And only because our meticulous planning wasn't meticulous enough.
This story will be about a very complex, albeit short, love-hate relationship with a car that nearly everyone we talked to loved seemingly unconditionally: the 2022 Ford Bronco Raptor. As fall dwindled last year, we planned a camping trip to test the Bronco Raptor in the Colorado Rockies.
The goal of the trip was pretty simple. We wanted to eat some steak in the woods and drive a Bronco Raptor along the dusty off-road trails outside Estes Park. All work, no play. You've seen the movie.
It's how we figured most owners of the Bronco Raptor will spend their weekends - at least in Colorado. It was, however, one of, if not the worst, camping trips we have ever been on.
The Shining didn't start as a horror, nor did our Estes park adventure. We got some shiny new gear from the local REI's used section, some cheap beer, and some cheaper steaks, and headed west to enjoy the last of the fall scenery. We'd intended to make camp, scout the trails a little, and have a nice dinner before heading out for a weekend of overlanding with friends. If we found another spot to camp at, we'd have even made camp a second time for the hell of it.
That is largely how things transpired. No one was up at our campsite, leaving the small cluster of dispersed camping sites to ourselves. As long as that eerie feeling of being alone in the woods didn't set in, we figured we'd be fine and started to whip up dinner. It was, by the way, delicious.
After chewing down the placebo effect that surely applies to eating a steak you cooked yourself in the woods, we mused about how the Bronco was probably too much car for this sort of thing. That is both correct and horribly wrong.
It is correct simply because you do not need what is effectively a production Baja racer to go for a weekend of camping. It is horribly incorrect because our supposedly "meticulous" planning, which accounted for every variety of wild weather Colorado sees in late fall, well, didn't.
The gusts woke us up at around 11:00 that night. What followed was the worst night's sleep anyone could've asked for. The gusts were strong enough to shift anything weighing less than 40 pounds to the other side of our tent or, in some cases, an unsuspecting head. Being inside the tent felt like riding in a bag full of bowling balls.
So, we threw anything that wasn't nailed down in the Bronco, which meant we threw everything in the Bronco, leaving almost no room for a grown adult, even with the seats down. On top of that, the Ford's seats don't fold flat, so we had to sleep like sailors (after a little Skyrim), head pinned upright between the back of the driver's seat and the door. Otherwise, we'd have probably slipped a disk thanks to the three-inch gap between the seat back and the load floor.
With the wind came windchill. It was 39 degrees in the Raptor, so we had to run the car's remote start periodically through the night, and the wind battering the sides of the big green square-turned-tent shook nearly as often as the panels let the wind whistle in. It was legendarily uncomfortable.
Now, we'd love to say the clouds parted and the next day was all sunshine - Colorado does get about 300 days of the stuff - but no. Instead, a park ranger told us it would only get worse the next night, with snow the night after. We were also cautioned not to use so much as a lighter for fear of being mauled by Smokey the Bear. At least the sun was shining, even if it wasn't doing so metaphorically.
So, with a weekend ruined by wind storms, we tried to find some way to like the Bronco. Until now, it had been too large, too thirsty, and far, far too uncomfortable. We hated all 15 mpg of Raptor sitting unused in our now derelict and dust-sprinkled campsite.
So, forcing some optimism, we decided to take the long way off the mountain before we were blown off it. The route down was winding, narrow, and full of obstacles. It was the perfect place to test the maneuverability of such a large truck. This should be anyone's primary concern on a weekend out with the Raptor - at least if you're off-roading.
Thankfully, Ford has made maneuvering easier thanks to the Raptor's suite of cameras. If you do have to reverse to let someone by, you certainly won't have to worry about backing over something you can't see. On top of that, Trail Turn Assist - which brakes the inside rear wheel to effectively tighten the turning radius - is a pretty handy tool for navigating tight turns and backing into tight spots to make a little room on the trail.
Eventually, the Bronco Raptor's extra-wide track gets in the way of oncoming traffic, especially on tight passes. Black Bear Pass comes to mind. But on most moderately difficult off-road trails in the Rockies, you won't be in the way.
Of course, the Bronco handled any off-road task with ease. This is Ford's most extreme off-road Bronco, and frankly, if it couldn't handle it we'd be telling a very different story right now. Supposing you do have to simply hammer over something, rather than putting the massive 37-inch KO2 tires over it, Ford's underbody protection seems thorough enough.
The Fox suspension makes off-roading an almost luxury experience. You're largely undisturbed by all but the largest impacts, though it's no magic carpet ride. Still, there's enough comfort here to make us want for a much longer and more arduous off-road adventure. That is, after all, the point of a car like this.
Why spend almost $80,000 on something if it isn't going to make you like being out away from it all?
This is only half the Braptor equation, of course. The other half is speed, and Colorado is dotted with flat dirt fire roads that'd make a WRC driver blush.
These fire roads led us through the last stretch of wilderness before reaching a paved highway and are undoubtedly where the Braptor shines compared to its siblings. Here, the suspension is like a magic carpet, and you float over the road while the steering tells you what the rest of the car is doing.
Put the car in Baja mode, turn off the traction control, and you start to feel more like Ken Block than Joe Schmoe. At speed on roads like these, the Braptor shrinks around you like no 5,733-pound SUV has the right to do. We don't miss the traditional Raptor V8 here, largely because the V6 is so fun to use via the large steering wheel paddles. In the words of TV space captain extraordinaire Zapp Brannigan - "She's built like a steakhouse, but she handles like a bistro."
This is when our relationship with the Bronco Raptor finally got interesting. Ford has presented us with a car that can literally do anything. It can feel like a sports car, it can go off-road better than almost anything on the mountain, and it can keep you comfy all day while doing it - so long as you don't need to sleep in it.
That's a rather compelling formula, and barring poorly-planned backcountry excursions, anyone should be able to get into this Super SUV and have a great time.
Its vices are few but extreme and include offensive looks - most anything at the $80,000 price point is offensive in some way - horrifying fuel economy, abysmal parking, and shift paddles that are perhaps a little too far away from the wheel for anyone who doesn't have giant hands.
But the Bronco Raptor fills so many roles that anyone with a passion for any kind of driving will find a way to enjoy the car. Want to play Sebastian Loeb on a fire road? The Bronco Raptor obliges, and the suspension can take some truly impressive landings without breaking a sweat. Disconnect the sway bars, and the articulation the Raptor is capable of is astounding.
In the end, it's fundamentally impossible to fault the Bronco Raptor. How can you hate a car that can do almost anything? Ford has built something truly impressive here, and for that, we have to congratulate them. And kindly ask that the load floor be leveled.