Driven:Why The Bronco Raptor Is Our Favorite All-Round Off-Roader

Test Drive / 2 Comments

Jack of all trades, master of some, too.

We've had some thinking time since we spent a couple of intense days with the Ford Bronco Raptor, and we're still blown away by it. Over the past couple of years, we've driven some great vehicles designed to explore the great outdoors from brands known for vehicles with off-roading prowess, like Jeep, Land Rover, Chevrolet, and Toyota. Yet, it's Ford that has delivered something so next-level it borders on the ridiculous.

Sure, your needs might be for something with a truck bed or something less unwieldy to daily drive. But maybe your off-roading is specific and involves mainly crawling over rocks, or plugging through mud, or crisscrossing the desert, or even spending weeks in the jungle. In that case, something of a different size or built for that specialty might be better for you. However, if you want something that can do it all, well, Bronco Raptor is now the answer.

CarBuzz / IAN WRIGHT

Desert Running

If you're only idea of fun is screaming across the desert in a cloud of sand and dust, the longer F-150 Raptor is going to be more stable. The same could be said of the Ram TRX, but we're not fans of heading into the middle of nowhere in a truck that gets nine miles to the gallon when pushed. Between the three vehicles, that's your best choice for off-the-shelf high-speed desert shenanigans. The wheelbase difference between the F-150 Raptor and the Bronco Raptor (we like the term Braptor, but we'll stick with its real name) is 28.9 inches, which makes a lot of difference when the back starts losing traction and the bumps are coming thick and fast. However, they both ride on the same suspension, but with the F-150 having an extra inch of travel. The F-150 Raptor's 3.5-liter Ford EcoBoost V6 also makes more power (450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque) than the Bronco Raptor's 3.0-liter unit (400 hp and 415 pound-feet). When it comes to desert running, the Bronco sits firmly in second place in the world of factory off-roaders.

Ford
Ford
Ford
Ford

Rock Crawling

When it comes to getting across areas strewn with large rocks, the F-150 Raptor has the advantage of a little extra suspension travel, but this is where its longer wheelbase becomes a liability. The Bronco also has better approach and departure angles - essential for not getting stuck and dinging bumpers when approaching and leaving obstacles. If we were looking for something mainly for rock crawling, we would be looking very hard at the two-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and its 96.8-inch wheelbase compared to the Braptor's (alright, it's irresistible) 116.5-inch space between the wheels.

The Rubicon's 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque is considerably less than the Bronco Raptor, but it's still plenty, and its non-turbocharged fuel economy is considerably better. Both have dedicated rock crawling modes with exceptional approach and departure angles, but that shorter wheelbase is a big attraction, as is the narrower track (73.8 inches versus 85.7) for slipping through tight areas. We're not sure we would like to call which is the better rock crawler without taking them through the same courses back-to-back. Of course, the Bronco Black Diamond trim is a contender, but comparing the Bronco Raptor directly to a Jeep is a whole other conversation.

Ford
Ford
Ford
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Overlanding

For overlanding, our preference is for something with a roof over the storage area for camping gear and supplies, which rules out a truck unless you lay down extra cash. That puts the four-door Bronco in the running, along with vehicles like the Toyota 4Runner TRD, the four-door Wrangler, and the Land Rover Defender 110. If reliability and durability are the main concern, we'll go 4Runner or four-door Jeep all day, but neither have the comfort and convenience mixed with the cargo space of the Bronco Raptor or Defender. If we're spending days traveling through the rough stuff, we want the ability as well as some comfort.

Both the Bronco and Defender have excellent suspension for taking out the crunch of big bumps and the rattling of frequent smaller lumps. The Defender 110 and 130 are the longer four-door versions, but we don't need the third row of seating the 130 offers. The longer Defenders are aimed better at overlanding, and for the same money as a stock Bronco Raptor, you can add packages designed for the task that add to the 78.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats down. The Bronco has just 70 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, but the aftermarket will take care of added storage. The Bronco might have more ability in a tight spot where suspension travel becomes the decider, but we'll take the 6.6-inch narrower, more comfortable, and less fuel-guzzling Defender 110 for going long distances.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Mud Plugging

Getting into soft and slippery surfaces evens out the field dramatically. That gets down to ground clearance, the all-wheel-drive system's abilities, and tires, and all the dedicated off-roaders have excellent all-wheel drive systems and options for locking diffs. With a properly equipped drivetrain, tires then become the most important ingredient. There's an argument for a longer wheelbase, but the wider track of the Bronco Raptor is a big bonus. We prefer the F-150 Raptor over the Bronco Raptor for its added length to help keep things straight, so the Jeep Gladiator is also worth considering over a Wrangler - as are any of the more hardcore full-size off-road trucks like the excellent GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X. When you break everything down, this category is anybody's game.

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Outright Fun

Until the Bronco showed up, we would head straight for a Jeep Wrangler for an outright fun off-roader. They all have a ton of ability across the board, and with seating for rear passengers and removable doors and roofs, the opportunity for outdoor fun and exhilaration is high. Now the Bronco is with us; it's not such a simple choice. While we can appreciate the Wrangler's ability and the sound it makes in Rubicon 293 guise, the fact that the Braptor is capable of both high-speed antics and capable of catching air makes it one of the most fun things you can pilot. The Bronco Raptor wins. Just watch those driveshafts.

Front-End View Ford
Top View Ford
Ford
Ford

Beyond The Dirt: Going On-Road

To get to those off-road trails and spots, we have to negotiate pavement. In reality, the average off-roader will cover as many miles on the road as it will off it. In those terms, the Bronco Raptor isn't best in class for comfort and ease of driving on the pavement. That spot goes to the Land Rover Defender. However, we would prefer to drive the Bronco Raptor on the road over just about anything else in the class. As much as we love the current Toyota 4Runner TRD; it's a dog to drive on the road, and Jeep Wranglers aren't much more fun over any distance either. Trucks are fine if you're into that, but we'll take the Defender for its comfort and amazing on-road ride quality or the Bronco for its on-road driving dynamics, which are surprisingly fun and a result of Ford's attention to its desert running handling.

Ford
Ford
Ford
Ford

Conclusion: Jack Of All Trades, Master Of Some

As of the time of writing, the Bronco is the best desert-running SUV out there, and in that environment only the F-150 Raptor can better it. The only thing that detracts from its still incredible rock crawling ability is its width and length over a Jeep Wrangler. For overlanding, the Bronco Raptor's only downside is its fuel economy and width, and the Defender is narrower and better aimed at long excursions into the wilderness. In the mud, the Bronco is far from going to embarrass itself, and in terms of fun, it excels against any Jeep model based on its high-speed ability. If you have access to all the forms of off-roading and like to take friends and family out for a spin, then the Bronco Raptor is the surefire winner. Yes, in each category, a rival might outdo the Braptor, but it's highly competitive in every single one of them, something its rivals can't lay claim to.

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CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
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