It’s always rare to get anything for free. Shortly after Ford introduced the second-generation F-150 Raptor, the company opened the Raptor Assault program. This unique experience allowed new F-150 Raptor owners the chance to spend a day learning about their specialty pickup from some of the nation’s best off-road drivers. Attendance at the Raptor Assault program was, and still is, offered free of charge to buyers.
Fast-forward to the launch of the new Bronco and the Bronco Sport, and Ford again opted to follow this model by launching the Bronco Off-Roadeo. Like Raptor Assault, attendance at the full-day professionally instructed driving experience is offered to Bronco and Bronco Sport owners gratis (there is, however, a small registration fee, and travel to and from the event is not provided). Now for the first time, Bronco Raptor owners are invited to join in the fun at a Bronco Off-Roadeo experience that is uniquely Raptor.
Before the new Ford Bronco Off-Roadeo Raptor Experience opened to the public, the company invited us to experience an abbreviated program and get a small taste of what’s in store for Bronco Raptor owners when they arrive.
How Is the Bronco Raptor Experience Different?
Ford’s new Raptor Experience shares a mailing address with the standard Bronco Off-Roadeo, and that’s about all. Although there are four Bronco Off-Roadeo facilities spread across the nation, the one-and-only Raptor Experience lives at the Mt. Potosi location nestled in the hills just outside Las Vegas. To ensure the Raptor Experience won’t disappoint, Ford partnered with a few of its world-class off-road racers including Vaughn Gittin Jr., Loren Healy, and Brad Lovell, along with off-road legend Bob Burns to aid in designing the races.
Upon arriving at the Mt. Potosi venue, we were shuttled to an all-new basecamp facility built especially for Raptor. The basecamp is decorated in all things Raptor and wears a more race-inspired motif than the standard adventure-lodge feel of the original Bronco Off-Roadeo locations. A curated mix of high-speed desert driving, technical trails, and incredible obstacles are designed specifically to challenge the Ford Bronco Raptor—this is the most intense Bronco Off-Roadeo created to date.
Getting Familiar With the Basics
The day at any Bronco Off-Roadeo program begins with an intensive classroom learning session. This interactive orientation is used to familiarize new owners with the Bronco’s ins and outs in a safe setting where even the most basic of questions can be asked. This part is designed to ease participants into the experience gradually, remembering that for some this could be their first time taking a Bronco (or any vehicle) off-road.
Moving outside, one Bronco Raptor is pulled from the pack and driven slowly through a short, mixed-terrain course between the basecamp and lower parking lot. Participants walked with the coaches as they described more of the vehicle’s unique features and functions while watching the suspension work from the outside. With the classroom portion of the day completed, we were ushered over to a lot filled with two dozen brand-new 2023 Ford Bronco Raptors and shown to our assigned steed.
Behind the Wheel
The off-road portion of the experience begins shortly after being separated into groups of three or four vehicles, with one of the company’s instructors riding shotgun in the lead Bronco. Connected with two-way radios, the groups head out into the open desert on a 25-mile romp toward a location affectionately called Raptor Valley. During the drive, the instructor spends plenty of time talking the group through the Raptor’s different drive modes and off-road features along with giving helpful advice as increasingly difficult obstacles are navigated. These trails feature diverse terrain with plenty of seat time for everyone to become fully acquainted with the Bronco Raptor. Tire preservation is the top priority, as the Raptor’s incredible width can easily lead to unexpected rock-to-sidewall contact. At the end of the road and down a graded road lies the destination: Raptor Valley.
Learning to Fly
The highlight of the Raptor Experience is the custom-built off-road park outside of Sandy Valley, Nevada, which the group has dubbed Raptor Valley. Built in an old quarter, Raptor Valley features three distinct courses: a rock-crawling trail, the Baja-inspired Raptor Run course, and the Ultra4 course. Because our day at the Raptor Experience was abbreviated, we sadly skipped running the rock-crawling trail. However, it was described as featuring multiple rock gardens with large boulders, 30-degree inclines and declines, and a rock waterfall with several 4- to 5-foot ledges to descend. Our instructors said this is one place where they teach the proper use of the Bronco Raptor’s Trail Control and one-pedal-drive features.
Moving over to the Raptor Run and Ultra4 courses is where things got real. Up until this point, the day had focused on learning how to properly utilize the Raptor’s wealth of electronic controls and driving aids along with becoming familiar with the vehicle. Now, however, it was time to see the Bronco Raptor’s unbridled performance capabilities.
Inspired by desert racing and the wild terrain of the Baja peninsula in Mexico, the Raptor Run course is pure excitement from start to finish, complete with rock-strewn two-track trails, tight rutted turns, a long section of desert whoops, a road jump, and step-down. The course was undeniably rough. After a sighting lap with one of the instructors, we slipped back into the driver seat and were sent off.
Having a fair bit of high-speed desert driving experience under our belts, we weren’t shy about giving it the beans. As expected, the Bronco Raptor handled the course with ease, seemingly shrugging off each obstacle while asking for more. We ran full throttle through the whoop section and down the two-track straightaways where the Raptor suspension easily soaked up the bumps. The Ford Bronco Raptor’s brakes inspire confidence, easily scrubbing speed going into tight turns without getting into an ABS moment, even while driving at a spirited pace. And the steering provided the right amount of feedback without transmitting too much of the trail back into our hands. Although it was shorter than we would have liked (seriously, we could do this all day), the Raptor Run course was an absolute blast.
With that activity behind us it was time for the grand finale, the Ultra4 course. This circuit is built as a combination of desert short course, rutted two-track, loose rock, and fine silt. The Ultra4 course is also home to the centerpiece of Raptor Valley: a massive tabletop jump.
As with the Raptor Run, an instructor first took us on a sighting lap before we got back behind the wheel. Wisely, the entrance to the Ultra4 course involves descending a steep hill and navigating a sharp left-hand turn prior to lining up for the tabletop. This forces most drivers to scrub a fair bit of speed prior to taking flight so as to not overcook the turn. The trick is to come into the left-hander hot, give a bit of trail braking while drifting through the turn, then get hard on the throttle as soon as the Bronco’s tail comes around the corner. If done right, the result will be a solid six feet of air between the ground and the SUV’s skids, along with many seconds of hang time.
Hanging any vehicle out that high is always a rush, and the Bronco Raptor lands smoothly every time thanks to its Fox LiveValve dampers—and it can do it all day long, too. After the tabletop, the rest of the course is a bit of a rush, heading next into a small step-down jump, through the silt beds, up a rock face, and over one final jump before finally getting a chance to bring the heart rate down.
Quite an Experience
With our time finished at Raptor Valley, we pointed our Broncos back toward the open desert for the return ride to basecamp. We used these miles to reflect on our time at the Bronco Off-Roadeo Raptor Experience. The biggest takeaway is that, if nothing else, any notion we previously held about the perceived fragility of the Bronco Raptor was completely dispatched. We pushed these Ford Broncos harder than most owners ever will, even if only for a short period of time, and they continually asked for more. Knowing how difficult it can be to get acquainted with the myriad functions and settings these new vehicles offer, the classroom portion is a benefit not found anywhere else. For any new Ford Bronco Raptor owner, a program like this one is a truly invaluable asset—and the price is certainly right.