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Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 review

Curt Dupriez
Deputy editor

Ford’s ultimate all-purpose fun machine might not be the Ranger Raptor. Because we’ve just driven its big brother, the Bronco Raptor. And it’s absolute dynamite!

Good points

  • Outrageous presence and good vibes
  • Hard-core off-road capabilties
  • Big fun with huge practicality
  • An utter event in every way

Needs work

  • It’s very thirsty
  • Weight blunts performance
  • Needs a bolder soundtrack
  • Still forbidden fruit in Oz

I’ve just driven the ultimate Ford Raptor. And the Ranger Raptor, too. But it’s not the latter. All hail the mighty Bronco Raptor. It’s so outlandish, wild and fun, it makes you wonder how it could be possibly be road legal.

Within days of reviews of the new Ranger Raptor ute, the most anticipated motoring release of Aussie motoring calendar, hitting the web, I was deep in forests of Northern California and the deserts of Nevada, having my unbridaled way with its new heroic American SUV cousin. And the five-door, metallic orange behemoth was blowing my mind in its natural habitat.

To this point, I was already familiar with Ford’s extraordinary Bronco Raptor, the top dog and hardest-core iteration of the wagon retro-reboot, back on US roads and trails, and in blue oval hearts, after a quarter-century hiatus. Six days and a thousand kilometres in, road tripping Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, I’d settled into the big Ford, if mostly via its polite touring ways.


But I was yet to uncork its purpose for being: strung out in an environment fit enough for its conspicuous go-hard, off-roading promise. On rock or gravel, and judging by its very purposeful appearance and features list, I’d expected it would be outstanding on broken surfaces. The Bronco Raptor had, however, lulling me into thinking it was a big pussy cat cruising Californian beaches and highways. And this would prove to be the 4×4’s grand ruse.

It’s an intimidating machine, even parked up. That’s partly because its bespoke guards stretch 25 centimetres wider than the already fat regular Bronco and partly because of the 37-inch rolling stock on 17-inch bead-lock rim, the largest wheels available OE on an SUV in the US. The bash guard, glowing orange driving lights, the orange Fox shock beaming from under the monstrous guards and visible roll cage … all conspire to extreme amalgamated effect.

It’s not simply that it drips aggression. The Bronco Raptor is massive: almost two metres high (1.98m) and so wide (2.18m) that US regulations required it to wear three lights in the grille to perhaps warn onlookers. Everything about it appears oversized, as if it’s Photoshopped even to the naked eye. It must look menacing bearing down in your rear-view mirror and, indeed, it seems to part the traffic ahead on a highway. That it plies a whopping 2.6 tonnes to Mother Earth is unsurprising.

Climb in and the cabin is an odd of strangely congruent blend of military-like toughness and modern luxury. Its design is all square edges and purpose, coated with a lavish layer of polished execution and slick digital eye-candy. The bluff dash, the upright windscreen, the hunkered down seating are quite a departure from the propped-up Ranger Raptor cousin’s cabin vibe, despite sharing much in in Ford’s design language and sharing many of the ute’s features.

The massive dual 12-inch screens are pride of place, crystal clear and incredibly bright, perhaps for visibility when you unhook the roof and un-bolt and remove all of the doors (take that Ranger), exposing the thick orange roll cage that maintains roll-over protection. A lot of it is conventional, some of it is quite bonkers in embracing hard-core off-roading kitsch.

From the pistol grips either sides the dash (to aid entry) to the rubber shrouded switchgear (to shield dirt and water), it’s chock full of trinkets to remind that this Raptor makeover is elaborate and more than a little extra special. And the standard fit marine-grade vinyl trim, that does a great job of looking and feeling like leather and suede, as well as the elasticised door pockets augment the conspicuous sense that the king of the Broncos means serious business.

Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 dashboard

So the first huge surprise is just how placid, polite and – crikey – refined the Bronco Raptor is on the move. To drive, the characteristic kinship with Ranger Raptor, with their common Ford Australia-engineered T6 platform DNA and Ecoboost 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 hardware, is clear and undeniable. And yet the SUV seems to ooze a bit more brawn and menace, even just ticking along a motorway.

Despite the thrum of the massive mud kickers and the spiralling cacophony of wind noise in tandem with rising road speed, the Bronco is comfy and rock solid on the open road. Like its ute cousin, the V6 soundtrack is more raspy than it is rich, ever-present if strangely muted and sombre, save for some faint wheezing of the huge Garrett turbochargers that almost always seem on boost.

The ten-speed auto is, for most the part, slick and not overly hyperactive, though the complexity of the industrial-grade driveline – electro-locking Dana diffs, oversized driveshafts, a transfer case offering scant 67.7:1 crawl ratio on call – sure contributes to some of the nibbles and nips apparent at low-speed in traffic. It nudges in kick-down, too, once you jump on the loud pedal to overtake. But for the most part, during balancing driving and much like Ranger Raptor, it’s an impressively polished powertrain on road.


At 312kW and 597Nm, the Bronco’s claimed outputs are 20kW and 14Nm up on the Ranger Raptor I would ultimately get to sample, back home in Oz, a week later. But whatever the detailed differences – tuning, intake/exhaust configuration, pump fuel grades – you’d swear two Raptors have identical engines because, by the seat of the pants, they feel equals in response and in outright pace.

Perhaps the Bronco’s portly 2.6-tonne weight evens out the pair’s performance. But, like the Raptor, the SUV feels to ride the fringes of its torque hump at low rpm, around 2000rpm where it likes to sit at a cruise, lightly boosted and ready for action. This, together with aerodynamic drag seemingly akin to an apartment block, might explain the extraordinary thirst: even stretching its legs with long stints on cruise control along a highway, around 15L/100km is about as frugal as the Bronco ever gets.

Still, it’s plenty responsive, flexible in energy and impressively linear in response to throttle inputs. But called to overtake, it ramps up onto its torque peak rather than trouncing on it, so roll-on acceleration can feel slightly stilted if you catch the Bronco snoozing. Sport – let alone full-noise Baja – mode lights up response and leaves plenty of on-tap muscle for most situations, but this mode is simply too toey to be left on during general commuting and grander touring.

Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 rear end

Despite quite similar on-road mannerisms, the Bronco format brings a distinctly different character to its Ranger relative. In fact, it quite unique when compared against an other machine. If you presume that, in tangible effect, it’s something of a five-seat Ranger experience, you’ll have missed the mark by a huge measure.

Up and down its range, be it two or four doors, the American-spun 4×4 is clearly Ford’s direct response to Jeep Wrangler, an icon hugely respected in the US for its off-road chops and one boasting a massive fan base and following. And in Raptor guise it is, without doubt, the blue oval’s answer to the hard-core Rubicon breed.

While the Bronco Raptor pitches all of the capability and toughness of Jeep’s finest, the Ford is measurably techier, more sophisticated and vastly more contemporary than today’s Wrangler crop. From the slick driveline mode selection to fluid steering, or from its array of off-roading smarts to the quality of the ride, Ford’s fresh 4×4 figurehead makes Jeep’s current hero machinery seem downright agricultural and old hat by comparison.

Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 fox suspension


Ford’s marketing of Bronco Raptor is almost wholly delivered roof off, doors removed, dirt rooster tails spraying and, quite frequently, airborne. So six days into my custodianship, deep in the forest, across coarse gravel trails that appear curated for some Rally of California I’m unaware of, I figured I’d have a decent crack. Or at least attempt to scratch into the 4×4’s seemingly super-heroic promise, while still wearing my kit gloves.

Flat running, fast curves, loose gravel, I’d love to tell you how it goes as a 4×4. But I was having too much in rear drive (rear diff locked, on-road Sport mode activated, ESP off). Thus set, the Bronco Raptor behaves, surprisingly, much like an old school rally car in the way it loves to hang loose and to be chucked about, spraying the landscape with gravel and dirt.

With its massive BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s spitting a gravel storm out back and biting keenly into the rough course up front, the Bronco slithers at full noise across the course, dancing about with a balance and poise that’s simply remarkable for a machine of its size and weight. With its redline pinned the turbo six finally uncorks a fittingly surly roar, it really just excessive wheelspin that keeps the pace across the landscape somewhat manageable.

Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 baja mode


I opt for 4H mode, launch hard, then back out of it quickly. On the boil, with all-paw traction, the Bronco simply accelerates too hard and fast for this tricky tree-line environment. Still, it brakes incredibly well on gravel and scrubs off pace with aplomb. That said, the big Ford throws around so much inertia – as controllable as it is – that tardy driver reflexes could turn a laugh-aloud full-noise punt very pear-shaped quite quickly.

Even with its tail wagging like a happy pooch, the big Bronco is wonderfully responsive and reactive to the driver’s inputs. It changes direction and trajectory keenly, much of it thanks to its innate balance. Much of the dynamic talent is thanks to the suspension’s incredible wheel control that helps faithfully maintain tyre contact with the lumpy trail surface and the huge amount of grip that affords.

The Bronco Raptor fits what Ford calls ‘HOSS’, or a high-performance off-road stability system, and key to it are the Live Valve Fox-developed semi-active dampers, with internal reservoirs up front and external reservoirs in the rear. They’re adjustable, though on road cycling through the setting doesn’t seem to vary actual ride comfort much at all.

Ford Bronco Raptor 2023 wheels

Off-road, the suspension cushions the sharpest blows nicely while still managing to maintain firm enough body control to keep the chassis alert and impressively crisp. However, it doesn’t quite smother the landscape: the Bronco still bucks hard and will lift you (and your luggage) out of your seat if it hits a large enough rut or lump at warp five.

So far so good, but next we exit the Californian forest, cross the border and soon arrive at a makeshift dirt playground carved into hilly Nevada desert by off-road enthusiast locals. It’s faster, more open, littered with challenging hillclimbs and better suited to digging into all-paw traction and the Ford’s full-house Baja drive mode.

The so-called G.O.A.T. mode controller shuffles through available drive modes very quickly, dialling up 4H from rear-driven 2H in an instant. And a degree of thrust this powertrain leverages from this chassis and tyre combination across large expanses of gravel and powdery sand is, at first, a real attention grabber.

Unsurprisingly, the Bronco Raptor shoots straighter and harder at full noise with all-paw traction, though there’s still plenty of sting in its tail and it slides like a champion without much provocation. And mostly because the pace it drums across ruts really does start to test the suspension wheel control and the consistency of tyre grip.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anything outside of a dedicated competition vehicle liberating speed this swift across terrain this challenging. Let alone anything wearing rego plates or sold off the showroom floor with new car warranty.

But it’s really the level of control at the Bronco Raptor’s helm that is most impressive, in spite of its heft and the inertia in weight that it throws around. You can really chuck it into a gravel sweeper, pin the loud pedal and it’ll pitch into a heroic slide like no ordinary 4×4 ute or wagon could possibly muster, with utmost poise and balance, and with massive rooster tails of dirt in its wake.

The Bronco Raptor is simply so much fun in the rough stuff. For all of its burly promise, it really walks and walk where it matters.

I’m fairly confident that the Ranger Raptor is as much of a hoot as its American SUV cousin in many off-road situations. Ford’s really firing with this Raptor concept and the motoring world’s a more enjoyable place with the option of either of the two.

Still, it’s the Bronco that is a bit more exotic in its makeup and a bit more extreme in its delivery. And while I’d eventually cover almost 2700 kilometres in my two weeks with the Raptor SUV, it only takes a fraction of that duration in ideal conditions to convince me that the SUV is the current king of the Raptor hierarchy.

The problem is, of course, the Bronco Raptor is still left-hook only. And remains forbidden fruit for Aussie enthusiasts. Given how hot property it remains in its native US – ours was the only Raptor-ised Bronco we spotted during our three weeks in the US west coast – it could be a while before any example of the Bronco breed lobs into an Aussie showroom.

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