Almost since the Ford Ranger was launched, enterprising retailers have been merrily bolting on a range of rufty-tufty accessories to attract the growing number of people who feel a chunky 2.5-ton pick-up truck just isn’t bad-ass enough for them.

Flared wheel-arches, in-your-face front grilles, and wider offset wheels wrapped in off-road rubber all feature in what has rapidly become the default Ranger look for many.

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that someone inside Ford should look at all this and think: “why aren’t we doing this?”

Well, now they are. And then some.

What is it?

The new Ford Ranger Raptor is what happens when Ford’s Performance division is let loose on the already well-regarded Ranger. To say they’ve gone to town on it is perhaps something of an understatement.

They started with the ladder-frame chassis. The Raptor’s is sufficiently modified to be deemed to be unique; made from high-strength steel, it’s been reinforced in key areas to withstand the shocks of a life spent jumping dunes.

From this, Ford’s engineers have hung what is essentially all-new suspension. Gone are the traditional leaf-springs, replaced by a unique coil-over set-up with a Watt’s linkage that allows the rear axle to move up and down without corrupting its lateral position under the vehicle.

Joining this are 2.5-inch Fox high-travel dampers (32% more travel in the front, in fact), beefier wishbones and control arms, increased diameter twin-piston brake calipers, and 332 mm ventilated discs at each corner.

The result is a chassis that sits 51 mm higher than a regular Ranger, and with a 150 mm wider track. Squeezed under the massively flared composite fenders are unique 8.5×17-inch alloy wheels wearing 285/70R17 BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2 tyres.

Underneath, the standard engine and transfer case skid plates are joined by a 2.3 mm thick high-strength steel bash plate at the front.

Or to put it another way, this thing is hard as nails.

What about the numbers?

They’re pretty impressive, too.

Let’s start with ground clearance: 283 mm of it, 31 mm more than a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and only a few mm shy of an Isuzu Arctic Truck.

It’ll wade through 850 mm of water – 90 mm more than a Wrangler – while its approach angle of 32.5 degrees (36 for a Wrangler) is well into the territory of ‘respectable.’ As with most pick-ups, the long load bed results in a less impressive departure angle (24 degrees vs. the Wrangler’s 31), although the way the standard-fit receiver hitch has been tucked up under the rear step bumper is far neater than some other trucks.

And under the bonnet?

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first: despite the Raptor name, there’s no 3.5-litre V6 snarling away under the bonnet. Instead, us poor Europeans have to make do with a bi-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel.

Perhaps understandably, the market for a 450hp petrol-powered pick-up is somewhat limited, although I have to admit I was initially surprised Ford hadn’t used the 3.2-litre five-cylinder.

As it turns out, the Raptor’s smaller 2.0-litre unit is actually more powerful with 213 ps compared to the 3.2’s 200 ps, but more usefully it boasts a nice, round 500 Nm of torque – 30 more than the five-pot.

It drives the wheels through the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the US-spec Raptor, and uses the same part-time 4WD transfer case as the rest of the Ranger, er… range.

Plus there’s a Terrain Management System that offers a choice of six driving modes: Normal, Sport, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand, Rock and Baja.

So what’s it like?

Ballsy as hell.

That’s pretty obvious from the instant you climb aboard, its black headlining, magnesium paddle shifters, red steering wheel centre-marker, and Raptor-branded leather and suede sports seats lending it a feeling that’s part truck, part Focus RS.

Thumbing the start button only confirms that feeling. Piped in through the speakers some of the sound may be, but what fills the cabin at low revs is a deep-chested grumble that perfectly suits the Raptor’s character.

On the road it’s the Raptor’s width that becomes your prime concern, as the door mirrors fill with the view of the rear flares and little else. Nothing (except perhaps an Arctic Truck) instils quite the same childishly-pleasing mixture of surprise and disgust in your fellow road users.

Endlessly inflating your sense of invincibility is that trick suspension. Bump absorption is almost limitless, but body control is damn-near incredible. An Arctic Truck will happily yomp its way from one speed-bump to the next, but it’ll do so with a fair degree of histrionics, particularly from the rear end. The Raptor, however, seems to engage some kind of slow-mo mode that smoothes everything out until it tends towards the barely perceptible.

Ford makes many references to the gruelling Baja 1000 endurance rally, but in the Raptor that feels entirely justified. Throw a couple of spare wheels in the back and proceed directly from the showroom to the start line – chances are the Raptor could cope with it.

Wow, it’s really that good?

The suspension, frankly, is a master-stroke, but it is still a pick-up. There’s only so much Ford can do to rein in the laws of physics, so enthusiastic drivers will need to be ready to collect a tail that steps out easily under provocation, while those 33-inch BFGs lead not so much to front-end understeer as to a gradual smearing across the tarmac when pushing on.

It’s true the 2.0-litre diesel puts in an on-paper performance that beats most other pick-ups – but only just – and that leads to a creeping doubt that what’s under the bonnet isn’t quite capable of cashing the cheques written by the rest of the truck.

And speaking of cheques, at £48,784 on the road you could argue its price matches its somewhat inflated looks. Businesses won’t be able to claim back the VAT, either – its maximum payload of just 620 kg robs the Raptor of its commercial vehicle qualification, while a reduced tow rating of 2,500 kg means a regular Ranger makes a better workhorse.

Yet somehow I suspect none of this will matter. Because if you spent your youth jumping remote control trucks off home-made ramps in the street, Ford now offers you the ultimate toy in which to do it for real.

Entry-level Price£48,784Price as tested£48,784
Engine1996cc 4-cyl bi-turbodieselTransmission10-speed auto
Power213ps @ 3,750rpmTorque500Nm @ 1,750-2,000rpm
0-6210.5 secsTop speed106 mph
Economy (WLTP)31.7 mpgCO2233 g/km
Dimensions5363 x 2028 x 1873 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight2510 kg