by Ian Wright
Talk of a Bronco Raptor arrived before the new Ford Bronco itself. It wasn't just inevitable that Ford would put the high-performance team on the case for a desert-running version of the full-size SUV; it was essential. The original Bronco was desert running before it was called desert running. As far as history can tell, the first organized off-road race was just outside of Hemet, California, and in that race was Rod Hall, who went on to take a victory at the Baja 1000 in the Bronco in 1968 - one of several victories for the Bronco in the early days of competitive off-road events. As a desert runner, the Bronco is legendary, so there are high expectations for a high-performance factory version. The good news is that the 2022 Ford Bronco Raptor delivers. You think your Lamborghini Urus is a super-SUV? That's not a super SUV, this is a super SUV.
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3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
It arrives with a 418 horsepower twin-turbo V6 under the hood, a wider track, a beefed-up drivetrain, re-engineered suspension for hardcore use, and rides on 37-inch all-terrain tires.
The Bronco Raptor isn't just for speeding across rough, open ground, though. Ford has been hyping its rock crawling ability as well. When Ford invited us to drive the Bronco in its natural environment, it was a short hop for us from Hemet to Johnson Valley, where the King Of The Hammers off-road event takes place - a flagship event that embraces both rock crawling and desert running. We would have traveled further because our expectations for the Bronco Raptor were, and still are, high.
Ford nailed the new Bronco in looks and did not drop the ball for the Raptor version. Its extra nine-and-a-bit inches added to the track width aren't for looks, but they make the Bronco look planted and self-assured. Other changes are also all practical, but the styling is spot on. The exaggerated fenders, bolt-on heat-molding compound fender flares, bodyside heat extraction ducts, and hood bulge make this unmistakable as a Raptor model. The new modular front bumper has tow hooks, integrated removable Rigid LED fog lamps and Rigid off-road lamps, removable end caps, and the running boards are easy to remove and reveal the standard reinforced rock rails. Like Usain Bolt's running shoes or boots on a mountain climber, the rubber is equally essential. BFGoodrich supplies the 37-inch KO2 all-terrain tires, and they wrap a choice of two 17-inch x 8.5-inch bead-lock-capable wheels. If you look closely as well, you can see some cool easter eggs representing the Bronco's history.
Powering the Bronco Raptor is the well-proven twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 engine tuned specifically for the SUV to deliver 418 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque. Controlling that power is a 10-speed SelectShift transmission with options for two-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive-high, and four-wheel-drive low gearing. The Bronco will not only haul ass across rough terrain or crawl slowly over substantial obstacles but also has a tow mode and can haul 4,500 pounds comfortably. Most people will be more interested in the G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Terrain) modes. There are seven in total, and one is unique to the Bronco Raptor. Baja mode introduces an anti-lag calibration from the GT supercar to the turbos to maximize power on high-speed runs. You can vary the exhaust modes between Normal, Sport, Quiet, and Baja, and when you go into Baja mode, you're sternly reminded by the display that it's not for street use. It may as well be called Loud Mode.
We spent two days with Ford and the Bronco Raptor and were pleased to find the route recommended to us for a street drive was this writer's home stomping ground. The Palms To Desert highway links Palm Springs and Hemet and is one hell of a road - you've likely seen car adverts shot on it. It's not a softball road, and immediately we were into tight turns and giving the Bronco a prod. A 5,733-pound SUV will never match a sports car for grip and handling, but the Bronco Raptor showed genuine balance on the road. It could be steered on the throttle, and coming off the throttle could help turn it in predictably. However, you will want to get all your braking sorted out before cornering unless you have a deep reserve of talent or have switched out the off-road tires for something more sensible; they're clearly, as they were expected to be, the weakest element for on-road use. Ultimately, we hoped the balance and controllability of the chassis were a foreshadowing for the next day's off-road adventure.
Off the line, the Bronco Raptor is quick, but if you're pushing it around, then using the paddles to shift is a must or the ten-speed transmission starts to hunt around for more economical ratios. The transmission feels like it has two gears too many on the road, although it settles down and does its job - which is saving fuel when cruising. There, the steering shines as it is surprisingly accurate for a box-frame SUV. Adding to the experience is the suspension that rides smoothly on the road - a pleasant level up on the standard Bronco's ride quality. For the last section of road, we came off the Palms To Desert Highway through Idyllwild and, not to put a too finer point on it, hammered through the final canyon road before hitting the freeway. That's where we realized that Ford had undersold the brakes and how good they were in its product presentation. They are progressive, reactive, and with the power to slow down the massive SUV appropriately - even with less than ideal tires for road use.
We met out at Johnson Valley the next morning, and it's important to point out that it's no joke out there. Particularly in the summer. Scorching heat would test the cooling system, rock-strewn paths would test the suspension, sand and silt would test the tires and all-wheel-drive system, and certain downhill areas would test our sphincters. Surprisingly, though, that last bit didn't come until much later and beyond the steep sandy, rocky drops and rock crawling that required concentration, strict throttle control, and precise tire placement. It's why Ford's performance team developed and tested the Bronco Raptor out there. It's a place that will shine a massive spotlight on even the tiniest weakness and break things. And now, Ford was handing over the keys to journalists with varying degrees of off-road experience. Spoiler Alert: We all survived, and the medical team following wasn't needed, even for bruised egos.
The first noticeable thing was the ride quality on dirt tracks at moderate speeds of 30-40 mph. The shocks didn't quite even out the rough and stony tracks as much as our high expectations demanded, but later on, at high speeds in rougher areas, it didn't get any worse.
That sounds like damning with faint praise, but it's just the opposite. The Bronco's suspension is consistently excellent, whether it's bumping up and down at low speeds over large rocks or at 70 mph down rutted tracks where the suspension has to work at high frequencies. It's a fantastic engineering feat when considering the wheel travel and the different demands placed on the suspension. And yes, the suspension doesn't land you with a jolt when you get air in the Bronco Raptor. It uses the same HOSS 4.0 race-ready suspension system as the F-150 Raptor, taking advantage of Fox adaptive dampers with remote reservoirs.
With the extra width to the Bronco's track and the tuned suspension, the Bronco is remarkably surefooted and inspires confidence when things get treacherous. With the Baja mode activated, steep climbs and drops in areas where a wrong move means damage were almost too easy. To the point, we could see people getting over-confident in more dangerous areas.
Real challenges came from the width of the Bronco, but the accurate steering and its feedback helped place the tires where they needed to be. The grip was plentiful, predictable, and controllable between the tires, the locking diffs, and the all-wheel-drive system.
As if we weren't already having fun, Ford laid out a high-speed autocross track on a dry lake bed to show off its handling and controllability at speed on slippery surfaces. The chassis balance on the road was, indeed, a foreshadowing of what the Bronco is capable of off-road. We tossed the Bronco Raptor around with more and more reckless abandon, steering on and off the throttle and getting the Bronco set up for the next section like it was a rally car. That impressed us, but then we heaved the anchors on the dry, dusty lake bed and the stopping distance was shockingly short. Also noteworthy is how the Bronco Raptor accelerates in dirt and dust just as fiercely as on the tarmac.
When it came time to hit a high-speed loop on well-trodden trails, we asked the Ford people what sort of speeds we should be looking to hit. The question was met with smiles and shrugs. So, we asked what would be too fast out there. Again, smiles and shrugs. Ford has brazen confidence with the Bronco Raptor, so it fell on us to find the limits ourselves with no clues given. The high-speed loop became a battle of wills between our bravery and the Bronco's ability, and it was this writer that ran out of talent first. At 70 mph, things got out of shape, and an innocent bush was murdered in what could have been a magnificent dive into the sand. Instead, it was a surprisingly undramatic spill by resisting overcorrection and riding out the bumps while maintaining momentum through the sand. We set off again, now humbled, and enjoyed that chassis balance and just how pliable the Bronco Raptor is when setting up and pushing through corners.
The interior for the Raptor is similar to the Bronco, but you'll find high-bolster front seats, a unique steering wheel and paddle shifters, and easy access to the Raptor-specific controls. A lot of thought and design has gone into the interior, highlighted by the vinyl used for standard seats and touchpoints. In marketing materials, Ford calls it marine-grade vinyl, but in reality, the vinyl used in boats is only concerned with not degrading under the elements as it doesn't see much use. Ford's materials designer had to make some upgrades to stand up to being handled daily as well as standing up to the elements.
The center-mounted 12-inch touchscreen runs Ford's SYNC 4 infotainment system, while the all-digital 12-inch gauge cluster has Bronco Raptor-exclusive Performance View that focuses on the tachometer and gear readings.
The new Raptor-specific seats are comfortable, and we weren't the only ones mentioning that, having spent a total of over 10 hours in them over two days, both on the road and off. The bolstering could be more aggressive, but we weren't thrown around as much as we expected just looking at them. The seats are where we found ourselves scratching our heads, though. For a truck designed to spend days in the desert, ventilated seats for cooling were conspicuously absent. Yes, they can be cleaned easily as is and perforations in the upholstery would get jammed with dirt, but this isn't a mud-crawler first and foremost. The cabin was also a comfortable and attractive place to spend time while driving. Visibility is excellent until you look in the rearview mirror, but having the third brake light over the spare tire is necessary due to the roof being removable.
Interior options include laser-perforated Black Onyx Neo suede seats, a vinyl-wrapped instrument panel topper, leather-wrapped outer seat bolsters, and carpet flooring rather than rubberized washout flooring. There's also a 10-speaker B&O audio system available, and well worth the upgrade.
If you want a factory-built off-road rock crawler and desert runner in one, the Bronco Raptor is the only game in town. The good news is that it's superbly engineered and beautifully thought through - barring the lack of ventilated seats. A V8 version isn't coming, nor do we think the Bronco Raptor needs one as the twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 is smooth, torquey, and powers up fast. The combination of rock crawling and high-speed desert running ability coming from the factory and with a $68,500 price tag is nothing short of impressive, and it's fit for daily use as well as casual off-road adventures with family and friends. It's rare we can say this outright, but if everything the Bronco Raptor has to offer is appealing and you can comfortably afford it, it's a no-brainer. That's a short conclusion to a long article, but the Bronco Raptor is a complete package for a specific buyer, and just about everything is on point.
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