Home » Why Off-Roading A $90,000 Ford Bronco Raptor Alongside A $500 Jeep Cherokee XJ Made Me Fall In Love With The XJ

Why Off-Roading A $90,000 Ford Bronco Raptor Alongside A $500 Jeep Cherokee XJ Made Me Fall In Love With The XJ

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I just went off-roading in the middle of the night, in the rain, with the $90,000 Ford Bronco Raptor that I’ve been blaspheming across the Jeep Holy Land that is Moab, Utah. In keeping with the Buddy Rule™, I brought my friend Jay along; he drove a dirt-cheap, modestly lifted Jeep Cherokee XJ on 31-inch tires. The Bronco Raptor has 37-inch monster-tires and locking diffs, and would therefore be way, way more fun to off-road, right? Actually, wrong.

I’ll come right out and say: The Bronco Raptor is more capable than a $500 Jeep Cherokee XJ, even with modifications like a 3.5-inch lift and 31-inch tires. But that doesn’t mean it’s the machine one necessarily wants to take on the trails. What makes a vehicle capable off-road is a fairly straightforward formula involving geometry, gearing, engine output, suspension articulation, underbody protection, reliability, visibility, traction, four-wheel drive system effectiveness, and weight. But what makes a vehicle fun off-road is more complicated.

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And trust me, the Jeep Cherokee XJ was the more fun vehicle last night. By far.

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My friend Jay and I were driving Fins & Things, a moderate-difficulty trail for a lightly lifted Jeep XJ and a simple trail for the likes of the Ford Bronco Raptor. Anxious to get some “wheeling” under our belts, we chose to do the trail at night, in the rain. Visibility was awful, the wind was piercingly cold, and the rocks were getting slippery. Also, it was my very first night in Moab, and my friend Jay’s first night-run ever, so even though Fins & Things isn’t a hard trail, it was definitely more of a challenge last night.

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I didn’t bother airing down the Bronco Raptor’s 37s, though Jay took his XJ’s 31s down to about 15 PSI to improve grip and off-road ride-quality. As I pointed the Bronco’s nose ahead and stared down at the screen for the front-facing camera (which is surprisingly decent at night) to help guide me since I couldn’t see below that Bronco’s tall hood, the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 under the hood hummed and occasionally growled, quietly.

The motor didn’t need to work hard, as it sent its torque through the 10-speed automatic’s 4.714:1 first gear reduction, then through the transfer case’s 3.064:1 gear reduction, before finally multiplying that torque again by 4.7 in the axles. That’s a lot of torque multiplication — twice that of the XJ (though given the vehicle’s weight and especially its tire size, it needs it more).

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I simply pointed the Bronco where I wanted it to go, and it went there, confidently. On one occasion I had to actuate the rear locker while on a steep, slippery ascent that I didn’t feel like accelerating up. Jay in the XJ behind me made do with wheelspin and momentum; his climb required skill and a bit of bravery, while mine required my right hand moving from my heated steering wheel to the top of the dash to push a squishy “locker” button.

I was bored. Jay was having the time of his life.

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With no rear sway bar and the front one disconnected, the XJ’s Dana 30 front axle and Chrysler 8.25 rear axle both flowed over the terrain, beautifully. A few clunks rang out here and there, seemingly from the front springs, but otherwise there was no drama whatsoever. I took a few lines in the Bronco that I thought would leave the XJ at least making a bit of noise as its belly banged on the rocks due to lack of ground clearance, but no; the XJ was fantastic.

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In fact, the only vehicle that nearly got high-centered was the Bronco Raptor due to its low-hanging (optional) running boards.

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This is where I take a moment to gush about the Jeep Cherokee XJ. Despite its unibody construction that many view as a liability for truly hard-core off-roading (I don’t agree, and think stiffeners can take care of most of the cracking concerns), the 1984 to 2001 Jeep Cherokee truly is a masterpiece of off-road design. Look at how high off the ground those rocker panels are; that’s one of the key ingredients that make the machine just so capable, as off-roading involves placing the front tires onto the tallest obstacles in order to avoid underbody damage. This puts those obstacles right in line with the rocker panels once the tires have rolled over the rock or log or whatever was in the way.

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Take a look at the base Ford Bronco (above), which comes with 30-inch tires from the factory; look at all that “stuff” down low between the axles. The frame is low, the drivetrain is low, and the rockers are low. There’s a reason it has only a 20.0 degree breakover angle, whereas a base Jeep XJ has a 21 degree breakover angle despite stock tires that are two inches smaller in diameter. Wheelbase obviously plays a role, here, but the point is that the XJ’s geometry is excellent, and is the primary reason why it’s one of the best off-road platforms of all time. And it showed out on the trail, as the Jeep — thanks also to some great driving — handled everything we threw at it without so much as a single hang-up.

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The XJ also benefits from having no low-hanging parts far ahead of the front axle. There are some steering parts up close, but that’s about all that’s ahead of the axle and below the front bumper; the Bronco has a lot more stuff up there, hence that giant silver skid plate below those tow hooks.

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I’m not saying the mildly-modified XJ is better off-road than the Bronco Raptor (which is much better in almost all conditions), I’m just saying that the platform allows for a small lift and modestly-sized tires to turn the vehicle into an excellent off-road machine. And that such a lightly-built, cheap vehicle is among the most fun off-roaders money can buy.

After all, pushing the limits of your vehicle and of your own skill is what makes off-roading so fun. And while there are some absurdly-difficult trails here in Moab that would absolutely push both the vehicle and me, the reality is that most off-road trails around the country would be a cakewalk for the Bronco Raptor. It’s simply in a different class than anything that isn’t a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Look at the photo above of the ridiculous suspension articulation in the rear; the front doesn’t articulate as much due to independent suspension, but overall, the flex is still phenomenal for a stock machine. I shot a video of the Bronco Raptor a few months back, and pretty much concluded that it’s a masterpiece — a vehicle that excels in every off-road terrain that doesn’t involve tight quarters (the thing is a bit large — in fact, I had to cancel my plans to drive a trail called Elephant Hill, since it involves driving through a narrow passage that even Jeep JL’s struggle with):

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I’m excited to have the Bronco for the next few days, as it’ll make for comfortable, low-stress off-roading. Given how stressed I am these days, I actually welcome that. But when I have a little less on my plate, and am ready to return to the uncomfortable-DT days of old that involve being covered in oil and buying far too many junkers, I’ll have a huge grin on my face piloting those junkers over harsh terrain.

Because there’s nothing like getting a vehicle you put your blood and tears into over an impossible obstacle. The pride that you feel in that vehicle, and the joy in your heart from knowing that your skill was a key part in accomplishing what seemed just a moment ago like a sure-thing axle-breaker — these are some of the most rewarding emotions in all of motoring.

 

 

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ZHBronco
ZHBronco
5 months ago

Good article but I don’t think you’ll find a $500 XJ in off-roading conditions anymore, not even a $8,000 one.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
5 months ago

The first ad I got on this page was one for a ‘balding salt’ type hair alternative for balding males…is this a reflection on me or on DT or just coincidence?

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
5 months ago

After all, pushing the limits of your vehicle and of your own skill is what makes off-roading so fun.

You’re gonna love off-roading a Renault 4.

GertVAG
GertVAG
5 months ago

Seconded, would be a fantastic article idea !

ZHBronco
ZHBronco
5 months ago

I know the experience but it’s funnier in a Model-A or a Citröen 3CV, the tires shape goes straight to firm ground under the mud lol.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
5 months ago

Sinpar wants to enter the conversation.

Mike Sutter
Mike Sutter
5 months ago

As long as we’re heaping praise on dirt cheap XJs, don’t forget that an automatic XJ has a higher towing capacity than the Bronco Raptor. I’ve got a ‘93 XJ Sport, that cost me less than the cost of the roof rack on my buddies Raptor.

C.A.R. Doctor PhD
C.A.R. Doctor PhD
5 months ago

David, put this excerpt on your wall as a motivational poster, with a picture of a cheap off-road XJ:
But when I have a little less on my plate, and am ready to return to the uncomfortable-DT days of old that involve being covered in oil and buying far too many junkers, I’ll have a huge grin on my face piloting those junkers over harsh terrain.”

Never forget it.

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
5 months ago

I feel like the XJ and Bronco are expressions of different design philosophies. In the XJ’s case, the designers started with a simple engineering formula that involved basically packaging everything as high up as possible and then designed the car around that. For the Bronco, the designers started with an idea of what a badass off-roader would *look like* given Ford’s design language and the heritage of the nameplate, and then told the engineers to make it work.

The Bronco ended up being very, very capable, but it needs more workarounds (like that big piece of armor in the front) and is just a lot more complicated overall. It started out as an idea of what would look cool, whereas the XJ started out as an idea of what would work well off road.

XJs really are engineering masterpieces, and I’m surprised you don’t see more $100,000 nostalgia builds, like you do with old Land Cruisers and such.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
5 months ago
Reply to  FUCK YOU

XJ prices are already going up. I do not doubt that in 2049 there will be $100k nostalgia XJs.

ZHBronco
ZHBronco
5 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

I sold my 2001 XJ 3 months (non modified, all original) ago I’m $12k. I’m regretting it now, I miss it.

ZHBronco
ZHBronco
5 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

I know. I sold my 2001 XJ (all original, not modified) 3 months ago, in $12K. I’m regretting it now.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
5 months ago
Reply to  FUCK YOU

They were also designed at different times with different expectations. Beyond just the more stringent safety regulations that exist today versus 40 years ago, consumers also have much higher standards when it comes to comfort and livability. That necessitates the more complicated engineering and subsequent workarounds you mention.

This discussion reminds me of the comparison between supercars of old (F40, original NSX) versus the ones today. Much more capable today, but advancements take away some of the joy of yesteryear.

Millermatic
Millermatic
5 months ago

“Given how stressed I am these days, I actually welcome that.”

Self care. Don’t forget it. You may fail. You’ll definitely fail if you don’t take care of yourself.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago

High risk of personal injury + low risk of financial peril = fun

Millermatic
Millermatic
5 months ago

Depends on what type of personal injury we are talking about…

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
5 months ago

DT: I drove a truck that costs as much as my house in Detroit to Moab. It did not break down, try to kill me or even trigger my PTSD from previous trips.

I’m bored. Can someone trade me a rusted out shitbox for this shiny new truck?

RICK OTA
RICK OTA
5 months ago
Who Knows
Who Knows
5 months ago

“I had to cancel my plans to drive a trail called Elephant Hill, since it involves driving through a narrow passage” – this would be another win for the XJ. Small and maneuverable >> monster tires on a big vehicle. Most 4wd roads might be trivial for either vehicle, but at least the XJ will fit through all of them.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
5 months ago
Reply to  Who Knows

Suzuki Jimny/Samurai laughs at all of you. I put a Samurai through some unbelievably tight spots in Aruba, spots where a Jeep wouldn’t go.

Patrick Burke
Patrick Burke
5 months ago

I’d like to see the Bronco Raptor on some crazy-ass moonscape trail that actually challenges it.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Patrick Burke

They got Dragonsback but not sure of DTs driving bonafides.

Lokki
Lokki
5 months ago

David:
I tried the same gambit with my ex-wife after she saw a photo of me messing around with a girl whom I’d sworn I didn’t really like. No matter how much I explained why I REALLY liked her A LOT better than the other girl she still called me a cheater…..

You can try to back up all you want, but you’re not fooling any of us. First it was that cute little BMW, and now ….. a FOMOCO Bronco.

Last edited 5 months ago by Lokki
Lisa Marcel Leon
Lisa Marcel Leon
5 months ago

“Why Off-Roading A $90,000 Ford Bronco Raptor Alongside A $500 Jeep Cherokee XJ Made Me Fall In Love With The XJ” -DT
Why am I not surprised?

Serial Thriller
Serial Thriller
5 months ago

The Bronco is too new to have any rust.

Aaron Vienot
Aaron Vienot
5 months ago

I would like to see this same comparo done with a lightly modified Xterra or Frontier added to the mix. Both models are readily available in the used market, the engines are fairly simple and reliable, an OE Dana 44 is available, and owners have access to plenty of parts and a growing supply of aftermarket upgrades. In a few years, when the remaining supply of Cherokees are all selling for five figures on BAT and the now-4Runner crowd is overlanding a fleet of Rivians, the Nissan BOF trucks are what people will be snapping up at the 20yo mark to mod and thrash. Some already are.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Vienot

An Isuzu Vehicross with slightly larger than stock trail tires.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

Looks like the story of the high jinks lynx and the no drama llama.

TurboCruiser
TurboCruiser
5 months ago

$500 XJ? Please show me where I can buy that jeep

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
5 months ago
Reply to  TurboCruiser

2006

Aaron Vienot
Aaron Vienot
5 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

Yeah, those days are mostly gone. Here in the Denver metro where low-rust examples are still common, $2-3k is the price of entry for a clean-ish running unit of any mileage, and the lower-mileage, better-kept examples are creeping toward and past $5k.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Vienot

DT gets them cheaper because he turns his nose up at low rust examples.

Dave Plank
Dave Plank
5 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Vienot

I’ve been amazed seeing how much more expensive Xterra’s have gotten in the last couple years in Denver, too…

Idiot_with_a_garage
Idiot_with_a_garage
5 months ago
Reply to  TurboCruiser

Facebook marketplace back in 2021. Also a story that involves an angry shirtless man in a Wrangler, whores, booze, cocaine, death, and a 4.0L engine with only 10 miles left in it.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago

Tell us more please.

Serial Thriller
Serial Thriller
5 months ago

Don’t tease us, man, we need more details!

Staffma
Staffma
5 months ago

The XJs are phenomenal off road, we had two of them on our Gambler 500 team for a couple events. The XJs almost made dirt roads and mild gambler trails too easy, but they make up for it in mechanical/ electrical pain.

A. Barth
A. Barth
5 months ago

a lightly-built, cheap vehicle is among the most fun off-roaders money can buy

And I think that’s the takeaway: the fun-per-dollar figure for the XJ is through the roof.

The Bronco is incredibly posh in comparison. It cost 180X what the XJ did, but it’s not 180X the fun of the XJ.

Also the XJ driver probably isn’t worried about picking up a dent or two, where the driver of the borrowed Bronco… 🙂

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I agree used to have an Isuzu Amigo manual 4 cyl. You had to get in the right hand lane with the semis to go up a hill but that thing floated over water, dirt, sand, and i kid you not an alligator one time. I am not sure who was more surprised.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
5 months ago

Nice article David. You left one thing out though. You have more fun with a low cost 4X4 build compared to a $90K build, because you’re more afraid of damaging that $90 truck LOL. Well, at least that would be me

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
5 months ago

I really enjoy this article David. You have captured what brings many of us to love vehicles. Putting work into a project, person, or any sort of creation binds us to it. We learn, we grow, and our love for the creation grows as well. I feel like what you are describing is the embodiment of the quote by Anton Chekov – Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.

Torque
Torque
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Add a quote from Anton Chekov to the top of the list of ‘things I didn’t expect to experience today…’ 🙂

Acid Tonic
Acid Tonic
5 months ago

Good article 🙂

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
5 months ago

There’s the Tracy we know and love – and the truth is, you’re absolutely right. As incredible and impressive as the Bronco is, the XJ would be more fun.

Geoff Dankert
Geoff Dankert
5 months ago

Great article, and I’ll look forward to you taking the ZJ to Moab next year.

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis
5 months ago

And lo, the Jeep Gods were appeased.

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