Considering the obsession that the US has with SUVs, it was always a little strange that Ford let the Bronco slip out of production in the mid-’90s. Few vehicles have done more to popularize the 4×4, after all. That’s why people cheered when Ford announced that it was bringing back the classic off-roader following a 25-year absence. The Detroit giant didn’t just bring the Bronco back as a model, though. It brought the SUV back as an entire family.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s hard to disagree in the case of the Bronco. The iconic 4×4’s relaunch last year has done nothing to dissipate the public’s interest in the vehicle. Build slots filled soon after Ford announced it was bringing the vehiclein 2020, and when deliveries finally began last year, new owners were quickly flipping the off-roader, which starts at just over $28,000, for prices running into the six figures. We may be passed that point now, but the excitement isn’t dying down.
Two SUVs to Choose From
Ford didn’t just bring back the Bronco last year, it also introduced the Bronco Sport. Despite what its name may suggest, the SUV isn’t a variant; it’s a fully distinct model.
The standard Bronco is the newest version of the 4×4 you know and love. Available in either a two- or four-door configuration, the sixth generation of Ford’s boxy bruiser is a vehicle made to be driven anywhere, whether that be the streets of your town, wide-open highways or way off the beaten path. It’s an off-roader in every sense of the word.
The Bronco Sport, meanwhile, is something else entirely. It’s a compact crossover instead of a burly 4×4, though it shares some retro styling cues with the standard Bronco. It’s built on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the Explorer SUV and Maverick pickup truck, meaning its aimed at your average city or suburban driver. We know what that may sound like, but the model—which is only available in a five-door configuration—isn’t just a Bronco in name. All-wheel-drive comes standard, so it can be as capable as you want it to be. The vehicle may be best suited for driving on the road, rather than off it, but it’s also not afraid to spend some time in the dirt.
Engine, Specs and Performance
Unlike its predecessors, the new Bronco isn’t available with a V-8. There are still two mills to choose from, though: a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four that produces up to 300 hp and 325 ft lbs of torque and a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that spits out an even more robust 330 horses and 415 ft lbs of twist. The first engine can be connected to either a 10-speed automatic or 7-speed manual gearbox; the second only comes with the automatic. Whichever transmission you opt for, power is sent to all four wheels.
You may not win many drag races in the Bronco, but it’s got plenty of might. It’s rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, according to Ford, whichever configuration or engine you choose.
The Bronco Sport isn’t as robust as its off-road-friendly sibling, but it’s no slouch. The standard engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder that delivers a respectable 181 hp and 190 ft lbs of torque. The more powerful option, which is only available with the Badlands trim package, is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that produces 250 hp and 277 ft lbs of torque. Both engines come mated to an eight-speed automatic that sends power to all four wheels. Both powertrains have some pep—especially since the Bronco Sport is more compact than its more sibling—but we’d leave the towing to the more rugged 4×4.
The Bronco Exterior: A Classic Reimagined
When you bring back a classic beloved by enthusiasts and casual drivers alike, you have to get the design just right. Ford faced a tough task when it decided to resurrect the Bronco, but there’s no denying that the new SUV is pretty slick.
The Bronco certainly underwent some changes during its first to fifth generations, but there is a clear stylistic throughline that connects each iteration. The sixth generation is no different. Whether you opt for the two- or four-door model, its body is suitably boxy. The shape is a bit softer than previous generations, but it looks rugged—as any 4×4, but especially a Bronco, should. Highlighting this is its bold grille, prominent fender flares and chunky all-terrain tires. It’s also available with a removable hardtop if you plan to have some fun in the sun.
The Bronco Sport, on the other hand, looks more like a modern-day SUV than an old-school throwback. It’s got some retro flourishes, like its grille, plastic fenders and roof rack—but it lacks the all-terrain attitude of the standard version. These little details go a long way towards ensuring it stands out from the rest of the crossover pack.
Interior, Infotainment and Cargo
The new Bronco’s interior is less of a salute to the past than its exterior. Whether you’re in the two- and four-door model, the cabin is decidedly streamlined. It’s also very modern, with a digital gauge cluster and either an 8.0- or 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment screen that runs Ford’s Sync 4 software at the top of the center stack, right in the middle of the dashboard.
Like one of its main competitors, the Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco has removable doors, which can be stored in the back, though they do take up serious space. The two-door’s hard-top roof and the four-door’s hard or soft-top roof can also be taken down when you want to enjoy the good weather. If you do plan to take advantage of this feature, you might want to opt for rubberized floor and vinyl upholstery, both of which make cleanup a breeze. As for cargo space, the two-door model has 22.4 cubic feet of space behind its second row of seats and 52.3 cubic feet when they’re folded down, while the four-door model has 38 cubic feet of space behind the rear row of seats, and 83 cubic feet of space when they’re down.
The Bronco Sport, meanwhile, looks a little closer to the inside of your standard Ford SUV than its more stylish sibling. You also only have one infotainment display option, the 8.0-inch touchscreen, which is again located in the center of the dash. You can’t take off the doors or roof, but you can add a moonroof and upgrade the cargo area, which already features a built-in bottle opener, with a slide-out table.
What’s New for 2023
Things are holding steady as the new Bronco enters its third year of production. As with the past two years, there are several different trim levels to choose from in 2023—including Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and Everglades—which add different levels of off-road goodies and luxury amenities. Two new trim levels—the Heritage and Heritage Limited Editions—will be available in the new year. Both are based on the Big Bend Bronco and add a number of cool design flourishes to both the interior and exterior, including a two-tone paint job and white grille, both of which are references to the first Bronco from 1966. If you want to make an already stylish off-roader look even better—and don’t mind paying a steep premium—either package should do the trick.
The High-Performance Raptor
While the Heritage and Heritage Limited variants are both intriguing additions to the Bronco family, the model any real off-road enthusiast will likely is the Raptor. (The high-performance variant technically launched as part of the 2022 model year, though deliveries have only recently begun.)
Since the 2010 model year, the highest-performance version of Ford’s F-150 and Ranger trucks has been the Raptor model. Earlier this year, the automaker announced it would do the same with the Bronco. And based on what we’ve seen so far, the top-of-the-line 4×4 more than lives up to the name.
Want an SUV that can do anything? Well, the Raptor, which was developed by Ford Performance, comes close. The model is directly inspired by the rugged 4x4s that that speed across the desert and crawl over rocks in Ultra4 races like the King of the Hammers. Under the hood, you won’t find a V-8 (again), but the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 sitting in there is none too shabby. In fact, the mill, which is mated to a 10-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to all four wheels, can churn out a robust 418 horses and 440 ft lbs of twist, easily making it the most powerful street-legal Bronco of all time.
There’s more to the Raptor than a brawny powertrain, though. The model is 9.8 inches wider than the standard Bronco, thanks in no small part to its fully boxed steel frame and HOSS 4.0 race-ready suspension. It’s also got an advanced four-wheel drive system that works with the SUV’s new G.O.A.T. (Go Over Any Terrain) driving mode. Completing the package is a removable hard top and body panels, along with a gnarly set of 37-inch all-terrain tires that help boost ground clearance to 13.1 inches. It’s an off-roader’s dream, plain and simple.
Is an Electric Bronco on the Way?
Considering the steps Ford is taking to electrify its lineup, it only feels like a matter of time before the brand announces a battery-powered Broncos. While we’re still waiting on a hybrid version of the SUV, the Blue Oval has released all-electric version of two of its most iconic nameplates, the Mustang Mach-E and Ford F-150 Lightning, in consecutive years. What better model to follow suit than the Bronco? Of course, if you just can’t wait on Ford to get around to it, savvy restoration shops like Gateway are starting to release all-electric restomods.
Fuel Economy and MPG
While it gets significantly better mileage than its predecessors, the Bronco isn’t exactly a fuel-efficient vehicle. Combined mileage (meaning city and highway driving) for the 2022 Bronco ranges between 17 and 20 miles per gallon depending on the trim and powertrain, according to the EPA. For the high-performance Raptor, it’s even worse, coming in at a less-than-stellar 15 miles per gallon. The Bronco Sport, meanwhile, is much more respectable, with a combined mileage of between 23 to 26 miles per gallon, depending on the trim package and engine.
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Like all new Ford vehicles, the Bronco and Bronco Sport come with fairly standard warranty coverage. Both SUVs offer tip-to-tail warranties that are good for three years or 36,000 miles, and a powertrain warranty that will last six years or 60,000 miles. The complimentary scheduled maintenance that you get with higher-end SUVs is not included, unfortunately.
Bronco and Bronco Sport’s Price: Are They Worth It?
As far as coveted vehicles go, the Bronco and Bronco Sports offer something of a bargain—high value for your dollar. The base model Bronco starts at $31,300 and the range-topping Bronco Heritage Limited Edition at $66,895. Add-ons can send those prices skyward quickly (the average Bronco owner spends around $1,700 on accessories). The Bronco Sport starts $28,815 and the Heritage Limited Edition at $44,655. The Bronco Raptor, meanwhile, starts at $68,500.
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