Review: Want a Retro SUV? Ford Obliges With Heritage Broncos.

The 2024 Bronco Sport Heritage Edition is a throwback in all the right ways

January 18, 2024 6:34 am
2024 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition in yellow. We test drove the retro SUV — here's our full review.
Ford kept things old-school with the new Bronco. Now they're doubling down.

After more than 30 years in the Ford family, the Bronco disappeared from the automaker’s showrooms in the mid-1990s. There were many reasons for that deletion, from market forces to an unfortunate moment of pop culture history that played out along the northbound 405 Freeway, but the tough vehicle had a strong and loyal following before the fates combined to retire it.

All that matters now is the Ford Bronco is back, and even its biggest torch carriers couldn’t have predicted the success of its comeback. Debuting in 1965 and fading away in 1996, the Bronco reemerged officially in 2021 with an urgent list of preorders and a buyers list that had the throwback-flavored machine selling for higher than MSRP in many markets. The engineers in Dearborn surpassed themselves in creating a striking small SUV to rival the modern Jeep, or any other aspiring off-road machines for that matter.

According to Jason Hyde, Bronco Sport brand manager for Ford, not only did the SUV generate huge excitement when the automaker announced its return, but three years on it continues to sell at a rapid clip.

“The sixth generation leveraged human-centered design insights to create a modern, fun-to-drive off-road SUV,” Hyde tells InsideHook. “It’s all for a growing ‘Bronco Nation’ of enthusiasts who want to be part of one of Ford’s most iconic outdoor lifestyle brands.”

Ford likes to use the buzzwords “Built Wild” to describe the extra ingredients of toughness in the Bronco throughout its family of vehicles. It’s clear the SUV’s designers worked to build in as many features as possible for a machine intended for the average buyer — while pushing a couple versions up the price chart.

“The Bronco line stands out with a host of segment-first, exclusive, adventure-ready technology to meet the needs of today’s outdoor enthusiasts,” Hyde adds.

Two Ford Bronco Heritage Edition models, one in yellow and one in red, both with white tops
The Ford Bronco Heritage Editions in all their retro — sorry, throwback — glory.

The most appealing visual aspect of the Bronco Sport — a more practical daily hauler compared to the rugged nature of the standard Bronco — is the simple fact that it’s unquestionably an SUV. There’s none of this pseudo-crossover nonsense. Too often what passes for small SUVs are really nothing more than overgrown hatchbacks. While the boxier, more elevated lines of the Bronco might remind the viewer of an older Land Rover Defender (with its “four wheels at the corner of the rectangle” planning to limit unsprung weight), it can at least claim full SUV status out of the blocks.

“The heritage-inspired design leverages the soul and DNA of the first-gen Bronco,” Hyde says. “With its early development codenamed as ‘1966 GOAT’ (Goes Over All Terrain), Bronco is America’s original ‘sports utility vehicle’ brand with 55 years of off-road credibility. That is something we never want to lose sight of for the Bronco.”

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Hyde steers away from describing the design as “retro” or “vintage,” preferring the Ford term of “heritage” to tie the new version to garage denizens of old.

That word choice extends to the latest extension of the Bronco brand: the Heritage Editions, versions of both the Bronco and Bronco Sport SUVs that pay tribute to the original ‘60s models with throwback designs. (“Throwback,” it seems, is an acceptable word for Ford, as it’s used three times in the press release. They also, admittedly, use “retro” once.) The prices, while not harkening back to the middle of the 20th century, don’t top the price sheet either, starting at just $33,700.

The rear end and side of the Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition SUV in yellow
Oxford White is bold. Yellowstone Metallic is even bolder.

I got behind the wheel of a 2024 Bronco Sport Heritage Limited Edition in a very bold yellow called Yellowstone Metallic — almost banana yellow — and Oxford White wheels. (I attended Exeter College, Oxford for English Lit. I don’t know what the connection is to my school, but rest assured those wheels are really white.) The five-seater packs a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine putting out 250 horsepower (the standard Heritage Edition, which isn’t limited to 1,966 units of each model, gets the 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine with 181 horsepower). An eight-speed automatic transmission puts the power down through 17-inch wheels.

The drive experience is satisfying and reassuring with very little topside queasiness or understeer. If there’s a quibble to be made, the 2.0-liter feels slightly underpowered. It’s a common complaint in this era of smaller engines. I wouldn’t be absolutely confident that the EcoBoost unit would easily handle all possible off-road environments; I might end up yearning for that V6 in the Ford Bronco Raptor.

The interior is wonderfully spartan — a genuine throwback to Broncos of bygone eras when we unlocked car doors with analog keys, rolled windows up and down by hand and found radio stations by twisting dials. It’s a departure from the Land Rover theory of SUVs, combining thorough technology and ultra-luxury with off-road capability. The Bronco is built with toughness in mind, and it looks tough inside and out in keeping with that attitude.

The low-key interior of the Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition SUV
The refreshingly minimal interior in the Bronco Sport model.

To be clear, the Heritage Edition still has more complete safety and infotainment capability than engineers could imagine in prior decades with power windows, an anti-collision system, lane-keeping, a five-setting Terrain Management System, USB and USB C ports, wireless charging pad, and Ford SYNC voice recognition, among other tech treats. Still, there remains a sense of practical tactility with actual buttons, knobs and a touchscreen that doesn’t extend from steering wheel through the glove box. 

Hyde confirms that many Bronco buyers — and the SUV is selling faster than Ford can build them in some regions — look for this kind of rugged, old-school in-cabin driving experience 

“[The Bronco’s] modular, open-air design matched with Ford’s full-line of factory backed accessories makes it simple for owners to personalize their vehicle and make it their own in ways that only Bronco can,” he explains. “Bronco’s durability, quality and reliability standards paired with a unique body-on-frame architecture ensures a bulletproof off-roading experience in the harshest terrains, giving novice owners just as much fun of as the experts.”

There’s one more fascinating design feature found on many of the new incarnations of the Bronco (Heritage Editions with their red lettering aside): the word “Bronco” emblazoned across the recognizable grille in white. It looks very distinctive, but there’s a shadow in my cynical heart that hopes there’s just a flicker of gallows humor involved. Please somebody tell me including a “white Bronco” on these SUVs is a deliberate middle finger to the ugly history that might have stunted sales of the machine in the 1990s.

Of course, we all know it isn’t. A top-five global automaker wouldn’t exercise such poor taste and risk corporate wrath with such a stunt. Still, if only that were so, I’d love Ford forever.

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