2023 Ford Bronco Review and Test Drive
As rugged as expected and surprisingly spacious.
Back in 2021, Ford returned the Bronco to its lineup — possibly in an effort to end Jeep's dominance in the top-off, doors-off, retro-styled, rugged SUV market. Two years later, the 2023 Ford Bronco comes in two-door and four-door body styles, nine trim levels, and your choice between a soft or a hard top. Turbocharged four-cylinder and V6 engines are available, and every 2023 Bronco has standard four-wheel drive.
This year, new versions of the Bronco are available. They include two Heritage-themed versions decked out to resemble classic Broncos from the 1960s and the high-performance Bronco Raptor model. The Raptor features a twin-turbocharged V6, unique suspension tuning with added wheel travel, massive 37-inch all-terrain tires, and other modifications to maximize its capability regardless of the terrain. The Raptor comes only in a four-door body style; all other Broncos are available with two or four doors.
Listed from the most affordable to most expensive models, the 2023 Bronco lineup includes Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Heritage, Badlands, Wildtrak, Heritage Limited, and Raptor versions. Base prices range from the mid-$30,000s to the high $80,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from the Wayne, Michigan, factory that builds it to your local dealership.
For this Bronco review, I test-drove the two-door Wildtrak in Southern California. It came with extra-cost paint, a modular front bumper, steel underbody protection, towing equipment, the High and Lux option packages, a keyless entry pad, and floor mats. These upgrades brought the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $66,345, including the $1,895 destination charge. Ford provided the vehicle for this Bronco review.
In addition, I briefly drove the new Bronco Raptor off-road at a media event, also held in Southern California, where I sampled the SUV's Trail Tool Box technologies, including Ford Trail Control, Trail Turn Assist, and Trail 1-Pedal Drive.
2023 Ford Bronco: The Design
Like its rival the Jeep Wrangler, the Ford Bronco instantly reminds you of the 1960s and 1970s, even if the styling adheres to 21st-century standards and regulations. I think the Bronco looks more authentic in two-door form, and versions with the Sasquatch package and its 35-inch mud-terrain tires add the right visual attitude, perfectly filling out the SUV's protruding fender flares.
The retro flavor carries into the Bronco's cabin, where a flat-faced dashboard anchored by robust grab handles incorporates modern partial-digital instrumentation and a touchscreen infotainment system providing a range of connectivity options. You may recognize some of the switchgear from other Ford models, and while the Bronco is made for getting dirty, the interior isn't quite as industrial in appearance and quality as a Jeep Wrangler.
That was especially noticeable in my Wildtrak test vehicle, which had leather seats and carpeted floor mats as plush as you might find in a Lincoln Navigator. If I owned it, I'd want to keep dust, mud, sand, and water out of the interior. However, some Broncos come with rubber mats, drain plugs, and marine-grade vinyl seats, so you can find one that's compatible with a hose both inside and out.
One of my favorite things about driving the Bronco is the view over the hood. The peaked fenders with tie-downs at the leading corners, combined with the flat recessed hood and upright windshield, offer terrific visibility and a distinct reminder of the past. Looking down and to the sides of the SUV is also rewarding, especially on the trail, where it's frequently critical to know what is right next to the SUV at any given time.
The key to maximizing visibility is to position the driver's seat high enough to benefit from it. I like sitting tall in the saddle, and the Bronco Wildtrak's six-way manually adjustable driver's seat provided lots of vertical lift and plenty of support. Unfortunately, the dashboard interfered with my right knee, creating a source of discomfort.
The front passenger's seat features the same adjustment, which my shorter wife appreciated. Still, she hated getting in and out of the Bronco.
It's worth noting that, in my experience, a two-door Bronco is more accommodating of passengers and cargo than a two-door Wrangler. My family landed at Los Angeles International Airport following a two-week trip. We each had overstuffed roll-aboard suitcases and a backpack; we also carried a duffel bag of dirty laundry. Emerging from the parking-garage elevator, I spied the Bronco Wildtrak in two-door form and instantly panicked.
With trepidation, I swung the tailgate open, lifted the rear-window glass, and assessed the cargo area skeptically, not realizing Ford claims it can hold 22.4 cubic-feet of luggage (52.3 cu-ft with the back seat folded). Miraculously, everything fit inside except for three backpacks, which joined their owners inside the Bronco.
My teenagers weren't crammed into the back seat, either. A Bronco two-door might only seat four, but the odds are good that everyone will be happy. During the evaluation, I wriggled back there and found the rear seating area surprisingly accommodating.
In-cabin storage is good and, in my opinion, better than the Bronco's primary rival from Jeep. Still, as in the Wrangler, Ford elects to use storage nets instead of trays on the lower door panels, and those nets can let things such as straws and gum-package wrappers escape.
Ford provides numerous control buttons and knobs inside the Bronco, laying the controls out conventionally. Aside from reaching for the stereo-volume knob and instead adjusting the dual-zone automatic climate control system's temperature, I found the Bronco simple and easy to operate. The steering-wheel controls for the 8.0-inch digital instrumentation panel take a few trial-and-error sessions to learn, but that's a common issue for many modern vehicles.
Unfortunately, with the Bronco Wildtrak's busy and bouncy ride and the Sync 4 infotainment system's need for precision and accuracy, I found using the screen while driving is distracting and frustrating.
2023 Ford Bronco: The Technology
Ford equips every version of the 2023 Bronco with its Sync 4 infotainment system, paired with a standard 8.0-inch or an available 12.0-inch touchscreen display. Standard features include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, SiriusXM 360L premium satellite radio, and FordPass Connect services (including access to a Wi-Fi hotspot). A connected navigation system comes with the 12.0-inch touchscreen.
When you pair your smartphone to Bluetooth, you can use a 911 Assist system that can dispatch emergency responders to the SUV's location following a collision. Seven stereo speakers are standard, but I strongly encourage you to upgrade to the excellent 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. My test vehicle also had a wireless smartphone charger and two smart-charging USB ports.
Despite the wind and road noise, Sync 4's enhanced voice-recognition technology was excellent, responding quickly and accurately to nearly all my commands and queries. I recommend using it because as you bounce along on the Wildtrak's off-road suspension and 35-inch mud-terrain tires, attempts to place your fingertip on a specific virtual button successfully are likely to be frequently thwarted. There is a shelf under the display where you can brace your hand, but accurately stabbing at the screen is nevertheless a problem.
Another area where the 2023 Ford Bronco is superior to the 2023 Jeep Wrangler is safety. In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Bronco four-door scores better. Plus, it doesn't tip onto its side in the small offset, frontal-impact test, as the four-door Wrangler does. As of publication, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't published complete crash-test scores for these two SUVs. However, they both earn a middling three-star rollover resistance rating.
My test vehicle had Ford Co-Pilot360, a collection of advanced driving-assist systems that includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlights. In addition, the test vehicle's High package added front parking sensors and a surround-view camera with a forward-facing off-road view. The Lux package installed adaptive cruise control and evasive-steering assist.
That's a generous list of safety features. In addition, it all works well, except for the lane-keeping assist. It is occasionally irritating, enough so that I turned it off after my evaluation and didn't use it for the rest of the week.
2023 Ford Bronco: The Drive
The Bronco Wildtrak includes a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 engine as standard equipment. It makes 315 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque on regular gas and uses a 10-speed automatic transmission to power the wheels. Four-wheel drive (4WD) is standard, offering two-wheel drive (2WD), 4-Hi, 4-Lo, and 4-Auto modes (the latter automatically engages as traction conditions warrant).
In addition to the drivetrain, the Bronco has multiple G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) modes, which the driver adjusts by twisting a knob on the center console. In the Wildtrak, the choices include Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Baja. Baja requires 4WD and activates a front-facing camera superimposed with tread path lines.
Wildtrak trim includes the Sasquatch package as standard equipment. It comes with 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, 35-inch mud-terrain tires, electronic locking front and rear axles, a 4.7 final drive ratio, a lifted high-clearance suspension, and high-clearance fender flares.
On the highway, tire whir is constant, but wind noise overtakes it as the primary annoyance. Still, I've spent plenty of time driving current-generation Jeep Wranglers with hard tops, and the Bronco is quieter inside at speed. And though the Ford's steering isn't particularly communicative, it works better than the comparatively loose and vague Jeep's.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy driving the Ford Bronco. It is an experience like no other, and in urban and suburban settings, it eliminates any concern about speed humps and bumps, cracked and broken pavement, potholes and drainage channels, steep driveway aprons, parking blocks, and tall curbs. With those 35-inch balloons stuffed into each fender, you would need to go out of your way to curb a wheel.
Of course, the Wildtrak is in its element in the dirt. After scouting a single-track running along the foothills near Lake Piru, California, I blazed along with a cloud of dust erupting behind the Bronco, picking up impressive speed on the long stretches where visibility was clear. The Wildtrak easily powered out of bends in the trail, made quick work of washes and tight turns, and effortlessly executed a tight three-point U-turn at the trail's terminus. It was a blast.
Separately, I experienced the new-for-2023 Bronco Raptor during a media event near Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains. Unfortunately, I did not experience the Raptor's twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 and its 418 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque on the open road. But I did sample the benefits of Ford Trail Control, Trail Turn Assist, and Trail 1-Pedal Drive on a technical and challenging trail.
Ford Trail Control is an off-road cruise control system that operates at low speeds. For example, you can set it for 5 mph and the Bronco will chug relentlessly along while the driver picks the best path over rugged terrain. If you don't use Trail Control, try Trail 1-Pedal Drive. It eliminates the need to use the brake pedal, allowing you to accelerate and slow simply by pressing on and releasing the accelerator pedal.
Those features are impressive, but Trail Turn Assist is what dropped my jaw. Activate it, and the system brakes the inside rear wheel, forcing the SUV to pivot around that wheel as you turn. At a sharp left kink in the trail that would typically require some maneuvering, Trail Turn Assist braked the left rear wheel, and the Bronco Raptor crabbed around and negotiated the challenge without any trouble.
Ford delivered the Wildtrak in 2WD with the Eco driving mode active. Halfway through the loan, I changed to 4WD Auto and the Normal setting. That's mainly because the twin-turbo V6 can easily overwhelm the rear tires when accelerating around and out of freeway on-ramps, causing the traction control to tame the Bronco's back end. The change in settings solved the problem.
I ran my evaluation loop in the 4WD Auto and Normal modes, and the Bronco returned 17 mpg, exactly matching the EPA's fuel-economy rating for the SUV. That's not great, but you expect it of a vehicle like this. After all, aerodynamics is not a Bronco's strong suit. Unfortunately, the Bronco two-door has a tiny 16.9-gallon fuel tank. Do the math and you'll realize that gas station visits will be necessary every 250 miles or so.
Poor fuel economy is the worst thing about the Bronco Wildtrak — and the Raptor is even thirstier. I wish Ford offered this SUV with the F-150's hybrid drivetrain or a plug-in hybrid setup like the Jeep Wrangler 4xe. And an electric Bronco would be fantastic, turning the SUV into a Rivian R1S killer.
Maybe the next-gen Bronco will offer that.
Is the 2023 Ford Bronco a Good SUV?
I adore the Ford Bronco, and more than one factor suggests that choosing one over a Jeep Wrangler is wise. (And I'm a Wrangler fan.)
The Bronco looks and drives old-school, but the underlying engineering and technology are modern. It can provide an open-air driving feel if that's what you want, or you can button it up for a more civilized travel experience. Comfort levels are high, even when four people are aboard the two-door model, and cargo space is more accommodating than you might guess. The safety and infotainment tech impresses, too. And the Bronco boasts decent IIHS crash-test ratings.
However, in my opinion, the Bronco doesn't look quite right without the Sasquatch package. That upgrade, unfortunately, further compromises its on-pavement handling and overall efficiency while adding to long-term ownership costs regarding fuel and tire replacement.
Electrification can't happen soon enough.