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We drove the Ford Bronco Raptor in the vast desert of Texas’ Big Bend National Park

This is a dialed-in, off-road-ready funmobile ready for you to take off the doors & roof and just ... drive.

Ford Bronco Raptor parked on the roadside in Big Bend National Park.
Mike Richard / The Manual

According to research I made up for this post, Texas law requires a minimum of 87% of all vehicles on state roads to be lifted trucks. This is a state where trucks, especially workhorse pickups, reign supreme. So, just driving a jacked-up F250, Ram 1500, or Jeep Gladiator isn’t enough to stand out in the crowd. Even a tricked-out Bronco hardly raises an eyebrow. I learned what will turn heads, however, is a Ford Bronco Raptor.

It’s everything that makes the rebooted Bronco so dang cool: Endless utility, an iconic silhouette, heritage good looks, and the open-air freedom of a Jeep Wrangler sans the doors and roof. But the Bronco Raptor, known affectionately in fan subreddits and forums as the “BRaptor,” is taller, wider, meaner, and, to use a bit of automotive journalist jargon, so, so much more “badass.” In its flagship Raptor trim, the Bronco might be the most aggressive factory SUV on the road today, the picture-perfect overlanding rig. (Cue the hate mail …)

Exploring the design and specs of the Ford Bronco Raptor

Closeup of the badging on a 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor at sunrise in Terlingua, Texas.
Mike Richard / The Manual

By the numbers, the Bronco Raptor is overqualified for most any job. Where the base Bronco comes standard with a very tame, very street-friendly, 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, the BRaptor brandishes a beastly 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 tuned to 418 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque, mated to a buttery smooth 10-speed automatic transmission. A Hoss 4.0 suspension with Fox live valve dampers, locking rear and front differentials, and a heavily armored undercarriage are all standard. Add to that a stable of seven user-selectable G.O.A.T. modes (that would be “Go Over Any Terrain” modes, e.g., Sport, Rock Crawl, and Baja), and it’s clear the BRaptor is purpose-built for serious off-road adventuring. Thanks to monster, 37-inch, beadlock-capable BFG K02 tires at the corners, it sits high and confident with an imposing, almost sinister, presence. On the long, winding roads that cut through Big Bend’s Chisos Mountains, I felt like I was bullying rubber-necking tourists to pull over and let me pass without even intending to. This is a truck that demands to be noticed.

Low angle view of the grill on a 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor.
Mike Richard / The Manual

And noticed it was. During my 10 days in Texas, I couldn’t stop for gas, tacos, or a pee break without coming back to some wide-eyed lookie-loo walking laps around the truck before peppering me with questions. “What kind of Bronco is that?” “I’ll trade you my Subaru for it!” “What size tires you got on there?” “C’mon! I’ll trade you my wife/dog/firstborn for it too!” I joked that it wasn’t even mine, that it was stolen, and we’d inevitably share a good laugh despite the fact that both were kind of true.

Heading down to Big Bend in the Ford Bronco Raptor

Closeup of the steering wheel on the 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor.
Mike Richard / The Manual

All of this is why I knew the Bronco Raptor was the perfect rig for bombing the desert roads of South Texas on a trip I’d been scouting for years to Big Bend National Park. My plan was to torture test the BRaptor on River Road—one of the state’s most remote off-road trails. In the NPS’ own words, it “is currently in a very poor, unmaintained condition. Travel on this primitive road REQUIRES High Clearance AND true Four-Wheel Drive. It is NOT passable to passenger cars, minivans, motorhomes, and tiny crossover SUVs.”

It’s not technically challenging, per se. But it stretches more than 50 miles, loosely following the Rio Grande along Big Bend’s southern border, across some of the driest, roughest, most inhospitable terrain in the Lone Star State. It’s long and extremely remote. There is no cell coverage, there are no services, and, perhaps most importantly, there are very few visitors to help bail you out if things take a turn. Javelinas and coyotes outnumber humans by about 100 to 1.

For most park visitors, there is nothing to see here, and certainly nothing worth risking one’s life over. It takes most people a full day to drive, and many bail before the halfway point at the ruins of an old mercury mine that is still so toxic that no one should probably be visiting anyway. Park staff advised me not to touch anything out there and definitely not to lick anything. (I just assumed that went without saying, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that very bizarre warning …)

Abandoned ruins of Mariscal Mine in Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Mike Richard / The Manual

The park rangers also warned that if I blew through two tires—not uncommon on River Road—I had only two options. I could either stay with my rig, hit the SOS button on my Garmin inReach, and wait for a spotter plane (a pretty big gamble) or self-rescue by hiking the potentially 25-plus miles in 110-degree heat to the nearest paved road (an even bigger gamble). Still, I knew that if ever there was a stock truck ready to tackle such an adventure, it was the BRaptor.

I picked up my 2023 Oxford White Bronco in San Antonio and made the 500-mile trek southwest to “the Big Bend,” as folks called it back in the day. Cruising along I-10, the BRaptor clearly wanted more– a lot more. It’s reasonably tame on the highway, even when pushing Texas’s typical 75-mph speed limit. But the truck didn’t try to hide the fact that it was bored. The engine, transmission, and suspension are all geared for serious off-road fun, not leisurely airport transportation for journalists looking to cosplay “Baja Racer.” It felt like a feral Rottweiler, just barely trained not to tear up your house, all the while its DNA is screaming at it to “RAGE! BREAK! DESTROY!

A 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor at sunrise in Terlingua, Texas.
Mike Richard / The Manual

After a full day on the road, I arrived in the funky, postage-stamp-sized town of Terlingua on the western edge of the Big Bend. I made camp just after eight o’clock, tucking into the rear of the Bronco as the sun dipped slowly below the horizon. The sky melted into a pitch-black that just doesn’t exist in my New England hometown, and I watched as a million pinpoints of light shimmered overhead. I was promised some of the darkest and most beautiful night skies in the Lower 48, and Big Bend did not disappoint.

The next morning, I stopped at the Cottonwood General Store to make whatever preparations I could ahead of River Road. I packed way more water and Limonata than I thought I’d need, loaded up on granola, protein bars, and deli meats, and made sure the tires, including the full-size spare proudly mounted to the Bronco’s arse, were all in good shape. Most importantly, I dialed in a Texas-inspired Spotify playlist of Willie Nelson and 80s new wave.

Torture-testing the “BRaptor” on River Road in Big Bend National Park

A Ford Bronco Raptor parked on River Road in Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Mike Richard / The Manual

Given the sheer size of Big Bend National Park—not much smaller than the whole of Rhode Island—getting around takes a lot longer than you’d expect. From Terlingua, I drove more than an hour towards Rio Grande Village, the park’s easternmost service stop. Here I turned onto River Road East, marked by a bland, brown National Park Service sign warning of all the reasons why I shouldn’t drive the road I was about to drive. Just beyond the sign, things quickly devolved into a mix of loose and hard-packed desert sand sprinkled with a layer of coarse gravel. This was “high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle” country—perfect for letting the BRottweiler off its leash.

Over River Road’s first 20 miles, the terrain grew increasingly rougher. The stretches of reliably packed sand shortened, overtaken by long sections covered in chunky gravel, remnants of long-dead lechugilla, and buried rocks jagged enough to puncture the tires of lesser-equipped SUVs. I dialed in Off-Road G.O.A.T. Mode and pushed the BRaptor hard and harder still: 30, 40, then 50 miles an hour. For miles, it stuck to the loose-pack terrain like glue, eating up every stone, bump, and wayward bit of cactus on the road. With more than a foot of travel at every corner, the suspension inhaled it all without a hitch. No matter what I threw at it, the Bronco seemed to reply with a curt, self-assured, one-word question: “… and?” It’s as if it was always begging me for more. So I obliged. At 60 miles an hour, with my foot still firmly on the big pedal and catching more and more air over every successive bump in the road, I had to stop eyeing the speedometer when I felt the back end start to kick out in the corners. It never completely lost its footing, but it was time to pay attention. Even with Ford’s adept 4WD system, no 5,700-pound SUV is immune to the laws of physics.

2023 Ford Bronco Raptor driving River Road in Texas' Big Bend National Park.
Mike Richard / The Manual

While still not considered “technical,” the western half of River Road is notoriously rougher, wilder, and more challenging than the comparatively tame eastern portion. I felt like the Bronco wanted me to save the best for last. After passing the mercury-covered remains of Mariscal Mine, I was officially halfway home. With the low-lying desert scrub of River Road East in the rearview, the road ahead became hillier, more varied, and narrower at times as I pushed back into the Chisos Mountains. Thick stands of juniper provided a constant source of “desert pinstriping” along the way. Still, I pushed the BRaptor hard, catching air over nearly every rise in the road, slamming into jagged bits of rock that were so numerous as to be unavoidable, and drifting into sandy twists in the road just enough to get the blood pumping before the four-wheel-drive system course-corrected my wanton driving.

After more than eight hours under a blazing Texas sky, I emerged on the other side of River Road. I’d run the BRraptor hard for a full workday through desert heat that soared north of 110°F on some of the roughest road conditions I’d encountered on anything that could even be considered a “road.” It never overheated. There were no sacrificed tires. If anything, the BRaptor seemed ready to turn around and do it all over again. Just as I suspected, this is where Ford’s Bronco Raptor was, and is, most at home.

Closeup of the 37-inch BFG K02 tires on a 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor.
Mike Richard / The Manual

Some like skydiving. For others, collecting stamps is what gets them out of bed in the morning. My drug of choice (not literally–drugs are bad; stay in school, kids!) is high-performance vehicles: Corvettes, IndyCars, and Ford Bronco Raptors. Believe me when I say that you haven’t lived until you’ve ripped across the vast, Martian landscape of south Texas, catching air at freeway speeds in a BRaptor blasting “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” I doubt my four-wheeling desert exploits are what Cyndi Lauper had in mind when she wrote her classic hit, but I know she’d approve of the sentiment.

Lastly, there’s no denying the BRaptor is a blast to drive. But it’s not all torque and roses. On the list of things we can’t overlook: It gets horrible gas mileage, suffers substantial body roll (especially at highway speeds), and the interior is downright noisy. The latter is the price you pay for a removable hard top, of course. This is no tame, well-behaved daily driver. But, to each of those complaints, it’s hard not to imagine the BRaptor replying, “… and?” No one is buying a Bronco Raptor for its stellar fuel economy, mild-mannered freeway handling, or touchscreen multimedia system. This is a dialed-in, four-wheel-drive, off-road-ready funmobile begging you to quityerbitchin’, take off the roof and doors, and just drive.

Build and spec your own Ford Bronco Raptor

Ford Bronco Raptor at sunrise in Terlingua, Texas.
Mike Richard / The Manual

Not surprisingly, a flagship truck is worthy of a flagship price tag. At the time of my trip in May 2024, the base price for the Ford Bronco Raptor was just north of $85,000, including destination and delivery. After ticking all the option boxes, that quickly ballooned to more than $95,000 (with D+D fees)—more than three times the cost of an entry-level Bronco. The good news is that Ford just announced it would be cutting the starting price of BRaptors to around $80,000. So, if you’ve got serious disposable income to burn and have ever wanted to own the most off-road-capable, factory SUV that’ll turn the heads of everyone on the road—even in Texas—the time is now.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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