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TEST DRIVE | Ford Bronco Raptor: Why?

August 12, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.
Always consult the owners manual before off-road driving, know your terrain and trail difficulty, and use appropriate safety gear. Ford is committed to the preservation of the environment and treading lightly. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)

Reasons aplenty exist to explain why the Ford Bronco is outselling the Jeep Wrangler: less noise but better ride, handling, comfort, acceleration, braking, reliability, digital integration, and user experience.

Both are astounding off-road, but for my money – and I tend to do stupid things out on the trails – toss in Ford's available 10-speed SelectShift™ automatic transmission and a five- or seven-mode terrain management system with an advanced 4x4 system with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit and differential lock and I'm starting to feel pretty confident out there.

Indeed, just a few months ago I headed off-road in a Bronco and, about the time I got out of phone range, high-centered the thing on a drainage ditch obscured by vegetation. I suddenly found myself facing down at about a 45-degree angle. After a few minutes spent calming my panic and glancing through the owner's manual, I noticed the status display in the center dash and saw it had a rock-crawling mode.

I pushed buttons and jiggled levers until the Bronco slipped into my chosen mode. I locked the rear and gingerly tried reverse. The darn thing pulled itself right out of the trap. Sorry, Jeep. I just became a Bronco man.

A hit

So have buyers of all genders. Ford rolled out the new Bronco, which comes in seven trim lines ranging from around $35,000 to more than $85,000 in late 2020 and has seen sales increase steadily. It caught the iconic Wrangler in the first quarter of 2023 and outsold it 55,392-46,671 in the quarter that ended July 31. Bronco also took a big slice off the hide of the Toyota 4Runner, which is now selling about a third as many units as it did before Bronco hit the market.

Of course, if you do not frequently ford streams and battle snow, mud, boulders, rattlesnakes, or bone-headedness, there is no reason to buy a Wrangler or Bronco. I wouldn't recommend either. Statistically speaking, both are unreliable gas hogs. There are scores of more comfortable AWD compact SUVs, starting with the Mazda CX-5 and including stalwarts such as the Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid and Toyota Venza – both delivering more than 30 mpg.

Still, an adage holds: purchasing decisions are guided by the lizard brain, not the logical one. For many folks, our mode of transportation is both aspirational and representational. We crave the image of strength and power and want to convey that we are fit for the great outdoors, whether or not that reflects the realities of our existence.

Which brings us to the Ford Bronco Raptor. Retailing for at least double the price of an entry-level Bronco, the Raptor version is a powerful off-road SUV that is designed for serious off-roading. It is the most powerful street-legal Bronco ever, and the world's first Ultra4 Racing-inspired SUV.

It is powered by a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that delivers 418 horsepower and 440 lb.-ft. of torque. The bottom is covered by a bevy of skid plates.

The suspension is a HOSS 4.0 system designed by Ford Performance for the Bronco Raptor 1. It is the most advanced suspension system ever offered on a Bronco and features FOX 3.1" internal bypass semi-active shocks with FOX Live Valve technology. It monitors ground conditions independently at each wheel hundreds of times per second, adjusting the tune accordingly.

This means it flies down a rutted road as smoothly as a swan traversing a quiet lake.

The rear design enables 13 inches of front-wheel travel and 14 inches of rear-wheel travel. It also features an infinite-zone damping strategy that responds to changes in the road through the springs and shock absorbers in a configured way.

But, why?

In short, the machine is a brute that, on a good day, achieves 15 mpg. Driving in our normal patterns around town, we got less than 12. According to the EPA, the Bronco Raptor will cost its owners about $8,250 more in fuel costs over five years.

Perhaps more importantly, it will emit 577 grams of greenhouse particulates per mile, or more than 27% more than a regular Bronco and 30% more than a nicely equipped, V-6-powered F-150. By way of comparison, an AWD Toyota Venza will cost $2,750 less than average to fuel over 5 years and emits 227 grams/mile of particulates.

That sort of raises the question of why, as in, why do you need a rip-snorting, go-anywhere machine to live your life? Perhaps you suspect the question moves beyond preaching into meddling. Here's the thing: When we take actions for which others must bear the burden, our decisions are no longer personal.

Did I love my week with the Ford Bronco Raptor? I certainly would have had it not been for the guilt.

photo All-new 2022 Ford Bronco Raptor™ introduces new levels of sophistication with dynamic animations and informative graphics such as detailed avatars of the vehicle drivetrain system, all packaged in an easy-to-read, fully customizable 12-inch digital cluster. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)

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