33 critical questions with the 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor
It was a Wednesday in winter. The man had driven no other modern Bronco. He shared that fact in a meeting.
“Drive it anyway,” the editor said. “Tell us what you think.”
“Gotta start somewhere,” the editor shrugged.
“With an $87,000 Baja freight train?”
“Is the base four-cylinder even any good?”
“Just tell us what you think.”
A moment passed.
“Alright,” he said. “I have questions.”
What rough beast is this?
The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor. A 418-hp, 5700-pound shoebox factory-modified to more effectively utilize, among other things, 37-inch BFGoodrich KO2s and four internally bypassed and electronically adjustable Fox live-valve shocks.
This is the ordinary Bronco evolved extreme—taller, wider, faster. Large fender flares. The suspension has been strengthened and retuned front and rear. The rear axle is an electronically locking Dana 50 (M235), larger and stronger than the base Bronco’s open Dana 44. All in service of off-road hoots and hollers and something like the bare-dirt dream of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, where high-speed off-road racing was essentially born.
The Bronco Raptor was introduced for the 2022 model year. The model was then more than $17,000 cheaper but has since received multiple price hikes. Our test vehicle, a ’23, came on loan from Ford. My kids dubbed it Dinosaur Truck. The internet just calls it “Braptor.”
Ooh, I get it! Bronco Raptor plus brap!
A broad-ranging term of wide acceptance. Believed to have been invented thousands of years ago, when the earth was a harsh wilderness, humanity was primordial and raw, and we needed a word for the mating call of a rutting dirtbike.
It’s a good name.
I can’t help reading it as “B-Raptor.” Like B-Real, from Cypress Hill. Also known as Dr. Greenthumb, aka Louis Mario Freese. A giant of 1990s hip-hop.
Which means, I suppose, it would be appropriate to refer to the Ford as “Louis,” or “Doctor.”
This FAQ-as-writing style of yours is admittedly just an excuse to talk to yourself, but trust me here: No one will call it “B-Raptor.”
Not with that attitude, they won’t. Spread the word!
Pack it up / pack it in / let me begin / I came to win / battle Bronc / that’s a sin?
Plus . . . dinosaur?
The “Raptor” part is a Ford sub-brand. The name was first used on a high-performance F-150 engineered for desert running—long, fast shots over unpaved and unimproved terrain.
Raptors are said to be spectacular in the desert. People also use them for low-speed off-road work, aka rock crawling. No personal experience here on either front. Either way, everyone takes them jumping.
Cool. Why did they build it?
Oh. Car people do that stuff all the time, eh?
Uh, no. Not really.
Ford is a business, so the Braptor was likely built for reasons of brand image and profit.
Do car people want to jump things?
That’s a matter of opinion. Far as I can tell, you either love seeing cars and trucks airborne at full commit, or you are less fun than an empty box of soup.
Using jump ability to sell new trucks is like using drift ability to sell new cars: The act looks great on camera and can indicate a certain fitness for purpose. It can also be dangerous in the wrong hands or environment and is rarely useful in sanctioned competition.
The Ford looks Tonka. Toy truck. Is it?
Welcome to the mandatory fact-dump segment of our broadcast! Consider the following, then judge for yourself:
The styling is best described as “form follows function follows What if you brought home a live zoo animal and parked that sucker next to the mailbox?” The bodywork resembles an ordinary construction brick that got insulted at the local beach when a bully kicked sand in its face, then spent six months at the gym pumping up in order to Get Even. (The term “brick” is not a knock here. Mobile masonry can be quite attractive.)
If the Braptor gained three-sixteenths of an inch in height, it would be 6.5 feet tall.
If the Braptor lost 6.1 inches of width, it would be exactly as wide as it is high.
Ford says the Bronco Raptor weighs 5733 pounds. That figure is light for a large SUV or an African forest elephant, par for a modern compact truck, and—lest we lose sight of the mass at stake here—around 500 pounds more than a 2023 Mercedes-Maybach S580. Which is, you may remember, a five-passenger German hyperluxury sedan with acres of sound deadening, massaging front and rear seats, and enough mass to dent Wyoming.
The Braptor will tow 4500 pounds. Which is not much, in tow ratings, but also not nothing. The base Bronco will itself tow 3500, while the current F-150 Raptor can lug 8200. (Also: An entire base Bronco four-door weighs around 4500 pounds.)
Tonka isn’t the question, really. The question is whether you are the sort of person who might survey the standard B-Ronco range and find every other model on offer simply not enough.
You just made a Ronco infomercial reference. In 2023. What is wrong with you?
I bear no shame, merely abiding respect for the man who gifted the world the Veg-O-Matic, the Chop-O-Matic, the Dial-O-Matic, the Miracle Broom, the Cookie Machine, Mr. Microphone, and the Ronco Pocket Fisherman.
Moving on. The engine in that Bronco?
Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6: two turbochargers, an iron block, aluminum heads, 418 hp at 5750 rpm and 440 lb-ft at 2750 rpm.
Those numbers are respectable for the displacement and warranty involved, but mass is mass. Even with the quick-thinking ten-speed automatic and its relatively close stack of gear ratios, that 3.0-liter never knocks your socks off. Call it quick but not surprising. The transmission puts in valiant work, shifting quickly and intuitively and staying mostly out of the way. Midrange torque is a strength.
Automatic? Don’t people buy off-roaders for a sense of control?
Lesser Broncos offer an optional manual, but not this one.
If you find that fact depressing, consider the choices at hand for every time you strap in: Three settings for steering weight and feedback. Four calibrations for the electronically adjustable shocks. An electronically disconnectable front anti-roll bar. Four exhaust modes. A transfer case that allows for high-range four-wheel-drive, low-range four-wheel-drive, and rear-wheel drive. Plus locking differentials front and rear.
Impeccable rhetoric. You’re right, there is a downside. The steering wheel alone wears 21 buttons, not including the two shift paddles or the truck’s horn. There’s cruise control, the lane-departure system, radar-cruise following distance, those steering and shock buttons, dash menu controls, stereo controls . . .
I could not help wondering if a simpler approach wouldn’t have been a better fit. Broncos can be had with rubberized floors. The doors were purposely designed to be unbolted and removed in minutes. Some parts of the Braptor feel like a simple tool. Others just remind you of a ten-year-old laptop.
Where does one even start with those settings?
If you’re a normal person? In normal driving? You ignore them. You take that large “G.O.A.T.” chassis-mode knob on the console and leave it in . . . Normal.
The G.O.A.T. knob, common across the Bronco line, cycles through various presets for chassis and driveline—Baja, Normal, Off-Road, Rock Crawl, Slippery, Sport, and Tow/Haul.
“Baja” is unique to the Raptor. Logistical concerns sadly limited our testing to pavement, where normal mode was never insufficient. Sport gave sharper turn-in and greater body control but noticeably reduced grip and comfort in all but the smoothest environments.
Tell me about that adjustable exhaust: DOES THIS MOTHER GET LOUD?
Not quite. Those four settings change the sound a little. The most you get is a slight deepening of the engine’s grumble at light throttle.
Turbocharged V-6s are not known for their sound, and this one is no exception—a gurgle-bark under load, emphasis on the tenor, too often quiet and reedy.
We are talking here about a rig that resembles nothing so much as the id of a third-grade boy. With looks like that, the factory exhaust should be funky but knowing. Moody but calculated. Like Gil Scott-Heron, in other words.
Eh, it’s probably irrelevant. Smith’s Automotive Theory #4309: Ninety-nine percent of the people who buy a car with adjustable anything never touch the adjustments. Or even know what they do.
Those adjustments do something, though?
Usually. The question is always whether the something is useful.
Take the Braptor’s electronic power steering. In normal mode, it is nicely weighted but has little to say. Attempting to decide between the system’s two other calibrations is like being asked if you want your McDonald’s hamburger hot or cold: The differences are undeniably real, but the meat isn’t substantially improved either way, so just take what they give you and don’t think about it.
Please tell me it’s fast.
Car and Driver saw 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and a 14.4-second quarter-mile at 94 mph. A quick think on those figures would suggest the Raptor to be relatively quick at low speed but hampered by drag higher up, and it is. Any Bronco is an aerodynamic brick wall, but this one is a brick wall with more sail area—tires, vents, flares, fillips—than the HMS Surprise.
Mid-fives to 60 mph is nothing to sneeze at, but the Ford doesn’t always feel fast. That hangs mostly on the size of the road, how close the trees get to the door mirrors. Proximity to solid objects makes you extremely aware of the mass at stake. Dense traffic can be like tootling through Wal-Mart in an Abrams tank.
It is rare to recall dreams. One of the few I can remember came several years ago and for some reason involved my riding a large pontoon boat over a clifftop waterfall. As the thing sailed off the edge, unslowed by God or physics, my being flooded with a sense of immense and thrilling inertia.
Not a feeling of speed. More like, How Did This Apartment Building Learn to Fly?
Two-lane Braptor hustle is like that. And fun.
So . . . avoid corners.
Nah. There’s nothing spooky here, just the grip of a 1970s Corvette a smartly tuned suspension that feels simpler than it is.
Imagine how a softly sprung but exceptionally dialed desert cannon might behave on the road. The only exceptions to that image come from those Fox shocks. They are a magic carpet of valving and reaction, seemingly unflappable. Bone-stock and road-legal vehicles, especially trucks, do not generally offer damping of this caliber.
Quick cornering suggests Hannibal, wartime, combat on saddled elephants: Speed is fine so long as you make the right choices at the right time. And know how to make the animal listen.
I feel like more numbers would help here.
Thirteen inches of wheel travel up front, 14 inches in the rear. Next to the off-roadiest of lesser Bronco trims (Badlands), that’s a gain of more than four inches and more than three, front and rear, respectively.
The dash touchscreen is 12 inches long. Its UI design is mostly unfrustrating.
Remember that 14-second quarter-mile? A selection of historic vehicles with similar abilities:
1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4: 14.5 @ 100 mph
1990 Chevrolet Corvette Z51: 14.5 @ 96 mph
1996 BMW M3: 14.3 @ 97 mph
Make of that context what you will. Make also what you will of the Braptor’s lack of direct competition. The closest new-car analogue is the 470-hp Jeep Wrangler 392: 4.0 seconds to 60 mph, 12.9 seconds at 104 mph.
Say what with the Wrangler now?
If you want something like a Braptor but don’t want a Braptor, that’s what you buy. No one but Jeep makes anything even close.
How different is the Jeep?
The two machines are similar on the surface but gapped in execution. The Jeep feels dialed mostly for low-speed off-roading and unpaved knocking around. It also wears a solid front axle to the Bronco’s independent front; for better or worse, the 392 is less refined in ride and handling and feels less digitally managed.
Not engineered as a Baja runner, then, but the same basic vibe. Chiefly, the Jeep’s hardware wasn’t optimized for fast travel on an unknown and loose surface. It’s not a creature of high shock-piston speeds or hooty jumps.
So many new trucks are now aimed at Baja, or at least pretend to be. What’s that actually like?
Once, I crewed for a friend during the Baja 1000. After the car broke a few hundred miles in, we spent the rest of the week drinking cheap beer in a sleepy little village on the Sea of Cortez.
Baja is a uniquely torturous and magnetic environment. Picture California minus 90 percent of the people and with only a handful of roads. The rigs that can survive and thrive in Baja racing are unquestionably potent. Statistically speaking, however, almost no one who buys a Braptor will go there.
Why buy one, then?
An intense love for the purpose-built object? A desire for detachable doors and interior panels with a glut of exposed Torx fasteners? You like a complex vehicle in the drag of a simple one? You miss the days when performance cars felt talkative and special at low speed?
Climbing into a seat that feels ten feet high and then using those marvelous shocks to bobble down to the Buy-n-Save: admittedly ridiculous. And yet it is also fun, because the machine cannot be operated with indifference—it needs you there. It behaves like nothing else, seems deeply of itself.
Why would Ford build something like this?
Who knows? Why does anyone do anything? Profit? Brand identity? A desire to properly equip for traffic America’s vast population of South Beach deadlifters?
Is it wrong, wanting to commute in what is basically a detuned race truck?
You do you. We are at an interesting moment in the history of the performance automobile. Trucks and trucklike cars are prime; sales figures suggest the public at large doesn’t give a tinker’s dang about sports cars, fast hatchbacks, or sport sedans. Some wonder if automotive enthusiasm is dying.
Those people are wrong. Far as I can tell, we’ve simply grown bored with being bored at the wheel. With cars that feel like a dead fish below the legal limit. For ages, making a vehicle faster and more capable was virtually guaranteed to bring other positive results, from safety to stability to involvement. But we long ago crossed the tipping point.
If this business has taught me anything, it’s that compelling engineering and imperfection often go hand in hand. Perfect is only fun with things like bowling and math. A 5700-pound sand rig that bounds through traffic like a cartoon dinosaur is imperfect by default.
Do other people care?
They went out of their way to say hi, for what it’s worth. A middle-aged mom in a green Bronco four-door yelled across traffic one morning. (“How long you had it?”) When I stopped at the airport to retrieve a visiting friend, a woman ran over from the arrivals sidewalk, phone out and smiling: “That’s that Raptor! Haven’t seen one yet! Mind if I take a picture?”
What would you change?
The exhaust note. Transmission take-up from an inclined stop can be awkward and herky-jerky. A simpler and more analog cockpit would be nice. Maybe if Ford toned down the disco cosmetics a bit?
The red flashes and fillips spattered around the interior are quite—what’s the word?—Hulkamania. But that’s just me. At the risk of coining a top-five, all-time, desert-island pun: Beauty is in the eye of the key-holder.
That about covers it. I’ve read your stuff before—this is the point for the trite closing thoughts, right? The real friends were the KO2s we aired down along the way or something?
In the end, we travel not to know where we have been, but to return home and have a pretty good idea of which Ford dealers believe in market-adjusted pricing. Diff-lock like no one’s watching! Remote-reservoir like you’ve never been hurt! May the Raptor rise up to meet you!
Live. Laugh. Love leaping through the desert.
Cute. What’s the real takeaway?
Well, nobody buys a machine like this for practical reasons. A Bronco Raptor is the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed inverse of rational. It is also a reminder that so many of our choices hinge on how the result makes us feel. Which sounds trite, yes, but is ultimately tied less to fleeting emotion and more to the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
And sometimes, those stories are simply HELLO I AM CAVEMAN FORD-BRAIN AND I LIKE JUMPING S***.
B-Raptor: A nice piece, if a bit much for most people. Imagine, though, if there was a detuned version? If Ford told a team of engineers to chop the price in half and dial back from full exotic-supertruck-aggro?
The result would be simpler, right? More workaday approachable? Have roots in the past but feel modern in all the right ways? An involving experience where stats like horsepower or 0–60 time aren’t the entire story?
Happily, that’s basically the ordinary Bronco, which sells like crazy. Who knew?
(Answer: Everyone except me, apparently.)
2023 Ford Bronco Raptor
MSRP: $87,875 / $94,395* (base / as-tested, est.)
Highs: Utterly ridiculous. Marvelous shocks. Suggests the freedom and dynamic instability of a 1970s off-roader without living in the past or being dynamically unstable. Will likely hold value. Makes every jaunt to the store feel like crossing the Alps with Hannibal. Nothing like it on the market.
Lows: Can’t be had with a manual gearbox. An EPA fuel-economy rating of 15/16 mpg, city/highway. Feels larger than it is. Optional 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo** is underwhelming. You may not live in or near a desert.
Takeaway: You don’t need an $85,000 Baja freight train. But you just might want one.
*includes Lux Package ($3050), raptor graphic ($1075), leather-trimmed/vinyl seats ($2495), mandatory destination charge ($1795)
**included with Lux Package