Engine2.3L Turbocharged I-4
Power360 HP / 440 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.9 Sec. (Claimed)
Base Price$65,000 (Apx.)
LEBEC, Calif. — There’s a long wash that runs through the heart of the Hungry Valley Off Road Park about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. It isn’t exactly the “Ensenada Wash” down in Baja, but its deep sand, sizable rocks and ruts are a challenge for any 4x4, testing its suspension travel, chassis rigidity, ground clearance and, of course, traction. With its Terrain Management System in Sand mode and its electronic rear differential locked, the 2019 Hennessey VelociRaptor Ranger is sprinting through the rugged terrain at an impressive clip, showing off the capability of its modified suspension and oversized tires.
At 35 mph, its ride is surprisingly smooth, even over the larger ruts and rocks. I’ve driven through here faster in a factory stock Raptor, which has more suspension travel, but the VelociRaptor Ranger is pounding through the wash with more speed than the stock Ford Ranger FX4 that was tested here just a few months ago. As we all know, Ford is refusing to sell the Raptor version of its midsize Ranger in the United States, so Hennessey Performance in Houston has built its own version, cranking up the pickup’s power, ride height and attitude. Production is limited to just 500 units. According to the cheap-looking plaque on its dash, this truck is numero uno.
John Hennessey has been in the tuning business since 1991. About 10 years ago, he even created his own supercar, the Venom GT, but he’s probably best known for his manic Dodge Vipers. He built his first in 1992, the Venom 500, and Hennessey Performance was off and running. Big-power Vipers, ultimately with 1,000 horsepower and top speeds higher than 210 mph, remained the company’s bread and butter for the next 15 years. Today, its extensive menu of machines ranges from 1,000-hp McLarens to monster-motored Camaros, Corvettes and Hellcats and Demons.
Oh yes, and trucks. These days, about 50 percent of Hennessey’s business is trucks, from its extensive line of VelociRaptor Ford Raptors, which includes a V8 swap and a 6x6 with two rear axles, to a Hellcat-powered 1,000-hp Jeep Gladiator fittingly called the Maximus. Hennessey Performance is a good place to spend your lottery winnings.
With 360 hp and a price tag around $65,000, the VelociRaptor Ranger is the company’s least powerful and least expensive model. The modifications to this crew cab Ranger Lariat add $19,950 to the truck’s roughly $44,000 price tag.
At the heart of the package is a software retune that cranks up the boost, the sole engine modification. Hennessey says it increases the output of the truck’s turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder by 90 hp. Torque is up sharply as well, from 310 pound-feet to 440 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm. Hennessey also plays with the tune of the 10-speed automatic, and the part-throttle upshifts to second and third gear now hit harder. To increase the noise, a resonator was removed from the truck’s exhaust system and the nasal burble of the inline-four can be heard for half a block. Apparently, future trucks will get a full system from Borla. Hopefully it’ll sound better.
The result is quite a fast truck. Although it doesn’t have the stones to spin its 33-inch-tall BF Goodrich Mud Terrains sized 285/70R18, it’ll smoke a V6-powered Chevy Colorado ZR2. Hennessey says it’ll do 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and cover the quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 101 mph. That’s as quick as Ford’s 450-hp Raptor, and it’s about 2 full seconds better than a stock Ranger.
Fuel economy takes a serious hit, however. It averaged just 18.5 mpg on the highway during our test, well below the stock Ranger’s 26 mpg EPA estimate. This drops the truck's range radically to less than 300 miles, limiting its overland ability. Hennessey’s ECU retune also seemed to disable the truck's fuel-saving start/stop feature.
Around town and on faster fire roads, the VelociRaptor Ranger feels small, light and nimble. The steering is quick and responsive. Like Chevy’s ZR2, it can fit on trails too narrow for the larger Raptor, and it’s much easier to park at the mall. Hennessey also improved upon the Ranger’s suspension, adding 2-inch diameter aluminum shocks from Icon Vehicle Dynamics along with new front springs and beefy billet aluminum A-arms. Icon says the A-arms are fitted with its unique high-angle ball joint it calls a Delta Joint. It says it combines the durability of a ball joint with the performance characteristics of a traditional uniball, and they increase the suspension travel another 10 percent for a total increase of 35 percent over stock.
Ride height is up 4 inches, but the rear springs and aggressive urethane bump stops are stock and the Ranger’s rear suspension travel is still quite limited. Large impacts, both on and off road, are soaked up by the front suspension with the plush, pillowy control of a trophy truck, but they send a jolt through the rear suspension hard enough to put you up into the seatbelt.
The BFG's large sidewalls do improve the trucks ride. It isn’t jiggly on the highway, and it's stable at speeds over 90 mph. Although you can feel their tread on tarmac through the wheel and seat, they don’t hum too badly on most surfaces. Still, a set of BFG’s All-Terrain T/As might be a better choice.
Hennessey didn’t offer any ground clearance numbers, so I crawled under the truck with a tape measure. The front airdam of a stock Ranger is just 11 inches off the ground, and there’s 9.25 inches under its front skidplate. This truck, which wears steel front and rear bumpers from Fab Force, has 20.25 inches of front bumper clearance, and there are 14 inches underneath its aluminum skidplate. In the rear, the Ranger's differential clearance is up 1.5 inches to 10.5 inches.
Although Ford did a good job tucking the important bits up high under the truck and fitting skidplates to protect the power steering unit and the gas tank, Hennessey should think about adding some armor around the transmission pan. It’s made of plastic. It would also be good to see some rock sliders like you get on Chevy’s ZR2 to protect the truck’s body. The Chevy also has a locking front differential, which gives it the ability to climb over terrain that’ll stop this Ranger in its tracks.
Hennessy does add sizable fender flares, which look fantastic, although the front tires rub at full lock if you compress the suspension, even up a driveway. The badging, the bead-lock style wheels from Method, the Raptor-style grille, enough LEDs to light up Yankee Stadium, and a three-year/36,000-mile warranty are also part of the package.
With its rear diff locked and its big torque output, few trucks are as fun as the Hennessey Ranger on a dusty dirt road. You can slide it around like a rally car, pitching it into long, wide corners and driving it out with the throttle and armfuls of opposite lock. It’s also a head turner, with a stance and intensity missing from its factory stock competition. That said, like most tuner machines, it’s hard to justify the Hennessey’s price.
Even if you start with a cheaper Ranger XLT FX4, which will save you about $8,000, the price of the Hennessey will still buy a Raptor with a few tasty options. And a ZR2 Bison will give you about $7,000 in change. Even if you add a lift and a set of 33s you’d be way ahead. A Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is also cheaper and it can go places the others simply can’t.
This is probably why Ford is resisting the Ranger Raptor in this market. To make sense it would have to cost much less than an F-150 Raptor, which has a base price around $53,000. With a loaded Ranger Lariat equipped with the FX4 Off-Road Package (it adds the locking rear differential) at around $45,000, that’s probably not possible, which is probably why other tuners aren’t offering hot-rodded Rangers. Not Roush. Not Saleen.
Bottom line, if you want a faster and more capable version of the Ford Ranger, and you want one with a warranty, the Hennessey VelociRaptor Ranger is really your only option. If you write that check, you'll get a fun truck.