I recently worried that I start every one of my overlanding vehicle reviews with some mildly harrowing scene, as I follow my buddy Josh Ashcroft down a track that I probably shouldn’t.
Having looked back at my recent reviews, I realize that it’s true; I do in fact start most of my stories this way. This isn’t because I’m a lazy, unimaginative writer (debatable). Rather, I wager this is due to the fact that my buddy Josh is a masochist. I think he generally wants to hurt me and the rigs I have for review. Therefore we find ourselves in stressful driving situations often.
The same was true of the Ford Bronco Raptor I piloted recently on a trip through the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon — not far from the grounds of Overland Expo Pacific Northwest. My buddies Josh Ashcroft in his Land Rover LR3, Winslow Sandler in his Jeep Wrangler JKU, and I, in the Bronco Raptor, were zig-zagging our way through the Deschutes’ seemingly endless maze of roads. We were in a seemingly futile search of a trail Josh had driven only once 10 years prior.
After a day of bouncing off deadends, locked gates, and massive fallen logs (that only the Bronco Raptor could have climbed), I was at my wits’ end. Rather than fruitlessly pushing on, I was ready to
throw in the towel pull out my towel and go swimming in a nearby lake.
Slightly after noon, we staged lunch at the terminus of the dead-end trail, a mere quarter mile from a nearby lake. Maps had indicated this road reached the lakeshore. However, like so many other trails that weekend, we found ourselves just shy of our destination.
Over slapped-together sandwiches, we studied our maps of the region. Tracing a faint gray line on Gaia GPS with his finger, Josh had a last guess as to where his lost track could be. “It might be this 10-mile arc through the woods here.”
Incredulous, I furrowed my brow.
Maybe it was still hangry, but I was not convinced that — after attempting dozens of others already — this faint track would be the one, the holy grail, we’d been seeking all weekend. Adding further insult to injury, getting to the faint arc would require a few hours of backtracking. I was undecided.
After our slapdash lunch, and back on the trail, we found ourselves at a literal fork in the road. To the left was the route to the faint 10-mile arc. To the right was the surefire track (probably) to the nearby lake.
I paused for a moment and tapped my radio on my knee.
Should I be annoying and route us to the lake or be adventurous and send us toward this mystery trail?
“Fine,” I sighed. “Let’s try that track.”
Raptor all the things
Since its inception in 2009, the F-150 Raptor — then the only Raptor — has always been about desert running. You know, doing 70 miles per hour through Johnson Valley, California. That is, according to Ford.
This sort of driving doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I am very much an off-roader, subscribing to the ‘as slow as possible, as fast as necessary’ mantra. So, the Raptor nameplate has never meant much to me. That was until Ford Performance bestowed it upon the all-new Bronco. Then my interest was very much piqued.
In transforming the venerable Bronco into a rig worthy of the Raptor nameplate, Ford did many things. If you want to read about all the engineers did, I recommend the Autopian’s deep dive on the Raptorizing the Bronco.
The things that stood out to me, though, were the factory 37-inch BF Goodrich T/A KO2 tires, piggyback reservoir FOX suspension, and potent 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 Ecoboost engine, which is mated to a 10–speed automatic transmission.
All told, the Bronco Raptor delivers 400 horsepower, 13.1 inches of ground clearance, front and rear lockers, G.O.A.T.O.T. (Go Over Any Type of Terrain) Mode, and 24 inches of combined screen in its dashboard.
Unfortunately, in order to achieve the Bronco Raptor’s incredible track width and to fit the 37s, designers had to install some ludicrously large fender flares. Some onlookers likened them to kiddie-pool flares — a bit hyperbolic, yes, but not wholly unwarranted.
With the mirrors folded, the Bronco Raptor is a staggering 85.7 inches wide. To put that in perspective, the RAM 2500 is 79.5 inches wide. Yes, you read that right; the Bronco Raptor is more than six inches wider than a full-size heavy-duty truck.
Despite its gargantuan flares, from the front and the side, the Bronco Raptor looks very cool. From the back, though, I think it looks rather ridiculous. It’s a big-hipped beast for sure. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly capable. And that’s what I am here for.
10-mile Black Diamond
Around 90 minutes after departing from lunch, we found the start of Josh’s long-lost trail. Our gamble finally paid off.
Josh warned us the start was kind of rocky. The rest, he recalled, wasn’t too bad.
At the sight of the first rock shelf, though, Winslow and I got the sense that this trail was a bit harder than Josh had initially led on.
“I don’t remember this part,” Josh hollered back at us from his LR3. Unfortunately, this would be a phrase we’d hear many times over the next five hours. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were embarking on a 10-mile-long trail with a black diamond rating (no, really).
There was nothing soft or forgiving about the trail. It crawled over 10 miles of volcanic rock and was tightly lined by gargantuan conifers — some of the most unforgiving stuff you can encounter in a 4×4, let alone one wider than a full-size. And it didn’t let up. There were no gaps, no breaks, just nonstop trees and rocks for ten miles.
If the natural conditions weren’t stressful enough, the trail was dotted with parts of broken side-by-sides. My blood pressure skyrocketed.
If side-by-sides are smashing apart on this trail, what luck do we have?
Engaging and disengaging the front and rear lockers and with G.O.A.T.O.T. in ‘Rock Crawl’ mode, the Bronco Raptor and its 37-inch BFGs handled the trail beautifully. However, I virtually never looked straight forward out the windshield. My eyes instead darted between the sideview mirrors and the 12-inch center touchscreen.
In the mirrors, I watched the wide flares just squeak past massive tree trunks. On the center touchscreen, I monitored the upcoming terrain from the image of the grille-mounted forward-facing camera.
Since the nose of the truck was pointed skyward most of the trail, it was difficult to see the trail ahead. Although I’ve owned and driven off-road vehicles with forward-facing cameras before, I’d never relied on them as heavily as I did in the Bronco Raptor. Because of the high-res forward camera, I am sure I avoided more than a dozen boulder collisions.
Mile after arduous mile, I somehow managed to weave the widebody Bronco Raptor in between all of the trees and over all of the razor-sharp rocks without bending a body panel or slashing a sidewall.
When we finally called it for the night, we were absolutely knackered. My brain had been absolutely melted by the ordeal of ensuring the Bronco Raptor’s safety. You see, I am a careful overlander in my own vehicles. I am hypervigilant, however, in someone else’s rig. Although I was keen to test Ford’s latest 4×4, I wasn’t in any hurry to harm it.
Having driven the Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond trim last summer, I wasn’t expecting a wholly different driving experience from the Bronco Raptor.
I mean, how different could it be?
Entirely different, as it turns out.
The Ford 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 is a revelation. It pulls like a V8 but returns the fuel economy of a V6. And with the exhaust in Baja Mode (one of four exhaust note modes, including “Quiet,” which I assume was designed to not annoy the neighbors), it rips and snorts like a Jaguar (the car, not the cat).
Mated to the quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, which acts more like a dual-clutch transmission than a traditional automatic, the engine is allowed to demonstrate all of its prowess without any drawbacks. Well, that is until you’re in 4Low.
With its penchant for firing off gear changes with lightning speed, which is great at full open throttle, as you blast through the desert, it kicks like, well, a bucking Bronco when going between first and second gears in 4Low. This is mostly solved, though, if you manually shift the automatic with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
During my time with it, I drove the Bronco Raptor 549.9 miles, and it averaged 15 miles per gallon. For a widebody 4×4 with 400 horsepower riding on 37-inch tires, I think that’s pretty incredible.
On the highway, the Bronco Raptor surprised me even more than it did on the trail. That’s because I assumed it had to be incredible off-road. But on? That wasn’t as cut and dry a foregone conclusion.
Instead of wandering and wallowing, like I assumed it might with 37s, Bronco Raptor rode more like a Range Rover. I chalk this up to its independent front suspension, at the heart of which is those piggyback reservoir FOX shocks. Ford Performance and FOX engineers did a world-class job developing the shocks and tuning a ride strong enough for Baja but supple enough for daily driving.
Truly, driving the Bronco Raptor is a standout delight on every surface.
Not an overlander?
At the end of the 10-mile black diamond, we found a less-than-rocky spot and parked. Once Bronco Raptor was in park and the ignition switched off, I pulled my cot out of the back, set it up in the dirt, and flopped down on it. I stared up into the blue evening sky for a while and studied the puffy whiteclouds as they eased by. We had just inadvertently completed the toughest track I’d ever driven. And I was absolutely zonked.
Before I’d left for the trip, a Ford representative had warned me that the Bronco Raptor wasn’t really made for overlanding. Despite its 37-inch tires and incredible powertrain, it was more of a desert runner than a tight-trail tamer.
Upon hearing this, I didn’t believe the rep. After having driven the Bronco Raptor down a 10-mile black diamond, I was coming around to the argument.
Early in our journey, before we rolled onto the 10-mile black diamond, we’d found a straight but heavily rutted trail. Seeing an opportunity to stretch the Bronco’s legs a bit, I popped G.O.A.T.O.T. into Baja Mode and pinned the throttle.
The Bronco reared up and, for a half mile or so, it gilded effortlessly over the terrain. I’ve never felt anything like it before. It was as if the huge rocks, holes, and ruts simply vanished, vaporized ahead of the Bronco — likely in fear of what was rushing at them. Rather than face being pummeled by a 37-inch BFG, the ruts instead gave up the ghost and disappeared.
I realized later, lying on my cot, that was the moment the Bronco Raptor had been in its element. It handled the black diamond with aplomb, but that wasn’t what it was made for.
So, you might wonder, am I getting around to pooh-poohing the Bronco Raptor as an overland rig? Not in the slightest.
No, the Bronco Raptor has one of the finest powertrains, one of the finest suspension systems, and one of the finest interiors I’ve ever encountered in a factory 4×4. It is next-worldly stuff. And the engineers at Ford Performance should be very proud of themselves. That’s because the Ford Bronco Raptor is the finest factory off-roader I’ve ever driven — full stop.
“I’ll bet there will be about three people who ever use the Bronco Raptor for overlanding,” the Ford representative chuckled during our call.
Boy, I hope he’s wrong. I hope some of you prove him wrong.
If this stallion is restrained solely to simply racing through the desert, we will all be missing out. This kind of expert engineering can’t be constrained to just one kind of terrain. We overlanders must abide by the G.O.A.T.O.T. Mode switch and truly take Bronco Raptor over any type of terrain — especially overlanding.