2023 Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4×4: Avoiding the cookie cutter
Memo to Ford: Give the designers of the Bronco Sport a raise. Especially the ones who came up with the 2023 Heritage version, which leans on the 1966 Bronco a lot, and the 1984 Bronco II a little. The vehicle’s cuteness is the only reason you are able to get $46,400 for what amounts to a repackaged Escape, so we tip our hats to the hardworking designers who came up with the look, and the resulting personality, in a world of cookie-cutter ute styling.
End of memo. The Bronco Sport we recently tested was a Heritage Limited 4×4, painted Robin’s Egg Blue—one of seven Heritage colors offered, and one of three Heritage Limited shades—with an Oxford white top. The package also includes a custom roof rack and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. It had tow hooks up front, a full-sized trailer hitch in back (though towing capacity is only 2200 pounds) and skid plates underneath, giving it the slightly pugnacious look of a more robust four-wheel-drive SUV.
That said, the Bronco Sport is capable off-road (relative to what it is) in our limited experience cow-trailing the vehicle. This front-wheel-drive-based sport-ute has a twin-clutch rear-wheel-drive unit, plus a “Terrain Management System” that includes seven selectable settings for Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl.
Rock crawl? Really? Indeed, you won’t want to tackle the Rubicon Trail in a Bronco Sport. Its big brother, the full-sized Bronco, is fit for that sort of work—but you can do some soft-roading with confidence, thanks in part to the 235/75-R17 Falken tires, which have aggressive treading but are nonetheless quiet on the highway.
The Heritage models boast increased ride height as well as uniquely tuned front struts with hydraulic rebound stops designed to provide a quiet, less jarring off-road experience. In addition, 46-millimeter-diameter monotube rear shocks, anti-roll bars, and uniquely-tuned springs help with overall off-road performance.
The Bronco Sport we drove comes standard with Ford’s uprated powertrain, the base engine being a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder with 181 horsepower. The 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder we drove provides a healthy 250 horsepower, the engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that downshifted readily and upshifted right on cue.
EPA-rated fuel mileage is 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 overall, and that was very close to our real-world results. The Bronco Sport also has a five-star safety rating, the highest score possible. Curb weight is 3707 pounds—a smidge heavier than the comparable Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road and about as much lighter than the Honda CR-V Sport.
Wheelbase is 105.1 inches, much longer than the 94-inch wheelbase on the 1984-and-beyond Bronco II. Width is 74.3 inches, again much wider than the Bronco II, which is one reason why the Bronco II felt as though it would flip over on every very tight turn and the Bronco Sport doesn’t. It is still substantially smaller than the full-sized 2023 Bronco, which has a 116-inch wheelbase and a width of 76 inches. Overall length of the Bronco is 189 inches, and 173 for the Bronco Sport.
Specs: 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4×4
• Price: $44,655/$46,400 (base/as tested)
• Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; eight-speed automatic transmission
• Horsepower: 250
• Torque: 277 lb-ft
• Layout: All-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger SUV
• EPA-rated fuel economy: 21/26/23 mpg (EPA rated city/hwy/combined)
• 0–60 mph: 7 seconds (estimate)
• Competitors: Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox
Despite its width, rear seat room is just adequate for two adults, pinched for three. There’s a roomy 32.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, managed on our Bronco Sport by a $150 cargo system, which is mostly a flip-down shelf for groceries. That was the only option on our vehicle—everything else came with the Heritage Limited package.
Up front, the seats are reasonably comfortable and upholstered in tan perforated leather. Instruments are quickly familiar: extra points for the 10-speaker sound system operated by two knobs instead of digital controls. The instrument panel and dashboard are thoughtfully designed and intuitive to use. There’s a small screen, mostly for the navigation system.
Build quality on this Bronco Sport was better than on the early 2021 models we’ve driven. Panel fitment was consistent, and the interior trim better applied.
Outside, the Heritage package has “BRONCO” spelled out in red letters up front, with “BRONCO SPORT’ out back in white. There’s side badging that looks like it would fit in nicely in 1966. The nose of the Bronco Sport is just a smaller version of the Bronco front; sides are squared off much like the Bronco II. There are more stylish wheels available, but the white-painted wheels just look right with the baby blue body paint.
On the road, the Bronco Sport has ample pickup with this calm 2.0-liter engine. There’s minimal wind noise, and very little road noise. The ride is surprisingly good even on rough pavement, as is cornering capability that won’t necessarily send you looking for winding roads, but it handles them well when you encounter one.
Base price on a Bronco Sport is around $30,000. Our loaded Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4×4 had a base price of $44,655: Add in $150 for the cargo management system and a whopping $1595 for rail shipping from the Hermosillo, Mexico plant, and the total was the aforementioned $46,400. (The big Bronco is also offered as a Heritage Limited, starting at a sobering $66,895.)
The Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4×4 was a good companion for a week, working equally well in town and on the highway, on dry pavement and wet. As far as off-roadable cute-utes go, we found it both cute and usable. It’s riding at the front of the pack.
2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited 4×4
Highs: Suitable mix of retro and modern styling. Decent power. Agile off-road and on. Solid and easy-to-operate controls.
Lows: Pricey at over $46,000. Rear seat room compromised. Tires and wheels a bit smallish for the Bronco Sport’s intended attitude.
Takeaway: A friendly, personality-rich departure from the sea of little look-alike sport-utes.