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Automobiles The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor Redefines What An SUV Should BeWe take the 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor to the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area to test its gumption. And the results are clear.

The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor is not quite the visual behemoth as the Ford F-150 Raptor R, but all that steel and glass floating above stock 37-inch BFGoodrich KO2 tires gives it an imposing enough stance to warrant the same question from everyone I met during the five days the Braptor was in my possession: “how much horsepower does it have?”

In my head the answer was always ‘what it needs to have, chuckles’ but that’s not good manners. Jim and Margie raised me to be patient with others, so I made sure to have a thorough answer:

“This orange beast packs 418 horsepower, and with its 3.0-liter EcoBoost twin turbo V6 puts out 440 lb.-ft. of torque, which doesn’t sound like much until you remember that its 10-speed automatic transmission was engineered for rock crawling and obscenely fast desert speeds with an eye on delivering a smooth and comfortable ride on asphalt.” 

But let’s back up for a minute.

The Engineering Wars

Speed demons and power mongers lost their minds when Dodge introduced the Ram 1500 TRX full size pickup truck nearly two years ago, featuring 702 hp from a 6.2-liter V8 with an 8-speed automatic transmission for a base price of nearly $84K. The Blue Oval countered with its F-150 Raptor R, with a new 5.2-liter supercharged V8 that cranks out 700 hp and 640 lb.-ft. of torque for even more extreme off-roading, born from racing. 

The F-150 Raptor R is estimated to weigh 5,950 pounds, almost identical to its V-6-powered brother, but 490 pounds lighter than the TRX. Always feels good watching manufacturers duke it out for engineering supremacy, because consumers benefit most. But I’m getting off track from the Bronco Raptor, which is not a truck; it’s an SUV. Not apples to apples, chum, except for the FOX Live Valve suspension.

Insight From the Inside

For nearly four years I worked for FOX shocks in Scotts Valley, California. The house that Bob built in the early 1970s has worked closely with Ford on the popular F-150 Raptor model, suspended by Live Valve 3.1-inch Internal Bypass semi-active electronic dampers to handle aggressive offroad behavior. Now in its 3rd generation, the F-150 Raptor was joined by the heavily-promoted production Bronco variant in 2022 after making its racing debut for the 2019 SCORE International Baja 1000.

I had a front row seat for all the tuning and development, as the FOX Motorsports division worked closely with Bronco drivers Jason Scherer, Loren Healy, and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. plus Ford Performance chassis engineers to get the right tune while maintaining comfort and control. Their playground is King of the Hammers, an annual racing event that draws amateur and professional drivers from all over the world to bang fenders and clean mobile home-size rocks on a dry lakebed in Johnson Valley, California every late January into early February.

Hollister Bound

Once I secured the Ford Bronco Raptor for testing, I arranged to have longtime pal and potential customer Johno as my wheelman in the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, 70 miles southeast of my Mountain View homebase. Initially, Johno was partial to buying an F-150 Raptor. He races motocross like his late father (who was one of Bob Fox’s earliest customers) and hauling a bike in a truck bed makes sense. But something about the Bronco Raptor opened his 54-year-old mind to the possibilities when the vehicle was announced. And who could pass up an opportunity to take one offroad?

Our destination was the Upper Ranch and popular 4×4 Obstacle Course, set on 800 acres with 24 miles of trails for four-wheel drive recreation. The San Andreas Fault divides the park into two different landscapes. The Upper Ranch is entirely on the Pacific Plate, characterized with sandy granitic soil and steep terrain covered in chaparral plants like pine, sage, and sticky monkey flower. 

Johno was immediately smitten with the Bronco Raptor as we picked him up from his San Jose condo. After researching the vehicle for nearly a year, it was his first time seeing one in person. Even in the parking lot it validated his initial interest.

I handed Johno the keys after getting us there on CA-101. The large tires were surprisingly smooth and quiet on pavement; even the lightweight removable roof panels were cleverly engineered to reduce cabin noise. With blue, cloudless skies and temperatures reaching 70 degrees, we enjoyed a couple hours by ourselves after entering the park off Cienega Road.

Johno’s demeanor shifted once he got behind the wheel. It was like watching a Formula 1 driver or astronaut preparing for action, expertly running through the switches, dials and settings to connect with their vehicle. Sliding into the cockpit of what Ford calls “the most powerful street-legal Bronco ever, and the world’s first Ultra4 Racing-inspired SUV” should be serious business. 

The Ford Bronco Raptor Is Built For It

Much has been said and written about the full size base Bronco, so what sets the Ford Bronco Raptor apart?

Starting with the Bronco frame, the Ford Performance team knew it needed a Raptor-specific version for increased suspension travel and track width for handling stability during high-speed desert runs. At the Raptor core is a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame with new shock towers that increase wheel travel and off-road durability. Heavy-duty bash and skid plates provide continuous driveline coverage from the front bumper to the back of the engine, transmission and transfer case. In the upper body, B-pillar cross bar and C-pillar reinforcement help deliver a greater than 50 percent total body-in-prime torsional rigidity increase over a standard Bronco four-door model.

Bronco Raptor leveraged the Bronco SUV’s patented off-road modular design, stripped it to its base, and replaced components with unique-to-Raptor front and rear quarter-panels, fenders, fender flares and door appliques. Sheet-molding compound is once again used to sculpt the wider front fenders and integrated bodyside heat extraction ducts, providing additional engine cooling. Sheet-molding compound rear-quarter panels are equally bolstered for a muscular look. Together with fender flares, Bronco Raptor sits 9.8 inches wider than a standard Bronco. Bronco Raptor-specific reinforced rock rails with removable running boards increase rock crawling capability.

Competition-level, Ford Performance-developed axles further deliver on the Ultra4-inspiration. The solid rear axle is upgraded to a semi-float Dana 50 Heavy-Duty AdvanTEK with 235-millimeter ring gear, while the Dana 44 AdvanTEK front-drive unit includes upgraded half-shafts with 210-millimeter ring gear. These upgraded front and rear axles increase the track width by 8.6 inches (73.6 inches versus 65) over a base Bronco for even more sure-footed confidence. Larger front and rear driveshafts support increased wheel torque. Bronco Raptor also runs with a minimum ground clearance of 13.1 inches, 4.8 inches more than a base four-door model.

Seven driver-selectable modes include a uniquely tuned Baja Mode that activates a turbo anti-lag calibration to maximize performance over high-speed desert runs.

An advanced 4×4 system with three modes includes a higher-capacity clutch designed to withstand the demands of high-performance desert events (what we know as bumps, hard hits, etc.). The upgraded transfer case also features a 3.06 4×4 LO ratio for up to 67.7:1 crawl ratio.

As I mentioned earlier, the Ford Performance team collaborated with FOX to upgrade the High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (HOSS) system with Live Valve technology. Similar to the F-150 Raptor truck’s position-sensitive damping design, the Raptor HOSS 4.0 system features FOX 3.1-inch diameter Internal Bypass semi-active dampers uniquely tuned at the front and rear and feature integrated reservoirs up front and remote reservoirs in rear. Suspension height sensors and other sensors at each corner monitor terrain conditions independently hundreds of times every second and adjust suspension tuning accordingly.

Unique Ford Performance-designed front and rear control arms help deliver maximum wheel travel of 13 inches in front and 14 at the rear, or 60 and 40 percent more, respectively, than a Bronco base model. 

To deliver the confidence and high-speed needs of the world’s first Ultra4-inspired SUV, the Ford Performance team chose BFGoodrich standard 37-inch KO2 all-terrain tires (37×12.50R17LT), the largest of any production SUV in America. Two Ford Performance-designed 17-inch x 8.5-inch beadlock-capable wheels are available. An electric-power steering rack and housing influenced by F-150 Raptor — as well as larger-diameter inner and outer tie rod ends — were added to further upgrade the Bronco Raptor.

To give the Bronco Raptor even more desert-running power, the Ford powertrain team developed the proven twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine with specific Raptor-level tuning to meet Ford Performance standards. With 418 horsepower, the Bronco Raptor is, according to Ford, the most powerful street-legal Bronco ever, with intercooling and air-induction systems designed to endure the higher ambient desert temperatures.

For higher-speed desert capabilities or crawling over rocks, the compacted graphite iron-block engine — which saves weight while providing strength for added durability — is paired with a 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission tuned to meet Ford Performance standards. A true dual-exhaust system — featuring first-for-Bronco active-valve technology — uses near-equal-length pipes for an improved exhaust note. The system allows drivers to alter the sound of their Bronco Raptor with four selectable exhaust modes, including Normal, Sport, Quiet and Baja. My neighbors appreciated the Sport notes for sure.

The Ford Bronco Raptor builds on the brand’s exclusive Goes Over Any Type of Terrain (G.O.A.T.) modes Terrain Management System designed to help drivers better navigate off-road. Seven driver-selectable modes include a uniquely tuned Baja Mode that activates a turbo anti-lag calibration to maximize performance over high-speed desert runs. New to Bronco is Tow/Haul mode, which helps enable a tow rating of 4,500 pounds, a 1,000-pound improvement over the base model, something that had Johno salivating. Trail Control, Trail Turn Assist and Trail One-Pedal Driving are also included.

Other Specs

Model-specific LED headlights featuring amber daytime running lamps and integrated amber marker lamps further tie in the DNA of Raptor to provide a menacing look. A heavy-duty modular steel front bumper by Ford Performance features tow hooks, removable bumper end caps for improved off-road clearance, integrated removable Rigid LED fog lamps and Rigid off-road lamps for greater illumination.

The hood on Bronco Raptor is made of sheet-molding compound, offering the design team the ability to dramatically sculpt its muscular shape. An integrated hood vent is molded-in-color Carbon Black and fender vents are painted body color. Raptor logos on the left and right of the hood bulge hint at the twin-turbo power underneath.  

Curb weight is 5,733 pounds. The just-shy-of-21-gallon tank provides a city range of 312 miles, 332.8 miles on the highway. This amounts to 15 mpg in the city and 16 on the highway, according to Ford.

Ford Bronco Raptor Impressions

For a mud- and rut-loving offroader like Johno, Hollister’s 4×4 Obstacle Course was heaven sent and gave us everything we needed to stretch the Bronco Raptor’s legs. Gradients so steep it felt like we were launching a space shuttle were no problem for the Bronco Raptor’s crawling capabilities (but didn’t stave off my vertigo). Wide and tall as it was, it still fit through the galvanized steel tunnel.

A metal teeter-totter tested Johno’s ‘track-standing’ accelerator abilities. Deep muddy ruts highlighted the vehicle’s clearance and handling abilities, which a F-150 Raptor can’t do and wasn’t designed for, further enticing Johno’s buying decision at that point.

Once Johno became better acquainted with the Bronco Raptor his F1 driver/astronaut’s business-like focus shifted to a 16-year-old’s first time behind the wheel of dad’s hotrod, kicking up gravel, dirt and dust doing donuts. 

“This thing sits tall but handles everything like a much smaller vehicle,” he said, adroitly flicking us through the obstacle course. “Steering weight is light and responsive, just like it should be. This is better than I expected…”

We didn’t get the orange beast up to its full speed (by the time we were finished in the Obstacle Course some rowdy UTV pre-runners were eager to get their ya-ya’s out after watching us), nor did we catch sweet air like Loren Healy, but after everything we experienced up ‘til that point we agreed the Bronco Raptor delivers as promised. Our photographer seemed to have as much fun capturing our exploits as we did in the execution, as the three of us played hooky for the afternoon. 


Yes, the future promises fully electric vehicles. And the state I’ve been paying taxes to since June 2006 is pushing hard to eliminate naughty internal combustion engines from its beat-up roads, so for the time being let’s enjoy the raw power of gasoline. We’re living in a golden era (or nightmare, if you ask some) of driver’s safety features, so coexisting is de rigueur. Judging by the crowds I experienced at King of the Hammers, Ford hit a home run delivering a Bronco Raptor worthy of Ultra4 devotees and desert players.

Johno’s original feeling that he needed a truck bed to haul his motocross bike evolved into using a hitch mount rack on the Bronco Raptor instead. The ample interior would provide enough space for his gear and a place to lay his head if camping was on the agenda.

Now if Ford dealers can just simmer down with all this markup malarkey, maybe Johno can buy one closer to the $73,780 MSRP.

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