Strapped tight with a helmet and HANS kit, I watched as Shelby Hall’s Baja 1000 and Mint 400 vets exploded at full speed and buried my windshield in a thick cloud of dust. I’m next. I closed the brake pedal with my left foot and hit the gas, revs up to 3,000 RPM before I let go and hit the poor polo shirted Ford rep to my left with another shower worth of desert sand.
However, there was no time to wave “sorry”, before I hit the brakes for the ABS test, the four-wheel drifted through the slalom cone circuit, then overcame the screams and jumped at over 60 miles per hour. This is a Ford Bronco Raptor, and wait for nothing.
After driving the Bronco Raptor from luxurious Palm Springs into the woods above Idyllwild the previous afternoon, Ford’s media event moved to the rugged Johnson Valley, where the Broncos come from. Here we have to explore the Raptor’s new high-speed desert running and crawling abilities on the treacherous off-road segment of King of the Hammers.
New Type Raptor
Building on the success of the F-150 Raptor — and perhaps in response to the growing number of hardcore off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, Ram TRX and the new Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 — the newly revived Bronco SUV now receives a similar Ford Performance. treatment. In some ways, the Bronco Raptor raises the frenzy higher than the F-150.
Measuring nearly 10 inches wider in total than the base four-door Bronco, the Raptor gets a huge bump to 418 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque from the turbocharged 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6. Upgraded suspension components and 37×12.5-inch tires, the largest ever installed on a factory production SUV, hint at the Ultra4 racer that inspired the Bronco Raptor’s design.
The price rose just as strong, starting at $68,500 and rising to over $80,000 with options. Sticking to the widely expected dealer markup when sales begin later this summer means buyers may face a six-figure sticker.
Part of that stunning total comes as the Bronco is now borrowing a lot of parts from the F-150, including the wheel hub and carrier, suspension and brake components (importantly, many aftermarket mods will now fit both). To handle more power and capability, Ford strengthened the drivetrain, chassis, and bodywork. Thicker axle tubing, tie rods, new control arms and more durable couplings fit the recipe, as do roof supports contributing to a 50% increase in torsional rigidity.
All those mechanical and cosmetic upgrades add a lot of weight, up to 5,731 pounds. That’s only 9 pounds shy of the F-150 Raptor. With a wheelbase of 28.9 inches less, the Bronco Raptor distributes weight better than a pickup, creating less slip and more predictability at the edge of traction.
The full roster of off-road gear ranges from locking front and rear differentials to the 67.88 crawler gearing and electronically removable front sway bar, all of which demonstrate Ford’s commitment to beating the Jeep’s Wrangler and Gladiator at their own game.
Through Any Terrain, Really
With Sport mode selected on the GOAT dial (“Goes Over All Terrain”), the Bronco Raptor handles city and highway driving very well, with little hum on the road despite the prominent BFGoodrich All-Terrains and minimal wind noise from the detachable hard.
After going through the tight S bend and straight up the hill from Palm Desert on Highway 74, I purposely stopped to duck under the rear axle and just made sure Ford didn’t sneak up on the sway bar for our off-road driving experience. .
At the coffee shop, I asked the Raptor engineers why they decided against using the feature—the response seemed to be a combination of the incredible tunability of the Fox Live Valve 3.1’s internal bypass shocks, plus the added weight, cost, and complexity of the additional sway bars. which also needs to be decided. (Most four-door Broncos leaving the factory are equipped with a rear sway bar bracket but no actual sway bar, in a nod to the increasingly popular roof awning trend.)
But how can something so massive, that sprints so well on the pavement, actually handle a severe ordeal test on the potentially dangerous King of the Hammers (KoH) trail? Yes, although Ford wisely divided participants into groups of three Raptors, with the professionals driving the lead vehicle and the two journalists trailing behind. We lowered the tires to 25 PSI at the front and 22 PSI at the rear, then headed straight for the ridge of Mount Fissure.
Rock Crawl in King of the Hammers
Some easier trail sections warm up everyone to fiddle with lock differences, low-range gears and rocking rods, lots of easy settings to choose from with the GOAT dial. Via walkie-talkies, Ford representatives practice smooth tire placement and throttle modulation—but for the most part, the Broncos just go on, taking what seemed like a tough trail from the start completely in stride. Only then will we know why.
After descending a sandy steep cliff lined with boulders the size of basketballs, we stopped at one of KoH’s most challenging obstacles named, in classic KoH style, “The Trouble”. Here, Ford reveals the improved approach and angle of departure made possible by easily removing the Bronco’s front and rear bumpers, which already allow for an impressive 47.2 and 40.5 degrees, respectively.
Removing the built-in side ladder takes only one person and reveals a legit rock slider to complement the wide underbody slip plate that runs from the engine to the transfer case.
Slowly climbing through the narrow gaps, steep shelves, and deep rocky trails of “The Trouble proves how radically the new Raptor components enhance the Bronco, which is now, simply put, destroying all competition. I continue to marvel that Ford actually let us climb that aspect of hardcore—only to overcome an even more unbelievable obstacle moments later.
As Close to Ultra4’s Ability as a Street Vehicle
This tough terrain shows how confident Ford is about the Bronco’s capabilities. Without exaggeration, the “Trouble” far surpasses any off-road I’ve ever done. I never even glanced at the Raptor’s tilt or the powertrain gauge because I spent the entire time watching the snitch and obstacles.
On the road, the Bronco’s electric power steering provides a welcome ability to adjust assist and help overcome the grip of fat tires while remaining light enough to avoid fatigue off-road. On the other hand, the 10-speed automatic transmission has some drawbacks.
On the steepest inclines, with Off-Road Mode selected on the GOAT dial to activate 4-Low, I found that the gearbox allowed the engine to rapidly climb past 4,500 RPM until turbocharger torque overpowered traction and caused a momentary slip, at which point the transmission happily shift gears and cause the truck to slide at the worst possible moment.
Similarly, Baja Mode for higher-speed runs pushes 10 speeds up to such a high lap that I regularly hit the red line. Here, the thrust falls and weakens the power, which means an increase, which again causes a surge forward. I ended up flipping the gear selector to Manual mode and shifting with the paddle for most of the day.
All told, the various GOAT settings playing with the help of Bronco steering, exhaust notes, shock absorbers, shift points and 4WD gears are good enough for beginners to pick a mode quickly and hit the ground.
With more time on the Bronco Raptor, I believe a special combo using individual buttons on the steering wheel might emerge—for his part, Hall stated that he wanted to be able to amplify shocks even further than Ford’s maximum setting.
Deliberately Built to Face All Comers
Flying through screams and ruts at top speed, I found perhaps the Bronco’s best attribute compared to the F-150: When the nose starts to rise and fall, a second or two of hard throttle actually makes the tail squat to allow for smoother acceleration. The short wheelbase and massive suspension, 13 inches up front and 14 at the rear, explain the sensation.
Little Bronco Raptor details like the 50 mph sway bar reconnection speed may seem trivial but in context, the Jeep’s sway bar reconnects and disconnects at just 18 mph — plus, the Bronco’s driver ergonomics easily beats a Wrangler or Gladiator. On the downside, the rear seats and cargo space feel very small and the materials and design don’t live up to the F-150 Raptor’s luxury limitations.
As I chased a herd of wild Broncos through the desert I had no doubts about Ford’s intention with the new Raptor: to create the most aggressive all-rounder off-road car available from any manufacturer. That is until Ford launches a brief tease of the upcoming F-150 Raptor R as the day ends, but that’s a story for another day.