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2019 Hennessey VelociRaptor Ford Ranger first drive review: Almost famous

Hennessey Performance gives us the midsize Ranger Raptor that Ford won't. Well, kind of.

Hennessey VelociRaptor Ford Ranger
Drew Phillips/Hennessey Performance

At a glance, the Hennessey VelociRaptor looks to be the answer to a question many have asked: When will we get a Ford Ranger Raptor in the US? Ford sells a hard-core, off-road version of its midsize Ranger pickup in other countries, but has no plans to offer this decidedly badass truck on American soil (yet). Thankfully, what the Blue Oval denies, Hennessey provides. But maybe don't reach for your checkbook just yet.

Boost, baby, boost

Texas-based Hennessey Performance knows a thing or two about tuning Ford trucks. The company builds several go-fast versions of the F-150, as well as the already-bonkers, fullsize F-150-based Raptor. Here, the Ranger's 2.3-liter turbocharged I4 gets a power bump, too, thanks to new engine management software and a high-flow air intake. The result is a healthy 360 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque -- gains of 90 and 130, respectively, over the stock pickup. Hennessey says this shaves more than two seconds off the Ranger's acceleration time, with 60 miles per hour arriving in a scant 4.9 seconds. That's as quick as a base Porsche 718 Cayman.

The Ranger's 10-speed automatic gearbox carries over unchanged. I find this transmission to be a nice match for the stock engine, but it seems a bit dimwitted when tasked with delivering the VelociRaptor's extra power. Peak torque arrives at 3,800 rpm, so there's some lag off the line, and the transmission is a bit too eager to upshift as you dig into the heart of the powerband.

Even so, the VelociRaptor gets up and goes with noticeable gusto, and its stainless-steel cat-back exhaust gives it a mightier roar as it rips down the road. The added power is really, really awesome; the standard Ranger feels plenty quick on its own, but this one is downright hilarious. On pavement, the VelociRaptor's ride is cushier than the standard Ranger's, thanks to those huge BF Goodrich 285/70R18 tires and their hefty sidewalls. On the other hand, feedback through the steering wheel takes a hit, and those tires produce a lot more road noise, too. Par for the course in a truck like this.

Off-road weaknesses

Unfortunately, this VelociRaptor uses Hennessey's Stage 1 suspension tune, which simply raises the ride height by four inches in order to accommodate those all-terrain tires. Peek behind the wheels and you'll see the same shocks as a 2019 Ranger FX4 -- perfectly fine for the occasional dusty trail or mud pit, but not the sophisticated Fox setup Ford fits to the F-150 Raptor.

On the rough fire roads heading into the Rowher Flats OHV park north of Los Angeles, I found the VelociRaptor has a tough time coping with the many ruts and whoops. Entering a ragged corner at speed, the short shock travel means I'm hitting the suspension's bump stops all too frequently. Plus, if I don't turn at a super-wide angle, the front tires will rub against the fenders. Airing down the tires will add a bit more cushion for the pushin', but the lack of shock travel here is the main (and major) issue.

The Stage 1 suspension upgrade consists of a four-inch lift and... that's it. The shocks carry over from the stock Ranger FX4.

Drew Phillips/Hennessey Performance

Thanks to the four-inch lift, the VelociRaptor has increased approach, breakover and departure angles, making it more agile along slower-speed trails or while scaling rocks. The VelociRaptor uses the standard Ranger FX4's four-wheel-drive system, with a high and low ranges, as well as a locking rear differential. The VelociRaptor is more than willing to climb up and over whatever's in front of you, but again, the lack of substantial suspension upgrades means the truck can't handle any serious articulation.

Considering the Raptor name is synonymous with high-speed, off-road running -- the F-150 Raptor has a drive mode called "Baja," for Christ's sake -- the fact that the VelociRaptor is no more capable than a stock Ranger in many off-road aspects is disappointing. Sure, it can negotiate slow climbs with a bit more ease, but a Jeep Wrangler or Gladiator will do it better.

To its credit, Hennessey says this Stage 1 suspension tune won't be the only one available on the VelociRaptor Ranger. "We will offer a Stage 2 and Stage 3 with upgraded shocks with remote reservoir," company founder and CEO John Hennessey told me. Here's hoping this helps.

The VelociRaptor is based on the Ranger Lariat, meaning you get leather, heated seats, as well as Ford's full Sync 3 infotainment system inside.

Drew Phillips/Hennessey Performance

Ferocious facade

Still, the Hennessey VelociRaptor certainly looks the part of a Ranger Raptor, with its big fender flares, special 18-inch wheels and front LED light bar (a second, roof-mounted row of light bar is also included, but not fitted to the truck pictured here). Unique front and rear bumpers are a nice touch, and neatly accommodate the Ranger's parking sensors.

I actually think the VelociRaptor looks awesome, especially in black. It's not quite as cohesive as the not-for-US Ford Ranger Raptor, but this thing certainly garnered a lot of attention, both at the off-road park, as well as on my way to In-N-Out for a post-photoshoot burger.

Inside, the VelociRaptor is nearly identical to the fully loaded Ranger Lariat model on which it's based, with heated leather seating surfaces and myriad comfort and convenience features. You even get Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system, complete with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The only VelociRaptor-specific changes are the Hennessey embroidering on the headrests and the serial number plaque below the central touchscreen.

With 360 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, the VelociRaptor is noticeably quicker than a standard Ranger.

Drew Phillips/Hennessey Performance

It ain't cheap, either

All told, the Hennessey VelociRaptor Ranger costs $64,950, which includes the price of a donor Ranger FX4 Lariat. Hennessey says you can source the truck yourself, if you wish, and the VelociRaptor upgrade costs $19,950, not including getting the truck to and from the company's Sealy, Texas headquarters. The VelociRaptor Ranger is even available through a number of Ford dealers -- John Hennessey tells me one of his Tennessee-based dealers is "sending 20 of the new Rangers to us to upgrade to our VelociRaptor Ranger spec." Regardless of how you go about getting the VelociRaptor, the upgrade comes with its own three-year/36,000-mile warranty.

The thing is, $65,000 is a heck of a lot of money to spend on something like this. Sure, the VelociRaptor Ranger is noticeably quicker, but it's only ever-so-slightly more capable off road. If you're hoping for some honest-to-goodness desert running, the $43,995 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 might be more your speed. And don't forget, a base Ford F-150 Raptor comes in a full $12,000 less than this Hennessey Ranger, too.

I don't doubt that most of the folks who plunk down for one of these are doing so because they're prioritizing it as a show truck above all. And I'll admit, on the surface, the Hennessey VelociRaptor is pretty rad. I'll be eager to test it again once the Stage 2 and 3 suspension upgrades come online. Until then, I'll continue to lust for the proper Ranger Raptor from afar.

It may have weaknesses, but the VelociRaptor certainly looks badass.

Drew Phillips/Hennessey Performance