The Bronco has Earned the Necessary Trail-Cred to be a True Alternative to the Jeep Wrangler
The original, 1960s Ford Bronco is a true automotive icon. Tidy, simple, and immensely rugged. And while Ford claims that the all-new Bronco is its direct descendent, times have changed. Yet, like the original, its mission is clear: give Jeep’s Wrangler some serious competition. So, let’s find out how well this 2021 Bronco infuses its heritage with the demands of today.
It’s hard to take a drive anywhere without seeing a jacked-up Jeep Wrangler driver wave to another jacked-up Wrangler driver going down the road. And admittedly, on the road is where most of them stay. We say that to point out that neither the two or four door 2021 Ford Bronco necessarily needs to “out-Jeep” a Wrangler.
There’s plenty of room in the SUV world for small, capable, rugged utilities that look like they’d be unstoppable in any situation. Our Bronco two-door certainly does. But, for those that actually do venture deep into the bush, you’d better be able to back up those looks with some serious off-pavement performance.
For Bronco that starts with two 4X4 systems; one with a basic 2-speed hi-lo shift on the fly transfer case, and a more advanced electromechanical unit.
The Bronco, not to be confused with the crossover-based Bronco Sport, is built on a fully-boxed steel frame with 7-crossmembers; plenty of add-on underbody protection is available, and there’s a maximum of 11.6-inches of ground clearance.
Up front, an independent suspension with alloy A-arms and long-travel coil springs; while in back, is a solid axle 5-link rear, with up to 35-inch tires available. Our 2-door Black Diamond series stuck with standard 32s on its 17-inch steel wheels.
Black Diamond trim includes upgraded front and rear bumpers, a black grille, rock rails, and a “ride hard and put away wet” vinyl upholstery with rubber flooring.
Of course, like most these days, Ford relies on electronics to do much of the heavy lifting; with multiple G.O.A.T. modes for their Terrain Management System, available Trail Control, Trail Turn Assist, and even One-Pedal Drive.
It’s not a chore at all to drive Bronco on pavement for daily use, with plenty of modern creature comforts and unique touches inside to make it interesting.
Another big part of the Wrangler’s appeal is the ability to remove its roof and doors. Bronco not only accomplishes this; the two front roof panels require no tools to remove; but does way better when it comes to take-along storage.
More power the better, as far as most buyers are concerned, and Ford offers a pair of turbo engines to choose from. Standard is this 2.3-liter EcoBoost I4 with 300–horsepower and 325 lb-ft. of torque. Optional, is a 2.7-liter V6 turbo that at 330 only has 30 more horsepower, but cranks out 90 additional lb-ft. of torque. A 7-speed manual trans with extra-low crawler gear is standard with the 2.3-liter; the optional 10-speed automatic comes standard with the V6.
So, it’s off to Mason Dixon Dragway to see what our 2.3 manual is capable of.
Well, all of that torque is clearly designed to get you over rocks, not down a dragstrip. So, it’s a little slow off the line, taking a full 8.0-seconds to 60. Not much friction zone in the clutch, and a goofy vertical bar tachometer hamper the process. Selecting Sport mode also automatically engages 4HI, even though we were getting much better results in 2HI.
On the positive side, despite very long truck-like shifter throws, it engaged with ease and enabled smooth and speedy shifts throughout the 16.1-second ¼-mile, ending at 85 miles-per-hour. Without a back to back comparison of comparably spec’d rigs, it’s hard to say how it compares to the Wrangler when it comes to handling.
Both oversteer and understeer are easily found, and the computer is quick to step in despite it never feeling close to being out of control. Ultimately, like the Wrangler, it’s capable, but not exactly fun to throw around. Lots of forward pitch due to the long-travel springs, led to lengthy stopping distances of 132-feet from 60 miles-per-hour in our panic braking test.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings vary greatly with 4-wheel-drive systems and tire sizes. Our Advanced 4X4 Black Diamond with the 2.3-liter and manual transmission comes in at 20-City, 22-Highway, and 21-Combined. We saw a respectable 22.4 miles-per-gallon of regular.
2-door pricing starts at $29,995, $4,700 more for the 4-door. Lots of unique versions of the Bronco from there. Our Black Diamond tester starts at $37,545, and limited First Editions going for $58,410.
Let’s face it, when it comes to rugged no-frills off-road capability, the Jeep Wrangler and its CJ predecessor have had quite a run. It’s doubtful that the 2021 Ford Bronco will put an end to its reign, but it’s a fantastic alternative that does a lot of things well, and has already earned necessary trail-cred of both true off-roaders, and those that just like to look like ones.
Engine: 2.3L Ecoboost I4
Torque: 325 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 8.0 seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.1 seconds at 85 mph
EPA: 20 City / 22 Highway / 21 Combined