By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer
The Ford Bronco Raptor is new this year and it satisfies a need that most people probably weren’t aware is there. It’s a big, turbocharged, fast-paced rig with the off-road goodies and fat tires everyone wants. Like Jeep, Ford saw the kinds of mods people make to rigs like this and said “Hey, we could sell that from the factory and make bank!”
After a couple of decades’ hiatus for the SUV, Ford brought out the sixth generation of the venerable Bronco in 2021. Two versions were introduced, just to make it more confusing, and because of production delays, the Bronco Sport (aka “Baby Bronco”) hit roads first. And immediately Bronco fans were livid.
Because the Bronco Sport is not what we think of as a Bronco. It’s a rebodied Escape crossover-SUV. In other words, a car with all-wheel drive and more ground clearance. Not a truck. And in no way the promised off-road beast that had been displayed in commercials.
Eventually the full-sized Bronco appeared. And those of us waiting for it were satiated. Terms like “Jeep killer” and “Wrangler trouncer” were used frequently. This was encouraged by Ford, which carefully took aim at the iconic Jeep brand through this rig.
This new-generation Bronco is definitely a contender against the Jeep Wrangler. It’s extremely capable, can be stripped down to its roll cage frame like the current-generation Wrangler, and has the off-pavement chops to go there and do that.
This year, Ford upped the ante with the Bronco Raptor model. Jeep has the Wrangler 392, which I found to be so ridiculously overdone that it was pure awesomeness. It’s what happens when an enthusiast shoves a big V8 under the hood of a Wrangler and then keeps all of the factory off-road gear intact. It’s a terrible idea. And it’s totally #bitchinbadass.
Three things, however, work against the Wrangler 392 for me. To begin with, it’s a fuel hog. Which means one won’t spend as much time out in the hinter having good times before heading back in to get more go-juice. It’s loud. Really, really loud. That’s a muscle car engine under there, for Pete’s sake. You’ll scare the fish rumbling that 392 beast up to the lake. And finally, that engine with all of its supercharger and turbos and accessories is heavy. Making the front of the Wrangler 392 also very heavy. That sucks when you’re janking about off the pavement. The balance is all off and the front suspension bottoms out really easily compared to a standard Wrangler Rubicon.
Back to the Ford Bronco Raptor. It has none of those issues. Instead of a giant 6.4-liter V8 under its hood, the 2023 Bronco Raptor has a heavily turbocharged 3.0-liter V6. That engine sends 418 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque to a ten-speed automatic transmission. From the transmission’s first gear to the low-range gear in the transfer case, total crawl ratio is 67.9:1.
For reference, the Wrangler 392 brings 470 horses and torques to the field and 77.2:1 to its total crawl ratio. In actual use, however, the Bronco Raptor has a better handle on its power delivery, being less jumpy about shoving torque down when the throttle is pressed while moving along. The Wrangler 392 is just more about speed than slogging through mud or climbing up rock piles. And in speed, the Bronco Raptor can’t really compete. But it sure can make a run of it.
For those doing 0-60 sprints in their off-road-oriented SUVs–and that’s admittedly a small group of people whose wisdom is much in question–the rated launch times for these rigs is 4.5 and 6.3 seconds in favor of the Jeep. But you’ll spend about $10,000 more to get that Wrangler 392 over the Bronco Raptor. So if loud pipes and fast sprints are what drives you and you somehow must have that when out playing in the dirt.. Well, I guess we know where your money’s going.
For the rest of us, who just like to bounce around in the wilderness and occasionally climb a bunch of rocks because, well, they’re there, the new 2023 Bronco Raptor is a little more fitting.
The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor checks all of the good times boxes. The doors come off. The roof comes off. The front axle disconnects. And when driving around without the roof panels or front doors on, you can stow those in the back cargo area. Just in case you want to put them back in a hurry. Something the Wrangler can’t boast.
Don’t get the idea that I don’t like Jeep. I’m a huge fan of the Wrangler and have owned some in both real and imaginary formats. I have a LEGO Jeep Wrangler, have built several models of it, and even carved one in wood. I’ve also rolled one down a rock in Moab, gone airborne Dukes-style in one, and am known to stop and harass people with questions and commentary when I see vintage GPs and Willys out in the world.
But the Bronco and this Raptor model are serious contenders for that off-road love. For a very long time, Jeep hasn’t really had any real competition from the market. There’ve been attempts, of course, but they were never really contenders. Which is why the Jeep Wrangler remained largely untouched–with the same basic engine and getup–for a long, long time. Now there is real competition via this Ford Bronco.
The Bronco Raptor model is so insanely fun, it inspired me to pose with my guitar and growl lines from Amon Amarth. Because I love off-road rigs like this.
Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.