Pounding along, wipers on max as we dip into another hollow filled with a foot or more of standing water, the spray flinging 20 feet in the air, plastering the windshield on the way, streaking the sides, pelting the roof. Tires squirm in the mud, momentum bogs slightly as the water futilely tries to halt our progress, driver and passenger rocking side to side, fore and aft over the uneven surface. The new Bronco Everglades motors along, each challenge — water, rock, mud, branches — met and mastered.

As kids, who didn’t like to play in the mud, splash about and get absolutely filthy dirty, much to the dismay of mom, who stripped us down and threw us into the bathtub to get clean? As we got older, most of us grew out of that carefree stage. But not everybody, notably hardcore off-roaders, the ones who purposely take their sport-utes — many of them jacked, lifted, over-tired, reinforced and battle scarred — not merely off the beaten path, but deep, deep into the hinterland, with topography that would gut any soft-riding mall assault vehicle and leave its rusting carcass to the elements. The prepped Everglades and the even gnarlier Bronco Raptor are hardcore, built exactly for these adventures. And we got down and dirty with them.

The off-road-oriented experience started with New Brunswick’s Cape Spencer, a recreational area crisscrossed with trails, located at the southern portion of the province, butting onto the Bay of Fundy. Perfect for putting the two newest members of the Bronco family through their paces. The Everglades special edition, “for off-roaders looking to go farther off the grid,” and the mighty Raptor, the most powerful street-legal Bronco ever, “built for desert running and boulder crawling.” Well, maybe not much in the way of desert here in Canada, but, yes, we have boulders.

The Everglades, available only as a four-door model and with a starting Canadian MSRP of $70,599, can’t quite match the sheer off-road prowess of the Raptor, but is by no means a knife at a gunfight, outfitted with such factory-installed features such as a snorkel, integrated front bumper-mounted winch and all the off-road equipment in the Bronco Sasquatch Package, including front and rear locking differentials, 35-inch tires with 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, 4.7 final drive ratio, heavy-duty Bilstein position-sensitive monotube shocks, and high-clearance fender flares. It also has HOSS — Ford’s High-performance Off-road Stability Suspension. Its signature snorkel, which runs up the passenger-side A-pillar, assists vehicle performance in dust, snow and water by raising the engine air intake above what Ford refers to as “nasty trail conditions.” Its design uses two easy-to-swap plates to change the direction of the inlet depending on trail and weather conditions. Coupled with the vehicle’s raised vents for the front and rear axles, transfer case and transmission, the snorkel helps extend water fording capability to as much as 924.5 mm. And yes, that limit was tested on a run through a very marshy, nine-kilometre trail.

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor and Everglades

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Stephanie Labossiere

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Stephanie Labossiere

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades Photo by Brian Harper

Powertrain-wise, the Everglades’ turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoostfour-cylinder delivers 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torqueon premium gas (275 hp/315 lb-ft on regular 87 octane) and is paired with a SelectShift 10-speed automatic transmission, a 4×4 drivetrain and a maximum 67.8:1 crawl ratio. Considering the big rig tips the scales at a hefty 2,364 kilograms (5,212 pounds) before options, the boosted four-banger does not feel overwhelmed or particularly coarse when getting to speed. Don’t expect parsimony when gassing up the 79-litre tank, though — while NRCan doesn’t have a rating for the Everglades yet, the US figures work out to 13.1 L/100 km in the city, 13.8 L/100 km on the highway.

Speaking of highway, the Everglades has a soft, cushiony ride on-road and off, aided by its big, chunky Goodyear rubber and Ford brand’s GOAT Modes (Goes Over Any type of Terrain) Management System, with multiple driver-selectable modes. However, tire noise and wind noise are constants and will prove tiresome on longer drives.

Inside, the Everglades is easy to clean after a workout on the trails, fitted with marine-grade vinyl seats and rubberized washout flooring. And as a family vehicle, the five-seater offers plenty of legroom for taller front-seat occupants or rear-seat riders, but not both. Cargo capacity is generous, hardtop versions offer 2,197 litres (77.6 cubic feet) behind the first-row seats, 1,008 L (35.6 cu ft) behind the second row.

Yet, as capable and extroverted as the Everglades is, it isn’t the ultimate off-terrain warrior. For the most determined adventurers out there, only the $99,995 (without options) Bronco Raptor will do, Ford again expanding its high-performance off-road truck franchise with a desert racing-inspired rig the automaker says is equipped with “elite” off-road technology and hardware.

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 ford bronco raptor and everglades

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Photo by Brian Harper

Increased suspension travel and track width for handling stability during high-speed desert runs are givens. But the four-door Raptor also sees fully boxed, high-strength steel frame with new shock towers that increase wheel travel and off-road durability. Heavy-duty bash and skid plates provide driveline coverage from the front bumper to the back of the engine, transmission and transfer case. In the upper body, B-pillar cross bar and C-pillar reinforcement help deliver a 50 per cent increase in torsional rigidity over a standard Bronco four-door.

And we’re just getting started, though I believe only the most fanatical of boonies bashers will truly appreciate the copious enhancements. The solid rear axle is upgraded to a semi-float Dana 5 Heavy-Duty AdvanTEK with 235-mm ring gear, while the Dana 44 AdvanTEK front-drive unit includes upgraded half-shafts with 210-mm ring gear. These front and rear axle upgrades increase the track width by 8.6 inches over a base Bronco. Larger front and rear driveshafts support increased wheel torque. The Raptor also runs with a minimum ground clearance of 333 mm (13.1 inches), 122 mm (4.8 in) more than a base four-door model.

But wait, there’s more! The 4×4 system with three modes includes a higher-capacity clutch designed to withstand the demands of high-performance desert events. The upgraded transfer case also features a 3.06 4×4 Lo ratio for up to 67.7:1 crawl ratio. The Ford Performance team also collaborated with FOX to upgrade the HOSS system with live valve technology similar to the F-150 Raptor truck’s position-sensitive damping design.

BFGoodrich was tapped for the Raptor’s 37-inch KO2 all-terrain tires, the largest, says Ford, of any American-built production SUV (two Ford Performance-designed 17-inch x 8.5-inch beadlock-capable wheels are available.) An electric-power steering rack and housing as well as larger-diameter inner and outer tie rod ends are added as further upgrades.

All these enhancements add weight, the Bronco Raptor tipping the scales at a portly 2,600 kg (5,732 lb). Fortunately, Ford’s powertrain team retuned the proven twin-turbo 3.0L EcoBoost V6 to punch out 418 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel, with intercooling and air-induction systems designed to endure desert temperatures.

For all its mass, the Raptor accelerates with surprising verve. Handling is a different story. There’s a reason nobody slaps a saddle on a rhino and enters it in the Kentucky Derby. The Raptor is big, wider than the aforementioned Everglades, and jiggly over shallower dips and bumps, even in Normal mode. Because of its massive rubber, it’s best to initiate an early turn-in when cornering. Thankfully, the electric power steering takes a lot of the effort out of getting it to turn. And, while NRCan doesn’t have a rating for the Raptor either, the US figures come out to 15.7 L/100 km in the city, 14.7 L/100 km on the highway — premium gas only.

It would be nice to say my co-driver and I gave the Raptor a proper off-road workout on some moonscape-like terrain, but we could only manage a kilometre or so drive over the seafloor of Passamaquoddy Bay at low tide on a sojourn to Ministers Island, once the summer estate of Sir William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway — cool in its own right yet hardly a test of the Raptor’s intended abilities. However, Ford did put on a low-speed rock crawl demonstration that — as the accompanying photos will attest — the big rig impressively aced.

Much like a big-buck exotic, say a 770-hp Lambo Aventador SVJ, only a fraction of the Bronco Raptor’s engineering overkill has a place on a public road. It is a barely disguised off-road race machine that needs the sort of playground it was clearly designed for, such as Baja or California’s Mojave Desert. In fact, for $30K less, the Everglades version is just as impressive and is a more “practical” choice for extroverts who yearn for wheels that will take them far, far off the beaten path — and return them home safely, albeit a lot dustier.

Ford is not accepting any new retail orders on the 2022 Broncos but says the 2023 model year order banks will be opening soon.

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