What we're driving: 2022 Ford Bronco
I'm like the majority of SUV owners: My biggest excursion is to Home Depot. But the 2022 Ford Bronco I tested off-road recently had so much technology that even I was able to plow through sloppy mud trails and crawl over boulders with confidence.
The big picture: After 26 years, the iconic Bronco is back, going head-to-head with Jeep's legendary Wrangler. While it's natural to pit them in an all-out battle for market share, Ford wants to grow the segment by drawing inexperienced people like me to off-roading.
I drove a loaded two-door Bronco First Edition at the 106-acre Holly Oaks off-road vehicle park north of Detroit; it's an old gravel pit that's been turned into an automotive obstacle course.
- A Ford engineer riding shotgun coached me on how to use the technology.
How it works: A dial on the center console let me choose one of seven driving modes — Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl.
Other features gave me added control to tackle rough terrain I'd ordinarily avoid. All I had to do was push one of the "hero buttons" mounted on top of the dashboard.
- While climbing up a steep and slippery hill, I saw nothing but the sky, like the feeling you get near the top of a roller coaster. But with 360-degree camera displays on the 12-inch touchscreen, plus a handy off-road spotter view that showed me where my tires should go, I didn't get disoriented.
- When I was afraid I'd speed out of control down a steep embankment, I activated the optional Trail Control feature, which is like cruise-control for off-roading. I set it at 3 mph per hour and descended with no trouble.
- When I got to a tight bend on the trail, I activated Trail Turn Assist, which reduces the turning radius by applying brakes to the inside rear wheel so the car's whole rear end pivots. (It was also fun to use while doing donuts in the muddy sand pit.)
- While crawling over big rocks, I didn't have to use the brakes at all. With Trail One-Pedal Drive, I just lifted my foot off the accelerator to stop.
- I had only two wheels on the ground at one point, teetering between two giant mounds of earth. But I pushed the Front Stabilizer Bar Disconnect button, allowing the front tires to move up and down independently. Instantly, I was on more solid footing and continued on.
The bottom line: Off-roading is fun when you know what you're doing (or at least the car does). And surprisingly, the Bronco was well-mannered on ordinary pavement too.
- The Bronco starts at $30,795, but the First Edition model I drove costs twice that.