Allentown’s own the late Lee Iacocca was the father of the blockbuster Ford Mustang when it debuted and when he was with Ford. And since then, whoever gave the green light on the revised Bronco SUV, is another Iacocca as the compact SUV has become a hit as I see lots of them on local roads and in driveways.
The 2023 Bronco has been marketed as the Jeep Wrangler fighter, and so far, it’s been doing a pretty good job of doing that. Bronco is offered in different flavors to suit a variety of SUV buyers from daily driver to serious off-roader. It’s available in Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Heritage, Badlands, Wildtrak, Everglades. Heritage Limited and hot Raptor.
We were privileged to test the Heritage Limited with Sasquatch package that was off-road ready with higher ground clearance, front and rear locking differentials, steel sash plates, front stabilizer bar disconnect and tall, 9-inch, deep lugged Goodyear tires, and of course Bronco’s G.OA.T (Goes Over Any Type Terrain) 4WD system. Compare the off-road specs with the Jeep and they are similar.
Many moons ago I recall attending an earlier model Ford Bronco II (it was later discontinued and at the time went up against Chevy’s S-10 compact SUV) long-lead where auto journalists were offered a unique driving experience with a down-sized version of the full-size Bronco. Woody Haines, Ford’s truck PR person at the time, planned a white-knuckle ride-and-drive over the red rocks of Ogden, Utah. A true off-roaders haven. The final test of the little Bronco II was down a huge steep and slick red rock. Fortunately, I was in an automatic transmission Bronco so I could ride the brake in low gear and 4-low 4WD down the almost 90-degree sloped rock. Another journalist who I believe was with Playboy magazine, had a manual transmission Bronco II. When he popped the clutch, the Bronco stormed down the rock and all of us at the bottom of the rock, scattered for our lives. Miraculously, he managed to get it under control and stopped a little way past the bottom, albeit sideways. But the little Bronco didn’t roll over.
Todays Bronco is worlds apart from that earlier model. Bronco has an unmistakable design with good on-road manners in addition to admirable off-road capability. It has a distinct exterior with a stylish, boxy, yet rugged look and running lights that encircle the headlamps. It’s offered as a two or four-door, both of which come with the ability to remove the doors and the front and rear portions of the roof.
My Heritage Sasquatch test SUV came with 35-inch Goodyear, 9-inch wide off-road tires, a HOSS 2.0 suspension system with Bilstein shocks, front stabilizer bar disconnect, locking front/rear axles and fender flares. And like the Jeep Wrangler, the rear hatch swings out to the right before the hatch window can be opened.
Bronco also has a rugged looking interior as well. My Heritage Sasquatch model came with rubber floor matting and drain plugs in the event you get caught in a sudden rain deluge when the doors and tops are off. Step-in to the interior is a high 26 inches or 17.5 to the running boards. A 12-inch digital infotainment display serves a host of functions including rearview and frontal cameras, SYNC 4 with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a pitch and roll gauge when off-roading, fuel economy display and more.
Over on the 8-inch gauge cluster, it serves a host of functions and features. The digital/analog gauge cluster has a driver information display centered between the gauges.
The leather front seats are heavily padded and nicely supportive and they straddle the console that has a passenger side hand rail to hang on during rough off-roads. A burly gear selector controls the 10-speed automatic transmission and in front of it, a cell phone charger. HVAC controls are easy to operate traditional type switches.
Bronco’s 4WD system consists of 2H, 4H, 4L and 4A (automatic). And the G.O.A.T system offers Baja, Normal, Mud/, Rock/Crawl and Sport modes. Depending on the road surface, drivers can select steering modes of Normal, Comfort, Off-Road and Sport. Even the exhaust tone can be selected with Normal, Baja, Quiet and Sport sounds offered. These are all modes the Jeep Wrangler doesn’t offer.
Back in the rear seat, it’s also heavily padded for two adults with ample headroom. But leg room can be tight if the fronts are racked well rearward.
Bronco’s cargo area is spacious and with the rear seats upright, there’s 35.6 cubic feet of space measuring 34.5 inches deep, 42 wide and 36 high. Flip the second row and space increases to 77.6 cubic feet for 66 inches of cargo loading depth. Lift-over into the cargo bay is a tall 33 inches and beneath the cargo floor is a 24-inch-wide shallow bin for small item storage. Ford also provides nylon bags to stow the roofs so they don’t get scratched.
The 2023 Bronco can be had with a choice of three powertrains. A 2.3-liter, turbo 4-cylinder with 275-hp (300 with premium fuel) and 315 lb/ft of torque (325); a 2.7-liter, twin-turbo 6-cylinder with 315-hp (330 w/premium fuel), 410 lb/ft of torque (415 w/premium), and the Raptor model gets a 3.0-liter twin-turboV6 with 418-hp and 440 lb/ft of torque.
Our Heritage Sasquatch came with the 2.7-liter twin turbo and with start/stop engine technology it received EPA mileage estimates of 17 city, 17-highway mpg. Certainly not miserly, but it is potent and can tow up 3,500 pounds. Hard acceleration was awesome and under heavy throttle it produced a sweet growling sound. There’s certainly no want for power.
Bronco handles admirably with a tight turn radius making it easy to park. And when going off-road, 8.4 inches of ground clearance will easily clear nasty obstacles (especially with its good approach /departure/breakover angles) and deep snow. It can also ford 33.5 inches of water.
Ride wise, it’s taut but better than the Wrangler. Because of the deep-lugged off-road tires and over highway driving, there is discernable tire noise.
Since the test Bronco was a pre-production model, it didn’t have a total price. But the Heritage Limited carries a listed base price of $66,895. Far from cheap, but it’s far from ordinary.
Bronco was fun to drive. And it’s my kind of SUV. The only thing I didn’t like about it was its robin egg (baby blue) paint. A tough SUV like this should be painted in a light grey a lot of cars are showing up with today, or in the least, a dark grey, black or other dark color to enhance its tough SUV abilities.
All in all, the 2023 Bronco is truly a Wrangler fighter with better ride and handling, and a compelling choice for a compact SUV.