenty quick enough on the loose stuff.

Ford Ranger Raptor rear off-road

If you have access to private land, the Raptor is an absolute hoot to drive quickly; knock the electronically controlled four-wheel drive system into rear-wheel drive mode, select the most aggressive drive setting available (named Baja), and ‘send it’, as the Americans would say. Before you know it, you’ll be sliding this two-and-a-half-tonne behemoth around like it’s a big rally car – a driving experience that’s almost unique in the off-road segment.

But what if you don’t have access to such an environment? After all, if you treat your local green lane like a stage of the Baja 1000, it won’t be long before you earn yourself a custodial sentence. Well, the good news is that even if you only have access to the kind of slow, technical off-road terrain we have here in the UK, the Raptor does an awfully good impression of a traditional off-roader.

With two locking differentials, 265mm of ground clearance and knobbly BF Goodrich off-road tyres, the Raptor crawled up our test site’s gravel hills and rutted sand slopes without breaking a sweat. Even the rock crawl section proved to be little more than an inconvenience, with that long-reaching suspension keeping all four wheels on terra firma and electronics limiting wheelspin.

Land Rover Defender specs

Land Rover Defender off-road specs

In fact, before long, it dawned on us that the Raptor is actually even more capable than the Defender. While the latter managed to follow the Raptor through the rock crawl, its firmer air suspension transmitted more shocks and shudders through the interior, while its relative lack of suspension articulation had it dangling wheels over ditches that didn’t phase the Raptor.

We’re impressed, however, with just how approachable the Defender is for a novice to get the best from. The centre and optional rear electronically controlled differentials lock automatically when they sense slip, and the Terrain Response system means you don’t have to be afraid of the accelerator pedal; just let the electronics meter out the power.

Only upon reaching the dreaded Horseshoe did the Defender struggle; with limited suspension travel and no locking front differential, it just didn’t have the traction to get over the final rut at the crest of the hill. And while it might have fared better with optional off-road rubber (£255 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure tyres are available from Land Rover dealers), we doubt it would have shrugged off the climb with quite the composure of the startlingly capable Raptor.

Ford Ranger Raptor specs

Ford Ranger Raptor off-road specs

The Defender P400e’s plug-in hybrid system further hampers it as a serious off-roader; the transition from electric to petrol power can be abrupt, so pulling away smoothly on loose surfaces can be difficult.

With an official electric range of 27 miles and a fuel consumption figure of 85.3mpg, the P400e is a perfect fit for urban adventures (or as a company car), but you’ll have a better chance of following the Raptor through the rough stuff in a petrol or diesel Defender.

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