Ford Bronco gets the full-on Raptor treatment

Distinct design, off-road capability elevates 4-door SUV

When the Ford Bronco took its bows last year, there was little doubt it was squarely focused on competing with the Jeep Wrangler. Exhibiting similar off-road aesthetics as the iconic Jeep, the Bronco was a fresh-looking take on a very crowded SUV segment.

While there have been Sport and Sasquatch versions of the Bronco, the introduction of the over-the-top Raptor for 2023 takes off-road capability to an impressive level. This is a vehicle where you will pay for distinction – but it’s probably worth it if you can afford it.

Cabin feel

The Raptor feels like a different vehicle when you have the roof and door panels removed. This kind of access to the outside means the interior needs to be rugged and the Raptor has a design ready for anything.

While seating in the rear is tight, the front seats are roomy, though they could have been a bit more supportive. Raptor has two options for upholstery: Marine Grade Vinyl seats finished in Black Onyx are the standard or opt for the blue with black onyx option my tester featured ($2,495) and enjoy leather-trimmed vinyl seats with neo-suede inserts.

I eventually learned to love the bright orange that’s all over the Raptor’s interior. Look for orange accent pieces throughout the cabin as well as on the controls for the A/C vents, the GOAT (Goes Over Any Terrain) mode selector, the storage nets in the doors, contrast stitching on the seats, and the Bronco logo on the instrument panel.

The upright dash design gives Raptor an immediate impression of utility, though it does not lack tech functionality. One of the coolest features of the dash is the ledge that allows you to mount your smartphone or GoPro camera with a that allows you to mount your phone or GoPro camera that plugs into a conveniently located 12-volt outlet nearby. A 12.0-inch capacitive touch LCD panel is pre-loaded with SYNC 4 and Enhanced Voice Recognition.

Beefy looks

During my week-long test period, I had about a dozen people ask me what it was I had just parked next to them in the lot or stopped beside them at a light. The Bronco is a nice-looking SUV – the Raptor is other-worldly looking and definitely worthy of all those queries.

One of the first things that strike you when you see the Raptor is the huge fender flares and – those beefy tires. At 6′6″ wide the Raptor looks planted and powerful. Adding to that look are the fender flares that jut out about eight inches. They need to be that big to accommodate the 37-inch BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tires mated to 17-inch rims. Ford says the tires are the biggest factory tires of any vehicle in North America – and I believe them.

Raptor sets itself apart from the standard Bronco in endless ways, most not very subtle at all. Start with the front grille’s FORD script instead of Bronco. The LED daytime running lights are amber on Raptor, rather than white, there are two tow hooks in the front and rear, as well as LED fog lights and off-road lamps.

The use of working vents are yet another nod to authentication, with a slotted carbon black hood and heat extraction slots on the front side fenders. Many competitors use this as a “look” with no real function. On the Raptor, they really do help the V6′s operation.

The Bronco Raptor is only available in a four-door configuration. Like a Jeep, you can deconstruct your Raptor by removing the roof and door panels to create a unique open-air experience. The windshield-mounted rear-view mirrors are great so there’s less issues when you remove the doors. I really liked the side-opening tailgate and the full-size spare hanging on it.

Off-road performer

To appreciate the Raptor, you must start by recognizing it was designed to be a high-speed off-roader with the capacity to handle rock crawling. Getting to the store or dropping off the kids will not be an issue at all.

The Raptor’s 4x4 system allows you three drive modes options with the GOAT mode selector. The system also features an upgraded two-speed transfer case with a 67.88:1 crawl ratio.

Raptor features a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 delivering 418 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Look for a 10-speed automatic transmission, with paddle-shifter capability. The upgraded dual-exhaust system offers the driver the choice of several aural settings: Quiet, Normal, Sport and Baja.

Not surprising that the Bronco Raptor features the same High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (HOSS) Fox shocks that are featured on the equally amazing F-150 Raptor pickup. Keeping the wheels free to roll are the 3.1 Internal Bypass Semi-Active dampers, which provide 13 inches of clearance up front and 14 inches in the rear. The ground clearance has increased by 4.8 inches on the Raptor over the Bronco.

With a starting price of $68,500, the Ford Bronco Raptor may seem at first to be excessive. If you consider the abilities provided by the amazing array of off-road-capable mechanicals, the price does feel more than worth it, especially if you compare it to a Jeep’s cost. My tester landed at $75,770 with added features, and that felt very fair.

• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.