Ford’s tough American 4×4 SUV gets a mud-kicking makeover. But is it still a real-deal off-roader given its turbo petrol four-cylinder power?
The Everglades is a muggy place, hot and humid much of the year, with a dew point so high the mosquitos seem to swim more than fly. But they do fly, and they’re hungry.
Between that and the alligators and increasingly problematic giant pythons, it’s not exactly a place that lifts the heart of many adventure-seekers. All that makes it an odd choice for a branding package for a car, namely the Ford Bronco Everglades.
But this isn’t just a car. This is the new-world Bronco, two years young on the US market yet already offered in 10 different special flavours.
But with such a ravenous appetite for off roading vehicles Australia – plus the fact the Bronco shares the same locally-developed T.62 platform as the Ranger and Everest – and the sustainable popularity of the Bronco’s Jeep Wrangler rival ‘a way’ does appear to be there, ‘the will’ however, is another matter.
The Bronco you see here is, of course, the Everglades edition, with a few exclusive touches such as a snorkel on the A-pillar and a bumper-mounted winch, plus the giant, 35-inch mud tires from the Sasquatch package.
Everglades, as it turns out, is the perfect name for what is an epic, swamp-fighting monster.
But after being thoroughly impressed by the ferocious high-performance Bronco Raptor that adorns the ten-strong lineup, does this mosquito-bitten milder variant live up to the snake-dodging, gator-wrestling promise?
While a base Bronco is available for as little as $34,595 (AUD $58,892) in the US for a stripped out two-door on steel wheels, the Everglades is a much higher trim, exclusively available in longer four-door guise, and starting at $53,000 (AUD $77,910).
The rig you see here had a few options on top of that, including storage bags for the removable hard-top for $350 (AUD $515), a $595 tow bar (AUD $875), a $600 slide-out tailgate (AUD $882), and $695 (AUD $1022) for three years of Ford’s Connected telematics service, which includes integrated navigation and remote features.
Total price: $56,835 after $1595 on roads, aka ‘destination’ charges. (AUD $83,547).
Standard features include:
An optional 246kW/563Nm 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 is offered on some variants and fitted standard on the high-spec Wildtrak and Heritage Limited versions.
While a 10-speed automatic is standard here, a seven-speed manual is available behind the 2.3L engine in some guises.
Together with the 35-inch mud kickers, the Sasquatch Package – as standard fitment on Everglade – adds electronic-locking front and rear differentials, a 4.7:1 final drive ratio, Bilstein-branded position-sensitive dampers and extended wheel arches.
The Bronco was designed with the off-road lifestyle first, and it shows.
You have to climb up into the Everglades, without even a token running board to help your ascent. Grab-handles at the dash are handy, but if you’re particularly short in stature or dealing with limited mobility, that’s a deal-breaker before we get going.
Once in, though, you sit high given this is a relatively small vehicle, at least eye-to-eye with many full-size pick-up trucks.
Appropriate, as the ride quality is about as good as a big-dollar F-150. The Bronco rolls on a live axle at the rear, in the Everglades package modified to raise the vents for even better waterfording performance.
Meanwhile, the front suspension is independent, giving it slightly better on-road manners than the sold-axle-equipped Jeep Wrangler, but the Ford is still a machine with a tendency to crash over bumps and asphalt imperfections rather than absorb them.
That on-road ride quality compromise, of course, comes at a trade of purpose, and that purpose is remarkable off-road capability.
That snorkel you see snaking up the right side of the Bronco’s windscreen is not merely there for looks. This thing can wade through 925mm of water, deep enough to swallow those giant muddin’ tyres whole. That’s a remarkable feat for a turnkey, showroom production vehicle.
The exposed plastic airway feeds a 2.3-liter turbocharged petrol engine outputting 224kW and 441Nm. It’s a perfectly fine amount of power and plenty of torque outright, but this isn’t a Raptor.
As a result, the Everglades is a bit lazy to accelerate, even in Sport mode. And the engine has a harsh effect that’s more rattle than roar under hard load.
Sport is just one of seven modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl. Spin the chunky and cheeky G.O.A.T. – or Go Over Any Type of terrain – knob just aft of the shifter to move from one to next and the Bronco will automatically cycle the transfer case through its various drive modes.
Eco puts the truck into 2H, rear-wheel-drive mode. Sport moves you into 4A all-wheel drive, while the off-road modes step it up into proper 4×4 mode, with 4L reserved for Rock Crawl.
There are electronically locking mechanical differentials front and rear as well, which will cycle on or off with the various modes, though each has a dedicated button sitting up high on the dashboard, within easy reach.
You can also toggle off the traction control with a single button push, or enable Trail Turn Assist mode, which locks the inside rear wheel to help the Bronco rotate in tight situations.
Sadly, despite the myriad settings choices, what’s missing is a proper custom mode. If you have a particular set of differential settings you prefer, you’ll have to dial that up yourself in the moment rather than assign it to a one-touch recallable mode.
Regardless which mode you choose, the steering is on the soft and sluggish side, the brake pedal similarly offering a long, soft throw. Neither is ideal for street driving, but both help the Bronco be a bit easier to manage when you’re crawling over and through some really gross and slippery stuff.
When it comes time for a particularly steep descent, Ford’s Trail Control is just a button press away.
Tap that, then use the cruise control buttons to set a speed, and the Bronco will do everything it can to hold that speed whether going up and over or down. Even on ridiculously steep descents on loose gravel it kept things calm and collected.
The Everglades likewise motored through some remarkably deep puddles and thick mud offered up by an unusually rainy few weeks, wading comfortably at any speed and feeling incredibly capable on terrain that switched from muck to rock and back again many times.
Though that 4535kg-rated Warn winch built into the nose was never needed, it certainly was nice to know it was there.
If there’s a real shortcoming – or perhaps trade – in the Everglades driving experience, it’s that the off-road focus on show really comes at the detriment of general refinement once it does climb out of the forest and hits the sealed stuff.
Suffice to say, the Bronco Everglades is loud at any speed. When slow, the droning of the 35-inch tires is most noticeable. At higher speeds, the wind whistling away from any of the rig’s many right angles is a greater distraction.
However, it does, quite literally, amplify the rugged character that the Everglades embodies in the experience, even if it’s not the ‘nicest’ Bronco variant in the fold to live with.
The most important thing to know about the Bronco Everglades’ interior is that it is designed to be hosed off.
Lift up the flimsy rubber floor mats and you’ll see plugs built into the floor, ready for draining out whatever swamp water finds its way into the cabin while you’re out mudding.
Or indeed for washing out whatever it is your friends spill drinks – or perhaps their lunch – while coming along for an adventurous ride.
When it comes to upholstery, while there are many fine grades of synthetic leather out there, Ford chose none of them for the inside of the Everglades. But, again, those likely wouldn’t survive muddy water.
The Everglades fits marine-grade vinyl trim for the seats, which feel durable, are easy to clean and are outfitted with some remarkably strong heaters – perfect for taking out the chill after a morning dip in a brackish pool.
Colours here are a mix of light greys and blacks, everything big and chunky, knobs generously rubberised, buttons and toggles easy to hit without taking your eyes off the trail. It’s a clean, purposeful design that perfectly suits the truck.
This Everglades comes with the hard top, which is impressively easy and fast to remove.
Each of the two panels above the front seats are held in by four clips, while another five hold in the larger panel that spans across the back seats. The panels are thin and relatively lightweight, which makes them easy to remove, but they don’t offer much in the way of noise isolation.
Sadly, the six-speaker sound system is largely unable to cope with the raucous on-road noise the Everglades drums up. It’s among the weakest systems I’ve ever heard in a modern car, but again, that’s done with purpose.
Speakers are exclusively built high on the dash and are slung from the rear roll structure, keeping them away from water.
Media options at least are plentiful, with Ford’s Sync 4 powering a 12.0-inch touchscreen offering wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
An 8.0-inch virtual gauge cluster behind the steering wheel offers endless amounts of off-roading information, paired with a traditional, analog speedometer for just a bit of class.
Finally, when it comes to cargo space, there’s a decent compartment behind the rear seats, 1085 litres worth. But, bear in mind that if you decide to pop off that modular roof, it’s going to take up a good chunk of that boot space unless you leave the body work at home or at base camp.
Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 active safety system is standard on all Bronco trims, which includes niceties like auto high-beams and more significant features like autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
Higher trims, such as the Everglades, include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping, and a 360-degree camera system. Adaptive cruise, however, is optional and only available on some trims.
When it comes to crash protection, the Bronco features front and side airbags for the front passengers, plus canopy side-curtain airbags to protect all passengers.
Ford Australia still insists the Bronco isn’t coming to Australia, nor is it available yet in Europe, so neither Euro NCAP nor ANCAP crash test ratings are available.
However, the Bronco scored “good” ratings in five out of six American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, falling short on the top score in only the head restraints and seats due to the forces imparted to the test dummy’s head in a rear impact.
While rolling on 35-inch mud tires won’t help any machine’s frugality, Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is respectably efficient. The two offset each other to deliver some middling results. In the US, the Bronco Everglades is rated by the EPA at 18 miles-per-gallon city, 17 highway, and 18 combined.
That equates to 13.0L/100km. In my sportier testing, it performed worse, returning 16.0L/100km. With the 79-litre tank, that would make for an estimated maximum range of 492km.
Ford has 16,090km (10,000-mile) service intervals, with most intervals including simple things like oil changes, cabin air filter changes, and tire rotation, plus inspections of things like brakes and wiper blades along the way.
The Ford Bronco has a comprehensive, three-year, 58,000km-ish (36,000-mile) bumper-to-bumper warranty. That’s not exactly flash given the sort of coverage buyers have come to expect in Australia (if Bronco was offered in Oz, of course).
Powertrain, meanwhile, is covered for five years or almost 97,000kms (60,000 miles) and Ford U.S. also includes free roadside assistance for that period for North American buyers.
When it comes to the day-to-day grind, the Ford Bronco Everglades is a fundamentally compromised machine.
But the compromises are really on road for a machine that’s clearly and somewhat unapologetically optimised for off-road performance, albeit not quite to the level of the ferocious Raptor.
Far more than a graphics and big-tire package, this is a 4×4 with remarkably high limits in some challenging terrain and some terrifyingly deep water. And one that will challenge the driver repeatedly to go find harder, steeper terrain.
Every time you take it to the shops it’ll remind you that you could instead be on an adventure. Even if it’s perhaps not our pick of the Bronco stable if you spend more time at the strip mall than you do in the mulga.
But if you’re the sort to actually head out for that adventure, someone who really loves getting out there, those compromises may well be worth it. If you happen to live in North America…
The everpresent elephant sat amongst the horse in the Bronco stable is that the Everglades and its kin remain forbidden fruit for Aussie consumers. Despite being underpinning by a T6.2 platform developed in Australia.
This has, and continues to be, a huge shame: partly because it wouldn’t be a huge engineering leap to move the steering wheel to the right side of the cabin, but mostly because the Australian market is yet fill a hole of what would undoubtedly be an instant hit with Aussie buyers, 4×4 enthusiasts or not.
Ford’s ultimate all-purpose fun machine might not be the Ranger Raptor. Because we’ve just driven its big brother, the Bronco Raptor. And it’s absolute dynamite!
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