Ford helped create the Sport Utility Vehicle category with the 1966 introduction of the Ford Bronco, a vehicle with the approximate dimensions of a pickup truck but covered and integrated into the front compartment rather than with the bed exposed to the elements. It's been a long 50+ year journey to get to the 2023 Ford Bronco, but with that kind of history, it's no surprise that the company chose to offer a delightful "Heritage" edition with some nice retro touches that help elevate an already great mid-size SUV.
When the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4x4 showed up in my driveway, I was immediately taken by its nostalgic design and oh-so-modern amenities and safety features. The cheery Yellowstone Metallic exterior with "Perf Plaid Ltr-Trim Brown" interior was a great pairing too (even if those acronyms remain a bit opaque):
The most obvious "Heritage" touches are that great white and red front grill, but those wheels are also quite retro, with no hubcaps! Of course, hubcaps have been part of vehicle wheels since the 1930s, but if you're anticipating bouncing along a rough dirt trail, there's not much point having them just to realize one or more fell off en route! While the regular Bronco has an attractive curb presence, the retro Sport line has become quite popular and I see these on the road on a daily basis, though not often in quite as bright a color as Yellowstone Metallic.
Go back and look at the interior of vehicles from the 1960s, however, and it's pretty clear that, well, life was simpler back then for drivers. There just weren't that many options and features, so the dashboard was austere, with an AM/FM radio that sported push buttons for pre-programmed stations and a few additional climate controls. Mostly it was bare metal. The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is a dramatic update from that, however, as can be immediately gleaned upon first sitting in the comfortable driver's seat:
As with most modern cars, there are dozens upon dozens of knobs, buttons, switches, and other controls to master before starting the vehicle. Oh, and in 1966, they most certainly did not have a fancy push button to start the engine, nor did they have a 2.0L EcoBoost Engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. But the horse? I think it might have escaped from the Ford Mustang, actually, but it works here. Remember, it's a "bronco".
Dashboards often have dead spaces, so I was surprised how often I found myself using the pocket Ford added between the climate controls and the entertainment system. The lower space has wireless charging, but I found the higher shelf more functional for my needs; it was the perfect place to store sunglasses and a garage remote.
In a break from tradition, the center console does not have an actual gear shift, replacing it with a sleeker, but much less inspiring knob:
Notice the GOAT MODES knob below it? That's the Goes Over Any Type of Terrain feature and it offers access to a variety of different driving conditions ranging from ECO and SPORT to SNOW, ROCK CRAWL, and MUD. Soccer parents are probably going to leave it in ECO to maximize fuel efficiency, but it's nice to know the other options are there if needed. For those of you a bit more adventurous, the Bronco Sport handles tougher driving conditions with aplomb (though we reviewers are generally prohibited from testing it).
Notice that the center of the gear shift dial lists "M": This is manual mode and lets the driver utilize the paddle shifters to shift up and down the 8-speed transmission. I'd guess that < 1% of drivers ever utilize this feature, however. Finally, the badging below the cup holders says "EST. 1966" and "HERITAGE EDITION" and I liked it as a fun and unique design flourish.
The climate controls are pretty typical if a bit busy with seat heater controls and steering wheel heater controls squeezed onto an already complex interface. And icons that represent old-school mercury thermometers? Do modern drivers even know what that represents? Also, notice that there are no rear climate controls. I'll come back to the rear passenger experience in a bit...
I'll also highlight the centralized power area with the Qi wireless charging pad on the left and USB-A, USB-C, and 12V charging plugs available for the driver and passenger. Many cars now push those into the very back of the compartment, making it a bit tricky to get the cable plugged in, so having them moved forward to the front of the section was appreciated!
The SYNC 3 infotainment system screen was small for a modern vehicle with a modest 8-inch display, but because it's almost square rather than the more common 16:9 ratio, it worked just fine. I also appreciated that the row of buttons along the bottom (Audio, Phone, Nav, Apps, Settings) remained even when utilizing (wired only) Apple CarPlay. After dozens of iterations, SYNC 3 worked just fine for all of my tasks, from navigation to hands-free telephone usage to switching to CarPlay when my phone was plugged into the USB-C port. The B&O sound system and HD radio also helped keep me entertained while on the road (note: both of those are optional and part of the Sport / Heritage trim set).
The main gauge display was terrific, very visually interesting while not being too distracting while at speed:
This also highlights that I experienced about 25.8mpg for my time driving the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport, which is just about optimal given its EPA rating is 21/26. The tachometer takes up a lot of the screen real estate given that I was in automatic the entire time, but if you did want to switch it to "M"anual and use the paddle shifters, that tach would be much appreciated. Is 25.8mpg good fuel efficiency for this class of vehicle? Yes, it is, though obviously, a hybrid would probably be able to squeeze another 10 miles out of each gallon (and jack up the price at least $7500).
Can I also highlight that I was driving exactly the speed limit in the above photo? Not necessarily a common occurrence. 😝
Quite unlike the original 1966 Ford Bronco, this one had a lot of buttons and controls on the steering wheel crossbar:
I'd suggest that the bugle as an icon for the horn is also nostalgic, but in fact, most all cars still seem to use it, though one has to guess that a vanishingly small fraction of drivers know what a bugle is, let alone understand the mnemonic. More importantly, this is just a lot of controls jammed onto these buttons, asymmetric, but still likely to cause at least some confusion for newer drivers.
Behind the steering wheel are classic stick controls too, one for lights, the other for the windshield wipers. Surprisingly, though, there's also a second lighting control panel by the left knee of the driver:
It's hard to imagine how the designers came to believe that splitting the functionality across two entirely different types of controls made sense. Fortunately, with modern lights, "AUTO" works great and meant that I never really thought about any of these controls, panel or stick.
Stepping out of the vehicle, the biggest problem with the Ford Bronco Sport can't be ignored:
There's no way to cushion this blow; the rear passenger experience is pretty weak, at best. From a rather low roof in the rear to the appalling lack of legroom, to the lack of environmental controls, this seems like a roomy two-seater with back seats jammed in for insurance or checklist purposes rather than an SUV for four or five adults to enjoy. Another 10" of vehicle length to allow for more legroom would undoubtedly be greatly appreciated by future owners, but if you've got a family, you'll want to really consider this aspect of the Bronco Sport to ensure it'll grow with your little ones as they inevitably get longer and bigger.
Having said that, the cargo space was very good and you can, of course, fold down those second-row seats if you need even more space, as I have done in the below photo:
The obvious conclusion here is that Ford is really trying to stick with that shorter wheelbase to keep this vehicle nimble off-road, but also trying to balance the needs of the soccer parent and urban SUV driver for whom a dirt road is an insurmountable obstacle and probably too dangerous for their shiny, just-washed SUV!
But still, there's so much to like here, even beyond the fantastic style:
The wheels are known as "Oxford White Wheels" and they work well on this Heritage edition, as does the dual mode rear door where you can pop up the glass if desired or lift the entire back door. Fuel efficiency is as expected for a 2023 model in this class, and it does have a nice, nimble handling with reasonable acceleration (though sport mode doesn't give you as much of a boost as other vehicles). The Achilles heel in this Bronco Sport is unquestionably the rear seat legroom, but if you don't have passengers very often or are on the more, um, diminutive side as a driver, that might be something you can ignore without ever having an issue. I definitely enjoyed a week driving it through some mediocre weather and twisty mountain roads, along with my more usual suburban terrain.
2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4x4 with 2.0L Ecoboost Engine and 8-speed Automatic Transmission. BASE PRICE: $44,655.00. Options included: Cargo Management System. TOTAL AS DRIVEN: $46,400.00.
Disclosure: Ford loaned me this vehicle for a week in return for this candid write-up. Thanks, Ford!