Off-Road Review: 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades
The latest Bronco is a real HOSS that will never get your GOAT.
At first blush, you might imagine Ford would launch the newest version of its kicker Bronco in the Florida Everglades, the natural wonder that inspired its name. Turns out our Dearborn hosts had one of their classic “better ideas.” While America’s southernmost National Park sprawls over 1.5 million acres of water-soaked sawgrass and mangroves, it’s stocked with pythons up to 17 feet long, alligators, crocodiles, endangered turtles, and the odd Florida panther. Though the Everglades’ slow-moving river flows only a foot deep over its limestone bed, there are spots where this marsh is eight feet deep. Temperatures there top 90 degrees in the summer, the air so thick with humidity you can practically drink it.
In lieu of the Everglades, Ford vectored us in the opposite direction—as far north as possible without bringing a passport. Drummond Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula knocks on Canada’s basement door. Readily accessible by ferry, this scenic locale is a favorite playground for off-roaders, and, as we found out, the perfect place to froth the Everglades’ shock oil to a fare thee well.
The new Everglades package comes on the larger of the two Bronco siblings. Available only as a four-door, it costs $56,190 with destination fees and is positioned between the Wildtrak ($52,820) and the range-topping Raptor ($70,095). A turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of peak torque (running premium fuel) drives all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission. While stick-shift fans are surely disappointed that no H-pattern can be had here, we were duly convinced after roaming Drummond that Ford engineers know best what works off-road.
Sixth-generation Bronco underpinnings originated in the body-on-frame Ranger pickup. Anchored by the fully boxed frame, there’s an independent front suspension with coil springs and Bilstein dampers up front and a live axle located by five links and similar spring/shock equipment in back. The new Everglades package builds on the Sasquatch option’s hardware which includes H.O.S.S. (high-performance off-road stability suspension) 2.0 with Bilstein position-sensitive dampers, locking differentials, 35-inch Goodyear mud-terrain radials, and appropriately wide fender flares.
An intake snorkel adorning the right-front windshield pillar minimizes the chance of fouling the engine with water, dust, or sand. In addition, there are extended vent pipes for the transmission, transfer case, and both differentials. The Bronco’s tender parts are protected with a reinforced front bumper with a bash plate, side-sill rock guards, and stout skid plates beneath the engine and fuel tank. A Warn winch tuned up with Ford refinements is prominently attached to the front bumper. It’s rated at 10,000 pounds of pull and its 100-foot-long cable is made of synthetic material (think nylon) to a save weight and for safety’s sake in the event this line snaps under load. The Everglades is crowned with a handy roof rack.
The 315/70R-17 Goodyear Territory tires mounted to 8.5-inch-wide painted aluminum wheels provide 36.4-inches of fording ability, 10-30-percent more than competitors according to Ford. Wheel travel is eight inches in front and ten inches in back.
The interior is shared with Bronco’s Black Diamond trim level. Seats are upholstered in water-repelling marine-grade vinyl while floor surfaces are covered in rubber matting with handy drains. The center-console mounted G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) twist knob provides seven suspension and driveline settings: normal, eco, sport, slippery, mud/ruts, sand, and rock crawl. In addition, two dash-top rocker switches allow locking the front and/or rear diffs at appropriate times. Dual zone automatic air conditioning is standard.
After crossing the stunning Mackinac Bridge linking Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas and a ferry crossing from the intriguingly named De Tour Village (pronounced de Too-ûr VIL-ij), we reached Drummond Island with our entourage of Bronco Everglades test vehicles. Local residents probably thought we were Vasco da Gama surveying fresh territory.
During two long sessions interrupted by lunch on a picturesque beach, journos showed minimal mercy traipsing woods in the Bronco Everglades. The rule of the day was “slow and steady” with astutely placed wheels and gentle throttle applications negotiating the million and one hazards. A heavy rainstorm doused this region, as if on cue, 24 hours before our arrival.
Let’s review the list of impediments we faced:
- Water ponds too deep (three feet in places) and broad for traversing on foot
- Submerged mud
- Boulders up to 40 inches in diameter
- Tree roots, dead and alive
- Standing trees hugging the path
- Branches sometimes caressing both sides and the Bronco’s top at the same time
- Marble staircases compounding grade climbing with jagged stone edges
- A gravel beach lapped by Lake Huron
The only wild beast we sighted was an inquisitive spring-born deer. (We saw nary a partridge nor a pear tree.)
Ford’s recommended tactic was to center one tire on a boulder when it was impractical to maneuver clear of that rock. The Bronco’s rack-and-pinion steering helped select the best path with utmost precision. While twisting the steering wheel full lock generally sufficed, there were a couple of hazards that demanded the classic three-point procedure, including a touch of reverse. On two occasions, a guide was posted to suggest the best steering inputs while spotting rock hazards and other impediments.
The Bronco’s general attitude can be summed up most succinctly in two words: Amazing Grace. Traction in mud was never a real concern. The front bash plate and fender extensions did an excellent job keeping the bow wave from gushing onto the windshield. I don’t recall ever hearing this beast slamming down on a rock due to insufficient wheel and body damping. There wasn’t a hint of wheel spin even with one tire clawing air. Engine calibrations were perfect for applying just the right amount of throttle for any occasion. The sheer toughness, grip, sensitivity, and suppleness engineered into these tires is extraordinary. What must have been months of work calibrating the mud/ruts and rock crawl G.O.A.T. modes we used paid off handsomely. Water-sodden brakes came back to life by applying gentle pressure to the pedal a few extra feet before any slow-down was desired.
While 35 miles of this torture doesn’t sound that daunting, our average speed below 5 mph gives an idea of what an ordeal our Drummond woods invasion truly was. By the end of the day, our upper body might as well have spent hours in a hardware store paint shaker. Never in the motoring journalist annals, shy of some outrageous Land Rover adventures, has a manufacturer invested so much effort proving that their product tops such wild expectations.
The only blemishes we detected were hints of snorkel sizzle on the highway with the front passenger window rolled down and slight seepage through one floor drain plug. An interesting discovery was a smart means of reentering the cockpit when the outside door handle is caked in mud: if you plan ahead by lowering the driver’s side window, you can maintain tidy hands by reaching over the glass to use the inside door-latch release.
Any Ford fan who’s matured out of their tire-melting Mustang days finally has a new flavor of fun to sample. This is a tough sportster offering entertainment a growing family can experience, and the Bronco Everglades beats any other day in the park. To SUV shoppers wobbling between the Wrangler Rubicon and the Everglades, we’d vote in Ford’s favor. Jeep will be challenged equaling this long run down the off-road trail. And, thanks to Bronco’s independent front suspension, shrewd suspension calibrations, and state-of-the-art Goodyear radials, the Everglades is a well-composed highway companion, particularly on Michigan’s war-torn roads.
The only suggestion we have for Ford is to reconsider the Everglades name. Since that place intimidates in so many ways, why not instead christen this confident new Bronco the Drummond?
2022 Ford Bronco Everglades
Price: $54,595 before options
Highs: Peerless confidence off-road. Stupendous powertrain tuning. Refined suspension.
Lows: No manual gearbox.
Summary: A rugged Bronco with a factory winch and snorkel that tackles the harshest conditions even better than you’d expect.